SPOILERS FOR THE DARK KNIGHT AND ARKHAM CITY
Arkham City, for now, is my game of the year. I know that it sounds irrelevant to you people reading this for the film critique stuff, we’ll get to that, but I wanted to get that out of the way. Batman, to me, is one of the most complex and incredible feats of human culture and perfectly covers the spectrum of human condition issues and all manner of little touches. There’s depression, soul-searching, reality-checking, Jekyll and Hyde, guilt, madness and all manner of jocular stuff also compared all under the umbrella of the Batman. I don’t think any superhero will ever rival him.
Arkham Asylum was an absolute revelation of video-gamekind and City now absolutely makes up for any horrible ending or horrible boss fights. The game is truly incredible in absolutely every single capacity, but where does that leave The Dark Knight? Well it feels weird to compare the two but yet it feels quite comforting. Both texts are deep within their pacing and escalation stuff, both texts involve all manner of questions about the hero in question “You complete me” (The Dark Knight) “Your presence creates these animals.” (Arkham City) and both end on some of the strongest notes possible.
Batman loses in The Dark Knight. He denies Gotham the terrible truth at the expense of his symbolism, truly becoming the hero that they require. Batman loses heavily in Arkham City with so many corpses at his feet, including the Joker, and the next game likely involving him trying to clear his name. In fact, Dark Knight Rises might be like that? The problem with comparing the Arkhamverse to the Nolanverse is Arkhamverse has no real ‘Begins‘ but rather this giant collective heavy seventy years of history behind it. There’s references to Knightfall and No Man’s Land and the continuity is simultaneously both all over everywhere and yet cohesive good stuff.
The Dark Knight is an absolute perfect examination of Batman put under high moral pressure and forced to take on tactics of terrorism to combat terrorism, “I know what I have to become to stop men like him.”, with surveillance and heavy beating interrogations and being above the law on the agenda. There’s some more stuff to add into this but it happens to also be a very brave piece of post-9/11 commentary as the line between terrorist and freedom fighter blurs… Batman and Joker. Arkham City? I’m not sure. Batman doesn’t take on such measures here.
It’s also hard to argue anything with the very object of interactivity and non-interactivity at play here. Batman never kills and this is evident in City, even when put under (what I think) is some of the heaviest pressures he’s ever been under. However, it is his fault that all of these deaths happen. It’s somewhat down to his clumsiness, ill judgement and all that but he could have saved everyone but (similar to The Dark Knight) he is actually partially responsible for all the deaths that occur. He could have prevented them, although perhaps not as blatantly with The Dark Knight.
With Nolan’s masterpiece, Batman instead becomes selfish and chooses to be Bruce Wayne rather than Batman. Except his costume doesn’t match up and everything goes pear shaped. He ends up ruining Gotham, karma in a way, but perhaps the Joker always intended for Batman to go through an act of self-destruction? His triumph is not in rendering the people of Gotham insane and morally corrupt – “This city just showed you that it’s full of people willing to believe in good!” – but rather rendering its true saviour… useless. The Joker does commit absolute self-destruction but at the cost of what? Pretty much killing off any good name that the symbol of Bats has… I’d say that was worth it.
Arkham City ends on a much lighter note, but with similar players. Joker, Gordon and Batman. Two-Face sort of disappears and falls into Catwoman territory but there’s still the same death of a symbol and all other stuff crammed into this final scene. So, why does all of this comparing matter? Because Batman is a character who exists in various contexts and across various texts that all debate the origin, ethics and intricacies of the character. Burton’s Batman had him kill folks at the flick of a hat, modern iterations don’t have him kill anyone (usually) and the 60s Batman had… campness up to eleven.
A hero existing on so many continuities and trapped within ambiguity reminds me of Rick Deckard from Blade Runner in how he is both Replicant and Human at the same point. All it takes is for the symbol of the unicorn to be changed from a mark of brotherhood into a sign of who he really is, by the dream sequence, to really hammer home a completely different idea. Where these continuities are similar is what really astounds me. The symbol of the unicorn and its interpretations, but how they centralize around one simple symbol, is what is so interesting.
Similarly it’s why Arkham City and The Dark Knight deserve to be talked about. I would like to talk about both of these over the coming weeks and lead up to Dark Knight Rises probably. Notice how this corner was particularly devoid of any real ‘critique’? Well, I can’t really criticize much about the two. The Dark Knight has escalation problems, so does City partially, and Dark Knight has some little over-acting glares. Other than that, I can’t find any fault in what either film/game accomplishes to set out. The Dark Knight isn’t however on my top ten films of forever, which you’d find a bit strange, but that’s for another day…