By James Hancock June 22nd, 2015
Since before the time I could read, superheroes for me have been the equivalent of a serious drug habit that I have no interest in kicking. I buy comics every week, I’m obsessed with superhero flicks, but I tend to avoid most video games starring these characters. Don’t get me wrong. I love video games. I lost a few years of my life to raiding with my guild in World of Warcraft and lately I’ve converted my apartment to a smack house devoted exclusively to playing ‘Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin’. The reason I avoid most superhero video games is that I favor role playing games in open world environments over action games and very rarely do superhero games embrace my preferred format. Tomorrow I will make an exception. I just saw the launch trailer to ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ which comes out tomorrow morning (6/23) and it looks as if the game captures everything that Zack Snyder has overlooked with ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. I know it is terribly unfair to review a film 9 months before it comes out but the trailer to ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ has left me completely underwhelmed. I was not a fan of Snyder’s Man of Steel’ (2013) and his next film in the DC cinematic universe looks grim to the point of self-parody. So while I think Batman is one of the most perfect pop culture creations of the last 100 years, I had lately accepted with weary resignation that I would not be getting excited about any films featuring Batman in the near future. That all changed when I saw the ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ launch trailer (see below).
If you’re not a gamer, your first instinct might be to dismissively shrug off this trailer. Fair enough, if this were a trailer to a movie and not a game, I might share that opinion. But what non-gamers often overlook when watching cinematic video game trailers is that once the story starts the audience gets to be in the driver seat instead of having a passive experience. If you want to beat the hell out of Two-Face or have a romantic evening with Catwoman, that’s what you go do and you don’t have to wait around for several years hoping a filmmaker will successfully crack the code of making a superior Batman movie like ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008). I spend a lot of time in movie theaters and movies like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ are about as much fun as a person can have sitting there alone in the dark, but every once in a while I want to take over the role of Imperator Furiosa or Max Rockatansky and head butt some war boys in the face. That’s where video games take over my imagination. As RPGs and action games become increasingly cinematic in style, the Venn diagram of movies and games share an increasingly large intersection where the lines between gaming and movies are blurred, giving movie fanatics like myself a chance to live out my most lurid fantasies.
The first thing that jumps out at me about the ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ launch trailer is the voice of Kevin Conroy. When movie freaks discuss the greatest Batman of all time, you’ll hear people defend Adam West, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, etc. For me, Kevin Conroy beats them all by such a large margin that when I read a comic featuring the character of Batman, I hear Kevin Conroy’s voice each time Batman has a line of dialogue. Ever since ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ (1992-95) Kevin Conroy has been dominating the role of Batman reprising the role across animated tv shows, animated movies and video games. Since the debut of the character in ‘Detective Comics’ #27 back in 1939, many amazing writers, artists and filmmakers have put their personal stamp on the character and I think Kevin Conroy deserves a seat at the table among the best of them. Check out the video below to see the rest of the amazing voice talents assembled for the game, such as Jonathan Banks as Commisioner Gordon and John Noble as Scarecrow.
The main attraction of this game, however, is getting immersed in a fully fleshed-out Batman environment with all the growing pains of introducing Batman’s enemies and allies already out of the way. My biggest grievance against a lot of comic book movies is that they tend to fall into two categories of stories, introductions and/or reboots. I don’t know about the rest of you but I never need to see another movie that tells the origin story of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or any other character who is a household name after several decades of shows, movies, comics, and games spinning their origin stories in an infinite number of ways. One of the reasons Batman’s origin story is so compelling is because of its simplicity. A boy watches his parents get gunned down in front of him and devotes the rest of his life to fighting crime. That’s it. We all know the story at this point. What I want to enjoy on the screen are the rest of Batman’s incredible stories. I want to see his interactions with Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, Timothy Drake & all the other members of the bat family that have worked alongside him over the years. I want a story where Catwoman, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and all the other fascinating villains of his rogues gallery are lurking behind every corner. The ensemble cast of Batman’s universe is arguably the best in comics and, to date, not one movie has understood this. I think Christopher Nolan did an amazing job with his Batman trilogy but his take on the character was far more grounded in reality than your average comic book where the city of Gotham is positively overflowing with dozens of costumed vigilantes and colorful psychopaths. Just watch the trailer I linked at the top starting at the 1:01 mark and you’ll see that director Sefton Hill has decided to take everything amazing about Batman’s imaginary world and cranked up the volume to eleven. Luckily I have very little to do tomorrow. I’m planning on putting my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and doing nothing but geeking out in ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ until my eyeballs collapse from eye strain. So forget Zack Snyder and his absurdly emo and comically grim take on the DC Universe. Fans of comics know a charlatan when we see one. On the other hand, everything I’ve seen about ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ looks, feels and sounds like the Batman movie I want to see. Tomorrow can’t arrive quickly enough.
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