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Why Are Love Stories The Worst Part Of Any Batman Movie?

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight and Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale in Batman Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises

It's widely accepted that some Batman movies are a lot better than others, but the love stories are the worst part on every occasion. For many superheroes, a strong romance is a key part of their character, and the likes of Lois Lane, Steve Trevor and Mary-Jane Watson have become iconic figures after sharing a compelling love story with a comic book crime-fighter. In any genre of fiction, however, there are some characters who simply aren't suited to personal relationships, and this absolutely applies within the world of superheroes.

In the comics, Batman has enjoyed a slew of love interests, but no relationship has developed into an intrinsic addition to his character. Selina Kyle is perhaps Bruce's most notable partner, but even that dalliance has proven troublesome, with the duo's wedding arc receiving a largely negative reception. The problem is even more pronounced on the big screen, where romantic subplots are part and parcel of the Hollywood formula.

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The Caped Crusader's cinematic love interests range from forgettable to boring, detouring at painfully cringe-worthy. Admittedly, not all of Bruce's love stories are outright poor, but even the better ones remain the least interesting parts of their respective movies. Here, we look back at Batman's movie romances and wonder whether the females in his life have been mishandled, or whether the Dark Knight should always be a lone warrior.

The Tim Burton And Joel Schumacher Era Batman Love Interests

As Batman arrived for his first proper Hollywood outing in 1989, it was inevitable that his softer side would be explored and, accordingly, Kim Basinger was cast as journalist and comic book love interest, Vicki Vale. In fairness, Burton's first Batman movie began Bruce Wayne's romantic career on reasonably solid footing, offering a better arc than most subsequent releases. Vale plays a large part in Batman's story and successfully highlights the disconnect between Bruce's two alter egos but, essentially, she's the archetypal damsel in distress, with the Joker whisking her to the top of a cathedral in the film's climax and Batman rushing to save her.

Similar criticism could be applied to Margot Kidder's Lois Lane, but the difference in character chemistry, the establishment of Lois as a character in her own right and Superman's more natural affinity for romance put her in a different league to Vicki Vale.

It's telling that there was very little fanfare when Vale wasn't included in 1992 sequel, Batman Returns, with Michelle Pfeiffer's Selina Kyle taking on that role instead. Widely regarded as one of the best Batman stories put to film, Burton's return to Gotham City also gave fans what is arguably Batman's strongest big screen love story, as the contrast between Bruce and Selina's relationship - and their two alternate personas - made for a neat, comic-inspired angle. Perhaps the strength in Batman Returns' romantic subplot comes from being highly non-traditional, taking on a dysfunctional turn, as both parties feed each other's costumed impulses. With that said, Batman Returns wouldn't have lost a great deal if Batman and Catwoman's partnership was strictly business.

Unfortunately, Bruce's track record with women would only deteriorate, as Batman Forever introduced Nicole Kidman's Dr. Chase Meridian, a psychologist harboring an obsession with the Dark Knight that her peers would certainly frown upon. This pairing is a whirlwind of cheesy dialogue, cliched tropes and weird conversations about dream-catching dolls, with Schumacher reverting fully to the damsel in distress stereotype. Repeating a trick from the previous two movies, Chase also discovers Bruce Wayne's secret identity, forcing the audience to ponder why he even bothers wearing a mask if he's going to reveal his alter-ego to every single girl that dines at Wayne Manor.

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Played by Elle Macpherson, Bruce's new girlfriend in Batman & Robin remains very much in the background - a wise decision given the glut of other problems this film faced.

Christopher Nolan Revives Batman...Still Can't Nail The Romance

George Clooney famously claimed that Batman & Robin had killed the franchise, but Christopher Nolan proved that prediction false when he delivered a grittier, darker, more realistic version of the superhero with Batman Begins. By hitting the reset button and grounding Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne in a stark, urban setting, Batman's cinematic career was revived in stunning fashion, as most fans embraced Nolan's style and approach. By far the most derided element of Batman Begins, however, was the romantic angle between Bruce and Katie Holmes' Rachel Dawes.

Whether through a lack of chemistry between Bale and Holmes, a casting misfire or a love story being shoe-horned somewhere it didn't belong, the relationship was easily the most forgettable element of Batman Begins, coming across as a story component demanded by the Hollywood machine, rather than a creatively fruitful addition.

For his seminal The Dark Knight, Nolan nailed the solution to Batman's romantic woes by more or less removing them entirely. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes, smoothing out the chemistry problem, and Rachel Dawes became Harvey Dent's lover, before dying an explosive death midway through the film. This setup cast Bruce as the tortured lover, first forced to watch the object of his affections with another man, and then mourning her death, perfectly fitting into the darkness of the character.

After skipping out on a love story in The Dark Knight, Nolan made up for lost time with The Dark Knight Rises by introducing two romantic interests for Bruce: Miranda Tate and, once again, Selina Kyle. Bruce and Tate's relationship hinges on the eventual reveal that the femme fetale is actually Talia al Ghul, and since audiences never truly got behind this twist, neither did they invest in the relationship. While Bruce's connection with Selina ends up being far more genuine, it also misses the mark, perhaps because Bale's character spends most of the movie courting another woman. Without Talia muddying the waters, Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle perhaps could've been the best love interest of the Nolan era.

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Awkward DCEU Flirting And Robert Pattinson's The Batman

Over the course of Batman V. Superman and Justice League, Batfleck's romantic arc amounted to little more than Bruce Wayne being mildly flirtatious with Wonder Woman while Alfred cheered from the sidelines and since Aquaman also got in on the act (much to the chagrin of almost everyone), this can hardly be construed as a love story. As with Batman & Robin, this is fortunate, as plenty more problems were at play.

The Batman mantle has now fallen into the lap of Robert Pattinson, who will make his debut in Matt Reeves' The Batman in 2021. Plot details remain unconfirmed at present, but Catwoman is strongly rumored to feature, probably in the capacity of Bruce's on-screen love interest for the third time. Given Pattinson's Twilight history and status as a sex symbol, it's highly likely Warner Bros. will want to explore the softer side of the Batman character once again, but can they avoid the same pitfalls as before?

If anything can be learned from past Batman movie love stories, it's that the traditional dynamic doesn't work. Bruce is an unhappy and damaged individual, and his relationships work best when they reflect this, either by being dysfunctional or unrequited.

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Key Release Dates
  • Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
  • Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
  • Aquaman 2 (2022) release date: Dec 16, 2022
  • DC Super Pets (2022) release date: May 20, 2022
  • The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
  • The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
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