Of all the characteristics that make Batman a great and honorable hero, I believe the most essential is his one rule of never killing his enemies…in the comics, that is. This very defining and important philosophy, which was inspired by the trauma Bruce Wayne faced after witnessing the senseless murder of his own parents, is often disregarded in the Batman movies (the live-action Batman movies, in particular) leading to some very polarizing receptions from DC movies fans.
While it was difficult to come up with an accurate total body count, I took the liberty of highlighting some of the major moments from the Batman movies in order which saw the Dark Knight intentionally break his no-kill rule, starting with this groundbreaking 1989 blockbuster.
Save for Michael Keaton’s psychological understanding of the character, director Tim Burton’s critically acclaimed, monstrously successfully superhero movies debut is not necessarily lauded as a faithful interpretation of the Dark Knight by comic book purists, such as Kevin Smith, for instance.
A main point of contention is how often Keaton takes a life in 1989’s Batman, including setting off a factory explosion that takes out several Joker goons, gunning down even more henchmen during a Gotham parade from the Batwing, and, finally, causing the Clown Prince of Crime (Jack Nicholson) to plummet to his death from the top of a cathedral by tying a gargoyle to his ankle. Oddly enough, when Bruce Wayne’s alter ego first appears in the movie, he makes his disinterest in killing pretty clear.
Batman Returns (1992)
The body count in Batman Returns is not as high as in ’89, but the Caped Crusader comes up with even more inventive methods of committing homicide for the sake of justice during one horrific Christmas season in Gotham City.
At one point in Tim Burton’s less financially successful (but more controversial) Batman sequel, you see Michael Keaton’s hero use the Batmobile’s back burner to set one of The Penguin’s goons ablaze, but my personal favorite is when he straps a bomb to a brutish henchman before smiling and walking away without looking back at the explosion. Some might argue he causes Oswald Cobblepot’s (Danny DeVito) eventual demise, but not directly, and I would have counted Batman knocking Catwoman (Michelle Pfieffer) off a building, if she was on her last life at the time.
Batman Forever (1995)
When Val Kilmer took over the sought after title role for Batman Forever, not only did his take on the character continue to break his own rule, but he stole Michael Keaton’s moves when doing so.
First, he uses the Batmobile’s back burner to burn a bunch of Two-Face’s goons to a crisp, and then, by the end of the late Joel Schumacher’s cartoonish sequel, he disorients Harvey Dent (Tommy Lee Jones) by throwing a bunch of replicas of his prized coin in the air, causing him to plummet to his death. This would not be last time we saw Gotham’s disgraced former district attorney suffer a similar demise on the big screen either.
The Dark Knight (2008)
I also counted two deaths, courtesy of Christian Bale’s Batman, in the second chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy - both of which also involve Two-Face.
The first is during one of The Dark Knight’s coolest sequences in which Bats is trying to rescue a still uncorrupted Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) from Joker’s (Heath Ledger) capture and, in the process, kills his truck driver with a head-on collision. The second is when he stops Two-Face from murdering Jim Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) son in front of him by causing him to plummet to his death, which seems to have been his last possible option.
Batman Begins (2005)
However, the Dark Knight had more than one option when deciding the fate of Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) at the end of Christopher Nolan’s first Batman movie. In fact, earlier in Batman Begins, he tells the League of Shadows that he “will not be an executioner” when he makes his official transition into vigilantism. Technically, he sticks to that promise by not killing, but also not saving, his former mentor from succumbing to a runaway train heading straight for a crash, but it leaves Batman stuck in a bit of a moral gray area that is still up for debate to this day.
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
Director Zack Snyder also found himself odds with fans over the moral code of his take on the Dark Knight, as played by Ben Affleck, in three (technically four) installments of the shared universe of DECU movies.
When it comes to dealing with Lex Luthor’s henchmen - whether in the event of stealing a biological weapon or rescuing Martha Kent (Diane Lane) as a favor to her son, Superman (Henry Cavill) - this Batman does not take prisoners, using the Batmobile or homemade explosives as his most common tools of destruction. Some viewers of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice like to count all the criminals who died in prison as a result of Batman’s branding, but that’s not a direct kill… even if it is pretty damn harsh.
Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
No humans actually suffer death at the hands of Batman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which is why I am not sure if it is really even worth it to count the innumerable amounts of Parademons he slaughters.
In fact, I firmly believe that one of Ben Affleck’s most badass Batman moments in the four-hour, HBO Max exclusive presentation (or even his whole tenure as the DC superhero) is when he crushes a whole fleet of the “god dammed insects” with a water tower he knocks down himself in a perfectly timed move. Of course, that otherwise stunning display and nearly every one of his Parademon kills is achieved with a gun, which is another rule hastily thrown out the window for this take on the character.
I, for one, do prefer cinematic interpretations of Batman who successfully abstain from any homicidal tendencies, and do hope we see Robert Pattinson break this killing steak when The Batman comes out in 2022. However, comic book characters pushed to their breaking point and forced to do the unthinkable for the sake of a greater good is a concept I never tire of seeing in any medium. So, maybe, in that case, the end does justify the means.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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