7 Times Arrow Did Batman Begins Better Than Christopher Nolan
Anyone who has seen both Arrow and Batman Begins knows that the small screen drama borrowed more than a few elements from the Christopher Nolan classic.
For example, at the most basic narrative level, the TV show and film are both about billionaire playboy-types who—following personal tragedy—don masks to save their cities from corruption and crime.
Also, both Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) ???? pushups so much…
But these superhero properties have their respective strengths and weaknesses. Here are seven ways Arrow tells a better superhero story than Batman Begins. (Yep, we’re going there…)
These days, I want to punch the Arrow flashbacks in the face a little bit, but that hasn’t always been the case—nor does the current tedium of the flashback structure negate what has been a pretty brilliant telling of the Oliver Queen backstory.
While Batman Begins focuses on how Bruce’s backstory motivates him to become The Batman, Arrow goes one step further in keeping the emphasis on how Oliver has changed from Ollie to The Hood—not just in terms of fighting skills, but in terms of temperament, perspective, and—most importantly—hair.
Though we get glimpses of different versions of Bruce through the years, we don’t get to hang out with them in the same way we do with Ollie, Lian Yu Ollie, Hong Kong Ollie, etc.
The fighting style
If Bruce Wayne of Batman Begins and Oliver Queen of Arrow were to get into a fight, no doubt it would be very close, but we have to give this one to Ollie. Not only does he have a wider range of talents (i.e. badass archery skills), but the man can parkour like none other.
From the beginning, Stephen Amell’s portrayal of Oliver Queen has been notable for it physicality—and the Arrow stunt team has done an amazing job incorporating Amell’s style, as well as other characters’ physical strengths, into the show’s many amazing action sequences. Though Batman Begins has some epic action sequences, Arrow has the advantage of being able to explore character through action in a way that Batman Begins doesn’t have the screen time to embrace.
I love me some Alfred and Lucius Fox, but Arrow outstrips Batman Begins with its #OTA—not to mention its Canary and its Black Canary and its Arsenal and its Speedy. This isn’t just because Oliver has a wider variety of allies to call on, but because—unlike in Batman Begins—Oliver actually lets his team members get their hands dirty. He (eventually) learns how to trust them with their common missions, which—at least in my mind—is a much more compelling story than Bruce’s largely one-man mission. Especially because there are spin-offs.
Old friends. Complicated past. Unaddressed feelings. It doesn’t take a detective to see the comparisons between Bruce and Rachel’s relationship in “Batman Begins” and Oliver and Laurel’s relationship in season one of Arrow. It also could explain a lot about why the Arrow Powers That Be thought Lauriver might work, despite the fact that Oliver had, from all accounts, been the worst boyfriend in the history of boyfriends.
The complicated, messy relationship between Oliver and Laurel in season one aside, Batman Begins (and The Dark Knight Trilogy, in general) is never particularly interested and, therefore, never particularly successful at telling a good romantic story. Meanwhile, Arrow has shifted gears since season 1, giving us the gift that keeps on giving: Olicity. #LongFormStorytellingIsForLovers
Honestly, the Ra’s al Ghul of Batman Begins is way better than the Ra’s al Ghul of Arrow. I was not afraid of that latter guy at all and am still not sure why he spent a whole year incompetently harassing Oliver and his friends when there are much more interesting things in this world to conquer.
However, Deathstroke as the villain of Arrow season two is one of the best on-screen comic book villain portrayals of all time. This is, in great part, because Arrow is patient in telling the story of Slade Wilson. In season one, we see he and Oliver slowly become allies, then friends. This makes his eventual turn to madness and revenge much more compelling, heartbreaking, and scary than Ra’s al Ghul’s because it is that much more personal. #ShortFormStorytellingIsForLosers
The moral ambiguity of its hero
One of the things Arrow had going for it from its beginning was the darkness of Oliver’s path. Sure, Bruce walks a dark path in Batman Begins, but he doesn’t straight up kill people in his opening salvo. Oliver does, and it is harsh and it is really questionable and it is hella interesting. (Can we talk about how Oliver is a Bratva captain and once killed his sister’s drug dealer because he couldn’t deal with all of his feels?)
I’m not saying that more violence = more interesting. That is definitely, definitely not true. A lot of the time it is just lazy storytelling. But the fact that Arrow treats Oliver’s decision to murder in the first season as extremely problematic (mainly, through the voice of Diggle and Felicity) is extremely important. But Oliver’s moral ambiguity allows his character a bit more growth re: vigilantism than Bruce ever gets in Batman Begins.
Arrow is far from the most progressive superhero story ever told—after all, it’s a story about a rich, straight, white man saving the less fortunate masses—but it has its moments. It’s pretty cool that #OTA includes a character of color and a kickass lady. It’s pretty cool that the show has portrayed multiple queer characters. It’s pretty cool that Arrow has as many female characters as male—you know, just like IRL.
That last point is particularly relevant to our current discussion, given that Batman Begins is totally lacking in the ladies. Sure, Rachel gets to do some cool stuff, but she doesn’t get any female friends to kick butt with—and she eventually gets fridged. ???? Meanwhile, Team Arrow currently has more women than men risking their lives for the city. (Take that, Avengers!)
This debate isn’t just about the portrayal of superheroes in Arrow and Batman Begins, but about the discussion of the strengths and limits of a comic book TV show vs. a comic book film (or even film franchise). Personally, I believe that television, with its long-form, serialized nature, has much greater potential for the translation of comic book characters than film. But maybe you feel differently?
Fortunately, we live in a universe where we don’t have to choose between Batman Begins and Arrow. We can watch both. Multiple times.