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This is what I’m talking about! Today’s bout is true movie geek gold. Not to mention, laconic as smeg. I am counting down the greatest showdowns that never happened with AFI’s 100 years… 100 Heries & Villains. Today, it’s…

#46. Michael Keaton’s Batman vs. Hans Gruber (Die Hard)

BACKGROUND

Millionaire heir sees his parents gunned down. Kid grows up, goes on a quest to be awesome at martial arts, returns to his home town to dress up in black leather and kick ass.

More key to the particular badassery of Keaton’s Batman is the timing. Batman first reached max popularity in the mid-60s with the Adam West TV series. It was campier than a row of cheese tents, but it garnered ratings. The comic book, which went camping, too, also skyrocketed sales. Then both died when everyone got bored. The 70s saw the same writers going back to the “darker” Batman stories, which were serious, sure, but lacked real punch and the franchise was slowly dying. Then, at the height of the slump, if that makes sense; penciller turned writer Frank Miller produced the limited Return of the Dark Knight series and BAM! Batman was, indeed, back. Darker, grimmer, grittier, noir… er(?) than ever before. This new wave of darker, more realistic Batman stories led to the 1989 Tim Burton film.

The year before, a comedic TV actor who’d once done a cowboy movie, suddenly goes blue collar badass in 88’s Die Hard. Okay, it wasn’t that sudden. Bruce Willis’ comedic standing was as a P.I. in the TV “dramady” Moonlighting opposite Cybil Shephard (who was kind of the Terry Hatcher of the 80s). So up against the snarky, fast-and-loose, dock worker type, they gave us Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman who basically the exact opposite of Bruce Willis in every conceivable way. In the words of internet-pop-culture-comedy guru Seanbaby: “Alan Rickman can pack so much tragedy, rage, injustice and disgust into a single line that you’d swear it was a McRib.

 

Mr. Takagi, I could talk about industrialization and men's fashion all day, but I'm afraid work must intrude...

Also, Hans Gruber and his gang pretend to be terrorists (which were a big thing in the 80s, which kind of petered out in the 90s and have since made a generic-movie-villain comeback) so that no one notices them stealing a whole bunch of money.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Batman’s got the whole stash in Tim Burton’s film. If you’re only familiar with the Nolan films (in which case, you are not a true geek), Batman has fewer scenes of Michael Keaton sitting in front of a big computer doing forensics and more pulling gadgets out of his yellow belt. As inaugural villain, Jack Nicholson’s Joker (he’s on base tomorrow), remarks: “Where does he get those toys?”

I get them at Bat-mart.

Hans Gruber, being only slightly more realistic than gritty Batman, has machine guns, a classical education and some detonators (once he finds them).

METHODS AND MOTIVES

Batman is an archetypal crime-fighter. In general, he doesn’t have a lot of ethical dilemmas, except whether or not to kill someone and the blurry line between justice and revenge. There’s not much of that in the first Burton movie, though. There’s no real doubt or hesitance or even much in the way of remorse. You commit a crime, you get punched. It’s a pretty straight-forward doctrine.

Also, Grade A lip-pursing.

Gruber, being an exceptional thief, is emotionlessly greedy and completely aloof the lives of his associates. He does start showing a bit of emotional vigor when pushed, towards the end, but mostly maintains his sociopathic cool. His goals are simple enough: get out with the money and kill McClane for all the bother he’s been.

THE SHOWDOWN

Round 1: Gotham Cathedral

Hans Gruber has lured Batman into Gotham Cathedral, where his team of thirteen pseudo-terrorists plan to ambush him. Instead of industrial chains and jumping from rafter yelling “death from above”, Gruber’s boys have machine guns. This means Bats is going to have to step a lot lighter. On the other hand, bells. They cause a lot of ricochet. So, there’s a very solid chance that Batman is going to sustain a couple bullet wounds while taking out ze Germans.

The real advantage Gruber has is that he isn’t trying to bang Vicki Vale. So, that whole “I love purple” line has zero effect. He still has to escape by helicoptor, though. So, Gruber waits until the ladder is in reach, maybe they do the laughing thing, and Gruber throws Vale into Batman, jumps for the ladder and squeezes off a few rounds to cover his escape. He lives for a sequel which, in Batman movie terms, makes him the most successful villain ever!

WINNER: Hans Gruber

Alan Rickman's voice + "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" = AWESOME!

Round 2: Nakatomi Plaza

Gruber and the boys have taken the building hostage and Batman comes swooping in with the Batjet. He takes out the explosives on the roof and a few of the machine gun toters, but given the rather shocking flimsiness of the Batjet (one bullet from a comically long barreled pistol; seriously), he would get shot down on the first or second pass. Given that he can’t steer and the 30th floor is quite high (also, no apparent ejector seat), Batman would end up crash landing a mile or two away from the building. Thereby giving Gruber and Co. enough time to get a good portion of the cash out. They could easily jack Argyle’s limo and be home free before sunrise.

WINNER: Hans Gruber

FINAL ANALYSIS

In Gotham, Keaton’s Batman exploits the neuroses of his villains to catch them vulnerable. Gruber doesn’t have these neuroses. His tragic flaw is being prepared for the standard approach. McClane beats Gruber because he’s already inside and acting more like the kid in Home Alone than an actual cop. Batman goes in guns blazing, which is exactly the kind of thing Gruber would be prepared for.

In Los Angeles, Batman’s fatal mistake is the Batjet. Seriously, that thing is weak tea. Christian Bale’s Batman would have faired infinitely better by not using the Batjet (which gets wrecked every single time it’s flown, by the way) and using the approach he goes with in The Dark Knight when entering the towers in Hong Kong. But that’s genres for you.

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