An important discussion arose in the Jalopnik pod this week: why, in Batman Begins, did Batman ask then-Sgt. Jim Gordon if he could drive stick before he got into the Tumbler Batmobile, when there’s no way the Tumbler Batmobile has a manual transmission? Why would Batman just lie like that?
(Please note: For the sake of this argument, I will only be using evidence shown in the movie and not secondary, behind-the-scenes knowledge about the stunt cars used.)
We all know the scene: It’s towards the end of Batman Begins, when Batman needs Gordon to help him in his plan to stop Ra’s al Ghul from drowning Gotham City in fear-gas.
“What do you need?” Gordon offers, ever the helpful public servant.
“Can you drive stick?” Batman responds, holding up the key to the Tumbler. It’s at the 1:10 mark here:
It’s a highly memorable line because it’s actually quite funny. Gotham City is about to implode, there’s fucking gas and rioting mental patients everywhere, and one dude is offering another dude his car and making sure that the first dude can drive it. Just like any other car-loaning situation. Nice of him to ask!
But here’s the thing: The Tumbler isn’t a manual. Not even close!
Here’s the scene when Lucius Fox takes Bruce Wayne out in the Tumbler for the first time:
It’s a left-hand drive vehicle, but in the middle, where a manual shifter would be, there is instead a lever. This, Fox points out, is the throttle. Pushing on the lever appears to open the throttle and pulling back on the lever cuts it. Simple enough.
Now, this could mean that the Tumbler has a set up kind of like a motorcycle’s: Throttle on the right and clutch and gear shifter on the left. But what would the driver use to engage the clutch and shift the gears? The right hand is already operating the throttle and the left hand can’t work both the clutch and the shifter, so maybe there is something for the feet to do?
I think not. There is no way there are crucial pedals on the floor of the Tumbler. When Batman has to access his weapons, his whole seat contorts to put his face in the footwell between the two seats, which is the most heavily armored and safest place to be when engaging in gunfire.
He can still drive the Tumbler while being in that position, by the way, which means that his feet are nowhere near where they are in normal seating and driving position, thus exemplifying how little use feet have in the Tumbler in general.
There’s no clutch pedal in that!
I also have a hard time believing that the Tumbler was conceived with a stick at all, as it’s an ex-military bridging vehicle. It was meant to jump over things with a boost button on the throttle lever to help it make those jumps. A manual would theoretically be possible, but I’d think that for the sake of simplicity, the Tumbler’s designers would have fitted it with some kind of automatic. Probably a simple one at that.
This also brings up the question of what the Tumbler is powered by. My own ears tell me there is a V8 yelling from within its bowels, but then there are also multiple shots where it’s moving and the V8 is silent. All you can hear is this high-pitched mechanical whirring. Could a kind of turbine also be driving the Tumbler’s wheels? A kind of turbine-V8 hybrid? There’s no way that would need a manual gearbox.
Anyway. The Tumbler definitely isn’t a stick. Why, then, did Batman lie to Gordon?
Some office-wide theories suggest that Batman was merely making a joke, implying that the Tumbler being a stick is an absurd idea. And to that I would query if this was the most opportune time for Batman to be making jokes at all.
Time is tight, half of Gotham is already insane and the water vaporizer is heading to the heart of the city. What if Gordon couldn’t drive a stick? Batman’s comment would have caused unnecessary confusion and wasted precious moments that could have been better spent working out a plan to stop Ra’s al Ghul.
A second (and more involved theory) is that Batman was using this question as a way of testing Gordon’s multitasking skills. Surely, someone who could operate a manual transmission car would also be able to handle a turbine-powered tank that’s also armed with guns and missiles? (They are basically the same thing.) If that was the case, then why didn’t Batman just say so? Why be misleading about how to drive the Tumbler in the first place, especially since Gordon’s role in stopping Ra’s al Ghul was absolutely vital.
Look, I’m not saying Batman needs to be honest about everything. After all, he operates on his own terms of legality and has a secret identity to protect his butler from getting murdered by clowns.
I do not understand, though, what would cause him to lie about something that is so easily disproven.
Stop lying, Batman!