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I love batman. I always have since the first Batman movie with Michael Keaton, but especially since Batman: The Animated Series. Batman is SO Batman in that “cartoon” that they didn’t even SAY it was “batman” in the intro. They just had a dude beating up bad guys in a cloak and cowl with wicked awesome music (same orchestra used in the Burton Batman, FYI) and bam, you know it’s batman.

So, why do I like Batman so much? Is it because he’s a postmodern anti-hero with duel identities, pulled in opposite yet sometimes analogous directions and some how that appeals to my thirty-something, 21st century male angst? Maybe. Is it because he has rules (no guns, no killing) and holds to them religiously that appeal to my liberal, christian background? Eh, could be. Or, is it because he is a super hero yet he has no super powers, fights crime with only his wits, skills, technology and machismo?  Definitely.

We lost interest in Superman because he was created as the perfect American hero (fighting for the American way) to be the antithesis to Russian-Red Scare era, and that need isn’t there anymore. We needed to feel good about being American, and needed to know that if everything went to shit with a nuclear war (yes, that’s how you spell it Mr. President) , that at least Superman could save all the Americans from Russian nukes. But After Star Wars (the Reagen era military bluff that bankrupted Mother Russia), we no longer needed him.  

Ever since then, and right up until 9/11 we’ve become less and less ultra patriotic as a whole. This is not to say that we do not love the country we live in, but we love it less exclusively, and more inclusively along with thinking about the world as a whole (or, at least, we did). This is interesting, because when we look at Batman, although he is technically less patriotic, because of the nature of who he is, his crime fighting is localized to pretty much one city.  Alternatively, Superman has the ability to fly to whatever the heck continent he wants to with no worries of emissions (super flagellants aside).

With post-modern introspection and the loss of the American Dream, we no longer wanted a hero who was perfect to look up to. We wanted someone more like ourselves, someone with issues (especially father issues), someone who did whatever the hell they wanted, but not to the point that we felt like he was evil. He broke the rules, yes, but had his own that he followed and even turned the bad guys over the police (when he was done with them).

So, that’s why we like Batman, the character, but, what about the movies? Three directors have attempted to capture what we love about Batman: Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolen. Two of them were, in my opinion, successful, one of them missed it by so much that one of his Batman movies was voted the worst movie ever. But we’ll get to that.

 

Batman (1989)

( 1 Vote ) 

 

  • batmanDirected by: Tim Burton

    • Other movies he’s directed: Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Beetle Juice, Alice in Wonderland, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (not even kidding)
    • He has also been a writer and producer of some of these and others, of course let’s not neglect all of the Burton/Depp projects. Can we name them? Let’s try: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeny Todd and, ‘cus I had to check, yes Burton and Johnny Depp are filming a new one called Dark Shadows. So, as of 6/27/2011, Depp and Burton have done seven movies together. And not a one of them is a sequel. I think one of them must have a man crush on the other, but both are so weird, I can’t tell which one has the crush, or, for that matter, if I care.
  • Notable Cast:

    • Johnny Depp...wait, no, he’s not in this one.
    • Michael Keaton (Batman/Bruce Wayne)
    • Jack Nicklaus, I mean NicholSON (The Joker, though, the Joker probably wood have some interesting uses for a nine iron...get it, wood, never mind, that joke was for you, dad)
    • Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale, A.K.A. Batman’s love interest)
    • Billy Dee Williams (Harvey Dent, A.K.A. Lando...you know, from Star Wars...not the one Reagan did, the one Lucas did)
    • Jack Palance (Carl Grissom, you might recognize him as the old cowboy from City Slickers)
    • Michael Gough (Alfred)
    • Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon, you might know him as the judge in Hang ‘Em High)


beeltejuicejokerLet’s put this movie in perspective with how Batman was previously portrayed on the television series. Compared to the loud, almost flamboyantly colored costumes (almost?) from the tv show, the campy “Pow”, “Wham”, and “Gee Golly Gosh, Batman, I sure feel weird wearing underwear on the outside of my spandex”, Burton’s Batman is VERY dark...to the creepy degree. But, remember, this is the same guy who directed Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands, and Beetlejuice so, we should expect that. (and just a reminder, Michael Keeton played Beetlejuice...who kinda looks like the Joker in the Dark Knight...so the dude who played the first Batman played a guy who looks like the Joker in another Batman movie...weird).

Here’s some fun trivia for ya. Apparently Adam West was pissed off that Burton picked anyone but him to play the hero, which, is kinda funny actually, ‘cus there’s no freekin’ way an Adam West batman would ever fit in Tim Burton’s imagining of Gotham. Michael Keaton, on the other hand, argued for himself saying that the caped crusader needn’t be played by a large, muscular dude, but a lean, well trained individual could play him just as well, and perhaps better since Batman relies more on his intelligence then brute force, and I would agree.

Bob Kane, the creator of the character from D.C. Comics was on set for this film as an advisor, and after reading up on the history, it seems as though Kane liked what he saw in the MUCH darker Gotham than he was allowed to portray in the original comics.

Because I’m an uber fan, I will be grading these movies not only on the essentials (directing, acting, writing, character development, etc...), but also how well the character of Batman is portrayed and especially if he obeys the batman rules (no guns, no killing).

All the movies up until Batman Begins were about the villain, not the protagonist from which the movie gets its name. In this case, it is about the rise of the Joker, how he changed from a regular thug Jack Napier to a psychotic serial killer.  We see a flash back to Napier killing Bruce’s parents (which lead to some confusion for some people when they saw Batman Begins, thinking that they changed what happened, when according to the original comic the Joker had nothing to do with the death of Bruce’s parents.) But although the movie touches briefly on the origin story of Batman, we don’t see the evolution or him trying to become Batman,  he is a fully realized and affective crime fighter.

original-batmobile.previewI LOVE the Batmobile in this movie, I gotta say, it's cooler than the tumbler in Batman Begins. Sorry, just saying.  It’s like a very sexy corvette...only with weapons and a jet engine for some reason.  And, oh yeah, it’s remote controlled with armor just in case you need to park it in a bad neighborhood.  And with Batman, that’s pretty much all the time.

I do have one small issue with this movie and that is when Batman is attacking the Joker with the Bat-wing, he uses the guns and missiles, fully intending to kill him. This goes against everything Batman stood for, and it honestly disappoints me that Bob Kane, the creator of the character, didn’t make a fuss. [Spoiler Alert] It’s also bazaar that they would have this first Batman movie with the Joker...and then kill him off!  Batman has a curse, and it’s name is the Joker. In The Dark Knight, The Joker said it best when he said “You won’t kill me, and you’re just too much fun.” This is exactly why the Joker is so good as a villain to Batman, the Joker LIKES him and Batman hates the Joker (and probably himself a little bit). So the battle rages on for decades in the comics, the Joker escaping from Arkham so many times it’s hard to count.  We’ll cover more about Batman’s unwillingness to take a life later on.

Over all, this is a GREAT movie and if you’ve never seen it, watch it, and if you have, watch it again, it’s just plain fun.

 

Batman Returns (1992)

( 1 Vote ) 

  • batmanreturnsDirected by: Tim Burton

    • Other movies, everything Johnny Depp ever did (not really, but pretty much)
  • Notable Cast

    • Michael Keaton (Batman/Bruce Wayne)
    • Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman, Selina Kyle)
    • Christopher Walken (Max Shreck)
    • Danny DeVito (The Penguin)
    • Michael Gough (Alfred)
    • Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon)


Michael Keaton reprises his role as the Batman in the 2nd Tim Burton, Batman movie. This movie follows the usual rule, when you make a sequel, it will likely suck.  This movie doesn’t all out fail as a batman movie, but it’s definitely not as fun or as good as the original.  Keaton does a good job playing Batman and Pfeiffer (yes that’s how you spell her name, “I” after “E” if you name starts with a “P, F” apparently) does a good job portraying Catwoman (I’m not even going to get into the Catwoman movie, don’t even talk to me about it, let’s just pretend that never happened). But...let’s talk about the Penguin for a little bit.

The creator of the Penguin (I don’t think it was Bob Kane) looked at Emperor Penguins and imagined them as stuffy Englishman. So, the original take on the character is a prim and proper, high class how-do-you-do who just likes nice things and doesn’t want to pay for them. So, he steals them. In the Batman universe, he is one of the very few villains who is not bat-shit crazy insane. However, we didn’t get that from Burton’s imagining of the Penguin. What we got was some kind of cross between Devito’s character from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and maybe a little bit of Quagmire thrown in for good measure.

Batman’s vow of no killing is strait up broken in this movie, where a fire breather is...well, breathing fire on the Batmobile, Batman pushed the magic button and a huge pillar appears underneath the car and turns it 180 degrees and then he guns the jet engine, engulfing the fire breather with fire. Sure, it’s cute, fight fire with fire, but this runs contrary to what we like about Batman, that he believes so strong against killing that he puts his own life in danger.

In spite of its problems, it’s worth a watch, especially in a Batman watching marathon.  The next two, however, are completely avoidable.

 

Batman Forever (1995)

( 1 Vote ) 

  • batmanforeverDirected by: Joel Schumacher

    • Other movies he’s directed: The Lost Boys, The Client, A Time to Kill, and Flawless: a touching comedy about an old cop who has a stroke, and his gay, cross dressing neighbor who helps him with his speech impediment. Not even kidding, and it’s a great movie).
  • Notable cast:

    • Val Kilmer (Batman/Bruce Wayne, A.K.A. Madmartigan, the greatest swordsman that has ever lived)
    • Tommy Lee Jones (Two Face/Harvey Dent)
    • Jim Carrie (Riddler/Dr. Edward Nygma...get it, E. Nygma)
    • Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian)
    • Chris O’ Donnell (Robin/Dick Grayson)
    • Michael Gough (Alfred)
    • Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon)

 

Here we take a left turn back into camp land with loud, obnoxious colors with make-up, set design and art direction that all seems like it wants us to think its muse is a comic book, but it’s really just a kids coloring book and the kid already colored in it...and did NOT stay in within lines.

The biggest complaint I have with this one is Two-Face. If you’ve read the comic book or watched The Animated Series, or, by now, have seen The Dark Knight, you know that Batman’s relationship with Two Face is complicated. Two Face is a villain, and therefor Batman’s enemy, but Harvey Dent is a good man and Bruce Wayne’s friend. Two Face is the perfect antitheses to Batman. In one episode of The Animated Series, Batman captures Two-Face and turns him over to the police. Then, when he’s being admitted into Arkham, Bruce Wayne is present to show support for Harvey Dent, and Dent thanks Wayne for being a good friend. This is a far deeper relationship than portrayed in Forever, or even in Dark Knight.

But Forever drops the ball completely, not even trying to get into the complicated relationship between the two characters. This is case in point why when I say that not only is this a horrible excuse for a Batman movie, it’s just simply not a good movie in general.

However, it does gain a few points for bringing back Gough and Hingle as Alfred and Gordon (respectively). And a few more for putting Nicole Kidman in it (‘cus it’s just nice to look at her).  Val does a good job as a smarmy Bruce (but I think that’s just Val being Val), but we all know Keaton made a better batman.  And Jim Carry, I love you, but you sucked as the Riddler, it’s not your fault though, I know you’re a good actor...but your character just wasn’t...um...good.

This isn’t the worst movie ever, but it isn’t great. Moving on to the worst movie ever.

 

Batman & Robin (1997)

( 1 Vote ) 

  • batmanandrobinDirected by suck town himself: Joel Schumacher   

    • Other movies he directed: other movies that weren’t voted the worst movie ever
  • Notable Cast:

    • Arnald Schwarzenegger (Mr. Freeze, A.K.A. worst villain ever)
    • Goerge Clooney (Batman/Bruce Wayne)
    • Chris O’ Donnell (Robin/Dick Grayson)
    • Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy)
    • Alicia Silverstone (Batgirl...almost as annoying as Jar Jar Binks...almost)
    • Michael Gough (Alfred)
    • Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon)


There’s too many movie lists that site Batman & Robin as one of the worst ever, but Empire Online named it the number one worst movie of all time out of fifty. It is SO bad, that Riff Tracks (you know, those guys from Mystery Science Theater 3,000?) when riffing it, ran out of things to say while making fun it, because it’s JUST that bad. It’s so bad they put nipples on the leather body armor of the Batman and Robin suits! It’s so bad, that...it’s just bad!

I don’t know if I have any problems with Batman breaking any of his rules in this movie, and frankly, at this point, I just don’t care. This movie is painful to watch. It’s not even one of those movies that are so bad it’s good like Snakes on Plane, Army of Darkness, or Bad Taste: Peter Jackson’s first movie. It’s just seriously one of the worst movies of all time.

Perhaps what makes this THE worst movie, is that we know these people, we like them, and we know they can do better. Schwarzenegger was fun in Conan, Terminator and Predator and let’s not forget Twins where he actually kinda acts. Or George Clooney who freekin’ WON an Oscar FOR acting in Syriana. Or Uma Thurman who was pretty dang good in Pulp Fiction, or even Alicia Silverstone, who, although yes her lip is a bit annoying, let’s all admit together that she was cute in Clueless.  And let’s not forget Schumacher himself, who directed  A Time to Kill and Flawless: two very deep, character rich movies with heart and soul.

This is the worst, because we know these people can do MUCH better and we’re just disappointed. It’s like everyone came together to make a suck ass movie and succeeded so well we all keep talking about how well they sucked at it.

These first four Batman movies wouldn’t be considered a series accept that they have three things in common: A; they have Batman in their name, 2: the same person played Alfred in all four, and C: the same person played Commissioner Gordon in all four movies. But we can all agree that the fourth one should be stricken from the record as it was very, very bad. But how bad was it Nate?  It was SO bad that no one dared make a Batman movie for another eight years, the biggest gap before that was only three years.

(Hey Hollywood, can we have Batman back? But...can it not cuck?...)

Batman Begins (2005)

( 1 Vote ) 

  • batmanbeginsDirected By: Christpher Nolen

    • Other movies he’s directed: Momento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception.
      (I know, right?!, the guy knows what he’s freekin’ doing)
  • Notable cast:

    • All of them:
    • Christian Bale (Batman/Bruce Wayne)
    • Michael Caine (Alfred)
    • Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard)
    • Katie Holmes (Rachael Dawes)
    • Morgan Freeman (Lucious Fox)
    • Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon)
    • Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow)
    • Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone)
    • Ken Watanabe (Ra’s Al Ghul)


Batman Begins is NOT a sequel to any of the other Batman movies, it is what is what called a re-boot in the film industry. A lot of uneducated movie goers and friends of mine didn’t understand this and thought that it was a continuation of the first four...and so I told them they were stupid.

If the quality of movies was solely based on how many Academy Awards they’ve been nominated for, than this one would likely be right up there at the top of the list. Let’s count them, shale we? Christopher Nolen was nominated for 3, Christian Bale won an Oscar for The Fighter, Michael Cane has two for Cider House Rules and Hannah and her Sisters and was nominated 3 other times.  Liam Neeson was nominated for Schindler’s List, Morgan Freeman has been nominated 4 times for Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, Shawshank Redemption and Invictus. Tom Wilkinson has been nominated twice for Michael Clayton and In The Bedroom, and  Ken Watanabe nominated once for the Last Samari with a grand total of fourteen Academy Nominations and Three Oscars.

Do you think they were compensating for the previous film perhaps? How did they get all this talent? Should I answer any of these questions? Sure, I’ll answer one: Momento. If you’ve seen Momento, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s a small, low budget film that batman-beginsfallingis extremely experimental and amazing. It was not a blockbuster and wasn’t intended to be. It’s a movie that was just fun to make for Christopher Nolan.  And because of it, everyone in the film industry respected him for it, and wanted to work with him when he started this Batman project. I don’t have any evidence to back my opinion up, but I’m right.

So, lot’s of talent, but as we said before, good actors, good directors, and good special effects don’t necessarily make a good movie,...even IF you have Cillian Murphy from 28 Days Later (yes, that’s the same guy).

When I saw the preview for this movie I was excited...but weirded out. Every shot I saw was realistic, it looked like a regular action/adventure movie with rolling hills and mountains, and classic car chases and city scapes.  But then I saw it I was VERY impressed. This is the first movie in the theaters that is ABOUT Batman. It’s also the first comic book movie that isn’t a comic book movie.  It’s as if Nolan thought “hey, what if Batman was recruited by McCoy in Law and Order to clean up New York, I wonder what that would look like?” (Side note, it’d probably look a lot like The Dark Knight).

With a believable origin story, a believable sympathetic mourning teenage orphan, realistic weapons and technology (yes, even the memory cloth is real) and gorgeous locations while Bruce goes on a walk-about, we’re immediately drawn into this coming of age, kick bad guys ass story. We understand his desire for revenge, but feel pride for him when he throws the gun into the river. We root for him when he learns to fight and defend himself, but love it when he returns home to fight for the Gotham people and against corruption and crime. This is our story, he’s not only fighting for the poor, but even the middle class and against the corrupted elite, while at the same time being uber rich himself. Batman doesn’t make any campaign promises about the American Dream (that everyone can have a car, a house, a gorgeous wife, a few rug rats, a dog, a cat, a snowmobile, a jetski, a flat screen high def TV, an xBox, a PS3, 4 iPhone’s and a girlfriend), he’s just fighting against the negative realities of human corruption, and he does it more effectively than the police or politicians can (partly because the police and politicians AND judges are corrupted).

Gotham is like parts of Mexico, you wanna make it safe? Ok, we have to get rid of the drug dealers and human traffickers.  How do we do that? We have to use the police, but...some, or most, of them are making more money looking the other way or actually participating in illegal activities than the government pays them to fight crime. (whoa, I sound like I’m pro union and pro “big” government or something...).

Batman takes the fight right to the big hitters, getting leverage on a judge to make an indictment on the biggest crime boss in the city, while still having big fun action fights that we expect for a super hero movie. Examples of previous Batman threats were a big guy with a freeze gun who wanted to turn everything into ice and the Joker who wanted to poison everyone. These grandiose threats are definitely diabolical, but not realistic and therefor we don’t connect with them. However, in Batman Begin’s, the balance of plot and action are perfect, we feel like Batman could actually exist in our own cities, fighting real crime and corruption and generally making things better.

Batman-Begins-TumblerAmong Batman’s many toys includes The Tumbler that creators of the movie built from scratch and invented a new way to film car chase scenes in order to capture the feel of high speed chases. You can tell that not only is Nolan a good director, but he also simply enjoys movies. In the extras on the DVD, he specifically mentions The French Connection in reference to the chase scene, and he delivers on it, almost rivaling the excellent chase in Ronin. This movie is so fun and good that we forget that Katie Holmes is kind of annoying.

I could say more about how much I like this new take on Batman, but...for more, we’ll go right to the sequel.

 

 

The Dark Knight: 2008

( 1 Vote ) 

  • darkknightDirected By: Christpher Nolen

  • Notable Cast:

    • Everyone from the first one
    • Heath Ledger (The Joker, you may remember him from 10 Things I Hate about You, The Patriot, and a few others.  He was known for stretching himself and did so in Brokeback Mountain. He went from teen heartthrob, gay cowboy, to funny, psychotic serial killer, what other actor can you say about that?)
    • Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent/Two Face, you might know him from Thank You for Smoking, or No Reservations, Paycheck, Erin Brockavich,  or the more recent Battle: LA)
    • Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel)
      • I don’t think it was necessary to replace Katie Holmes with Gyllenhaal, though she is a better actor. I did hear a rumor that Tom Cruise made Holmes not do it...though I don’t know if it’s true.


This is truly a sequel to Batman Begins.  Maggie Gyllenhaal brings in one more Oscar Nomination and Heath Ledger received a posthumous Oscar FOR THIS MOVIE.  Richard King also won an Oscar for The Dark Knight for sound editing (which makes sense, ‘cus the sound really kicks a lot of ass, yes I say ass a lot, sorry mom). To my knowledge, this is the first Oscar for best actor in a movie based on a comic book. This shouldn’t be taken lightly, Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolen really did something amazing here. This is a PG-13 movie, yet Ledger did SUCH a good job playing a creepy, funny, insane serial killer that he deserves an R rating. I like the Joker in that he’s fun to watch, but of course I want Batman to beat him to satisfy my justice needs. But we’ll get to that.

This movie is simply bigger than Begins. If you watch any of the DVD extras, it’s clear that Nolen knew he had to make it feel bigger and better. He did this by filming Chicago a lot during the day with big sweeping city shots, using bigger caliber guns that what is actually shown in the film, a new sound track that really makes you feel the tension (using a lot of minor keys and dissonance...there’s a little music theory for ya), and, of course, putting the two biggest villains in the Batman universe...and pulling it off well. Nolen and the producers did it so well that the movie was up for a total of eight Oscars and won two of them.

This is, by far, so far, my favorite Batman movie. It takes what we learned about Batman in Begins and further develops his character, still giving us a story about Batman and his struggles, but also telling us the origin story of Two-Face. Two-Face’s conversion from good guy Harvey Dent to murdering villain was pretty quick and not quite believable, and they probably should have stretched it out into two movies, but they pulled it off way better than Anakin’s conversion to Darth Vader, which had three freekin’ movies and they still didn’t get it right.

If you haven’t seen this movie, you really must. Ledger is fantastic and fully deserves his Oscar, Christian Bale again does a good job in portraying the Dark Knight (although his rough, Batman voice is a little annoying), and heck, the action scenes are wicked fun too. Dark Knight was so successful that it was the ONLY movie to even come close to beating the record set by James Cameron’s Titanic which was $600,788,188 gross, Dark Knight made $533,345,358, the next one down was the FIRST Star Wars movie, A new Hope which made $460,998,007 and held that record until Titanic beat it twenty years later!  The only director to actually beat Titanic, was Cameron himself with Avatar which made $760,507,625 gross. Did you catch that? Batman is now up there with Star Wars, and, I have to agree.


[Spoiler Alert]
It IS a bit dark and depressing, and, with hindsight...our protagonist doesn’t really win, taking the blame for Dent’s murders after the Joker successfully made him go nuts. The true winner of this story is the Joker...but perhaps the people of Gotham won as well. A LOT of the corrupted police and organized crime bosses were either killed or put away.  But...this is not to say that Batman’s job is done. I’ll discuss  The Dark Knight Rises when it comes out (I’m a little bit really a lot excited for that one).


As with all “series”, there were good decisions and bad decisions. In this case, the bad decision was Schumacher, pure and simple. A good decision was Tim Burton, but even better to the franchise is Nolen’s re-imagining of the world of Batman, making him more accessible to us in the real world by filming him in real cities (mostly Chicago). Batman continues to be relevant as there will always be corrupt politicians, officials, police and organized crime bosses that need to be taken down. How many super villains do we have? Not many, but terrorist count, and The Joker was definitely a terrorist. We like Batman because he does what he needs to do to get the bad guys...but doesn’t kill them right off the bat (ha), but sometimes they end up dead anyway.

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