in Retrospecticus

Batweek: Retrospecticus: Theatrical Batman

Since early childhood, one hero has always been my favorite. Sure, Superman, Wolverine and Spider-Man are all great, but for me, one always stood above them all. I am of course referring to the dark knight himself, Batman.

Batman made his first appearance in the late Thirties in Detective Comics #27. The story of the millionaire child turned vigilante proved to be so intriguing that he quickly transcended his pulp roots and became an American icon, one of the most well known comic book heroes in the world.

Many talented artists and storytellers have taken a turn writing for the Batman comics, and the character has also appeared in many other media, most notably several hit television programs and many movies. In honor of the highly anticipated new film, let’s take a look at every Batman film to grace the big screen. I’m gonna skip the two serials, because… come on, fuck that shit. I’ve got enough writing to do already.

Batman (1966)

The first Batman movie came out in the 1960s, based on the hit comedy show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Like the show, everything here is over the top, tongue-in-cheek comedy. There’s a lot to laugh at here, all the way from “shark-repellent bat-spray” to the decent of the United Nations building at the end. The great cast, including Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Lee Meriwether and Burgess Meredith, has a lot of fun with their roles. This movie is pure campy fun, which is why I enjoy it so much.

“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”

That said, if you’re one of those purists that think the TV show was a taint on the Batman name, I’ve got two things to tell you: (1) loosen up and (2) this will do nothing to win you over. This has all of the elements that people identify with the show and doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Only approach this if you want to, you know, have fun.

Batman (1989)

By the 1980s, the Batman character had developed into a much darker, more serious person. Comics from geniuses like Frank Miller had cast the character in a more serious light. Questions about whom the real Bruce Wayne was and why he keeps a bunch of kids in a cave kept popping up. So a more serious Bat-film was in order. Tim Burton was the man chosen for the job.

Burton cast Beetlejuice himself, Mr. Michael Keaton in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. The film would be a tremendous departure from the campy show and movie of the Sixties, with an outright bizarre Gotham city and plenty of loonies within it. Keaton proved to be a competent Batman and a great Bruce Wayne, but the man who stole the show was Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Nicholson’s Joker was as funny as he was dangerous, and one of his greatest performances over his incredible career.

The story is about Batman’s war with super criminal Joker. It is revealed that both had a hand in each others’ creation, and by the end of the film, they really just want to kill each other. While the extremely surreal presentation of the film is a real turnoff, it is notable for being the first real serious Batman film, and introducing that incredible Danny Elfman score.

Batman Returns (1992)

Just a few years after the first Batman film, Burton and Keaton “returned” for another outing into the streets of Gotham. This film set the trend for live-action Batman films to follow, with Batman almost put into the background with the focus shifted onto the new villains. At least this time around, they were interesting.

Christopher Walken is Max Shreck, and evil businessman with a secret evil empire. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Selina Kyle, Shreck’s secretary who accidentally discovers one of his evil schemes and is killed for it. Except, instead of dying, a bunch of cats lick her and she becomes the Catwoman… yep. Catwoman is totally crazy, she commits crimes, fights criminals and also fights Batman.

Then there’s the centerpiece of this film, the Penguin, played by Danny DeVito. As a child, Oswald Cobblepot was abandoned by his parents, sent floating down a stream in a basket. Like Moses. The basket is found by sewer-dwelling penguins, which raise little Oswald as one of their own. Somehow, Oswald grows up, learns English, and assembles a gang of his own. It turns out he wants to be mayor now too.

Batman Returns is really action packed, but it’s just a little too crazy for me. It’s somewhat of a challenge for me to even watch it anymore. It’s worth seeing once, but that’s about it.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

During the legendary run of the immortal Batman animated series, an animated film managed to get a theatrical release. Using the great cast from the show, the groundbreaking animation and the great score, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm became the best theatrical Batman movie at the time, and right now is second only to Batman Begins in greatness.

This is the story of a mysterious figured, called the Phantasm, who is killing criminals and giving Batman a bum rap. At the same time the woman Bruce Wayne almost married before becoming a vigilante comes back into his life. Over the course of the film, we learn about their relationship, how Bruce invented the Batman character, and the identity of the Phantasm. Of course, Batman’s arch nemesis can’t resist making him look bad; the Joker gets in on the action. Mark Hamill reprises his iconic role from the show, giving a very memorable performance.

Phantasm is a very engrossing film and a real pleasure to watch. The story is great for adults and mind-blowing for adolescent boys. The vocal performances are very strong, and there’s really not much that doesn’t work here. The final fight scene is just incredible (there’s blood!) and the visual effects are pretty neat.

This is a must-see Batman film.

Batman Forever (1995)

I’ll try not to spend too much time on these next two movies, because they don’t deserve it. The Joel Schumacher films just aren’t very good. And this one, Batman Forever, is oddly enough the highest grossing Batman ever. Damn shame.

Anyway, Burton and Keaton must have felt they had taken Batman far enough with their two films, cause they skipped out on this third film. In their place are Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer as Batman. The most notable thing about Kilmer is his nipples, which are so powerful they stick through Batman’s bulletproof chest piece.

Forever tried to restore the campy fun of early Batman while existing in the Burton world and the result was a real mess. The film opens with the story of Dick Grayson, the youngest in a family of acrobats that all wear Robin costumes. Two Face, as played by Tommy Lee Jones, gets all the Graysons killed except for young Dick, who is adopted by Bruce Wayne. Dick grows up to be Chris O’Donnell, the worst actor in film history, and is a rebellious jerk throughout the film.

Then there’s Jim Carrey. I mean the Riddler… No, I mean Jim Carrey. He doesn’t really make too much of an attempt to act in the role he’s given, instead relying on the antics that made Ace Ventura and Dumb & Dumber a hit. The film really focuses on the Riddler, because I guess everyone loves Jim Carrey. Two Face is in the background all the time, he doesn’t even get a back story. What a waste.

This movie is very below average.

Batman & Robin (1997)

Here it is. The lowest point a series can go. This film was so bad it killed the Batman franchise for almost a decade. As a child I loved it, and as a man-child, I loathe it. This is Batman & Robin.

Val Kilmer was too big to be Batman again, so George Clooney got his chance to wear the cowl. He’s clearly embarrassed about this movie nowadays, but can you blame him? Who wouldn’t want to be Batman in a movie? Even now, knowing what I know about Batman & Robin, I’d still love to star in it. Plus, Clooney made for a great Bruce Wayne.

So this mess picks up with Batman and Robin now a full-time team, with angst over how strict Batman is. Robin’s a douche though, he needs to just shut the fuck up and take Batman’s goddamn orders. Unfortunately, the movie instead brings in another annoying sidekick, Batgirl, too make things more stupid. She’s played by Alicia Silverstone, who, like Chris O’Donnell, has since disappeared from the limelight.

Again, we get a trio of villains. Of course everyone’s favorite is Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, the confused and reluctant villain. Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy is another woman “killed” by her boss but comes back as a seductive psychopath, as deadly as she is beautiful. Except it doesn’t really work. Then there’s Bane, played by a guy named Jeep. Can’t really fuck Bane up.

B&R is filled with horrible, cheesy scenes. I really just can’t stand it at all. I hate Robin in this movie. I hate so much of this movie, actually. Pretend it never happened, the world would be better if it didn’t.

This film just sucks.

Batman Begins (2005)

And then, all was right again with the universe. In 2005 director Christopher Nolan brought Batman back to the big screen, and for the first time got things exactly right. Batman Begins is heavily influenced by comics like Year One and The Man Who Falls, and is, right now, the best live action incarnation of the Dark Knight ever.

Christian Bale, an actor that really throws himself into his role, is Bruce Wayne in this movie. The focus here is on the formative moments of Batman’s early career, his parents’ murder, his training, the creation of Batman and his first super villains. The focus is all on Batman, which is what makes so much work.

We have a very strong supporting cast too. Michael Caine plays Alfred, the first man to play the role other than Michael Gough, and gives a slightly different take on the character. Gary Oldman is an outstanding Gordon, who has not made commissioner yet. Morgan Freeman does his thing as Luscious Fox, and I can’t complain about Katie Holme’s mostly superfluous Rachel Dawes.

Then there are the great villains. Ken Watanabe, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson and Rutger Hauer all show up as opponents of justice, and they each do great work in their roles. We get just enough development for Ra’s al Ghul and the Scarecrow as we need, without losing the focus on our hero Batman.

Batman Begins is one of my favorite films ever. The new, realistic and practical approach to the franchise was exactly what I had always been looking for. As John pointed out, about the only thing it’s missing is that iconic Danny Elfman score. This is a great film.

This brings us to now, mere days before the release of The Dark Knight, the direct follow up to Batman Begins. The trailers look outstanding, and the early reviews have been very positive. I mean just look at that poster! Couple all this with all the hype surrounding Heath Ledger’s last completed performances and this is clearly going to be the movie of the summer.

Here at Cat Fancy, we’re all big Batman fans, so none of us can wait to go see it. In honor of the film, we’re calling this week Batweek and from now all posts will be Batman themed, culminating in a Dark Knight review. I hope you’re all as exciting as we are!

(Yes, this means I’ll wait until next week to do any E3 posts, no matter how much Rock Band stuff is revealed.)

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