A Review Of Every Batman Film Ever Made
You could skip right to the reviews below, but I would like to start this hub by explaining why it exists.
If you are looking to make a few extra bucks ( and I mean only a few bucks ), there are plenty of websites looking for original content ( meaning, the exact words in that content are not already published on another site ) and want reviews of movies. What they are looking for are one paragraph reviews, heavy on the keywords. Just enough to mention part of the plot, most of the actors, and if you liked it or not. But not really long enough to detail what you liked or did not like about the film. They take less than five minutes to write, and could earn you $4 up front. But before you think "Wow. I am going to write 100 reviews today, and in only 8 hours earn $400" there is a catch. First of all, you need to watch the movie you are going to review. You could do something dishonest, like review a film based entirely on only seeing it's trailer or poster, and guessing what it is about. But then comes the second thing. The websites who ask for reviews, do so on an independent contractor basis. You may submit a review, but they will wait until they get about 50 reviews for the same movie and buy the one they like best. And the best review is always for a film someone had actually seen. But even if you were to write reviews of every film you ever saw, there is always the strong possibility that none of your reviews will be accepted. There is always someone who wrote one with a better combination of key words, or something else the website was looking for. Out of your 100 reviews, you would be lucky if 5 were accepted. Best to bank those rejected reviews and wait until another website is buying content.
This was how I first started out making money online. And by that I mean getting a few bucks for hundreds of hours of work. But hey, the websites buying reviews were the only ones buying content from amateur writers. Getting a few dollars is better than making zero dollars. And banking the rejects meant the possibility of selling them at a later date. One day one website liked my work, or so they said. They were done with pocket sized reviews and wanted to attract traffic with full page reviews. This paid about $6, but they were accepting submissions by assignment only, which meant I would get paid if they published my review or not. So I wrote a few reviews for them, made about $40, and then gave up because the movies they were assigning me were the ones no one else wanted to see, and for good reason. Reviewing the latest straight-to-video Twilight knock off meant renting the film for a couple of bucks, spending two hours watching it, and then another hour writing how much of a piece of garbage it was. After the expenses, I was still getting paid the same as the mini review, but taking way longer to write it.
One of the more pleasurable assignments was writing a review for the release of one of the Batman serials on DVD. I was already a long time fan of Batman, and had already bought and seen the Batman serials when they were released on VHS a decade earlier, so I really did not need to watch them again. The website really liked my review, especially all the insight into the history of Batman, both the comic book character and the various movies and television shows. Someone there came up with the idea of me writing an article that reviewed every single Batman movie ever made on the same page. This idea came up long after I had stopped writing for them. The only real reason why I accepted the assignment was because I liked the idea. They wanted every Batman movie reviewed, and by that I mean every Batman film. The list they submitted me included films from the Philippines, Jerry Waren's Batwoman film, direct-to-video Batman cartoons and some X-rated videos made for the adult market. I got them to agree to drop the cartoons and porn, because neither were released in theaters. But they insisted on including the unauthorized Batman movies, and I was actually up for the challenge. Then I found out that most of the films were unavailable, and the ones I could find copies of were not dubbed or subtitled. In the end, I could not review every Batman movie ever made, and when notified of this the website killed the article.
Through the years I had made attempts to track down the "lost" Batman films. I had already done a tone of work for the article, and thought that maybe it would be enough for a book. There are plenty of fly by night publishers looking to cash in on popular subjects like Batman, and probably would pay a lot so they could release a Batman movie review book. But those lost films remained elusive. My enthusiasm for the subject waned, and eventually I concluded the whole idea was stupid and a waste of time. Then about a year ago I finally saw Schumacher's Batman & Robin. had I still been writing the article for the website, my plan was to save it for last. That was how much I did not want to see it. That I would rather watch really dumb foreign films first. My closest friends, people I trust with my life, had all warned me not to see this movie. I was expecting the worse. But ended up being surprisingly entertained. You can read the full review below, but lets just say, it was not as bad as I was lead to believe, and did have it's good moments. I felt like writing about it, and inevitably, felt compelled to work on this article again. By this time I had begun publishing my rejected articles as hubs here on this site. So why not do the same with the Batman article. To solve the lost film problem, I decided the movies in this hub will only be the legal releases, and only the ones that were released to theaters. But I have also written a second hub which includes all the unauthorized Batman films which got theatrical releases. The link for that hub will be included at the end of this hub.
Batman ( 1943 )
15 chapter serial released by Columbia Pictures
Starring: Lewis Wilson as Batman, Douglas Croft as Robin, William Austin as Alfred, Shirley Patterson as Linda Page, and J Carrol Naish as Dr Daka
Produced by: Rudolph C. Flothow
Directed by: Lambert Hillyer
In 1943 the movie serial had been around for 33 years. By then it had it's own formula which the studios stuck to. Batman had been around for only four years, the comic book superhero having been invented only five years earlier. Batman and the rest of the superheroes were not just new, but still being refined by their creators. So when Hollywood began making movie serials based on superheroes, they had no intention of changing the serial formula. The end result was a Batman serial that bore little resemblance to the comic book it was based on.
Director Lambert Hillyer spent most of his career directing westerns, but did helm a couple of notable horror films for Universal in 1939, The Invisible Ray and Dracula's Daughter. Working in the slums of Columbia's shorts division, he had little intention of breaking the movie serial formula. The villain would remain elusive and undefeatable until the last few minutes of the final chapter. And the hero would be put in peril at the end of every previous chapter, even if that meant having his ass handed to him by the henchmen each week. Batman would not be the only incompetent movie serial hero. Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Gene Autry, Crash Corrigan, Dick Tracy, Jungle Jim, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Captain America, Captain Marvel, The Phantom and Superman, along with countless cowboys and G-men, would all prove incompetent in their respective serials.
Here was a Batman who was not feared by criminals. If they found out Batman was in the area, their first response was to chase after him. And why not. This Batman was a poor fighter. He and Robin could barely hold their own in an even fight, and usually ended up both getting knocked out if outnumbered by as much as one crook. And as for incompetence, every single one of Batman's plans backfire, resulting in him being hurled over the side of a cliff or left to die in a burning building. But while the 1943 serial presented a Batman that was nothing like the comic book, it did end up influencing Batman's creator Bob Kane. It was the serial that came up with the idea of a Batcave below Wayne Manor, and depicted Alfred as skinny with a thin mustache. In the months after the serial hit the theaters, the Batman comic book introduced it's own version of the Batcave, and slimmed down their original fat Alfred, and even had him grow his own mustache.
But at the same time the serial did not have a big enough budget to build a Batmobile. Instead, a black Cadillac served as both Bruce Wayne and Batman's vehicle. And while it did feature Robin, Alfred and Linda Page ( Bruce Wayne's girlfriend of a couple of years in the comic books ) it replaced Commissioner Gordon with an original character, Captain Arnold. And with a full roster of villains to choose from, Columbia chose to create their own villain, the Japanese spy Dr Daka. This serial was produced during the second World War, and as such portrays all Japanese Americans as traitors willing to side with Japan. The narrator in the film even praises the government for rounding up all Japanese Americans and sending them to concentration camps. Of course this meant that there were no Japanese actors available to play Daka, so instead he is portrayed by white actor J Carrol Naish. It is such a bad performance that you would never suspect the same actor would be nominated for an Academy Award the same year for best supporting actor in the film Sahara.
The plot has Batman pulling double duty, not just fighting local crime but also working for Washington as one of their agents. Meanwhile Daka has evaded detection in his secret lair, hidden inside a carnival spook house. From there Daka dispatches his henchmen to do his dirty work, including stealing a prototype plane, blowing up a train bridge, and attempting to steal uranium. It is Batman in the capacity of a government agent who confronts Daka's henchmen again and again. So basically the Batman serial was a spy thriller rather than an accurate depiction of the comic book. This was not unusual for the time. If a serial was not a western, it usually featured G-men. But the end result are characters who call themselves Batman and Robin, but only vaguely look like the Dynamic Duo, and act noting like them. As a serial, Batman is just as good as the rest, and can even be considered among the best serials ever made. But it fails as a proper Batman film. And this style of entertainment has dated poorly.
Batman and Robin ( 1949 )
15 chapter serial released by Columbia Pictures
Starring: Robert Lowery as Batman, Johnny Ducan as Robin, Eric Wilton as Alfred, Lyle Talbot as Commissioner Gordon, Jane Adams as Vicki Vale, and Leonard Penn as The Wizard.
Produced by: Sam Katzman
Directed by: Spencer Gordon Bennet
While the first Batman serial was a success, it would take Columbia another six years to produce a sequel. Even though by this time Batman was a fully established character, both in his own successful comic books, and as a supporting character on the popular Superman radio show, Columbia still insisted in sticking to the movie serial formula. The director this time was Spencer Gordon Bennet, who would later be dubbed "The King of the Serial Directors" due to having directed more than 100 during his career. He had directed the first Superman serial for Columbia a year earlier, and would direct the second, Atom Man vs Superman a year later. But despite handing the serial over to a better director, Batman and Robin would up being bad even by serial standards. Once again Columbia gave it a low budget, and this time there were no Academy Award nominated actors among the cast.
Once again the plot revolved around a villain hidden away in his secret lair, dispatching henchmen to commit his crimes. The villain in this serial, called The Wizard, is not the villain of the same name from D.C. comics, but yet another character created by the writers at Columbia. While they insisted on not using any of the villains from the comic books, they at the least had good sense this time to use Commissioner Gordon. Bruce Wayne had broken up with Linda Page in the comic books five years earlier, so this time she was swapped out with Bruce Wayne's new comic book girlfriend, Vicki Vale.
Batman and Robin may have been incompetent in their first serial, but that was nothing compared to how useless they were in their second outing. This time they are working with the police. There are many instances where they figure out where the Wizard's gang will strike next. But instead of allowing the police to step in and round up the Wizard's gang, Batman has another one of his great plans that just involves him and Robin. And, of course, Batman's foolproof plan backfires as the gang kicks his ass.
At least the plot shows a little more imagination than the first serial. The Wizard steals top secret technology that allows him to remote control vehicles, and later to turn himself invisible. The bulk of the serial has his men stealing diamonds needed to power his machine. But the twist here is that the Wizard wears a black hood, and no one, not even his henchmen, know his identity. Several characters are suspected of being the Wizard, including the professor who originally invented the remote control machine, a news reporter who is able to predict the Wizards crimes, and a private detective who always seems to be at the scene of the crime. But the "Who's the Wizard" subplot does not make up for the plot holes and continuity errors or the laughable acting, the continued lack of a batmobile, nor the fact that once again the characters are nothing like their comic book counterparts.
Batman ( 1966 )
20th Century Fox
Starring: Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, Alan Napier as Alfred, Niel Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, Cesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, and Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.
Produced by: William Dozier
Directed by: Leslie H. Martinson
This review may be a bit bias. My first exposure to Batman was through the 1966 Batman television series. I, and every kid in my age group, thought Batman was the greatest show to ever be put on television. I had no reason not to enjoy the campy style of the Batman series because I never knew anything different. The series has had a bad rap in the past few decades. Revisionist history claims producer William Dozier hated superheroes so much that he deliberately made a campy superhero series to ridicule the medium. That it took comics darkest character and turned it into a comedy. That somehow the series set the stage for decades of bad superhero films and television shows that treated the hero as a joke. And how upset all fans of Batman were to see the campy treatment of the character when the series first aired. Many swear that they had always hated the series. But this revisionist history did not take place until after the Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" followed soon after by Tim Burton's Batman films and the publicity that surrounded it. Up to then only a small fraction of Batman fans even knew the character had a dark past.
Bob Kane's original version of Batman was long gone by 1954 when the Comic Code Authority was formed. All comic books were classified as material for children, and any book that included gratuitous violence were banned. D.C. had already been altering their comic books in the late 40s to appeal to more children. Americans were losing interest in Superheros. Many Superhero comics, including Captain America, ended publication due to poor sales. By targeting younger readers, D.C. was able to save their line of Superhero comic books. What Batman became in the 50s was not that far from the television version. As for Dozier hating superheroes, it should be noted that a year later he produced The Green Hornet as a straight superhero drama despite pressure from ABC for it to follow the same campy formula as the Batman series. And most of those who viewed the original run of the series enjoyed it, up until the introduction of Batgirl at least. It had been more than 15 years since the darker Batman comics were published, and those who had read them were most likely too old to bother watching the Batman television series.
In the context of the year this Batman movie was produced, it is a highly entertaining film. While some would insist that comedy has no place in a Batman film, much of the comedy in this film works. Perhaps the best gag has Batman attempting to dispose of a bomb, but each time he finds a place to chuck it innocent civilians pop up, forcing him to run to another location holding the bomb over his head. The film has the advantage of a coherent plot. This is where the Burton and Schumacher films fell apart. Aside from their many attempts to kill Batman, the villains in this film had a single grand scheme, to kidnap and ransom Gotham's version of the United Nations security council. Even the reason for them teaming up is plausible. They met in prison and formed an alliance. This made more sense that the unconvincing alliances between villains in the later films. Any fans of the television show will enjoy the movie. But it did have a few drawbacks. For some reason Neal Hefti's dynamic Batman theme song is not used. But more disappointing is the absence of Julie Newmar, who due to other obligations could not reprise her Catwoman role. She was replaced for the film by the less desirable Lee Meriwether. Seen either as an homage or parody of the 1950s Batman comic book, you should enjoy this film. Those demanding every Batman movie should be serious and dark should stay away.
Batman ( 1989 )
Starring: Michael Keaton as Batman, Michael Gough as Alfred, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Kim Bassenger as Vicki Vale, and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, with Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent.
Produced by: Peter Gruber, Jon Peters, Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan
Directed by: Tim Burton
Throughout the 80s, Warner Bros. wanted to make a Batman film as a follow up to their successful Superman film franchise. But no one at the studio could agree on what the Batman film would be. The producer attached to the film wanted the darker Batman from the Bob Kane comics. Executives at the studio wanted to revive the campy television series, even to cast Adam West and Burt Ward in the lead roles. The studio divided on the tone of the movie meant Batman would remain in limbo for years, until finally a compromise was reached. That compromise was Tim Burton. The Batman Burton was proposing was Gothic in tone. Dark enough to satisfy those wanting a dark Batman, but stylishly goofy enough to satisfy those wanting it to be campy.
As popular as this film was on release, my reaction to the film both then and now, is that it could have been a lot better. Not that it wasn't a fantastic achievement in superhero films, and would not be surpassed until the X-Men movies over a decade later. But plot wise, there was no compelling story as with the later Nolan films. We get a lot of short stories involving Batman and the Joker, beginning with the Joker's origin. The problem is, one of them are very interesting. The Joker may have been a madman in the comic books, but his schemes were usually ingenious, catching even Batman off guard. They were master schemes designed to make a fool out of Batman. You did not know what trap the Joker had set until the third act of the comic. In the movie, the Joker's schemes are simple. He just wants to poison people with his Smilex formula that makes them die laughing. There was also a lot of plot convenience going on. The Joker just happens to have been the same person who killed Bruce Wayne's parents. The Joker just happens to see Vicki Vale's picture in the newspaper and falls madly in love with her. This just after Bruce Wayne also falls for Vicki after meeting her once at a party.
Another thing I did not like with this film and the Batman films to follow was the use of a thick bulky costume. Because of it, Batman can just barely move. The Batman of the comics had a lot of agility. He did not need thick rubber body armor shaped like muscles. What he wore was close to circus tights. ( most golden age superhero costumes were close to that of circus performers, right down to the cape. ) Batman in the comics could leap from roof to roof, or into the face of an enemy. The heavy costumes Batman would wear from this film on robbed Batman of most of his fighting ability. He could just barely lift his arms to block.
But aside from the weak plot and disappointing costume, the film looked incredible. Batman was a treat for the eyes. What Burton lacked in story telling, he more than made up for with visuals. Basically, the weak plot was nothing more than a set up for his set pieces. He knew what he wanted in his scenes, even if he took little care in how the characters got there. And there lies the entertainment value. The danger here is that visuals date. Special effects and set designs that were cutting edge ten years ago, may be commonplace today. Fortunately, not too many directors have copied Burton's style, so Batman has not dated that much, even after nearly three decades.
Batman Returns ( 1992 )
Starring: Michael Keaton as Batman, Michael Gough as Alfred, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and Danny DeVito as The Penguin
Produced by: Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi
Directed by: Tim Burton
The second of Burton's Batman films was more of a mess than the first. This because the plot called for three villains, one of which was created for the movie. Balancing the story of three villains hurt the overall plot. This was also the first movie with the unconvincing team up between villains. In this case Catwoman gives up her vengeance against Max Shreck, the crooked millionaire who pushed her alter ego Selina Kyle out of a window earlier in the film, so she can go after Batman for besting her in a fight. This would be the pattern in the Batman films to follow. Villain A shows up at Villain B's secret lair and suggests they team up together to kill Batman. In this case it was even more implausible because Villain B, the Penguin, was working for Max Shreck, the man who Villain A was supposed to have a vendetta against.
But on the other hand, the movie is even more of a visual pleasure. In many ways, it was an improvement over the first movie. And it also had Michelle Pfeiffer in that skin tight vinyl Catwoman costume. The problem with Burton's early films, including his two Batman films, was that he cared more for the visual set pieces than crafting a great story. One could probably say the same for most of the big budget fantasy films that followed Star Wars. But once again, Burton was a master at what he did. So despite it's weaknesses, Batman Returns somehow succeeds.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm ( 1993 )
Starring: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Efrim Zimbalist as Alfred, Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Robert Costanzo as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Mark Hamill as The Joker.
Produced by: Alan Burnett, Michael Uslan, Benjamin Melniker and Bruce Timm
Directed by: Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm
While this movie began as a direct to video project, Warner Bros. soon liked the script so much that they increased the budget and turned it into a feature film. If only their faith in the movie lasted long enough to properly promote and distribute the movie. This animated Batman film was actually better than any of the previous Burton films, or the Schumacher movies that followed. It being a cartoon, special effects did not matter. Animating Batman flying through the air in a batwing was no more expensive than animating Batman walking down a street. Drawing the equivalent of a massive abandoned World's Fair set was no more expensive than drawing the equivalent of an apartment set. In other words, the animators could tell a story that would have been too expensive to film as a live action adaption. And they could animate action scenes too dangerous to be filmed with real stuntmen. But even though they held all the advantages over the live action movies, they still took the time to write a powerful script. A mysterious vigilante known as the Phantasm goes on a killing spree of mobster bosses, which ends up being blamed on Batman, making him public enemy #1 with the Gotham police. Of course Batman will need to track down and stop the Phantasm. But at the same time the film has a powerful sub plot involving an old girlfriend who has returned to town, which eventually ties neatly into the main story in the third act.
Notice how this is one of the few Batman movies I can summarise the plot. This is why I liked this movie so much more than the previous Batman movies, and the ones that directly followed. What Burton, Schumacher and Warner Bros. failed to understand is that I am going to be sitting in that theater for more than 90 minutes, and most likely over 2 hours. If I am going to be stuck in the same seat for so long then I am going to want a story that keeps me interested for that long. Having an episodic movie that goes from set piece to set piece is just going to have me bored during the scenes in between. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was one single story. Every scene, even the flashbacks to Batman's origins, inevitably contributed to the central story. There were no time wasting scenes designed to fill space in between the scenes with action and special effects. This was not a film that had you looking at your watch midway through to see how long it still had. It was one where you looked at your watch when the end credits rolled because you thought it ended too soon. This is why the animated Batman cartoons of the 90s were so far in advance of the live action versions of Batman. It is a shame that this was the only time Warner decided to release an animated Batman feature film.
Batman Forever ( 1995 )
Starring: Val Kilmer as Batman, Chris O'Donnell as Robin, Michael Gough as Alfred, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face, and Jim Carrey as The Riddler.
Produced by: Tim Burton and Peter MacGregor-Scott
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Tim Burton's first Batman made $411 million at the box office. Batman Returns made $266 million, $145 million less than the last film. Warner Bros. had been expecting the sequel to make more money, and instead was asking themselves why there was a 35% drop off. Warner had been getting truckloads of complain mail from parents who had sent their children to see Batman. They expected it to be the same as the television series, but instead it gave their kids nightmares. The Joker was not a clown, but a deformed madman? The Joker killed people? Batman killed the Joker? Batman Returns was worse. A deformed Penguin? An insane Catwoman? More people get killed? Batman stuffs a bomb in a clown's pants and blows him up? Both the Penguin and Catwoman get killed? Unlike the first movie where parents dropped their kids off and picked their shaken and crying children up when the movie ended, this time they paid attention to the word of mouth. And the first wave of parents who took their kids, or screened the film before they would allow their kids to see it, felt that Batman Returns was far darker than the first Batman film. So basically, parents were not allowing their children to see Batman Returns. Perhaps that explained the 35% drop off.
Here is the problem. If a film is a hit with children, especially those between the ages of 8 and 13, then they will go to see it again and again. Batman Returns did make a lot of money, but had it not been a scary dark movie, it could have made a lot more. The parents had spoken. They wanted the safe campy Batman of the 1960s. The Batman they remembered from their own childhood. Batman fans may have wanted dark movies, but they were not showing up at the theaters enough. Had Batman Returns made the money that The Dark Knight had a decade later, then Warner would have never touched the Batman franchise. The Burton films were not making the money Warner felt Batman could earn, and he was alienating the next generation of Batman fans. So Warner did what any studio would do. They basically fired Burton, and rebooted the series.
Warner wanted it all. They wanted to change the series from dark and Gothic to colorful and campy. But they wanted audiences to believe that it was the same series. Michael Keaton was offered was offered the role of Batman again, but without Burton directing he turned the part down. The same actors were brought back to play Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, so Warner wanted everyone to believe this was a continuation of the Burton films. But it wasn't. Batman had a new theme song. Batman had a new costume. Batman had a new Batmobile. Batman lived in a new Wayne Manor, which was located in a different looking Gotham City.
Batman told jokes.
Batman also had a new director, Joel Schumacher. The director of the dark comedy The Lost Boys would seem like the perfect replacement for Tim Burton, but Warner did not hire him because of his experience. They hired him because he was willing to cede creative control of the next Batman film to the studio, and believed that superhero films should be colorful, lighthearted and fun. Batman also had a new script writer, Akiva Goldsman. His duties on the first film was to rewrite the pre-existing script for the film and add basically add humor. Batman got a new producer, Tim Burton. But what actual producing Burton did on this film is questionable. He had already begun working on a sequel featuring Two-Face and The Riddler as the villains when Warner Bros. "promoted" him to producer.
So what did Schumacher bring to the series? The flaws of the Burton films were still present. The plot was still episodic. The Batsuit, although redesigned, was still cumbersome. And just like the previous film, too many villains. Apparently Warner did not think these things were a problem. Instead they decided the Batman films needed humor. And this Batman film opens with the first of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's jokes. As Batman is about to leave in the Batmobile, Alfred asks "Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you sir?" And Batman answers: "I'll Get Drive Through." That line is suppose to be funny. It was suppose to make us all laugh. I know I didn't laugh at it, nor at any of the other humor in the Schumacher films. Goldsman was one of those writers with no background in comedy who assumed that it must be easy, and he could easily pepper a script with sidesplitting jokes. But instead he peppered the film with the sort of jokes that make audiences groan.
Bad humor aside, Schumacher did improve the series in one way, amazing action scenes. If you are one of those action movie fanatics who could care less about such things as plot or character development, and snooze at any scene with dialog, then you would find this film way better than the past Burton films. I myself did not find the action in the Burton films very thrilling, especially considering how the Indiana Jones films had set the bar so high. Schumacher made every attempt to dazzle us with an action scene, then attempt to top it with another. The action sequences were the one thing Schumacher had full creative control over, and it is here where he is at his best. Which makes reviewing this movie a bit tricky. Of course it fails as a drama, and as a comedy. But as an action movie, it surpasses all Batman films, and even superhero films, made up to that point. I guess your tolerance for this movie depends on if you were looking for a good story, or if you are watching at home with your thumb on the Fast Forward button and just picking out the action scenes. In the case of the later, this film delivers.
Batman & Robin ( 1997 )
Starring: George Clooney as Batman, Chris O'Donnell as Robin, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, Michael Gough as Alfred, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, Elle Macpherson as Julie Madison, John Glover as Dr. Jason Woodrue, and Robert Swenson as Bane.
Produced by: Peter MacGregor-Scott
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
I had friends who saw Batman & Robin the day it came out. Each one of them came back from the theater angry, proclaiming what they just saw was the worst movie ever made. The reviews that came out that week seemed to back them up. Soon after this film was elevated to the top of everyone's "worst Film of All Time" lists, and was nominated for Worst Picture in the Razzie Awards. I had not seen this movie, and for many years felt I had dodged a bullet. Even when I began collecting Batman movies on VHS, I never felt obligated to buy this one. Recently I decided my long neglected Batman library needed an upgrade from pan-and-scan VHS tapes to the wide screen DVDs, and this film came in the same box set as the previous three. I had been putting off seeing this film for nearly two decades, and now had no excuse not to watch it. And besides, I was now curious to see the worst movie ever made.
Three things I must mention right away. One, it is not one of the worst movies ever made. Two, it is not awful. And three, it is no worse than Batman Forever. I have no idea why so many had given a pass to the first Schumacher film, finding it acceptable, and then had nothing but scorn for this film. This does not mean that it is a good film. The worst part of the previous film was the puch-up jokes added by Akiva Goldsman, and this time Warner allowed him to be the films only writer. And the humor is still not funny. Lets sum that up. In one scene Poison Ivy decides she wanted to steal the hideout from another criminal gang, a bunch of thugs in neon costumes who had appeared in the previous film. She orders Bane ( yes, Bane is actually in this film ) to take them out, and while Bane is killing them, you actually hear a BONK sound effect. The same sort of BONK sound effect you would expect when one of the Banana Splits walked head first into a tree, or was hit over the head with an over-sized mallet. This is the level of humor from this movie, that of bad children's shows from the 70s. What makes this even more frustrating is that Akiva Goldsman is no hack writer. Right after he wrote this film he began writing the script for A Beautiful Mind which he earned an Academy Award for in 2001. He just had no business writing comedy.
This time there were four villains. Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy who were featured on the poster, Bane and the underused Dr. Jason Woodrue. Warner still did not get that the more villains you add, the less time you can devote to their individual stories. On a more positive note was Elle Macpherson as Julie Madison, another one of Bruce Wayne's girlfriends. Not only is this girlfriend marginalized to the point that she only appears in a couple of scenes, but she is the first and only one of Bruce Waynes girlfriends in the Batman franchise who does not figure out that he is Batman. At least that's something. It was getting a bit ridiculous that Bruce Wayne had broken up with all these girls who could have taken his secret to the press.
Worse than Batman Forever? Let me make the argument that Batman & Robin is an improvement over Batman Forever. Sure, it had a lot more of that terrible Akiva Goldsman humor. In fact I am almost tempted to call Batman & Robin a comedy. A failed comedy on the grandest scale. Was Uma Thurman's performance too over the top? No more that Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones in the previous film. In my own opinion, Batman & Robin turned out to be an even better film. Why? Okay, lets accept that the plot, acting and humor are really targeted to the Nickelodeon crowd. It was the same in both movies. That means that the only saving grace of both movies would be the action sequences. And the action sequences in Batman & Robin are far better than the previous film. And that is what gives the second film it's edge over the first.
For some reason nobody realized what Warner had done to the Batman franchise when Batman Forever was released. Perhaps we were all willing to allow a comedic version of Two-Face and The Riddler, but drew the line when it came to comedic versions of Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and Bane. Perhaps the line was drawn when Batgirl was added to the roster, just as we disliked it when the Batman television series added a Batgirl. Perhaps it finally occurred to us that Arnold Schwarzenegger was no actor, but a body builder who got really lucky. Whatever the reason, the tolerance everyone had for Batman Forever was gone by the time Batman & Robin was released. And now I am going to make the argument that both Schumacher films were good for what they were; movies targeted at pre-teens. Those who hated them could not accept Batman would appear in films for kids. But let me remind you, Batman has been around longer than your grandfather. In all those years he has evolved over and over again. He has been dark and mysterious, but he has also been happy-go-lucky for a good fifteen years in a row. There is no definitive version of Batman. The version Schumacher portrayed is just as valid as any other. Preteens loved the Schumacher film. That is who they were made for. Not for us. Not the adults.
Warner Bros. had a franchise that had been targeted to kids ever since the late 1940s. The comic books may have gone back to dark in the 1970s, but the television series which was in syndication, the first cartoon series, Superfriends, the guest shot on Scooby Doo, all of that was still 1950s Batman. Warner was making a s#!tload of money from marketing Batman to kids. Abandoning kids to market a dark Batman to adults was a risk. But we got two Burton films, and even better, the 90s cartoon series. It was inevitable that Warner would swing back to their key market with the Schumacher films. But also inevitable that trying to appease both children and adults would eventually fail.
Catwoman ( 2004 )
Starring: Halle Berry as Catwoman/Patience Phillips
Produced by: Denis Di Novi and Edward McDonnell
Directed by: Pitof
There is no good reason for this film to exist. During production of Batman Returns, Warner Bros. was so impressed with Michelle Pfeiffer's performance of Catwoman that they talked her into starring in a spin-off franchise to be directed by Tim Burton. An extra scene was added to the Batman film that shows a silhouette of what could be Catwoman, despite her being shot several times, electrocuted and exploding during the final battle with the Penguin. The miraculous survival of Catwoman was all for naught. Warner could never agree on a script, and eventually both Burton and Pfeiffer were no longer interested in making the spin-off. But even when the Batman franchise was put on hiatus after the release of Batman & Robin, development on a Catwoman spin-off continued. In an effort to distance themselves from the Batman franchise ( and perhaps to keep the door open for Pfeiffer to possibly return to the role ) the Catwoman franchise was no longer a sequel to Batman Returns, but instead the introduction of a different Catwoman who was not the Selena Kyle from the comic books and Tim Burton movie. Halle Berry became interested in the role, and suddenly the film went from pre-production to actually being filmed.
Halle Berry is Patience Phillips, a meek employee in a cosmetic company. When she accidentally discovers her boss is crooked, she is apparently killed. But is then revived by some cats. So far the story is similar to that of Selena Kyle in Batman Returns. Patience discovers she has acquired cat-like powers, and meets a professor who reveals to her that there has been thousands of Catwomen throughout history, each revived by cats after they were murdered. At night she seems to be possessed by her Catwoman ego, and begins wearing a leather outfit and a catwoman mask. She then breaks into a jewelry store. The writer of this film could not make up his mind if this Catwoman was a superhero or. like the Selena Kyle of the comic books, a burglar. ( Actually, four writers are credited for the script, so perhaps that explains it. ) While in the store she encounters two burglars, and beats them up. But once she has knocked them both out, she proceeds to steal some of the gems. Her Patience ego does return the jewelry, but the film never makes it clear if this Catwoman is a criminal or hero. When Catwoman is not stealing jewels, she spends her time hunting down the thugs who murdered her, following the trail back to the boss who ordered her killed. To make matters worse, Patience falls in love with a police detective who just happens to be hunting down the mysterious Catwoman.
If the messy and predictable plot is not bad enough, the film fails completely at it's most important part. The action scenes. Director Pitof chose to use a combination of CGI and old fashion wire-work whenever Catwoman is in action. The CGI looks good, but has a fakeness to it's movements. Even though the transition between Halle Berry and the CGI Catwoman is flawless, once the CGI Catwoman begins running around a room or jumping across the rooftops, you immediately feel as if you are watching a computer generated cartoon. The wire-work is also rings untrue, being so over the top that you can tell they are there even though visual effects artists have removed them from each frame. You never get into the action because it always feels fake.
With no real tie-in to the Batman franchise, no compelling story, not much good acting, and action scenes that just do not work, there is no reason to see this film other than to see the one film in Warner's Batman franchise that has been called worse than Batman & Robin.
Batman Begins ( 2005 )
Starring: Christian Bale as Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Officer Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow, and Liam Neeson as Ra's al Ghul. With Richard Brake as Joe Chill, Tim Booth as Victor Zsasz, Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone, Mark Boone Junior as Detective Arnold Flass, and Colin McFarlane as Commissioner Gillian B Loeb
Produced by: Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Larry J Franco
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
There are those who did not like this movie because, they say, it took too long for Bruce Wayne to become Batman. We do not see Bruce in the Batman costume until one hour into the film. This criticism is misguided. Batman is in the entire film, because Bruce Wayne is Batman. It may have taken him 1 hour to put the Batman costume on, but Bruce Wayne became the Batman a few days after his parents were murdered. The night he swore an oath to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of his life warring on all criminals. From that moment on he spent every day training to become a crime fighter. If a bat had not flown through his window, he would have never thought of wearing a bat costume. But he still would have been a crime fighter, wearing a different costume, or perhaps no costume and just a mask.
But the Batman we are use to on television and the other movies is a duel personality. He is Bruce Wayne when he is not waring the cowl, and Batman when he is. And this Bruce Wayne is a bore. Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson are always doing things we do not care about, like working on their stamp collection, or spending a night at the opera. Nobody cares about Bruce and Dick. When they are on screen we count the minutes until they finally become Batman and Robin again. This is not just the case with Batman. The secret identities of all superhero films are bores. We want the superhero, not the boring normal guy.
Director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S Goyer wanted to make a Batman movie where Bruce Wayne was every bit as interesting as Batman. After all, they were the same person. In difference to the other Superhero films where the hero is turned off every time the costume is removed, Nolan wanted to get back to the idea that Bruce Wayne was Batman even when the cowl was off. Batman was there the entire first hour. He simply did not figure out his costume yet.
Making the secret identity just as interesting as the hero was not the only innovation Nolan and Goyer brought to the franchise. He wanted to make his version of Batman realistic. Not campy. Not stylistically Gothic. They just wanted a movie that depicted what Batman would be like if he were real. What Gothem City would be like if it was real. One of the biggest problems with superhero films was that most directors felt some obligation to make these films cartoony. A bit campy, a bit over the top, and with a color scheme that is suppose to mimic that of a comic book. Often the end result was an embarrassing mess. Nolan wanted to go the opposite direction. To take the comic book out of the Batman. With the removal of most of the fantastic, we get a crime drama that is plausible. And that makes a lot of difference in this trilogy. For the first time Batman is transformed from a tale that is a bit goofy, to a saga that is nearly Academy Award worthy.
Nolan's original claim to fame was the movie Momento ( 2000 ), a mystery thriller with scenes shown out of sequence and in reverse order. Naturally Nolan would bring some of this technique to Batman Begins. The film opens with Bruce Wayne in a foreign prison, and throughout the beginning of the film flashbacks show us how he got there, as well as the events in his childhood that lead him down the road to becoming Batman. The films that followed world bet told in a more linear fashion, but not because it did not work here. The cutting back between the past and present actually enhances the story, especially when showing key events from the past that are very important in the present.
Batman Begins was meant to show us Bruce Wayne's journey from a frightened little boy turned orphan by an act of crime, to the vigilante determined to rid his city of crime. It is the origin of Batman. Those who complained that it took too long for Bruce Wayne to become Batman just didn't get it. But for those of us who enjoyed the film, it was a live action Batman movie done right for the first time. It even surpassed Mask of the Phantasm.
The Dark Knight ( 2008 )
Starring: Christian Bale as Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Garry Oldman as Police Lieutenant Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Heath Ledger as The Joker, and Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face. With Colin McFarlane as Commissioner Gilliian B Loeb, Eric Roberts as Sal Maroni, and Cillian Murphey as Scarecrow.
Produced by: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Roven
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
The temptation to feature Batman's greatest arch-enemy in the first movie must have been overwhelming. The decision to use Ra's al Ghul instead was a good decision. Not really one of the better known villains, he was perfect for a movie where the villain would be in only part of the movie. The Joker deserves an entire film. And here he gets it.
I was not entirely thrilled with Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker. Not that I did not like this version of Joker. But as Nolan was trying to make his Dark Knight trilogy realistic, he refused to give us the Joker of cannon. The Joker of this movie dyes his hair green, and wears clown makeup. The Joker in the comic books got his green hair, red lips and white skin as a result of falling into a vat of chemicals. Heath Ledger's Joker rarely laughs, and spends most of the time frowning. The only smile on his face is a scar shaped smile carved onto his cheeks by his drunken father when he was a kid. The smile on the comic book Joker's face is genuine. He is in a constant state of laughter because when he saw what the chemicals did to him, he went insane. I am probably going to get complaints about this opinion, but I think the closest any actor came to the comic book Joker in a live action film was Cesar Romero. Jack Nicholson was a great performance, but he gave us the tortured clown hiding tears with a smile rather than the manic clown of the comic books. Cesar Romero was just a shaved mustache and body count short of giving us an accurate portrayal. The best portrayal of The Joker, well, that would be the animated cartoons. I especially liked Mark Hamill's version.
While Ledger did not give us the true Joker, he did give us a memorable Joker. And the performance may have not been accurate to the comic book, but it was worthy of it's Oscar. It did get something right. This time The Joker was a genius. He was always one step ahead of the police. This Joker was on step ahead of Batman. This Joker was one step ahead of us. Even when he was captured, he was a step ahead. This Joker has a master plan that is not just poisoning Gotham. In this aspect, we finally got the live action Joker we had been waiting for. There was another alteration Nolan made to the Joker for this film. The Joker of the comic book was a crime boss. The Joker of Nolan's film is a terrorist.
In both films, and the one that follows, Nolan seemed to make the same mistake of having multiple villains. But here he found a way to balance the second villain. In Batman Begins, the Scarecrow is merely an underling for Ra's al Ghul. In The Dark Knight we also get Two-Face. But once again, the second villain is downplayed. Harvey Dent does not get his face disfiguring injury until the third act of the film, and only briefly becomes the manic Two-Face towards the end of the movie. This Two-Face has no major scheme, but seeks revenge against those he blames for his disfigurement and the death of his fiancée. Batman eliminates him before he has any opportunity to become a crime boss as was the case in the comic book.
The Dark Knight did not just give us a great superhero film, but prior to the release of The Avengers, it gave us the greatest Superhero film ever made. Nolan's decision to make D.C.s fantastical characters realistic paid off. Even if we did not get the real Joker and Two-Face, we did get versions of those characters that thrilled. And we got a story that was memorable. There are only a couple of movies based on comic books that I would say deserved an Academy Award for best picture, and The Dark Knight is one of them, even if the Academy was too bias to give a superhero movie a nomination.
The Dark Knight Rises ( 2012 )
Starring: Christian Bale as Batman, Michael Cain as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freedman as Lucius Fox, Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul
Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Charles Roven
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight was too perfect a movie for Nolan to ever top. And he didn't. But that is not to say that The Dark Knight Rises is not also a great Batman film. Nolan saw this trilogy as a beginning, middle and end. The first movie was Batman's origin, the second the battle with his greatest foe, and the third the demise of Batman. Bane is depicted as yet another terrorist. This time he and his organization succeed in cutting Gotham off from the rest of the world and holding all it's citizens hostage. The second villain is Catwoman, although in this movie she is never called that. Instead we get Selena Kyle, a cat burglar who's burgling outfit is a spandex catsuit with a mask with sort of cat like ears. Here she is an ally of Batman rather than just another villain obsessed with killing him.
While nowhere as good as the previous film, it is a worthy ending to the trilogy. And had the second film never existed, I am sure that The Dark Knight Rises would have received a lot more praise. But this film came out in both the shadow of The Dark Knight and The Avengers which had been released a couple of months earlier. Jaded comic book fans were not as forgiving for lesser efforts. But they were forgetting what the superhero movie landscape looked like just five years earlier when the best of the films were uneven, or back in the 80s and 90s when most superhero films were campy, low budget and terrible. The Dark Knight Rises was a great movie, but was now in the shadow of even grater movies. And for that it disappointed fans who's level of expectation were set unrealistically high.
There are only two things I did not like about this film. One was the lack of the Joker, who should have been among the prisoners and asylum inmates Bane set free. I can understand why Nolan chose not to use The Joker. Heath Ledger was dead. It would have been unacceptable to recast the role. Recasting Katie Holmes? No problem. Recast the Joker? Never! It is just a shame that Ledger's death prevented a rematch between Batman and his greatest foe. Instead we get the Scarecrow again, who by this time in the trilogy was a pointless background character.
The other thing I did not like was the idea that Nolan's Batman saga was to end in this film. Sure, the movie gave us a couple of outs. One where Bruce could possibly return in a sequel, another where a new Batman would take over in future films. But there is no doubt that Nolan never intends to continue this world he created. Any franchise films to follow would be a reboot. And in fact, the second Superman film that Nolan is producing will have a Batman who is a reboot and not from the Dark Knight trilogy. I know that there is suppose to be something magical or artistic about a trilogy. And making further films would only water down the quality of the series until once again we were getting batcrap. But what ever happened to the days when Hollywood could turn out a film series of 10 to 30 films of constant quality? Is James Bond the only film series left from that era? Batman has such a rich roster of villains, many who has a multitude of great stories from 70+ years of comic book history. That is enough material to knock out a good Batman film every year. Instead we get one big Batman film every three to six years.
Batman is not Lord of the Rings. It is not a saga you can summarize in just three movies. It deserves to be a long film series. Even if that means many directors, and the occasional recasting of the series stars. You could release one Batman movie a year. In fact, I dare say you could release three Batman films a year. Batman a superhero without any powers. That means no expensive CGI or any other visual effects are needed. All you need is the Batsuit and a fight choreographer. A Batmobile like the one Adam West drove that does not need special effects. And films that runs for about 90 minutes instead of the epic two and a half hours. Just get some decent screen writers who know how to adapt the already existing comic books, and a team of Hong Kong stunt coordinators, and you are good to go. Sure, you would not get anything on the epic scale of the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. But you would get one hell of an action series.
The Lego Movie ( 2014 )
Starring: Will Arnett as Lego Batman, Channing Tatum as Lego Superman ( Cameo ), Jonah Hill as Lego Green Lantern ( Cameo ), and Cobie Smulders as Lego Wonder Woman ( Cameo )
Produced by: Dan Lin and Roy Lee
Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
I guess this counts as a Batman movie, even if Batman is made out of Lego bricks. Taking place in a world made completely of Lego bricks and Lego minifigures, an evil tyrant has stolen an artifact called The Kragle which he plans to use to destroy the world. According to a prophecy, a minifigure called "The Special" will one day find something called "The Piece of Resistance" which is the only thing capable of stopping the Kragle. One day a construction worker minifigure discovers the Piece Of Resistance in a cave and.... You know, lets just forget the stupid plot. It exists as just an excuse to move characters through different environments. Needless to say the Piece of Resistance does eventually stop the Kragle. Anyway, you do not expect to find an academy award winning plot in a movie that promotes a line of toys.
On the positive side, this film looks great. Building a world made out of CGI Lego bricks is something that has not yet been done on film, so you are watching special effects you never seen before. On the negative side, the action scenes move so fast that it is impossible to keep track of what is happening. Not only do the vehicles in chase scenes move too fast, but too many vehicles pop in and out of view at the same time. Lego characters build stuff out of spare Lego bricks at lightning speed. When they fight, a multitude of characters move so fast that it is impossible to tell which ones are the good guys and which ones are the bad guys. The speed and confusion of the action scenes make them impossible to enjoy. Much like most contemporary animated films, the humor is hit or miss, with too many jokes that only the script writer found funny. That's not to say there is not the occasional laugh. The Lego Movie is more entertaining than it deserves to be, but mostly because of it's uniqueness rather than watching a good story.
But the reason why we are here is because Batman is in this film. Once again we are back to the funny Batman. But this time, instead of being a parody of the '50s Batman, we get a parody of the dark Batman from the movies. And that seems to work. Batman spends much of the film on the sidelines complaining, but does participate whenever an action scene takes place. With the breakneck pacing of the action scenes, we do not get that much good Bat action. But we do get a lot of gags about Batman being dark and brooding. The bottom line, you should never expect a movie based on Lego bricks to have an accurate portrayal of Batman. And yet, the Batman in this film is more accurate than either Joel Schumacher or Tim Burton's versions. A movie that may not be for the Batman fan other than a curiosity, but definitely for those Lego fans out there.
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