Category Archives: Batman

Reimagining “The Dark Knight Rises”

Batman - Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy” will always be highly regarded by both Batman fanatics and general audiences, so I think there’s been more than enough praise that it wouldn’t hurt the legacy of the trilogy if I gripe a bit more about the flaws in the third film. In my article, “Batman: The Christopher Nolan Years,” my biggest grievance was with the portrayal of Miranda Tate / Talia Al Ghul. I knew that Marion Cotillard was Talia before the movie even opened and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one. Even you weren’t familiar with the character, you must have realized that she was shady like a villainous Bond Girl. Why does there have to be a twist? Why can’t the story be told in a straightforward manner? Talia should really have been exposed by Batman, since he is a detective, and it should have occurred in the first half of the film. “The Dark Knight Rises” could still have opened with the impressive airplane sequence, but reimagined.

Hypothetically, Bane could be transported from one maximum security prison to another and set free by the few remaining members of The League of Shadows, who are now following Talia’s lead. Talia was aware of Bane exploits because he was once a member of The League and ex-communicated for being too extreme, so that part of his backstory remains the same. The price of Bane’s freedom is him being sent to Gotham to cripple Batman and lead the Blackgate Penitentiary break. Bane is eager to accept this charge because he wants Batman’s cowl as a trophy like on the animated series. And how about a few popular members of the Rogues Gallery make an appearance during the prison break? I love The Scarecrow making a cameo as the judge. Of course, all of this is a distraction for Talia to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the city. The heck with the clean energy device. A movie doesn’t need to be so convoluted to be successful. In my own humble opinion, this screenplay was trying way too hard to be clever. And I still don’t know why Batman went out of his way to make people think he died in the nuclear blast or how he cleared the blast radius in under five seconds? Did “the bat” come equipped a teleportation devise? Another unnecessary twist. But, I digress. If the villain’s scheme had been streamlined, then the film could have focused more on the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.

As I said in my previous article, I really enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance, but since Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne was such a curmudgeon, I don’t think they’ll live happily ever after. She might get bored with him. That’s why I still prefer the Michael Keaton / Michelle Pfeiffer “destined to end tragically” romance in “Batman Returns.” That’s right, I’m complimenting “Batman Returns.” Take that, Kevin Smith. Since “The Dark Knight Rise,” we have seen the polarizing Mandarin twist in “Iron Man 3” and another swerve in “Star Trek Into Darkness” with Benedict Cumberbatch denying during promotions that was portraying Khan. What’s with these summer blockbusters? I keep expecting the M. Night Shyamalan doll from “Robot Chicken” to pop up and say “What a twist!”

Batman: The Animated Series – 13 Favorites

Batman

“Heart of Ice”
Airdate: September 7, 1992
The introduction of Mr. Freeze, who was re-imagined in this series as a tragic hero, as apposed to the traditional comic book villain. Pathos that Joel Schumacher completely failed to recreate in “Batman & Robin.”

“Pretty Poison”
Airdate: September 14, 1992
Poison Ivy was introduced by poisoning D.A. Harvey Dent. Besides the first appearance of Ivy, a great femme fatale, I appreciate that the creators took the time to establish the friendship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent before Dent becomes Two-Face.

“Mad as Hatter”
Airdate: October 12, 1992
Jervis Tetch, underrated member of the Rogues Gallery, becomes mad as a hatter after being overlooked by the woman he loves, Alice. The character was voiced by the great Roddy McDowall, who played The Book Worm on the 1960s live action series.

“Perchance to Dream”
Airdate: October 19, 1992
Bruce Wayne awakes in some alternate reality where his parents are still alive and he is engaged to Selina Kyle. The nightmare was finally over… or was it? The Mad Hatter is revealed to be responsible for this cruel deception.

“Night of the Ninja”
Airdate: October 26, 1992
Kyodai Ken, a nemesis of Bruce Wayne’s, dating back years to his training in Japan, knows Batman’s true identity based on his signature fighting style. Some nice insight into the path traveled by Bruce Wayne to become The Dark Knight.

“Beware the Gray Ghost”
Airdate: November 4, 1992
Adam West, the 1960s caped crusader, guest starred as Simon Trent, a down-on-his-luck actor, whose famous TV persona influenced Bruce Wayne when adopting his own heroic persona. What a clever way to pay tribute to Adam West.

“Harley and Ivy”
Airdate: January 18, 1993
The Joker kicks Harley Quinn to the curb. Harley was a character created for this series and has become a fan favorite. Teaming her up with Poison Ivy has also been done in the comic books. The Joker, the greatest comic villain of all time, was voiced by Mark Hamill. What a stroke of brilliance, giving The Joker a partner in crime / love interest. Gotham City’s version of Bonnie & Clyde.

“The Man Who Killed Batman”
Airdate: February 1, 1993
A low level gangster accidentally vanquishes The Dark Knight… or so it seems. The man’s legend quickly grows. The Joker is not happy about this turn of events. He lashes out at Harley and even holds a funeral for Batman. Amazing, that The Joker would feel his life if purposeless without his arch nemesis.

“Trial”
Airdate: May 16, 1994
Batman is put on trial in Arkham Asylum with The Joker as the judge, Two-Face as the prosecutor, and more members of the Rogues Gallery serving as the jurors. An all-star lineup even if not all character had dialogue. The Riddler just sat there.

“Bane”
Airdate: September 10, 1994
The Latin American masked mercenary, jacked up super-steroids, wants Batman’s cowl as a trophy. Bane was also portrayed as a lover. This episode was much less convoluted than Bane’s appearance in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“Legends of the Dark Knight”
Airdate: October 10, 1998
Three kids discuss the mythos surrounding the Batman, paying tribute to three different artistic interpretations of The Dark Knight, spanning many years. They also poke fun at a Joel Schumacher inspired character.

“Girls’ Night Out”
Airdate: October 14, 1998
A crossover with “Superman: The Animated Series.” Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy join forces with Livewire. Batman and Superman are predisposed, so Batgirl must team with Supergirl.

“Beware the Creeper”
Airdate: November 7, 1998
Jack Ryder, a local TV reporter, gets exposed to The Joker’s laughing gas and becomes a crazed criminal, infringing on The Joker’s gimmick. The Creeper, as Ryder now calls himself, also develops a crush on Harley.

Paul and Kevin Conroy
(My colleague Paul Zapata with Kevin Conroy at NY Comic Con 2012)

“The Long Halloween: Chapter One”

Batman logo

Writer… Jeph Loeb
Artist… Tim Sale
Colorist… Gregory Wright
Letterer… Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Original Story Editor… Archie Goodwin

This story is similar in some regards to the beginning of “The Godfather,” with many of the prominent characters converging on a wedding hosted by a Mafioso. Carmine “The Roman” Falcone would like Bruce Wayne’s vote to join the board of the Gotham City Bank. Needless to say, Bruce Wayne is not interested in conducting any business with a crime lord like Falcone, but the night is not a total loss as Selina Kyle is attending this reception. Bruce was looking to duck out early, but cannot refuse when Selina asks to dance. Meanwhile, Harvey Dent is snooping around in the garage, jotting down license plate numbers. Falcone’s goons surprise Dent and rough him up. Bruce and Selina find Dent down in the garage, a little worse for the wear, but he brushes them off. “I believe in Harvey Dent,” says Bruce. Dent, disillusioned, meets up with Captain James Gordon, who assures him that they are not alone in their struggle against the mob.

Later, Falcone’s study his infiltrated simultaneously by the Batman and Catwoman. As the two tussle, they exchange repartee, their usual sexual tension. Falcone’s goons arrive, Catwoman flees, and Batman pursues. Falcone is so irate that he paraphrases lines from “The Godfather, Part II.” Salvatore “The Boss” Maroni takes pleasure in Falcone being dishonored. Falcone puts a bounty out on both Batman and Catwoman. The implication is that the scars on Falcone’s face were courtesy of Catwoman. Batman is given the slip by Catwoman before he can decipher what she was up to. Batman then convenes with Gordon and Dent, passing off the ledger he confiscated from Falcone’s study. The three men agree that they can bend the rules in their pursuit of Falcone, but never break them. Batman stealthily disappears into the night. “He does that,” Gordon explains to Dent.

Bruce Wayne does not want “The Roman” to have any dealings with the Gotham City Bank, so the Batman pays a visit to Richard Daniel, Falcone’s inside man on the board, and aggressively persuades him to vote against the gangster. Alberto Falcone wishes to support his father, but is urged to stay out of the family business. He is like the Michael Corleone of the family, while his cousin, Johnny Viti, the Sonny Corleone, is not being as helpful as he should. Richard Daniel is eventually whacked out for defying Carmine Falcone. Batman impugns the mob, but does not hold himself accountable for placing the late Mr. Daniel in such a predicament. News of this murder reaches Gordon, whose wife Barbara is clearly fed up with life married to a cop. Gilda Dent, is worried that her husband might be next on the mafia’s hit list, but he assures her that everything will be alright. Johnny Viti is then assassinated in his bathtub and the mystery assailant leaves behind a jack-o-lantern as a calling card.

Catwoman wants to keep the ire of the mob off of her, so she gives Batman some useful tips. On Halloween night, Batman and Harvey Dent break into a waterfront warehouse, where Carmine Falcone has stockpiled millions of dollars in cash which he was unable to launder. Brazenly, our two heroes doused the money with gasoline and set it ablaze. Retribution is immediate as Dent returns home to his wife, who was giving out candy to trick-or-treaters. Moments later, a fiery explosion, which was the cliffhanger of chapter one. What will transpire in the following chapters? Will Catwoman’s agenda finally be revealed? Will Alberto Falcone follow in his father’s footsteps? Will Salvatore Maroni make a power play? Will Harvey Dent emerge from the flames as Harvey Two-Face?

“The Long Halloween” was obviously an inspiration to Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Not only for the inclusion of Carmine Falcone in “Batman Begins,” but for the relationship between Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent, which played out in “The Dark Knight.”

Batman: The Christopher Nolan Years

Batman Begins

“Batman Begins” (2005)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard / Ra’s al Ghul,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Sgt. James Gordon,
Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes,
Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox,
& Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow

The Superman film franchise wallowed in limbo for nineteen years, but Batman fans only had to wait eight years for a reboot. Inspired in part by the concept behind Frank Miller’s acclaimed graphic novel, Batman: Year One, Warner Brothers finally produced a cinematic origin story for The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan, the man behind such films as “Memento” and “Insomnia,” was chosen as the director. It seems as if the fans’ voices were being heard as Christian Bale, the “American Psycho” himself, was cast as Bruce Wayne / Batman. Kevin Conroy, who voiced the title character on Batman: The Animated Series, gave audiences the most well rounded interpretation of Batman… The lonely orphan, billionaire playboy, and caped crusader all in one. Christian Bale became the first actor to portray these three facets in a live action film.

It’s a bit difficult for me to get through the first act of “Batman Begins” because of the flashbacks of Thomas and Martha Wayne. They are so unbearably perfect that it’s hard for me to relate to them. Maybe that’s only how Bruce Wayne chooses to remember his folks? Ra’s al Ghul (the head of the demon) was far more complex than the antagonists in the Burton / Schumacher series. You left the theater not knowing if Liam Neeson was always Ra’s and Ken Watanabe was the decoy or if Watanabe was the original Ra’s and Neeson took his place upon his death (“The Dark Knight Rises” cleared that up). Either way, Liam Neeson brought an edge to usual role of mentor.

The Scarecrow was intended to be the villain in “Batman Triumphant,” the un-produced fifth film in the Burton / Schumacher series. Jonathan Crane finally made it to the big screen in “Batman Begins,” played by Cillian Murphy. The character did not have as much screentime as I would’ve preferred, but he was still memorable. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes was probably the weakest member of the cast. She gave such a bland and uninspired performance that I don’t think anyone was too sorry to see the part recast in “The Dark Knight.”

Everyone raves about Christopher Nolan for the most part. I’ve heard some complaints that the female characters are underdeveloped in his films, but my only real gripe is the incoherent style in which he photographed the hand-to-hand combat scenes. I suppose that his intent was to make the viewer feel like they are inside the scuffle. That works for a boxing film like “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” but Batman and the members of the League of Shadows are ninjas. They fight at an extremely fast pace which appears like a blur close up. Pull back and let us see the choreography.

Tim Burton kept Batman in the shadows. Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer explain everything. Half of this film is exposition. Morgan Freeman plays Lucius Fox, who was Mr. Exposition. A fountain of all knowledge. Virtually nothing was left to the imagination. You know how and why everything works. Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth were merely supporting characters in the Burton / Schumacher series. In Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City, they were essential to the plot. Michael Caine was nowhere near as placating as Michael Gough was. He was a surrogate father to Bruce, not just his servant. Gary Oldman has played some demented and volatile characters in the past, but he’d mellowed enough to effectively portray Sgt. Gordon, a committed ally to Batman, just as the character was depicted in Frank Miller’s Year One.

Roger the alien from “American Dad!” thinks that the sequel setup at the end with the Joker playing card was a bit on the nose. If this was a Michael Bay or Brett Ratner film, then I probably would’ve agreed with him, but I, like many in the audience was hooked by “Batman Begins” and anticipating the next installment.

Batman - The Dark Knight

“The Dark Knight” (2008)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon,
Heath Ledger as The Joker,
Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent / Two-Face,
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes,
& Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox

Just as when I wrote my retrospective of “Superman: The Movie,” I struggle to critique “The Dark Knight” because the film succeeds on almost every level and my review will be annoyingly positive. But, here we go…

It is now forgotten what a surprise it was when Heath Ledger was announced as The Joker. He was labeled a “pretty boy” and not someone you could have easily envisioned as the Clown Prince of Crime, but the buzz around him grew stronger as the release date approached. Sadly, Heath Ledger passed away just a few months before “The Dark Knight” premiered. The Joker, as he’s presented in this film, was a domestic terrorist, an agent of chaos. Some have said that Heath Ledger’s Joker sounded a lot like singer / songwriter, Tom Waits, while others sited the performance of Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange” as an inspiration. I will not be comparing and contrasting Heath Ledger with Jack Nicholson since they were two wholly different interpretations of The Joker, existing in two different universes. “The Dark Knight” does not take place in a Tim Burton gothic fairytale, rather this film took a very pragmatic attitude. Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City is a real place with real people. I am not saying that is a better approach than what Tim Burton did. They were just different is all. To each his own.

Christian Bale may have went a bit overboard with his “bat-voice.” Michael Keaton as Batman spoke with a hint of a Clint Eastwood / Snake Plissken gravely tone. Christian Bale clearly wanted to sound even more ferocious than he did in “Batman Begins.” He was practically growling in this movie. I was half expecting him to start frothing at the mouth. Couple that with Bruce Wayne being a sad sack most of the time, is it a wonder that Rachel Dawes chose Harvey Dent? Rachel was now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who may not be considered as “traditionally” pretty as Katie Holmes, but gave a much better performance. I actually think audiences would have cheered if Katie Holmes was blown up.

Harvey Dent was played by Aaron Eckhart. This was the first time that Dent’s transition into Two-Face was depicted in live action. Billy Dee Williams was Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s “Batman” and Tommy Lee Jones was Two-Face in “Batman Forever,” but no actor had played both the before and after, the ying and yang, which is the whole point of the character. Harvey’s face was scarred by a fire, his heart broken by the death of Rachel, and his mind poisoned by The Joker. The climax was a standoff straight out of a crime drama. And that’s exactly what “The Dark Knight” is, a crime drama, not a comic book. Harvey dies from a broken neck suffered in a fall. Everyone chastised Tim Burton for tweaking comic book characters, but it’s okay for Christopher Nolan? When in the comic books was Harvey Dent killed just a few hours after becoming Two-Face? Why not have him linger in a coma for at least one more movie before the plug is pulled?

A few other tidbits… I liked seeing Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow make a cameo. I wish that other members of the Rogue’s Gallery such as The Mad Hatter had popped up in supporting roles throughout the Christopher Nolan trilogy. There was this theory that the character, Mr. Reese, was actually The Riddler, but I don’t buy it. I also disagree with all those who said that The Penguin could not have worked in Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe. Why can’t there be a gangster named Oswald Cobblepot who owns a nightclub? When Batman does infiltrate Boss Maroni’s nightclub, all those green strobe lights gave me a weird Joel Schumacher “Batman Forever” flashback. All of a sudden, we were back in 1995.

The Joker was not killed off. Obviously, he was meant to return in the next sequel. His line, “I think we’re destined to do this forever,” in his final scene is so poignant since we know that he won’t be returning. Heath Ledger was posthumously nominated for and won an Academy Award for his performance in this film, which was well deserved.

Batman - Dark Knight Rises

“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Commissioner James Gordon,
Anne Hatheway as Selina Kyle / Catwoman,
Tom Hardy as Bane
Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate / Talia,
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective John Blake,
& Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox

This was first movie that I experienced in IMAX, which was fitting given how highly anticipated this final chapter in the Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was. The presentation was similar in tone more to “Batman Begins” than “The Dark Knight.” In a way, the screenplay may have tried too hard to connect back to the first film as apposed to being a standalone story. Christian Bale became the first actor to portray Batman in three live action films, breaking a tie with Michael Keaton.

Tom Hardy, who had co-starred in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” was cast as Bane, the (supposed) main antagonist. His take on the character was different than what had been done in the comic books and animated series. Or at least he sounded different. He was so darn formal even when describing and performing violent acts. Some have said that he sounded like Sean Connery meets Darth Vader. I didn’t enjoy him masquerading as the new leader of the League of Shadows. He should’ve just been a mercenary, who was ex-communicated from the League for being too extreme, then hired by Talia to avenge the death of her father. I recall that Ra’s al Ghul also had a decoy in “Batman Begins,” so Talia tried a similar rouse, but it was unnecessary and overly complicated.

Did anyone believe that Bane was the child of Ra’s al Ghul? Even if you’re not a fan of the comics and didn’t know that Ra’s al Ghul had a daughter, it was somewhat obvious that Miranda Tate was not what she seemed. Marion Cotillard made a point of saying that she wasn’t playing Talia while promoting the film, so that meant she was, without a doubt, playing Talia. I think the filmmakers made a huge mistake by waiting until the climax to reveal her true nature. Why didn’t she reveal herself during the underground fight between Batman and Bane? Since their plan was to leave Bruce to rot away in the pit, why didn’t they let him know who she really was right then and there? It made no absolutely sense for the villains to keep their secret from Bruce any longer because they thought that they’d never see him again, so what the hell were they waiting for? They were keeping their secret from the audience only. Miranda Tate could have still tricked Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon because they would have no knowledge that she revealed herself to Bruce. The reveal should have occurred when Bane broke Batman’s back. The filmmakers weren’t attempting to fool the other characters at this point, they were trying to pull one over on the audience. If you’ve seen a 007 movie, you could tell that Miranda was evil the minute she and Bruce made love by the fireplace. That is my biggest grievance with this film and the entire trilogy. They made us wait two and half hours for a twist that everyone saw coming.

Anne Hatheway played Selina Kyle / Catwoman. Of course, Christopher Nolan is just too cool to refer to her as Catwoman. She’s a “cat” burglar. Whatever you want to call her, it was inspired casting. Anne Hatheway has always had her wholesome image from “The Princess Diaries,” even if she’s played more risqué parts in smaller film such as “Havoc.” Anne Hatheway truly reinvented herself to mass audiences as a femme fatale in this flick. She looked great in the costume. Her goggles could even be flipped up to create the illusion of cat ears. Genius. I guess cat burglars don’t bother using whips in Christopher Nolan’s universe? Shucks. Though she was in full makeup while in prison and after Gotham City became a wasteland. I wouldn’t compare her to Michelle Pfeiffer for the same reason I didn’t compare Heath Ledger to Jack Nicholson. It’s two different worlds.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Detective John Blake, a character who was an amalgam of Robin, Batman’s traditional comic book sidekick, and Terry McGinnis, Bruce Wayne’s successor from the “Batman Beyond” animated series. Christopher Nolan had always claimed he was reluctant to incorporate Robin in his films, but John Blake is an orphan, a crime fighter, and his name turns out be Robin. Close enough. Will Robin John Blake become the new Batman or Nightwing? Maybe a spin-off will give us the answer? For some reason, I always thought that the kid (King Joffrey from “Game of Thrones”) who Batman gave his binoculars to back in “Batman Begins,” would eventually turn out to be Tim Drake, the third Robin from the comic books, but I was wrong. At least Blake rhymes with Drake. Again, it’s close enough.

I’m pleased that Batman was not killed by the nuclear blast. Bruce Wayne shouldn’t die young. He needs to become a bitter old curmudgeon. The filmmakers tried to pull the wool over our eyes again by implying that Batman was dead. Why did he bother faking his death if was going to slowly let everyone close to him know that he was still alive? He knew that Lucius Fox would find out that the autopilot had been fixed. He reunited with Selina Kyle and hung out at the café until Alfred saw that he was alive and well. Gordon and Blake were instructed to recreate “The Bat-Man,” so what was the point except to give the audience another twist? “The Dark Knight Rises” was the weakest of the trilogy and a semi-satisfactory finale.

Batman: The Joel Schumacher Years

Batman Forever

“Batman Forever” (1995)
Directed by Joel Schumacher,
Starring Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent / Two-Face,
Jim Carrey as Edward Nigma / The Riddler,
Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian,
Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

As a response to the highly controversial and overly morose “Batman Returns,” Warner Brothers produced “Batman Forever,” a flashy popcorn movie with Joel Schumacher at the helm. Tim Burton was the executive producer, but I have an inkling that he didn’t have too much creative input. Audiences looked to past Joel Schumacher films such as “The Lost Boys” and “Flatliners” for reasons to be optimistic. Before there was IMDB, you would scope the posters in theaters to see which movies were “coming soon.” The teaser poster of “Batman Forever” was ingenious. The Batman logo was surrounded by a question mark. You knew that The Dark Knight was returning to the cinemas and that he would have to contend with The Riddler. Any questions?

Val Kilmer took over as Bruce Wayne / Batman. His interpretation of Bruce was closer to the comics than Michael Keaton’s in that he portrayed a brooding and lonely orphan who knew to always keep up his public image as a dashing playboy. Bruce Wayne was a recluse in the two Tim Burton movies, but in Joel Schumacher’s Gotham City, Bruce is the toast of the town. Conversely, Val Kilmer’s Batman was lacking in my opinion. He didn’t really seem like a “Dark Knight,” especially when comparing him to Michael Keaton. Once the cape and cowl went on, Val Kilmer came across as a generic Saturday morning cartoon superhero. It’s a good thing that he’d already played Doc Holiday to perfection in “Tombstone” and built up a lot of goodwill. I’m not going to comment on the nipples or enlarged codpieces that defined the Batman and Robin costumes in this flick. Enough had been said and written about over the years in regards to bat-nipples.

As I mentioned, everyone in Gotham City is entranced with Bruce Wayne, none more so than Edward Nigma, an underappreciated and somewhat unhinged technician employed by Wayne Enterprises. This was during the height of Jim Carrey-Mania. He had three massive hits in 1994, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “The Mask,” and “Dumb & Dumber.” Some have complained that he wasn’t menacing like Frank Gorshin was as The Riddler back on the 1960s TV series, but I think that Jim Carrey gave a decent performance. I surely preferred him to Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent / Two-Face. Whether Jones was trying to emulate Jack Nicholson’s Joker or he was fearful of being upstaged by Jim Carrey’s Riddler, he gave an uninspiring and cackling performance as Gotham’s disgraced D.A., with none of the pathos associated with the character. During promotional interviews, Tommy Lee Jones spoke of Jekyll & Hyde, but I saw none of that influence in his portrayal of Two-Face.

Tim Burton’s Bat-films are more highly thought of nowadays than Joel Schumacher’s glorified toy commercials, but back in 1995, audiences were digging “Batman Forever.” It was probably the second highest grossing film of 1995 (“Toy Story” being number one). Val Kilmer was a heartthrob for the ladies and Jim Carrey was becoming a mega star. So was Nicole Kidman, who circa 1995 was just about the most attractive woman in Hollywood. She played Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian. It’s hard to come up with a word that properly described her beauty at the time. Elegant? Radiant? Exquisite? I’ll go with exquisite. Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Nicole Kidman. Batman sure has a things for blondes back then.

What is there to say about Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin? The boy wonder had to be brought into the film series at some point. Yes, Chris O’Donnell was too old to be adopted by Bruce Wayne, but that was the 90210 trend in the early to mid-1990s. Twenty something actors cast as teenagers, so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

So, is Joel Schumacher history’s greatest monster as was stated on “Robot Chicken?” He turned Gotham City into a giant techno inspired nightclub with strobe lights in every direction. I guess it all boils down to personal preference. Myself, I prefer the Michael Keaton batmobile much more than the one in “Batman Forever.” I also prefer Danny Elfman’s score to Elliot Goldenthal’s. “Batman Forever” is entertaining, but was never my cup of tea even though Jim Carrey and Nicole Kidman elevated their star status by appearing in this movie.

Batman & Robin

“Batman & Robin” (1997)
Directed by Joel Schumacher,
Starring George Clooney as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze,
Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin,
Uma Thurman as Dr. Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy,
Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson / Batgirl,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

Yikes. Criticizing “Batman & Robin” is such commonplace, especially on the internet, that there’s virtually nothing negative left to say. I’ll just do my best to find some new and exciting ways to bash this piece of crap… This insult to the Batman mythos. I went easy on Joel Schumacher when it came to “Batman Forever,” but he’s left me with no choice this time around.

This movie never even remotely took itself seriously. There were far too many failed attempts at humor. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze had 23 (by my count) lines of dialogue which were ice related puns!!! And I don’t know what was going on with the production design. The Mr. Freeze suit looked utterly ridiculous. A real clunky mess. I guess that Uma Thurman was so-so as Poison Ivy, or at least she was no worse than the other cast members.

George Clooney, who is now a huge star, was quite simply miscast. Sorry. He’s fine as a billionaire playboy, the part he was born to play, but he was a lackluster Bruce Wayne and there was no attempt made whatsoever to effectively portray The Dark Knight. His Batman was nothing more than George Clooney in a cape and cowl. This movie is filled with borderline unwatchable action sequences like the batmobile driving across a giant statue of a naked man. The animated “Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero,” which was released on VHS around the same time, had more substance to it than this live action atrocity.

Akiva Goldsman, co-writer of “Batman Forever,” penned the screenplay of “Batman & Robin” on his own. This movie actually had a screenplay? Well, an uninspired one to say the least. Speaking of uninspired, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl was what is known as uninspired casting. She wasn’t even Jim Gordon’s daughter. And don’t even get me started on the characterization of Bane. Since when is Bane a grunting simpleton? He’s suppose to be a Latin Hannibal Lecter, jacked up on steroids.

Commissioner Gordon, played by Pat Hingle, never had too much to do in this Burton / Schumacher series. He and Michael Gough were the only actors to appear in all four of the films. In “Batman & Robin,” Commissioner Gordon was made into a complete and utter buffoon, though Michael Gough had some nice moments. Bruce sitting beside the deathbed of Alfred was the only redeeming scene in this film. It’s only fair that I point out something positive.

Back to the negative. There was a motorcycle race with Coolio as the emcee. Give me a break. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson bicker like an old married couple. I guess that’s reasonable since Bruce has created a surrogate family for himself and families will have their disagreements and argue from time to time. I cannot, however, defend those silver suits and a bat-zamboni? Why would Batman have ever constructed a zamboni? I can understand all his other bat-vehicles, but a zamboni? And what’s with the silver suits? Were they special anti-freeze suits? Give me one damn line of dialogue to justify these new suits.

The legacy of Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin” is that it killed the franchise (for eight years). A fifth film, “Batman Triumphant,” was to have featured The Scarecrow as the main antagonist and possibly the return of The Joker. Those are my two favorite members of the Rogue’s Gallery and would’ve enjoyed seeing them in the same movie. “Batman Triumphant” was cancelled because of the negative response to “Batman & Robin.” From the ashes would rise Christopher Nolan to give us a new beginning to the Batman cinematic saga.

Batman: The Tim Burton Years

Batman '89

“Batman” (1989)
Directed by Tim Burton,
Starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier / The Joker,
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale,
Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

Seeing Tim Burton’s “Batman” in the summer of 1989 while on vacation in Orlando, Florida is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. To this day, I don’t think that enough is said about just how clever the opening of this film is. A family, a boy and his parents, leave a theater and take a shortcut down an alley where they are accosted by two muggers. You immediately think “origin story,” but The Dark Knight is revealed to be watching this from a rooftop above. Nice.

Some say that this film does not stand the test of time. I will agree that the visuals have not aged well. This representation of Gotham City was created my mat paintings and miniatures, which were never meant to be viewed on an HD DVD or Blu-ray. The look of this film is reminiscent of a 1940s gangster movie. Pinstripe suits and tommy-guns. This was appropriate as Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939 and I think this film holds up better than “Dick Tracy,” which was released in 1990 and had a similar blend of Depression Era comic strips and gangster flicks.

Tim Burton was criticized at the time for his decision to cast Michael Keaton, whom he had directed in “Beetlejuice,” as Bruce Wayne. Though not a physically imposing actor, Michael Keaton embodied the poignant and infuriated orphan aspects of Bruce Wayne’s psychosis, the manifestation of which is Gotham City’s embittered Dark Knight. Burton and Keaton choose to omit the playboy façade and presented Bruce Wayne as a recluse. I guess the only real drawback to such an approach was that it would not take too much deductive reasoning to realize that Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne WAS Batman if you were one of the few to share his company. Keaton, to the best of my knowledge, was also the originator of the “bat-voice.” Adam West, who I had the honor of seeing live with Burt Ward at New York Comic Con 2012, never differentiated between Bruce and Batman in his dialogue. Kevin Conroy, who I saw live at New York Comic Con in 2011 and 2012, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale have all taken cues from Michael Keaton. George Clooney harkened back to Adam West, but without much success.

Batman remains is the shadows for much of this film. Meanwhile, Jack the Joker chews up the scenery. I’m not sure if I’m calling him “Jack” because the character was named Jack Napier or if it’s because Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime seems like his true personality with the volume turned all the way up. In the comics, there is no definitive origin story for The Joker. A few had attempted to garner sympathy for the character while another established his past as the Red Hood, a less successful criminal persona. Screenwriter Sam Hamm simplified matters by having Jack Napier as second-in-command of the Gotham City mafia. His transformation into The Joker was more cosmetic since he already had this very anti-social personality. Having Joker as a Mafioso also justifies having an unlimited supply of henchmen (or soldiers). Something that is not easily explained with other comic book villains. 1-800-HENCHMEN? After Heath Ledger’s amazing turn as The Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” audiences now consider Jack Nicholson quaint by comparison. That’s not really fair since the tone of the films were completely different. Jack Nicholson was a mob boss Joker while Heath Ledger was a domestic terrorist Joker. That is two distinctly different interpretations of the same comic book character.

Comic book aficionados take umbrage with the final two scenes of the second act, which were not written by Sam Hamm. I too have problems with these scenes, but for different reasons. My grievances have little to do with any contradictions to the source material. First, a flashback reveals a young Jack Napier was the murderer of Bruce’s parents. A big departure from the comics, but since this film was my introduction to the Batman mythos, I accepted it at face value. My real issue is that the flashback comes out of nowhere. It wasn’t set up at all. Earlier, Bruce is skimming through Jack Napier’s wrap sheet and a mugshot of the young Napier is visible for just a moment. Extend that scene for a few more moments, have Bruce examine the photo, then inform Alfred that this Napier fella seems familiar. Something simple like that would have sufficed. Is it at all possible that Bruce was hallucinating that The Joker murdered his parents? Is he making himself believe that he heard the killer ask, “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?,” after hearing Joker speaks those words in Vicki Vale’s apartment? I’ve been told not to read too much into my theory as Tim Burton probably didn’t have anything that complex in mind.

Bruce then snaps out of his daze and discovers that Alfred has shown Vicki into the bat-cave. Many consider this to be an ultimate betrayal. No girls allowed in the bat-cave. I always found it curious that a pre-teen male acrobat wearing skintight booty shorts is permitted into the bat-cave, but not the vivacious Kim Basinger. My only issue with the scene is that Vicki and Bruce appear head over heels in love after only one date. A flaw common in many films.

Composer Danny Elfman’s score for this film is iconic. His opening title march rivals John William’s theme for “Superman: The Movie.” The Prince songs are a bit more polarizing. The general consensus is that his musical contributions date the movie. For the record, there are only three songs of his played in their entirety. A few seconds of “Bat-Dance” are heard in the background of the establishing shot of Gotham. Prince is not prominently featured until The Joker ransacks the art museum and again when the parade is in full swing. Tim Burton does acknowledge that Prince’s sound captured the essence of The Joker. A romantic ballad by Prince plays during the closing credits, but only after Danny Elfman’s march finishes. A variation of Danny Elfman’s work would be used as the theme to “Batman: The Animated Series.” Tim Burton’s “Batman” is not unlike other childhood favorites such as “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters.” A true product of the 1980s, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Batman Returns

“Batman Returns” (1992)
Directed by Tim Burton,
Starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin,
Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle / Catwoman,
Christopher Walken as Max Shreck,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

I remember playing with “Batman Returns” toys which came with McDonald’s Happy Meals. At the time, I was unaware that this film was considered wildly inappropriate for someone my age. It didn’t dawn on me for years how bleak this movie actually is. Tim Burton, talented as he is, insured that Warner Brothers would never permit him to direct another Batman film. I mean, the opening sequence shows parents attempting to drown their baby at Christmas. Wow, that is dark.

Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin, played by Danny DeVito, was not depicted as a crime boss with a nightclub, rather he was a vilely deranged circus freak, who had been discarded by his wealthy parents (Yes, that is Pee Wee Herman in a cameo as Oswald’s father). There were also liberties taken with Selina Kyle, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Instead of being a master thief, she was a mousy secretary, murdered by her boss and resurrected by alley cats. Her following nervous breakdown alone is worth the price of admission. I thought incorporating the supernatural was a nice touch, but comic book aficionados have condemned Tim Burton for tampering with these iconic characters.

The Penguin runs for office just as Burgess Meredith had done on the 1960s TV series, but Burgess Meredith was never as distasteful as Danny DeVito was in this movie. Tim Burton has an inclination of using stitches as a visual cue, but never as effectively as he did with Michelle Pfeiffer’s skintight leather Catwoman costume. I recall she described herself as “yummy.” A true femme fatale.

Christopher Walken portrayed Max Shreck, a character not in the comics, but who was the driving force of the story. I think most people know that he was named after the star of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” an unauthorized silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Max Shreck is Bruce Wayne’s rival in the boardroom, the man pulling the strings of The Penguin’s mayoral campaign, and he inadvertently creates Catwoman by pushing her out of a window. Apparently, Max Shreck took the place of Harvey Dent in the screenplay. Billy Dee Williams portrayed Gotham City‘s D.A. in the previous film and Tommy Lee Jones assumed the role of Two-Face in “Batman Forever,” but this film neglected to bridge the gap and show Harvey’s descent into villainy.

Robin, the boy wonder, was penciled in to appear this time around, but alas, he didn’t make the cut. The film was so cramped even without Robin that Michael Keaton, who receives top billing and plays the title character, had no more screentime than the other main characters. Batman and Catwoman did share a memorable “kiss.” I’m pretty sure that Michaels Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer were nominated for an MTV Movie Award for “Best Kiss,” but I can’t recall if they won and I refuse to look it up. This was the last time that Michael Keaton appeared as The Dark Knight. His departure was probably a combination of Tim Burton taking a backseat to Joel Schumacher on the next film and frustration over continuingly playing second fiddle to the villains.

I sometimes refer to “Batman Returns” as “The Nightmare Before Gotham” because the story takes place during the festive Christmas season. There is a macabre mood to this film without question, but there’s been too much griping about Batman taking lives in both Tim Burton movies. There was a body count, but it wasn’t cold blooded murder. I say it qualifies as abstract murder. The killing of a faceless enemy in the heat of battle. It’s not like Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne went all Frank Castle and was patrolling Gotham, wasting the bad guys with automatic weapons. The army of penguins were the most trigger happy characters in this movie, yet they were still compassionate enough to serve as the pallbearers for Oswald. Such a downbeat climax. Catwoman disappeared and it was hinted that she would return in a future sequel, but that never materialized. A Catwoman spin-off with Halle Berry was release in 2004 and it was atrociously bad.

Tim Burton’s unique style might not be everyone’s taste and some will argue that it just didn’t mesh with the Batman mythos, especially in this second outing, but he is an artist and unlike his immediate successor, cared more about the craft than monetary gain.