This is the blurb for upcoming Batman film ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Sounds gritty and exciting, right? ‘Of course it does,’ I hear you cry, ‘Batman is, and always was, gritty and exciting!’
How wrong you are, my friends. Wind back the clock to 1966 and a very different Batman film is about to be released:
|Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin (1966)|
‘The Dynamic Duo faces four super-villains who plan to hold the world for ransom with the help of a secret invention that instantly dehydrates people.’
These were Batman’s film origins, starring Adam……West (if you don’t get that joke you need to watch more bad superhero films), clad in skin-tight spandex and punching people so hard that words describing the impact ("Sock!", "Biff!", "Pow!") spontaneously appeared from thin air.
The stark contrast between these two films inspired me to go back through the annals of history to watch every Batman film in order to give you, our valued readers, the essence of Batman’s film evolution since his 1966 debut.
|Jack Nicholson as The Joker|
(source: TV Guide)
Batman (1989) – Most people declare this the first ‘proper’ Batman film, following the false start in the sixties. It featured a strangely passive Batman (Michael Keaton) and was dominated by the villain of the piece, The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson (best known, of course, for playing Torrence in The Shining). The film featured an excellent noir art design and was thematically focused on drawing parallels between the heroes and the villains.
Batman Returns – The movie that caused McDonalds to immediately cancel their newest line of Batman-themed Happy Meal toys. This is hardly surprising considering that it was directed by Tim Burton. It featured two animal-themed villains, The Penguin (Danny Devito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Both villains had a strange habit for cat- and bird-themed innuendos and Penguin’s master plan revolved around kidnapping and murdering children. A film that focused on the villains (Batman doesn’t speak for the first 38 minutes --- I counted), it remained very faithful to the comics' origins, which appeased fans but irritated ordinary punters seeking an action film. At one point, a woman is reborn somehow, because some cats breathe on her… Or something.
Batman Forever – This film simply bursts of the screen so that at first glance you would assume that a six year old attacked the 1989 Batman with a pack of neon highlighters. The film is a return to childish fun after Batman Returns (which many consider a misstep into darkness and sexuality), with Tommy Lee Jones (MIB) eschewing his usual straight man act for a crack at comedy; surprisingly, he and Jim Carrey (you all know who he is) have some genuinely funny interplay. Unfortunately, the film lacks any decent action and, when it does come, it seems as if the thinking among the writers was ‘We’ve not blown anything up for a while, and, if the Batmobile drives up a wall, we can sell some sticky Batmobile toys’. Also, it features a Malaysian dream doll, which also appears in Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and doesn’t make sense in either film. In fact, there’s nothing about them on the internet; are they a real thing? If you have any knowledge about them please leave a comment, I really want to know now.
Batman and Robin – Often heralded the worst superhero film of all time (you can actually ignore the word ‘superhero’ in that first sentence). I seriously considered not watching this film for my this article because I would genuinely rather be punched in the face continuously for an hour. It goes from bad to worse. Uma Therman looks ridiculous in a pink gorilla suit and then there are some cryogenic guns and it never really makes sense or entertains. Alicia Silverstone was (in my opinion unfairly) dubbed ‘Fatgirl’ during the making of this film, when gaining a tiny bit of weight. I often make efforts to formulate a decent argument to defend her, but give up when I see the neon-motorbike-race-against-a-Beethoven-themed-gang scene. The movie’s sole redeeming feature is a wonderfully awful and PUNNY (see what I did there?) performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. Also, just when we thought we were clear of campy Sixties Batman, suddenly director Joel Schumacher puts nipples on the Batsuit (sigh). That is all.
|Michael Caine and Christian Bale in Batman Begins|
Batman Begins – The first in the Nolan trilogy of ‘gritty’ Batman films, it is said to have revolutionised superhero movies in general, it certainly raised the bar so the likes of Batman and Robin will never be allowed to exist again. Nolan spends a solid 45 minutes giving us an in-depth Batman origin story that (unlike the one in Batman and Robin) represented a genuine character motivation in the best-when-he’s-dark character of Batman (brilliantly played by Christian Bale). Despite the overarching dark themes of the film, there is excellent banter and (dare I say it) ‘bromance’ between Batman, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine).
|Heath Ledger as the Joker, in The Dark Knight|
(source: The Guardian)
The Dark Knight – The second attempt at bringing Batman’s arch-nemesis to the screen is a brilliant piece of film made so much better by Heath Ledger (RIP) who received a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker. Michael Caine (as Alfred Pennyworth) and Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox) bring humour to an otherwise dark film. It stretches to two and a half hours, when it could have happily ended at 90 minutes; this is by no means a complaint --- the extra hour contains some amazing action scenes and harrowing set pieces (one of which gives me nightmares to this day).On top of all of these aspects, Aaron Eckhart excellently plays the mandatory second-Batman-Villain, the bipolar/schizophrenic Two-Face. Truly an exceptional piece of filmmaking. I am sorry I couldn’t say more, but this is a film that must be seen with no prior knowledge of the set-pieces or storyline for the full effect.
Check back in for my review of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises (out in cinemas on July 20th). Same Bat-Site, same Bat-Blog.