Continuing my reignited fascination with Batman, I was burning through movies based on the character thanks to DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix back in December and January. So here I’ll toss out my thoughts on the original movie franchise, the Nolan movies and a few animated movies. I know there’s tons of animated Batman movies now but I’m only discussing the earliest ones that I recently re-watched.
The other week I discussed the live-action Superman movies. So be sure to check that out!
Batman: The Movie
1966, 20th Century Fox
I grew up watching the ’60s Batman TV show on The Family Channel every afternoon. I was obsessed with it and this was then Bat-mania was sweeping the nation thanks to 1989’s Batman movie. When I realized the TV show had spun off it’s own movie, I nearly went insane.
I thought it was a great idea to bring together the four biggest villains (Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Riddler) to take on Batman & Robin. This movie is a super-sized version of the TV show, but I mean that in a good way because I LOVE the TV show. It was great to see the villains teaming up and interacting. I don’t think that was ever done on the TV show.
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman & Robin (1998)
Warner Bros. Pictures
As series that gets progressively worse with each release. The first Batman movie is iconic and it’s become a classic portrayal of the character. I don’t think Michael Keaton was a great physical choice for Bruce Wayne/Batman but he certainly pulled off the persona of Batman quite well and is still the best to don the mask, in my opinion. Of course, you also have Jack Nicholson’s great performance as the Joker. The plot actually isn’t all that great but it’s still the best film from this franchise.
The rest of the movies got worse and worse. In way, Batman Returns is iconic for Michelle Pffeifer as Catwoman, but the movie is too dark and too crude for me. Recently watching it, I noticed a lot of “grown up” jokes that I missed when I was a kid. This one straddles the line between being good and bad in my book.
Batman Forever and Batman & Robin almost feel like reboots. Tim Burton left the director’s chair and Joel Schumacher took over. Totally different look and feel for these movies. Batman and Batman Returns were dark and gothic while the Schumacher films seemed to have taken their inspiration from the campiness of the 1960s Batman TV show. So much color and neon and tilted camera angles. Both are awful movies.
The casting and/or performances were bad in these movies as well. In Batman Forever, Jim Carrey’s Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face were nothing more than Joker knock-offs. Each actor doing his best to go over-the-top in each scene. Neither portrayal stayed true to the characters from the comic books.
With Batman & Robin, the dialogue is worse than ever and the franchise turns up the camp factor even higher. I never thought Uma Thurman was particularly attractive enough to portray Poison Ivy but Arnold Schwarzenegger looked pretty cool as Mister Freeze, even if he had some of the worst one-liners in the film.
George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone all turned in what has to be the worst performances of their careers. Didn’t care much for the portrayal of Bane as a mindless henchman either. Bane could’ve easily been a story to himself (as seen with The Dark Knight Rises).
Despite all of that, I still prefer Batman & Robin over Batman Forever because I hate the Carrey’s Riddler and Jones’ Two-Face so much in that movie.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was set to be released on video shortly after the release of Batman & Robin but that movie was such a bomb that Warner held off on releasing it. The movie is set in the same universe as the Batman: The Animated Series / The New Batman Adventures. What’s funny is some critics said it was a better film than Batman & Robin. The movie is okay. There’s not much to say about it other than Mister Freeze is once again taking drastic measures to bring his wife back to life.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the first of three movies to spin-off from B:TAS. Unlike the other two, this one actually hit movie theaters. It was originally planned as a direct-to-video release but the powers that be decided it should be given a theatrical release instead. It plays out like a multi-part storyarc from the show and lacks the feel of a true movie event. The movie received good reviews but just barely made it’s budget back at the box office ($6 million).
The movie seems a bit off to me. There’s been so many origin stories for the Joker… so many glimpses into his past that I don’t know if the producers made up his time as a mob hit-man entirely or if they took inspiration from the comics. But, I can tell you that I don’t like that take. I don’t buy ever buy the Joker as someone content to play henchman or to play the hit-man type role. It’s too insane and too much front and center. It feels too forced.
The introduction of Andrea Beaumont as Bruce’s supposed one true love and chance at ever-lasting happiness feels quite forced as well. She was created for this movie and hasn’t been heard from since. I guess it would be an easier pill to swallow if she was introduced into the main DC Universe via comics but with no legacy built around her, this part falls flat with me as well. She did have a non-speaking cameo in the final episode of Justice League Unlimited though.
I though the Phantasm was a cool looking villain and I would’ve loved to have see someone carry on using that persona in the show. The Phantasm’s look was based upon the Bat-villain known as the Reaper.
Five years after The New Adventures of Batman television show ended, this direct-to-video movie was released. I remember being pretty excited for it because it was a continuation of the B:TAS era. I had hoped this would at least lead to more direct-to-video releases set in that same universe, but it never did. Sure, Cartoon Network’s Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were set in the same animated universe, but they weren’t Batman: The Animated Series, darn it!
The movie does a pretty good job at keeping you guessing who is Batwoman by introducing three very female characters who all could have motive to dress up and play vigilante. It’s unfortunate that Bruce Timm wasn’t involved in the making of this movie but at least Alan Burnett was there to help produce with Michael Reaves and Paul Dini working on the story.
Ultimately, the movie breaks no new ground. Liked Mask of the Phantasm and SubZero, this is basically one really long episode. This take on Batwoman was never featured or referenced anywhere else in the comics or animated series.
Batman Begins (2005)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Here’s how I view these movies: Batman Begins was kind of a low-key setup, The Dark Knight was the series’ high-point and The Dark Knight Rises was the franchise’s overblown finale. None of these movies are perfect and I tend to think they are extremely overrated but still quite good.
I was very excited for Batman Begins but was honestly a bit underwhelmed after seeing it (much like how I felt after seeing Superman Returns). It seemed a bit too basic to me and I think the bait-and-switch with Ra’s al Ghul and the fact that the Scarecrow didn’t have that big of a role, in my opinion, hurt the movie.
The Dark Knight is obviously the best movie from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is just as classic as Jack Nicholson’s from 1989’s Batman. Both are very different but both are iconic. My biggest issue with this movie was Harvey Dent’s seemingly random descent into madness as Two-Face. It happened way too quick and I think his story could’ve played out as the main villain of the third movie.
Upon seconding viewing after having bought it on Blu-ray, The Dark Knight Returns is much better than I gave it credit for when I saw it in the theaters. I liked it then, but I have a greater appreciation for it now even if the plot seems like something out of a G.I. Joe cartoon. I mean, seriously? Gotham is cut off from the rest of the world and no one can do anything about it except Batman? This and the football field being ripped apart were too over-the-top for a franchise that I thought was supposed to feel somewhat grounded and more serious than most comic book movies.
Bane’s voice was silly but no more silly than the Batman voice Christian Bale had been using for this series. Also not a fan of how Catwoman was used in this movie or Anne Hathaway being cast as her. They could’ve easily left the character out. I’m not a fan of the ending either. Sorry, I don’t buy Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham to live happily ever after. Bruce Wayne is the mask. Batman is who he really is. I can’t see Batman doing that. Ever. In any portrayal.
In comparison to the live-action Superman films, the live-action Batman films have received more care, more marketing and bigger budgets. That’s not to say these movies delivered the goods every time though. I actually think Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are probably worse then either the third or fourth Superman movies.
In closing, I will now rank these movies from best to worst!
Live-action Batman Animated Batman
1. The Dark Knight 1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
2. Batman 2. Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
3. Batman Begins 3. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman
4. The Dark Knight Rises
5. Batman Returns
6. Batman: The Movie
7. Batman & Robin
8. Batman Forever