The Batman Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Batman – I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen all of Batman’s modern films in the Cinema. Looking back it was quite an interesting experience living through that kind of Hype. You can’t really find that now as much these days since blockbuster comic books films are of the norm with cinema goers. But when “Batman” was released in 1989 it was truly something special. I don’t think there has ever been a film that I have seen so hyped in my life time, from the T-shirts (one of which I owned) to the merchandised (toys, stickers, scarfs), the sheer hype from the media with it’s release. It was a big movie. A lot of us had grown up watching reruns of the original Batman 60’s TV show and this was the first time Batman would be on the big screen in a modern interpretation of the Dark Knight, one which I knew nothing about, for American comics were limited to there release here in Ireland, I doubt there was any on the shelves then until after the movie came out. We still had to do with the Beano and Dandy, my how things have changed.

My main source of Batman knowledge came from the Television series which was shown almost every Saturday morning. As a Kid, going from that to Tim Burton’s movie was, interesting. I knew it was going to be darker from the stills I had seen, the poster. I wasn’t too sure what to expect really, I just knew I wanted to see it and I would. Back then we had a Cinema with only one screen in it. The place is closed long ago now, knocked down I believe and replace by boring flats. It was a bit run down, actually more then a bit. People used to say there were rats running about, I don’t know how much truth there is to that, I never saw one, but what I liked about it most and what I miss in today’s modern cinema screen rooms was the classy look to the place, it was one of those old grand style theaters, had a upper balcony which had been long since closed, the old red movie curtains, the golden architecture around the inside. Something you usually only see in movies or on TV from eras gone by. It was from another time. I miss that kind of elegance the cinema had back then. My Brother took me to see it. I think I might have bought a coke or either we took some goodies with us. I was about 6 years old at the time and the film was rated 15. I could only get in with my brother to accompany me, he was probably just over 15 anyway by that time. The film was great but dark and an ultra violent Batman, I didn’t feel the violence bothered me but there is certainly a shift of view going from the “POW!, WHAM!” of the 60s TV show to Batman shooting people around the necks with grappling guns and threatening to throw people off a roof. The Batmobile was so so cool. It drove by itself, had a shield, the flames coming out of the back, wicked. I also learned of Batman’s back story for the first time. Bruce Wayne’s past is never really explored in the Television show, he’s just a crime fighter in that, but in the Movie we get to see the disturbed and brooding Man.

Batman Returns – It’s interesting how your estimation in sequels and the original film can change over the years. Where as once you loved the sequel, upon reviewing the movies you can see the original is vastly superior and can’t be matched. When I was younger I used to love “Batman Returns” over any other Batman film until I saw Begins in 2005 which blew all of them away. Returns was the Batman film I’ve seen most. But when I watched both “Batman” 1989 and “Batman Returns” 1992 recently I suddenly saw how much better the 89 film was in terms of production value and largeness. 89 was a gritty gangster film almost and Jack Nicholson “is” the Joker, an amazing performance. It was the Joker on screen. He is so sold to the part, you can see how much he puts into it and how much he loves playing that character. Keaton is probably my favorite Batman of this era of Batman films too, he is a little bit clumsy Clark Kentish but as Batman he really portrays the intimidation of the character quite well.

Then watching Batman Returns again the first thing you notice is the sets look smaller, are obviously indoors, the characters are cool but they and the story have become burtonised. That’s the difference, the original is a Batman film, the sequel is a Burton film. But as Burton mentions, he doesn’t do sequels, he didn’t want any connection between the films, instead this would be ‘another chapter’ with a different look and feel, with most of Burton’s co-workers on other films coming onboard to take part. Devito and Pfeiffer are brilliant. One of my favorite aspect of returns is the relationship between selina/catwoman and Bruce/Batman, it’s highly sexual, slightly haunting and quite weird as it’s literally two people but four characters involved in the relationship. Christopher Waken is brilliant in this as a Villain. The most normal looking of them all yet perhaps the most evil of the villains for his actions can’t really be justified by wrong doings or incidents that happened to him unlike the Penguin and Catwoman who you can at least sympathies for.

I do think it’s a shame though that this isn’t more of a direct sequel to the previous film, having Billy Dee Williams back in a larger role would have been cool. The possible Trilogy of films were never explored beyond returns and I doubt Burton would have had any interest in keeping a narrative continuity between the films. Instead we had to wait for the Nolan era to finally get what we wanted when we see the set up in Batman 89. I believe it doesn’t really matter now that Burton was replaced by Schumacher, I think the wild imagination of Burton would have made a third Batman film as artistically different as Batman Forever was, it would have diverged more and more from the Batman mythos and from what was done in the first film.

Which brings me to the Schumacher era.

Batman Forever – I quite liked the Batmobile in this film for some reason. It had the cool gimmick of driving up walls (you know Burton would have done that eventually). Tommy Lee Jones, well, he isn’t two-face, he obviously tried to outdo Carrey’s craziness onscreen. I would have liked to have seen Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face if this had been a Burton film but he doesn’t fit in here and unfortunately the Two face persona we all know from the comics and animation is nowhere to be seen here. This is just over the top acting at it’s worst. If anyone has watched the absolutely amazing Animated series of Batman in the 90s you see the potential of these villains that was never fully exploited in the Schumacher films. Two-Face, Freeze and Bane been the biggest offenders of the Batman legend in the Schumacher films.
Back then Jim Carrey who was the critically acclaimed one of the cast and it’s easy to see why although watching it now it does seem a bit over the top in some areas, in particular the beginning, before he becomes the Riddler I thought his character was already crazy enough to be a villain, there wasn’t much of a transformation from a normal guy to a super villain. The Score isn’t great, it doesn’t speak Batman and it drowns out scenes. If you ever watched this on Video, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s hard to hear the characters dialogue when the music is blaring. As for the Bat nipples, well… I don’t need to go onto any rant about that do I?
Val Kilmer was Schumacher’s favorite Batman but Keaton is the Dark Knight for me. Val is a bit too pouting as Batman.

In any case this film is family friendly, it was hip for the generation, appealed to it’s audience with the love story between Batman and Dr. Chase, the light hearted comedy of Chris O’Donnell’s Robin and the wacky comedy of Carrey’s Riddler. It had an interesting soundtrack of U2 and Seal and brought Batman back into the public’seye. I think the younger you are the more you enjoy it. I certainly liked it when I was younger although I think Batman Returns just inched past it back then.

Batman and Robin – I think aiming it towards kids more and toning down darkness and violence isn’t this movies biggest problem. I think a kids movie can still be great and entertaining for all ages but when you belittle even the kids in the movie going audience then you aren’t going to get much respect from any generation. Que Warner Brother’s cartoon sound effects.

I don’t know where to start. George Clooney as Batman is well…..George Clooney on E.R.
Uma Thurman, awful, was she purposely trying to be the worst actress ever? A flipping disaster. She didn’t act, she was acting as someone who was pretending to be acting. In other words, over blown, idiotic and down right winging it. Bane had better acting skills than Uma in this movie. Still, Uma as Poison Ivy was amazingly hot. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave the best performance out of all the actors in this film. The guy was having fun and clearly enjoyed the part. The character was nothing like fans of Mr. Freeze had hoped for but at least it was entertaining unlike the rest of the cast.

I watched all of these movies on DVD. I’m not going to review the DVDs or contents as it has been done on many DVD review sites. But after listening to Joel Schumacher’s commentary on “Batman and Robin” you really got to give the guy credit for admitting his mistakes and taking the blame for the film. He comes across as an incredibly nice and humble man and although I didn’t like “Batman and Robin” my estimation of him has certainly gone up.

After all that I think Burton and Schumacher deserve credit for both of their first Batman films, they reinvigorated the franchise and brought it to new heights. “Batman and Robin” failed miserably but it’s failure lead us to “Batman Begins” years later. That’s something to be thankful for.

How I rank the films now.

Batman
Batman Forever
Batman Returns
Batman and Robin

How I previously ranked these films when I was younger

Batman Returns
Batman Forever
Batman
Batman and Robin

No matter what age you are “Batman and Robin” still stinks.

Favorite Quote“What kind of a world do we live in where a man goes round dressed as a Bat!?” – The Joker

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