Batman Films: Best to Worst
4011 6.7 71. Batman Returns (1992)
I see this film as vastly underrated. Tim Burton's return after the 1989 film's immense success was simply a better film. It's one of those rare cases, as in #2 of the countdown, where a director (not to mention the rest of the production team) identified the weak points of the first installment and refined the sequel into a truly decent movie. Yes, I do have issues with Catwoman's origin (the supernatural elements being completely unnecessary), but Michelle Pfeiffer's performance more than makes up for it. Danny DeVito is the perfect Penguin. Keep in mind, Penguin in the comics is one of the lamest villains in the whole bunch. He's basically a short, chunky mobster with an umbrella collection. Sometimes with a slightly above average vocabulary.
More often, dedicated to bad bird puns. So I posit that for once, the movie guys took a Batman villain and actually made him a little better. Diehard Penguin fans feel free to disagree, but first, I think it's your nap time.
Yeah, the movie got a lot of flack for the penguins with the missile backpacks. I guess it is pretty silly. Don't forget, this is a Tim Burton movie, and everything he makes is, inexorably, a Tim Burton movie. That brings in the issue of taste. Perhaps that is the defining factor in making Returns my #1. Sorry...Jack Nicholson just isn't enough to tip the balance.
6750 8.4 92. The Dark Knight (2008)
I don't have to convince you that this is a good movie. Everyone knows that. I'm glad they didn't bother with a Joker origin, as most fans agree the Alan Moore Red Hood yarn is a bit on the cheesy side, as shown in Tim Burton's first Batman film. Yes, the Joker's plot in Dark Knight is insanely convoluted, but that's totally his thing. While they still haven't managed a true adaptation, there are many obvious influences taken directly from the comics, and I appreciate that. I only have a couple beefs. As much as I like Christian Bale, and I think he makes a great Bruce Wayne, I don't like his Batman voice. I've seen enough parody videos online to know I'm not alone on that one. Also, not only did they change the Harvey Dent origin, apparently they killed him off in the first hour of his life. I mean...why? He's one of the coolest villains because he used to be close friends with Batman and Commissioner Gordon.
Lots of potential they sorta wasted there. I'm just sayin'. Still, good movie.
4651 7 7.63. Batman (1989)
See, this is what bugs me about this movie. According to Tim Burton interviews, his biggest influence was The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. As someone who's read that book more than once, I must say, it's a challenge to find those influences in the movie. I mean, everything's different: the book takes place in the future; Bruce Wayne is older, retired, and restless; Gotham is borderline dystopian, almost reminiscent of Mad Max or the original Robocop.
The Joker origin in Burton's Batman movie is kind of a backwards take on Alan Moore's origin from the Killing Joke...in the comic, the unnamed pre-Joker is a young failed standup comedian with a wife and family who is basically duped into an ill-fated chemical factory robbery.
In the movie, Jack Napier is, well, F-ing Jack Nicholson and what the hell else do you need to know? Frank Miller's famous Caped Crusader rendition is the gray uniform with black bat symbol and small horns, stocky and broad-chested, crazy, and a little mean.
Tim Burton went with - well, a shiny yellow chest symbol and Michael Keaton. Besides my nit-picky fanboy gripes, it was still an important milestone as far as comic book movies proving to studios they can make a boatload of money.
Some people complain that Batman is boring and isn't an action movie. Not an action movie...OK...call it what you want. It's definitely a comic book movie. I think a lot of people are bothered by the static shots. In a fight scene these days, the camera/s are whirling around the characters like a tornado on meth, there's debris flying everywhere while characters punch buildings and throw cars, and there are about 300 cuts to keep our little brains stimulated. True, there are a lot of static or near-static shots in this movie. Guess what? Comic book panels are pretty static, aren't they? Take note of the angles and lighting from this movie.
You can see what they were going for. Liking the movie or not based on personal taste is one thing, but as far as a faithful representation of what a comic book movie IS, keeping historical context in mind (the original Superman beat Batman to the screen by about ten years, but what a weird, overambitious creature that was), Tim Burton's Batman is hard to beat. Keep in mind, film is a business, and Batman put comic book movies on the map. It was a gigantic production with huge stars, Oscar-winning designers, and a marketing juggernaut to back it up. Without Batman, we simply wouldn't have the Avengers or Man of Steel today.
6561 7.5 8.34. Batman Begins (2005)
The Chris Nolan/Christian Bale reboot proved a huge success. Like I mentioned before, I think Christian Bale makes a very strong Bruce Wayne (probably because of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho), but a weak Batman. Luckily, he's just Bruce Wayne through most of this one. As far as comics influence, I was glad that they put more effort into explaining the levels of corruption in Gotham City (and using mobsters from Year One and Long Halloween, well done), elevating the city itself to a major character. That's one consistency I've noticed in all of the Batman writing: Gotham is his city.
I know you don't really want me to get into Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadows as far as its faithfulness to the comics, because there really isn't much at all. Liam Neeson's Ra's is sort of a sage ninja, sympathetic to Bruce Wayne's plight. The comic's Ra's would tell young Bruce to quit whining and go take over a small country or something.
The fight scenes are relatively weak. Sure, I justify a shortage of excitement up there with 1989's Batman, but this is for entirely different reasons. One, Christopher Nolan has no excuses. He has all of the money and technology in the world, not to mention years of precedents, to give us exactly what we want. As far as fight scenes go, I'll give you a quick example. Oldboy is one of my favorite all-time movies and, while very different from Batman Begins in many different ways, it's still about a guy getting revenge on the bad guy. One reason I love Oldboy so much is one particular fight scene that somehow upgraded my brain to a higher state:
The entire scene is one shot, one angle, moving back and forth along this hallway while our hero gradually beats about three dozen bad guys into submission with a hammer. It's exciting, harrowing, painful, hypnotizing, and technically impressive (I can only imagine how much rehearsing they had to do for that shot). The best part? Despite the low lighting, you can actually SEE what's going on! The point is you don't need 50 cuts and a bunch of claustrophobic shots to make a fight exciting and dynamic. I get the differences; Oldboy's hammer fight is almost a horror scene, punctuating our hero's harrowing odds. Batman's introduction at the docks in Begins is supposed to be confusing. Sort of a horror vs. suspense dichotomy there. What I'm saying is make the scene confusing for the bad guys, not for the audience. All right, so lots of people have expressed their distaste for the fight scenes in Batman Begins, especially once he becomes Batman...y'know, the parts we're all looking forward to. I don't mind a 45 minute origin story as long as it pays off, big time. Batman Begins is just that: a beginning. And on that foundation of promises, I think it holds up for the most part.
2900 7.8 8.55. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I was looking over this list and realized yeah, I totally wrote it before this movie came out. So I felt obliged to throw it in, just in case anyone was curious. Surprisingly low on the list? Well, as much as I love Batman and what these new creators were trying to do with him, I felt like Rises was mostly a failure. Why? Lots of reasons:
1. Over the course of this Batman reboot trilogy, Batman (y'know, the title character and sole superhero in these stories) gets achingly little screen time kicking butt and generally being a badass. Call me crazy, but that's kind of the reason I tune in. Watch Batman take down bad guys in creative and/or hardcore ways. With all of the emphasis on Bruce Wayne's ninja training, it seems like his physical skills take a back seat to the gadgets. I don't get the clash of styles. Batman is dark and brooding, he has a super scratchy voice, the bad guys are realistic (the Calculator is just some Chinese dude, Scarecrow is even more useless than he is in the comics), yet most of Batman's victories are based around nigh-sci-fi level toys and vehicles. He has a new motorcycle? Fine. It shouldn't have more screen time than the title character. Rises is the biggest offender by bringing out the Batwing, which in this incarnation looks like something out of District 9, and of course the big climactic action scene degrades into a chase sequence that looks like it was made in Michael Bay's back yard with remote control toys.
I may not be able to encapsulate what Batman should be in twenty words or less, but trust me: it ain't that. And yeah, I'm still on #1. So, Batman in this universe gets hurt. A lot. I mean, I get it, there's plenty of mention in the comics about scars, bruises, and Alfred is constantly bugging him to slow down or take a day off, but the point is he doesn't listen to Alfred. He keeps going. He never lets up. That's why he's a super hero! That's why he's inspiring and a little unnerving at the same time. He's obsessive, but he's also that good. In the beginning of Rises, they have him holed up in his house in an entirely unsubtle Howard Hughes nod, limping around and crying about how nobody likes him. Dude...you're the goddamned Batman. Get back to work. It seems like, in an attempt to make Bruce Wayne super-realistic by emphasizing his weakness as a human being, they rendered him nearly impotent and bordering on boring. Just think about how many times this Batman almost died, or was left clutching himself in pain and crying for Alfred, or simply got his ass handed to him. Which brings me to:
2. Bane. Is it really that hard to get him right? When he was introduced in the comics, it was obvious he was intended to be pretty much the ultimate Batman villain. He had brains, he could plan, he was practically unbeatable in a one-on-one brawl, and worst of all, he was gunning straight for Batman.
He acknowledged that Gotham is Batman's town, and the only way to have Gotham is to erase Batman, permanent-like. He did a pretty good job too, at first, but some key ingredients came into play. Those ingredients were Batman's allies. Not the boring ones like in the movies. Who's buying Lucius Fox and Alfred action figures? I'm talking about Nightwing (Dick Grayson, more on him later), Oracle, and among others, a relatively little known character named Azrael. I don't think he was popular among true fanboys, but his arc makes some great points about Bruce Wayne. For those of you who don't know, Azrael's the guy who took over as Batman after Bane broke Bruce's back. In some ways, Azrael was a superior Batman. Let's just say he didn't have a bunch of morality getting in the way of getting the job done. His Batgloves had giant velociraptor claws, and he wasn't shy about using them. The problem is, he was crazy. Like, crazier than Bruce Wayne. He didn't have the character or moral temperance to weather the stress and ambiguity of being the Dark Knight. Despite the ridiculous costume, St. Dumas flashbacks and Jason Bourne-style revelations, his character's arc landed in a territory I found completely realistic: in a word, megalomania. It was his job to keep Gotham safe, so he's gonna do it his way. Bruce trusted him with the mantle; literally gave him the keys to the Batcave. That's a lot of power for one dude. I think a lot of us would have gone the same way. The point is, Bruce Wayne isn't that guy. He isn't just the world's greatest detective, the world's most eligible billionaire, and a super ninja; he has the mental fortitude to do all of that and still stay relatively grounded. It cemented permanently the fact that there is only one Batman, and it isn't necessarily the guy dressed up for Halloween. You see? That's the whole point of Bane! In nearly every way, Bane is Batman's equal. The difference? Batman is the good guy. But besides all that, the filmmakers still managed to screw up Bane. The most important characteristic is his weakness, which is a super ham-handed but effective (narratively speaking) drug addiction. When Bane was all jacked up on Venom, he was unbeatable. Take the Venom away, and he isn't exactly useless, but he kind of might as well be facing off with Batman. The movie decided to completely ignore his dependence on ultra-steroids, presumably for, y'know, realism. Which I would have been fine with, except their version of "realism" seems to have boiled down to arbitrary picking and choosing, making sure to leave room for marketables (see RC vehicles, above). On a related note, Bane's gang of mercenaries in the comics were actual characters. OK, so they weren't mind blowingly creative or distinctive, but they had names and specialties, and more importantly, they had personalities for us to identify and dislike. A totally faithful adaptation of Bane's gang surely would have been super cheesy, but instead of giving them the ole' gritty reboot, they instead trade them in for nameless, faceless mercenaries. More realistic? I guess so. Where did Bane get all of these guys anyway? But really, none of this matters because a lot of Batman villains could have and should have been featured way before Bane.
More interesting, relevant characters like:
3. Talia. Good lord, Talia. The only thing they got right, mythos wise, was that she is indeed Ra's's (I have no idea how to write a possessive for a guy with an apostrophe in his name) daughter. I always enjoyed Talia in the comics. She always added this sort of superspy flavor to Bruce Wayne's life. She was stupid rich, commanded the League of Shadows at her whim, and was murderously possessive of Bruce. There was a great love/hate triangle going on there among Bruce, Talia, and Ra's. She even convinced her dad to spare Batman's life on a couple occasions. In one of my favorite plot developments, Talia doses Bruce with a hearty smattering of hallucinogens, date rapes him in a tent in the desert, and then steals his extremely eligible man juice to create a son.
Yeah, that happened. Damian, the resulting genetically engineered ten year-old ultra-assassin, tracks down Bruce, and eventually becomes the new Robin in the brief time that Dick Grayson takes over as Batman. It's a pretty long and involving story, but admit it, that would have been fathoms more engrossing than what the movie gave us. OK...forget the genetically engineered super son. That might be too broad and sci-fi for this trilogy. There was a legitimate love triangle going on among Batman, Talia, and Catwoman, casting Talia as the jealous old flame (with an army of ninjas), Catwoman as the new budding romance trying to figure out the true nature of the relationship, and Batman, y'know...trying to solve crimes while being surrounded by beautiful femme fatales who either want to screw him or kill him.
I thought this should have been a no-brainer, but instead they take the name "Talia" and make her into an entirely different character who not only rapes the mythos but kind of rapes Batman directly. Why? Bruce Wayne's redemption after Bane kicks his ass (the first time) is escaping a bizarre pit prison in the middle of Turjistan or wherever, an acrobatic and impressive feat...until we learn that Talia did it too. When she was like ten. That whole exile prison idea was confusing and stupid (who's guarding all of those Alien 3 extras in the pit? Are they just late on their taxes or something?), so they go and butcher their own concept with a pirated character who has no relevance to the Batman canon, or even their own story. It seems like they started with an obligation to tie in Batman Begins (since they went ahead and killed Ra's for some reason, and there aren't any Lazarus pits in this gritty, realistic universe) and then worked backwards.
4. Catwoman. I liked Anne Hathaway for the role, but they gave her some of the dumbest dialogue in ALL of the Batman movies. "Cat got your tongue?" C'mon...really? She also played her part in castrating Batman. Not only did she get all the flashy, flippy-kicky fight choreography (Batman's too gritty and grim to do anything visually interesting), she shot Bane in the frickin' face with Batman's own motorcycle cannon, saving Batman's life (again). Even Freud is telling Batman, "you suck, and you have no penis." For a movie called "Dark Knight," the actual unfolding events are almost a smear campaign.
5. "The Dark Knight Rises?" No. Of all the superheroes to make into a Jesus figure, Batman is not the guy. First of all, he's astronomically rich. Like, literally, the guy has a rocket that can take him into orbit. I seem to remember Jesus saying something about camels and eyes of needles. Not only that, Batman lies all the time. Not like, in a bad way. Cops lie all the time too, y'know, to trick the bad guys. I get that he's sacrificing himself for the good of the city or whatever, but I mean...why? And really, in the end it's just a big cop out so he can go drink cappuccino with Anne Hathaway. So he decides to retire for no good reason and leave the cave to a cop he barely knows. Wow, thanks, Superhero. What would we do without you?OK, so it might be setting up Dark Knight Returns, but the creators have already said it's a trilogy, we're done. And speaking of random Robin...
6. Let's just meditate for a moment on Robin. A lot of people have issues with this, implying downright gay pedophilia. What exactly is the point of Robin? Let's see...Dick Grayson witnesses his parents' death at the hands of mobsters. Huh...kind of like what Bruce went through. So Bruce decides to adopt him. As in father and son. It works out that Dick happens to be an extremely talented acrobat, and really tailor-made sidekick material. Over time, Robin softens Batman, humanizing Bruce Wayne. By giving Bruce someone to care about, the audience becomes more grounded to the story. Not to mention, being adopted by Bruce Wayne is wish fulfillment to the Nth degree. A billionaire dad with the best toys who teaches you how to be a ninja and takes you on adventures?
Yeah. So why, I ask you, do you take all of that away; the wish fulfillment, the humanizing of Batman, not to mention a different perspective to bounce around the story; and replace it with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who, while normally stellar, is barely awake in this movie), some random cop, in a half-assed story thread that never really pays off?
Sadly, I could go on, but this is already longer than it should be. Basically, this close out to the trilogy had a lot of potential, but almost none of it paid off.
3534 5.2 5.46. Batman Forever (1995)
A few bonus points for Jim Carrey as the Riddler (perfect casting choice and definitely a good career move for him), but that's pretty much the only justification I have for this one. Tommy Lee Jones, great actor, went way, way over the top with Two-Face, and Chris O'Donnell was too old to be Robin. I guess some audiences have a problem with a guys in a cape toting around a 13 year old boy. I get it - it sounds bad when you put it that way. Bruce adopted the kid! Oh yeah...it was a pretty decent soundtrack for the times.
3274 4.3 3.67. Batman & Robin (1997)
This is the ultimate Batman rape scene. Everything about this movie is wrong. Nothing about Arnold's physicality helps along the Mr. Freeze character...so what exactly did he have to contribute? Uma Thurman could have done a decent Poison Ivy, but her "plants taking over the earth" scheme really sucked out any potential danger with her character. Read the comics, y'all! Neil Gaiman wrote a great little story about Pamela Isely using her feminine wiles to romance and eventually poison an FBI officer. They literally couldn't have made Batgirl lamer. Why in the world would they invent a niece for Alfred? In the comics, she was Commissioner Gordon's daughter. Then the Joker paralyzed her and she became Oracle, one of Batman's most trusted and valuable allies. That's approximately five hundred times more interesting than what they came up with. I don't even want to bring up Bane. I could go on and on, but other funnier, smarter people have already said it. Blech.
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