Total Recall: Batman Movies
With The Dark Knight Rises hitting theaters, we take a closer look at the Caped Crusader's big-screen adventures.
The Masked Manhunter. The Caped Crusader. Bats. You know who we're talking about, film fans, and chances are you've had this Friday circled on your calendar since Warner Bros. announced that July 20, 2012 was the day The Dark Knight Rises would be arriving in theaters. The conclusion of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, Rises is one of the year's most anticipated releases, and in honor of this momentous occasion, we decided to dedicate this week's list to a (mostly) fond look back at the Bat in all of his cinematic guises. With the Bat-signal blazing, it's time for Total Recall!
For a Batman interpretation frequently derided for its campiness, Batman: The Movie has a surprisingly high number of quotable lines and memorable scenes. Remember how the dynamic duo deduce that all their archenemies -- Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, and The Joker -- are working together to take over the world? Or the insane logic Robin consistently applies to Riddler's questions that always turn out to be right? But the best bit has to be the one highlighted below. It involves bat ladders, shark repellent Bat-spray, and a high seas encounter with an exploding Megalodon. "Holy Cornball Camp, Batman!" exclaims Scott Weinberg of eFilmCritic.com, "This movie's a hoot!"
One of the most hyped movies in Hollywood history, and one of the finest examples of movie tie-ins and cross-promotion (so successful it made t-shirt bootleggers filthy rich), Batman is also one of the weirdest event pictures of all time. Director Tim Burton jettisoned the plots (if not the dark tone) of Bob Kane's original comics, and came up with set designs reminiscent of Fritz Lang's Metropolis and freakish, brooding characters similar to... well, a Tim Burton movie. Particularly compelling is Jack Nicholson as the Joker, who gleefully relishes his plan to kill the citizens of Gotham City with lethal gas. Michael Keaton makes for a subdued Dark Knight, a hero who dispenses vigilante justice while living a morose existence in Wayne Manor. A precursor to more complex comic book adaptations, Batman made piles of money, and the bat-logo was ubiquitous in the summer of 1989. "Burton brings back film noir elements to the new Batman, elevating it to a dark, demented opera," wrote Jeffrey Anderson of Combustible Celluloid.
Tim Burton has said he always sympathized with monsters, and so, for his sequel to Batman, he gave audiences not one, but two empathetic, pitiable villains. The Penguin (Danny DeVito) is a deformed orphan who leads an army of aquatic, flightless birds from the bowels of Gotham City. The Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a frumpy secretary who is killed by her boss (Christopher Walken) after she learns of his evil schemes but is brought back to life by a group of cats. Teaming up against Batman, the pair plans an assault on the city above. Batman Returns is so cold and dark it makes the first installment look like Amelie by comparison, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; it still made a killing at the box office, and was Burton's favorite of the two Batman movies he helmed. "Of all the Batman pictures, this is the most striking, atmospheric and effective," wrote David Keyes of Cinemaphile.org.
Before the Nolan Batman movies, Mask of the Phantasm offered the most articulate exploration of the Bruce Wayne character. While the movie takes the action that made The Animated Series such great afternoon fun and expands it (but avoiding cheap, empty thrills that having a big budget can afford you), it also showers loving detail on a pivotal romance in Bruce's life and an affecting scene of Bruce begging for release at his parents' gravestone. It's the rare movie that shows its protagonist for what he is: essentially insane. "[Mask of the Phantasm] managed to soar above the theatrical Batman adaptation," states Kevin Carr of 7M Pictures, "And would remain the best Bat Movie to hit the big screens until Batman Begins shook things up in 2005."