Thursday 19 September 2013

Rank the Films: Batman

As any regular reader of feeling fuzzier will know, lists are pretty darn nifty. We have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good. 

Following the announcement that the next Man of Steel film will feature Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight, I decided to go back over the Batman franchise and settle upon which is best and which is worst.

7th - Batman and Robin (1997)

Dem nipples: George Clooney as Batman
Batman and Robin. What can I say that hasn't already been said about this absolute train-wreck?

Wrong on so many levels and an utter abomination to the DC Universe, Joel Schumacher's second Batman film ramps the neon, the campness and the sickeningly bad acting to an entirely new level. Turns out that it is actually possible to make a worse Batman film than Batman Forever.

In fact, this film is so bad, there are effectively NO redeeming factors. At all. None. Nil. Zilch.

Effectively, Schumacher and co. set out to make a toy commercial. The sets, the costumes, the props, the dialogue, everything, was written with movie tie-in merchandise in mind. The Batmobile has neon lights down the side for Christ sake.

George Clooney is an awful, AWFUL choice as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Chris O'Donnell is a goofy and cheesy Robin, Alicia Silverstone is terrible as Batgirl and the less said about Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mister Freeze the better. So. Many. Ice. Puns. Make. It. Stop.

Also rounding off the ex-crap-azganza is Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and some twat as Bane. Honestly, who even cares. 99.9% of fans are desperately trying to forget this movie was ever made so why talk about it any longer?

So, shall we move on?

6th - Batman Forever (1995)

"Fancy a stick of gum?"
The third instalment in the original Batman franchise, Batman Forever doesn't have Tim Burton at the helm; instead, Warner Bros. replaced him with Joel Schumacher. 

This proved to be the first nail in the coffin for the franchise. Schumacher stripped away the dark, brooding mystique of Burton's Batman movies and instead drenched them in saturating neon lights and colour.

Also, Michael Keaton was replaced with the much less Batman-like Val Kilmer. Let's be honest, this film had very little going for it from the start didn't it? No Keaton, no Burton, no Elfman and no Pfeiffer. The lack of continuity from Batman Returns, along with the drastic change in tone makes this third film barely recognisable as part of the same franchise.

Kilmer is a so-so Bruce Wayne; Tommy Lee Jones is bonkers as Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams would have been better, as originally planned) and Chris O'Donnell falls flat as the Boy Wonder. One of the only upsides is Jim Carrey's spot-on casting as the Riddler. His costume and hairstyle is questionable but the zany energy he brings to the role steals the show.

On the whole, a very underwhelming and poorly developed third film. I haven't re-watched it since the first viewing and have little desire to do so. The worst was still yet to come however...

5th - Batman (1989)

"I just don't know whether to kiss you, or headbutt you"
Tim Burton's first Batman movie is pretty fantastic and if taught us one thing, it is that Batman can be done right on the big-screen.

Inspired by the dark tonal shift in comic books like The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns, Burton's Batman is a sinister, brooding, tortured vigilante. This, in the view of the wider public, was something a big change from the 1960's television series. There are no kapow's or biff's here. And certainly no shark spray.

In Michael Keaton, Burton had an almost perfect Bruce Wayne/Batman, which is in some ways wasted. Burton is much more interested in the free-wheeling chaos caused by Jack Nicholson's Joker. Nicholson pretty much steals every scene he is in; his cartoonish portrayal and brilliant dialogue classic Tim Burton stuff. The circus music that plays over his intro scene, the outlandish purple and green costume are wonderfully wacky and 80's.

Also, Danny Elfman's theme music is a classic.

4th - The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Batman strikes a pose
Okay, so I may have given The Dark Knight Rises a 9/10 in my original movie review last year but you know what? I've changed my mind.

In actual fact, The Dark Knight Rises is pretty weak. Considering the other films in the trilogy, Christopher Nolan's threequel is most certainly the weakest.

For a Batman film, we don't really get to see a lot of Batman do we? Also, there are plot holes all over the shop; I mean c'mon, what kind of plan involves sending every single police officer into the sewers to search for one terrorist? And how exactly did Bruce Wayne get back from the desert to America and then sneak into Gotham City unnoticed? What the hell happened to Bruce's leg after he visited the doctors?

ANYWAY, I could go on for a whole post on that (and probably will). My point is, is that The Dark Knight Rises doesn't hold a candle to the other two Nolan films.

There are some upsides; Bane is pretty scary, Hathaway is a grounded and sexy version of Selina Kyle and Gordon-Levitt is a nice addition as Blake.

Hans Zimmer's score is once again fantastic, as is Nolan's direction. Shame it traded in a tightly-written narrative for grand scale and action.

3rd - Batman Returns (1992)

Not the kind of cat that I'm used to lying on my bed
Batman Returns is quintessential Burton through and through. Wall-to-wall Gothic architecture, a dark, brooding atmosphere and some Christmas festivity thrown in for good measure, Batman Returns is the best of the original series.

Once again, Burton's Batman is more about the kooky villains; in this instance, we see Michelle Pfeiffer's leather-clad Catwoman strut onto the scene alongside Danny De Vito's grotesque Penguin.

Along with Danny Elfman's fantastic theme, Burton crafted a cohesive and iconic movie that knocks the socks off some tonally-different superhero films today; sure, it doesn't have the same 'look and feel' (try finding an army of penguins with missile launchers on their backs in The Avengers) but all the ingredients are here and balanced brilliantly.

It might feel too 90's to younger audiences, but I find it a refreshing change from the bloated and digitalised Green Lanterns and Man of Steels of today. You just don't get these films tackled the same way anymore; although, I can totally see Joker biting off someone's nose the same way Penguin does in Batman Returns.

2nd - Batman Begins (2005)

The return to form that the Caped Crusader deserved, Batman Begins proved that the character can be done without campiness, cheesiness and puns.

With Christian Bale stepping into the Bat boots and up-and-coming auteur Christopher Nolan sat in the director's chair, this reboot unleashed a dark and gravelly Batman unto audiences; there wasn't a Batsuit nipple in sight.

With a whole new aesthetic and tone, Batman Begins saw Bruce Wayne (Bale) undergo training in Nepal with the League of Shadows; taken under the wing of the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce learns the importance of becoming a symbol for justice.

Upon returning to Gotham, he dons the cape and cowl and wages war against the mob, Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).

Put simply, Batman Begins is a lesson in how to craft a reboot; with character-driven narrative, atmosphere and meaningful action.

1st - The Dark Knight (2008)

Once again, what can I possibly say about The Dark Knight that hasn't already been said? The film isn't just a superhero film. There is so much more to it than that. This film transcended its comic-book roots and became something bigger; it is, put simply, one of the greatest films of the last 10 years.

What makes The Dark Knight so great is the two brilliant central performances; Christian Bale is brilliant as he flits between effectively three characters; the tortured, private Bruce Wayne persona, his public playboy fa├žade and Batman.

Meanwhile, Heath Ledger's Joker is one of the best performances ever given in any film. He is absolutely hypnotic, you just can't seem to take your eyes off of him; the way in which he twists and drawls his lines still gives me chills every time I watch this film. Each word is tinged with such malice that the audience can't help but hang onto every single one.

The Joker in The Dark Knight completely rips up the rule book of comic-book movies; he kills the heroine by the films mid-way point, he turns one of the heroes into a mass murdering psychopath and almost wins. In some ways, you could say he does win; by the films end, he has pushed Batman to the limit, our hero very nearly breaking his own essential rule to end Joker's reign of terror over Gotham City.

The Dark Knight also manages to attain this level of brilliance and enjoyment without levelling an entire city; the action is relatively low-key, allowing the dual Batman/Joker character study to retain its immense depth without resorting to mindless, explosive action.

I could go on about The Dark Knight for a while. There are so many key ingredients that go into making this film it could fill an entire post. Just know this; it isn't the best Batman film - it's the best comic-book/superhero film, period.

So there we have it, my take on Batman; the good, the bad and the ugly. Let me know what your favourite Batman movie is in the comments section below. Thanks!


  1. Nice write-up here. You and I are in complete agreement on #1 and the bottom 2. It's in the middle where we differ...

    1. I think 9/10 people would agree on the top #1 and bottom 2 haha. I think Batman Returns is a lot better than people give it credit for, and Batman Begins is a really solid startpoint from Nolan. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Really it is a steady superlative list! And your metrics of film ranking used, here on this blog are also favorable as well as marvelous. I am totally agreed with the selection of these films listed here.



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