Today is July 23rd. That makes it the 203rd day of the year. Slash, Harry Potter and Woody Harrelson were all born on July 23rd. It’s National Hot Dog Day.
It’s also Batman Day, as decreed by DC Comics. This year marks the 75th anniversary of Batman, who first appeared in comics back in May of 1939, a response to the popularity of Superman. Since then we’ve born witness to several different versions of the Caped Crusader, whether it’s in print, on the small screen in live action, on the small screen as a cartoon and on the big screen. The first Batman movie came out in 1943 with a plot that revolved around Batman acting as government agent, helping to stop World War II. The Batman of that movie might have been a huge proponent of patriotism, but not much of a fitness nut.
Then came the television show, which ran from 1966-1968 and included a movie. Holy camp, Batman!
As far as Batman movies go, things got jacked up a notch with the release of Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, Batman. I might have seen that in theaters three, maybe four times and remember drawing Batman logos on chalkboards when teachers weren’t looking. I won’t say I’m obsessed with Batman, but I’m definitely a fan. And that fandom was kick started with that movie. As for the movies that immediately followed, on board with Batman Returns and decidedly off board with the next two- Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. In my mind, Batman and Robin doesn’t even exist. It’s like that last Led Zeppelin album, Kyle Kendrick on the Phillies and dream sequences on The Sopranos– something I refuse to acknowledge the existence of.
It took seven years for the stink of Batman and Robin to wear off. That was the year Christopher Nolan took the helm of the franchise and proceeded to drop the Dark Knight Trilogy- Batman Begins, the Dark Knight and the Dark Knight Rises, all three with Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Next to the 1989 Batman, they’re the Catwomen’s pajamas of Batman movies. No doubt about it.
In honor of Batman day, let’s not just dance around the idea of ranking various aspects of Batman in movies. Let’s actually do it.
Atomic batteries to power…turnbines to speed.
Roger. Ready to move out.
The grand pupah of Batman movies, if only because without it, would the Nolan movies even exist? Tim Burton re-established a new tone for Batman, less camp and color, more doom and gloom. No dancing here. Just straight brooding. I just remember that movie being huge and even now, I watch it and I’m all in. I love the visual style of it. It seems to take place in a mish-mash of time periods- ranging from the 1940’s to 1970’s. I didn’t have any opinions about Michael Keaton as Batman at the time. I was too young and to me, he was awesome. Thumbs up perfect. I don’t think this movie will ever get old.
The Dark Knight
The second Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movie and it’s the best. It feels like Heat meets your traditional Batman movie. Heath Ledger makes this movie, though. His performance is a Daniel Day-Lewis performance- completely dominate. When he’s not on screen, you’re just waiting for him to come back. If the 1989 Batman felt huge, then this movie felt gigantic. It still feels gigantic, as if it were able to crush movies like The Green Lantern with it’s thumb. It’s three hours that seem like three minutes- totally complete, broken into acts like a Shakespearean play. If The Dark Knight is on television, there is a damn good chance I’m watching at least thirty minutes of it. At least. Probably more. And without even thinking about it.
The 1989 Batman didn’t bother with any kind of origin story- it just started. Batman Begins spent the first half of the movie digging into the origin of this particular Batman and it pays off- not just in this one, but the two that followed. It made you infinitely more invested in this version of Bruce Wayne/Batman. It doesn’t add a well known villain and is better off for it. It lays out the ground work for what’s to come and it does it flawlessly. I can’t help think about carving out and watching all three Nolan movies back to back whenever I catch a glimpse of Batman Begins.
A sequel to Batman felt almost too good to be true. It’s not as memorable as the first one, but it’s still good. And we’ll never look at penguins the same way again.
Dark Knight Rises
The summer the Dark Knight Rises came out I got married, bought a house and got a new job. Seeing this movie was easily the fourth most exciting thing I experienced that summer. It was akin to seeing a statue unveiled or taking in a sunset while swimming in the Pacific Ocean- just a truly momentous event. Kind of unfortunately, once the shine wore off, the cracks started to show some. Because, what was going on again? Bruce Wayne is now broke? And then physically broke, but then all better thanks to some pushups and pep talks. And he goes from a pit in the ground in the Middle East to Gotham in no time, with an empty bank account mind you? Whatever. Questions about anything that big will always exist. I appreciate it because of it’s scale and scope. It’s why I love big rock ‘n roll albums. I love when artists just effin’ go for it.
Props where props are due. It’s not the best Batman movie out there, but it’s the granddaddy of them. That’s worth something.
Michael Keaton bailed. Enter Val Kilmer. Val Kilmer? Yeah. And then Robin shows up and all the doom and gloom is replaced by enough LED lights to rival an EDM show. In a pile of dung, Jim Carrey as the Riddler perhaps comes out the cleanest. Although that’s not saying much.
Batman and Robin
Val Kilmer bailed. Enter George Clooney. GEORGE CLOONEY? And Bat Girl? I don’t know if I’ve ever even finished this effin’ movie.
He narrowly edges out Keaton and why? Well, I’m not entirely sure why. I just think he was really good and did a great job. He was also slightly more believable as Batman, even though I could barely understand a damn word he said as Batman.
The people’s Batman. A Batman we could all relate too. Not the strongest, just the smartest.
Awesome as Jim Morrison, not awesome as Batman. Such is life.
The fact that Clooney’s turn as Batman didn’t completely torpedo his career is most likely a testament to his greatness or least likely a testament to the power of mind-altering forget me nows.
The One from Batman (1989)
Always my favorite. Not the most practical one for city-livin’ and drivin’, but if we’ve learned anything these past years, it’s that Batman doesn’t do practical.
The One from Batman (1966)
Seeing as how this Batmobile seemed to most likely roam the California country side, a convertible makes complete sense. But when it rains? The scenes where Batman tells Commissioner Gordon that sorry, they can’t save Gotham today due to inclement weather are notoriously absent.
The One from the Dark Knight Trilogy
No side mirrors seems like kind of a liability.
The One from the Schumacher movies
I knew this guy in college who installed black lights and flashing LED lights inside his car. I thought that was stupid. I think this version of the Batmobile is just as stupid. Let’s just save the black lights for the stoner college kids and the LED lights for the raver college kids.
The Joker (The Dark Knight)
The Joker was never terrifying until this version of the Joker came along. A completely different version than the one in the 1989 Batman. So much more maniacal and sadistic. Ledger’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor has to go down as one of the most satisfying and deserved in recent years.
The Joker (Batman – 1989)
A completely different version of the Joker and really, no less awesome. Which Joker is better in your opinion really depends on which movie you liked better. For me, while I like the 1989 movie better, I like the tone and message of The Dark Knight Rises and that’s due in large part to that version of the Joker. But I still love Nicholson’s Joker. Nicholson’s Joker is like the Red Sox 2007 World Series title. A great achievement, but now? Completely overshadowed by the 2013 Championship.
Penguin (Batman Returns)
Creepy, scary, unpredictable. Even the backstory they show for him is amazing. Probably the most underrated Batman movie villain.
Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)
Who cares if you could only understand half of what he said, he was a beast. Literally. Big shoes to fill, following in Heath Ledger’s clown shoes foot prints, but Bane gets the job done. Just a totally menacing dude.
Ra’s al Ghul (Batman Begins)
Who? Oh yeah, Liam Neeson’s angry kung fu master from the Himalayas. First place for facial hair.
Catwoman (Batman Returns)
Is she really a villain? Tough to say. We’ll give it a maybe. But we’ll also give her a thumbs up.
Scarecrow (Batman Begins)
Definitely not the main villain in Batman Begins, but still an important one. Plays the fringe role well, but would not be welcome at your next hippie festival.
Riddler (Batman Forever)
Uh…he wasn’t terrible.
Two-Face (Batman Forever)
Uh…he wasn’t half bad? (cue: rimshot)
Poison Ivy (Batman and Robin)
Uh…better than Mr. Freeze.
Mr. Freeze (Batman and Robin)
Uh…I don’t want to sound cold here but…
Bob the Henchman (Batman – 1989)
Didn’t say much, didn’t have to. Gunslinger, sidekick, amateur photographer, eventual fall guy. There wasn’t much this guy couldn’t do.
The Opening Scene of The Dark Knight
How do you make a massively eagerly anticipated movie that much more exciting? By ditching the formalities and getting right into it, which is what this movie does. I love it every single time I see it. Nolan tried a similar thing in The Dark Knight Rises, but it wasn’t nearly as cool. But that’s no dig on Nolan. There was no way he was going to have a better opening than he put together for The Dark Knight.
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale (Batman – 1989)
One of the big differences between the first run of Batman movies and the Nolan movies is a Bruce Wayne love interest. The 1989 Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin– they all had one. Vicki Vale was the trail blazer though and rocked the shit out of a beret.
The Two-Face make up (The Dark Knight)
He doesn’t come into play until the movie’s third act and by then, is a role player. But that’s not the story. The make up job is the story. It’s effin’ the real deal, man. Puts the hatchet job they gave Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever to shame.
The Roof Top Scene (Batman – 1989)
There’s a right way and a wrong way to introduce Batman and this is the right way. Nice kicks, too.
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman (The Dark Knight Rises)
Not technically a villain here. She straddles (yeah she does) the line between good and bad until finally embracing the good at the end. I’m neither a Hathaway fan or a hater, but I thought she did a great job. I think that gal might have a future in cinema.
The Batwing (Batman – 1989)
Limited screen time, didn’t matter. Looked cool as hell. But here’s the thing, did Bruce Wayne build that himself? I mean, I’m not going to tell you how to keep your identity a secret Bruce, but a contractor is going to remember building a plane shaped like a bat- especially when said plane is being piloted by an increasingly famous Batman. Christopher Nolan definitely gets points for providing a back story for all of Batman’s toys.
Batman’s First Appearance in The Dark Knight Rises
Again, right way/wrong way when introducing Batman. This is once again a right way.
The Gotham City of Batman (1989)
My favorite Gotham City- dark, dirty, depressing.
The Joker’s Gun (Batman – 1989)
Never mind trying to figure out what kind of gun manufacture would even make such a thing. It took down the Batwing with one shot. Regardless of your thoughts on guns, that’s pretty impressive.
Photos: Warner Bros