With the much anticipated Batman vs. Superman out tomorrow it is inevitable it will be compared to previous DC films, especially the Batman and Superman ones, as well as the Avengers films. But in terms of Batman films, what does it have to live up to? (and what should it avoid?)
Warning: Minor Spoilers for the Dark Knight Trilogy, Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films.
Note this list will not include Adam West’s feature length Batman from the 60’s for two reasons: 1. I haven’t seen it and 2. the Joel Schumacher films are campy enough – i have no desire to see the infamous 60’s version as well. While some of the animated films are good enough to make this list there are far too many to include (and i’ve only watched half of them) – but if you want to give any a try go for The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 and 2 (Part 2 has elements that will probably be used in Batman vs. Superman as well) or Under the Red Hood. But now on to the question itself: which is the best Batman film?
7th (Last). Batman and Robin: Oh dear. Bad place to start but none of the others (thankfully) come close to the franchise-killing travesty that was Batman and Robin. It was a miracle George Clooney’s career survived this mess. He actually isn’t bad as Bruce Wayne, but he really coasts through playing Batman and is the worst of the actors to play the role. Mind you, he delivers a masterful performance compared to Robin and Batgirl. Alicia Silverstone is so out of place as Barbara that you wonder if she walked on set accidently, while anyone who gets through this film without wanting to kill Robin (Chris O’Donnell) has the patience of a saint. The film also manages to ruin two of the most iconic Batman villains: Mr. Freeze and Bane. Uma Thurman manages to make the seductive Poison Ivy watchable (though still too camp and OTT) but Arnie was always the wrong choice for Freeze. One-Liners abound through this film and are totally inapproriate for one of the more serious and tragic Batman villains, while Bane is reduced to a monosyllabic henchman with half a brain. A subplot involving Alfred dying from the same disease Freeze’s wife is afflicted by is probably the only plus-point, as it briefly gives Michael Gough (Alfred) and George Clooney some decent material. Joel Schumacher – you really f*cked this one up! If you’re curious watch the 20 minute cinemasins version – it’s far less painful!
Rating: 1 out of 5. The lowest score i’ve ever given on my reviews, for it’s value as a comedy (after a few drinks preferably) – for a serious Batman film it would get 0.
6. Batman Forever: Joel Schumacher’s first attempt contained many warning signs, but avoided falling over the cliff entirely as it’s successor did. The villains are just as OTT, but thankfully they avoid speaking in puns the whole time, and Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones make Riddler and Two-Face a hilarious combination to watch (if not to take seriously). Robin isn’t quite as annoying in this film, and Val Kilmer tries harder (admittedly with better material) than George Clooney to give a memorable performance, but ultimately neither of the dynamic duo are as likeable or badass as they should have been, and this hampers the film. Kilmer’s romance with Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridian is by the numbers, but Kidman is far from the worst superhero love interest DC has given us. The best scene is Two Face’s murder of Robin’s family – the only time the film comes close to provoking a response from the audience that isn’t laughter or embarassing groans. Speaking of embarrassing – why the hell does the Batsuit have rubber nipples on it??? While this is watchable for laughs again, those serious Batman fans might want to opt for the cinemasins version. (Again plus 20 mins – never a good sign).
Rating: 3 out of 5. Again best approached as a comedy, fortunately the Riddler is a villain that can be used this way without ruining the character. Two-face fares less well, but Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are undeniably funny and you won’t be bored.
5. Batman (1989). The original and Tim Burton’s first effort, this has a very film noir feel about it with a distinct gothic undertone – it’s mostly a brooding character piece with touches of romance and action. Not for fans of Blockbuster superhero films, but comic book fans will appreciate its characterisation of Joker and Batman. The supporting cast is great, Danny Elfman delivers a good soundtrack (bizarrely combined with songs by Prince – which somehow works…) Nicholson’s intrepretation of the Joker is by turns darkly captivating and insanely OTT, but it stands up with Hamill’s and Ledger’s as a class performance – what version Leto gives us will be interesting to find out. Michael Keaton remains the best ‘Bruce Wayne’ from any of the films but his Batman isn’t as good as Christian Bale’s. Kim Basinger is easily one of the best love interests Bruce gets, and while she does revert to damsel-in-distress at times, she’s got more depth than many of her rivals- not as good as Katie Holmes or Michelle Pfeiffer but a mile better than Nicole Kidman or Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Rating: 4 out of 5. A weird combination of prince songs, Jack Nicholson and trademark Tim Burton gothic drama deliver a good Batman film, if an unusual one.
4. Batman Returns: The best of the original four, this film gives us a masterclass in handling multiple villains which only Batman Begins (out of ALL the DC superhero films) has matched – Danny Devito’s Penguin is a repulsive, unstable yet calculating villain who nearly but not quite matches Nicholson’s Joker. Christopher Walken (if there was there ever a man born to play villains it’d be this guy) gives a chilling, cold yet OTT performance as Max Shreck, and Michelle Pfeiffer remains my favourite version of Catwoman (even if Burton takes certain liberties with her character’s abilities) – Burton, Keaton and Elfman all return to make this a classy sequel. If only Burton had done the following sequels instead of Schumacher, this list could have looked quite different.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Only weak action sequences and the bizarre March of the Penguins sequence (you have to watch it to get what I mean) let it down.
3. The Dark Knight: No that wasn’t a misprint. I didn’t leave Rises off the title – The Dark Knight is a fantastic film and Ledger knocks it out of the park with Joker – but it’s my least favourite of the Dark Knight Trilogy (which isn’t saying much – I love all three of them). Leto’s biggest problem is living up to Ledger, but while Ledger is amazing and gives us by far the most unique Joker interpretation, there are other parts of this film. And those parts have issues. The major issue is Maggie Gyllenhaal putting in a strong call for worst Batman love interest – she lacks any charisma with Bale, and her romance with Harvey is more irritating than touching – i have to partially blame the otherwise faultless scriptwriters for this. But the biggest problem is it feels like she’s playing an entirely different character from Katie Holmes’ Rachel in the first film – the character’s depth and strength is gone, and her romance with Harvey Dent is only there to help create Two-Face and create emotional trauma for Batman. The other issue is the change in atmosphere – Begins and Rises were on the same wavelength but Knight has a very different tone – and i simply don’t prefer it’s approach. It is the most modern/realistic Batman film, the supporting cast are all brilliant (apart from Gyllenhaal) but it veers too far from its predecessor for it to be my favourite.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. If Katie Holmes had stayed as Rachel, this would get a 5 (and maybe be top of the list).
2. The Dark Knight Rises: It was very hard to split the final two. But this films plot holes and the fact i couldn’t think of a weakness in Begins means it just falls short of the top spot. Tom Hardy reinvents the character of Bane and redeems the character assassination he suffered in Batman and Robin. Anne Hathaway is decent as Catwoman, Marion Cotillard is perfect as Talia and Joseph Gordon-Levitt does the impossible in making Robin cool. The final hour is utterly perfect and the RISE section in the pit and the Batman/Bane fight sequences have a strong contention for best moments of the trilogy. Scarecrow’s cameo and the final scene with Alfred are nice touches. I know there are plot holes in the second half – but no one cares about the many, many ones in the Avengers series so cut Rises some slack people. A rousing, bold, bombastic soundtrack from Hans Zimmer is the icing on the cake.
Rating: 5 out of 5! Screw the plot holes, i love this film and its getting a 5!
1. Batman Begins: My favourite superhero film – from either DC or Marvel. Unless they base a film on the Arkham games i doubt i’ll ever prefer anything to it. The characterisation of Gordon (Gary Oldman), Alfred (Michael Caine), Bruce (Bale), Lucius (Morgan Freeman) and Rachel (a wonderful Katie Holmes – note to Arrow – this is what love interests should be like!) is spot on perfect. Liam Neeson is a memorable Ra’s al Ghul with excellent support from Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow and Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone. Aside from the acting, Nolan is brilliant as director, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard create a memorable score and the action sequences (particularly the fight in Wayne Manor and the final train fight) are top notch.
Rating: 5 out of 5! Origin story perfection, no wonder they basically used its formula for Man of Steel! Honestly can’t think of a single flaw?
Ben Affleck clearly has a lot to live up to! Fingers crossed Dawn of Justice can match the Dark Knight Trilogy (as big an ask as that is!).