Ultimate Batman Retrospect
Writer: Naseem Randhawa
The Batman films are as unique from one another as with their stories, heroes and villains.
As Christopher Nolan's epic Batman saga comes to an end, we look back at the Dark Knight films because surely no other superhero out there has received as much love and scrutiny as what this caped crusader has reaped. And yes, if you're wondering why the 1966 "Batman" is not in this list, it's not because we don't love it, its just that the movie is regarded more as a TV series spin-off movie (to promote it's second season run) rather than a new stand alone big screen adaptation with a big bang production team of sorts which is apparent in the movies below.
Hero : Director Tim Burton was pressured to take on an action star with the likes of Mel Gibson or Kevin Costner, but he picked Michael Keaton whom he worked with in "Beetlejuice". The casting led to quite a ruckus amongst comic book fans who thought Keaton to be more of the comedic type and not suited for the dark vigilante role.
Villains : The only other villain worthy of Heath Ledger's Joker is the original Joker played by Jack Nicholson, who accepted the role only after his strict demands specifying his working hours, a US$6 million pay check and a cut from the box office gross (approx. US$50 million) were met. Nicholson's take on The Joker was humorously dark comparable to the comic book and was well received, thus Nicholson was furious when he wasn't asked to reprise the Joker in "The Dark Knight" and found out Heath Ledger was cast instead. When Ledger died in 2008, all Nicholson had to say was, "Well, I warned him."
Story : Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne exudes a rich playboy image while hiding his secret vigilante identity in true Batman fashion. But Gotham is taken siege by The Joker who kills civilians with a poison that causes death by laughter. So as Batman plays the 'dark-handsome-mysterious-rich' card with attractive reporter Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and the bodies roll, he eventually finds out that The Joker is responsible for the death of his parents and goes after him to save Gotham in this film noir style film that ended up as one of the few superhero cult currently out there.
Why so serious? : One of the reasons fans didn't want Keaton as Batman was due to the fact that Keaton's character in "Beetlejuice" as, well; Betelgeuse, looked too similar to The Joker.
Batman Returns (1992)
Hero : With the success of "Batman" and fans finally convinced of Keaton's ability to don the black suit, Keaton's dark personality shined even more so in this film. So much so that they offered him US$15 million for another sequel, but he declined when his buddy Burton was demoted from the director's seat to a producer.
Villains : Danny DeVito didn't even have to audition for his role as the Penguin, because all they needed was his height (or rather the lack of it). Designers of Edward Scissorhands were responsible for Devito's pale-grotesque birdy look. Michelle Pfeiffer is the unforgettable sleek and sexy Catwoman (Really, even with a live bird in her mouth!) and had more than 60 catsuits designed at US$1,000 each. Until today, many dare not approach the Catwoman role as they fear of fading in contrast (Halle Berry learnt it the hard way).
Story : When a deformed baby thrown into the sewers finally surfaces into the city 33-years later as the Penguin and into Gotham's elite, he blackmails his way to the top with a series of planned crimes, which he then deviously solves to emerge as a hero to inch his way as the city's Mayor. But Batman remains unconvinced and things are further complicated when the Penguin's ally, the seductive Catwoman is in the picture to woo Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Why so serious? : Batman's counterpart Robin was initially written in as a black teenager who works as a garage mechanic. Actor Marlon Wayans was even cast and attended costume fittings, but the character was eventually removed from the script due to too many characters already appearing in the movie!
Batman Forever (1995)
Hero : With Keaton out of the batsuit, Val Kilmer was considered along with Daniel Day-Lewis, Ralph Fiennes and Johnny Depp to fill in, and accepted the role without even reading the script, and yes, even despite the movie's title. "Batman Forever" what does it even mean?
Villains : Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face (aka. Harvey Dent) and Jim Carrey as The Riddler do make an interesting set of villains, however it was obvious that the movie just wanted to show off with the star cast and flamboyant costumes rather than one who truly fitted the bill (OK fine, Jim Carrey nailed it!). Robin Williams actively showed interest and campaigned to play The Riddler too, but ended up losing the role to Carrey.
Story : "Batman Forever" was fashioned on a 'lighter' note so that it could be more vanilla, fitting the studio's intention of making a family film (and also more money!). So with the 'melancholy' maestro dropped, Burton was hastily replaced with Joel Schumacher for this bubblegum Batman ride. This story focuses mainly on Bruce Wayne and his adversaries; Two-Face and the Riddler who scheme to extract information from everyone's in Gotham while they try to unmask and reveal Batman. It's here that Bruce gets his sidekick in the form of Robin (Chris O'Donnell) a young acrobat whose family gets murdered by Two-Face, thus the vigilante camaraderie with Bruce Wayne.
Why so serious? : Nipples. Glad we got out that out of the way, because they were first introduced in this movie thanks to Schumacher's idea of making the batsuit resemble close to the anatomy of ancient Greek Gods.
Batman & Robin (1997)
Hero : George Clooney as Batman is almost unforgivable as the Latina Jessica Alba playing a blond Sue Storm in "Fantastic Four". Faring well with credibility when it comes to flirting with women, but failing miserably as the brooding Batman, Clooney is often regarded as the worst Batman by fans. Coming in at second worst place on that same list is his infamous batsuit nipples. That's how bad he was.
Villains : Dr. Freeze is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger who snagged the part after enjoying his fair share of hits since 1984's "The Terminator". Arnie took a US$25 million pay check to play the molecular biologist that turns evil after an accident forces him to depend on wearing a sub-zero suit to survive. Let's just say fans weren't too keen on the big action star playing the bad guy and were less likely to want to bid him, "Hasta La Vista". Uma Thurman plays Dr. Pamela Isley who after a mishap, akin to that which befell Catwoman, transforms her into the seductive Poison Ivy, but not nearly as captivating as the feline. Ivy is joined by Bane, an ex-convict who is more of her sidekick than a super-villain in this movie that is limited compared to the one introduced in "The Dark Knight Rises".
Story : From the very beginning, Clooney taking over Kilmer as Batman is unheeded, and almost instantly Mr. Freeze is presented as the latest 'badassery' to wander the streets of Gotham. While Batman and Robin (Chris O'Donnell is back!) try to thwart Freeze's various scheming attempts, another addition to the vigilante group arrives in the form of Alfred's niece, Barbara/Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone). The trio then band together to stop another rogue who teams up with Freeze, the overly fanatic tree-hugger; Poison Ivy.
Why so serious? : The Movie received 11 nominations at the 1997 ceremony of the Razzie Awards despite its ambitious star cast. Unfortunately, the late-Michael Gough who played the recurring Alfred Pennyworth in all of Burton's and Schumacher's Batman movies, ended his streak as Bruce's confidant with this not so great movie.
Batman Begins (2005)
Hero : Dark, rich and handsomely brooding. Christian Bale has got it spot on with what it's like to take on Batman. Making wearing a cape and a pointy eared mask look anything but ridiculous, Bale truly took the stretch to ripen Batman's past and present in this movie, nicely marinating the moment to justify how he plans to fight fear with fear. Having loss a lot of weight for his previous film "The Machinist", Bale's dedication to the role got him to hire a personal trainer to help him gain 45kgs in only a couple of months before shooting.
Villains : Cillian Murphy is Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow who develops fear-inducing toxins as the weapon of his alter-ego to frighten the people of Gotham. Although his character is basically useless without the toxins, it is then revealed that Crane actually works for Ra's al Ghul, a terrorist mastermind, revealed to be Liam Neeson who initially posed to be Bale's friend back in their training days.
Story : Nolan's first crack at the superhero genre made for a more than decent flick. The origin story and character development of Wayne's humanistic side took up more screen time than the actual vigilantism but hey, pair this up with Nolan's 2 other Batman sequels and you have a gem. Plus there is Liam Neeson too, so you know you're knee deep real ass-kicking business. The reality based plot shows how Bruce develops his combating skills in the mysterious League of Shadows led by an equally mysterious Ra's al Ghul until he finds out the organisation really plans to eradicate Gotham. After escaping the cult, Bruce returns to Gotham where he meets up with childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) and to deal with a corrupted Dr. Crane who uses a dangerous hallucinogenic drug while wearing a burlap mask to scare his victims as the "Scarecrow".
Why so serious? : Katie Holmes was supposedly to reprise her role for the sequel, but pulled out to star in the box office flop; "Mad Money" with Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah. Talk about missing the midnight train!
Dark Knight (2008)
Hero : Although Bale proved his the best Batman yet in the first movie, this one sees the actor take on an internal battle of conscience to decide if he should maintain the burden of being a crime fighter or leave it all behind for good and for love. Of course the end result is obvious and people were ultimately had more eyes for The Joker.
Villains : Inarguably the best Batman villain we've ever seen. Well actually it is rather hard to counter the fact that Heath Ledger really did The Joker justice, especially since the role affected his sleep, causing him to rely on meds which eventually led to an accidental combined drug intoxication death. Although Ledger's approach is more psychotic and menacing compared to Nicholson's comically twisted Joker, Ledger proved himself to be the apex of all villains in the superhero-verse. So much so that the role earned him a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and a cult icon status. Also on a less grander scale, Harvey Dent makes an appearance as the city's district attorney vigilante who after encountering a mob, turns him into a twisted character.
Plot : "The Dark Knight" reinvented itself to be the darkest superhero mainstream movie of our time. Not only that, it is one of the few superhero films to have received an Oscar nod for the acting. Hyped with the death of Heath Ledger, the sinister story sees Maggie Gylenhaal taking over the female lead as Rachel Dawes who is in a relationship with Harvey Dent. As Bruce tries to balance out the wrong from right and try to distance himself from fighting crime for a shot of a normal life, his attempts are proved futile when The Joker constantly wreaks havoc in the city in the utmost psychotic way.
Why so serious? : Why so serious? – the single yet oh so simple one-liner in the movie uttered by The Joker that has since made its way into countless Facebook memes, everyday conversations, T-shirts and even tattoos to pay tribute to the late-Heath Ledger.
Dark Knight Rises (2012))
Hero : Playing an older Bruce Wayne, Bale had to play a more sinister yet matured character which even Nolan agrees that due to the 8 year gap in the story "he's an older Bruce Wayne; [and] he's not in a great state". But does this mean that all the action and signature Batman ass-kicking is toned down in the film? No way, Bale goes all-out in this one, making Liam Neeson in "Taken" look less menacing than he is.
Cinema Online, 30 July 2012
Villains : As the mega-terrorist that he proves to be, Bane does have some similarities to The Joker, especially when it comes to being devious mastermind strategist in creating havoc. Played by Tom Hardy, Bane is actually an exiled member of the League of Shadows where Bruce Wayne first received his training as Batman. Decked in leather and weapons while wearing a gas mask similar to that of Hannibal Lector fashion, Bane aims to destroy Gotham once and for all, propelling it into riots and destruction. Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) can't really be characterised as a villain in this one, but plays by her own rules to get what she wants.
Plot : For fear of spoiling the movie for those who have not seen the end of Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, let's keep this brief shall we? The plot of Nolan's final instalment sees Bruce returning 8 years after the events of "The Dark Knight" only to be confronted with a new form of terrorism that threatens to bring Gotham to the ground thanks to Bane and his deluded tactics. Less of a threat to Gotham but also another form of disturbance to the city arrives in the form of Selina Kyle/Catwoman, who doesn't take long to get her paws on the Dark Knight's radar.
Why so serious? : Well actually, things are pretty serious with this one. A mass shooting by a deranged man at a cinema in Colorado during the midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" left 12 innocent moviegoers dead while 58 others injured. Also regionally, Malaysia's largest cinema exhibitor Golden Screen Cinemas saw one of its multiplex fall victim to an armed robbery that resulted in a loss of RM140,000 in cash, an amount which consisted mainly of ticket sales collection for "The Dark Knight Rises".