Batman has had a number of incarnations over the 75 years he’s been around, and many of them have been captured on film in the last 50 years. Depending on which movie you watch, he can be either part of the campy, ridiculous dynamic duo to the dark, brooding, badass dark knight. Depending on which version you prefer you can find at least one film that is to your tastes and is a totally valid interpretation of the character. Unless you like Batman and Robin, in which case go fuck yourself.
Erik and I will break down each of the Batman’s feature films, beginning with the 1966 adaptation of the television show and ending with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises, and will attempt to convey what is good and bad about each, and which ones we liked (Batman), loved (Dark Knight) and straight up went into murderous hatred over (Batman & Robin).
Animated features were left out this time, as there are so many we feel like they deserve their own article.
Batman: The Movie (1966)
Directed By: Leslie H Martinson
Starring: Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin), Cesar Romero (Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Frank Gorshin (Riddler), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman)
Plot: Batman’s greatest villains join forces for their most diabolical plan yet! They steal a device that dehydrates people to the point that they are nothing more than dust, and hold the whole world ransom! Can the dynamic duo stop them in time? Probably!
ComicZombie: I never know quite how to feel about the ’60’s Batman series and movie.
On one hand, they’re ridiculous, campy, and stupid funny, but on the other hand, they pretty much single handedly contributed to the ‘comics aren’t for adults’ stigma, with the whole “Bam! Pow!” thing, although I guess that’s not as much of a thing now as it used to be, thanks to animation, movies, and just more of a general acceptance for all things ‘nerdy’ in popular culture. Credit where credit is due for turning a generation of kids onto Batman, Robin, and the rest, however, stuff like this (while really funny) tends to irritate me a little:
Something that kills me today is that Burgess Meredith, who most people probably know as Mick from the Rocky films, was the freaking Penguin. I can’t reconcile that.
Erik Smash: Needs more Bat Girl… because bat-boobs.
The 1966 Batman TV series (and movie) was the first noteworthy live action appearance of Batman, not including the two semi-racist black and white serials. Seriously though, even though you can’t really say this one ‘holds up’, it’s still entertaining, as clearly dated as it is. Thing is, Batman comics at the time were pretty damn campy, this was before Denny O’Neal took things back down a darker path with stories like ‘The Joker’s Five Way Revenge’. That said, there’s some things I really like about it. Adam West and Burt Ward bring a cheesy bit of charm, but (as often is the case) the villains really steal the show and are arguably the reason behind the show’s success in the first place.
As a kid, I really enjoyed watching the reruns. I remember when I first saw this one, I couldn’t believe they included almost his entire rogues gallery! The Riddler, Penguin, one hot Catwoman, and the Joker (with a porn stache)! (Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, Lee Meriwether, and Cesar Romero)
Regardless of nostalgic value, there are a couple of cringe-worthy moments, like when Robin and Alfred are spying on Bruce and Selina getting intimate, the “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb” quote, the Bat-shark-repellent, the plot itself, and a weird scene where the villains are riding rockets through the city for some reason.
However, what it really lacked was a wacky cliff hanger…
CZ: There are two scenes that stood out to me as funny when I was a kid. The first is the aforementioned bomb scene, which is just so goddamn stupid that it’s great.
The second was when Batman and Robin are chasing the rogues in an office building, and they escape the caped crusaders by closing and locking a door. A locked door is too much for Batman, apparently. When Robin asks where Batman thinks they are going, he says something to the effect of “No doubt to a subterranean submarine lair, old chum”. Sure fucking enough, it cuts to the bad guys, and they’re underground (somehow) in a lair that has a goddamn submarine in it! How did he know that? HOW? How did they get to it from an office building?! How could a fucking locked door stop Batman?!?
Oh, God, I think part of my brain just killed itself.
Directed By: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton (Batman), Jack Nicholson (Joker), Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale), Michael Gough (Alfred)
Plot: Batman’s war on crime in Gotham truly begins when he crosses paths with the freakish Joker. His dual life is complicated by his new relationship with prize winning photo-journalist Vicki Vale.
Erik Smash: Tim Burton’s Batman used to be my favorite movie growing up. Back in ’89 when it first came out, comic fans were stoked. This wasn’t the first time Batman had been brought back to his dark roots, but it was the first ‘serious’ Batman on film! Thing is, it’s not very accurate to the Batman we know from the comics, for one – Batman kills people… like a lot of people. Seriously watch it closely, he probably kills more people than The Joker!
Compared with Nolan’s trilogy, it looks like a cheap art house flick… with Jack Nicholson.
Speaking of, The Joker completely hijacks the show, to the point where it’s more his story than Batman’s! Nicholson’s Joker makes Cesar Romero look like Ronald Mc Donald. He’s both funny and terrifying, goofy and menacing. The movie portrayed him as a mobster who fell into a vat of acid, snapped and became a homicidal artist. There’s a couple original twists unique to this version: it’s revealed that the Joker was the man who murdered Bruce’s parents and Batman kills him at the end, causing him to plummet to his death from atop a sky-scraping cathedral.
For all it’s faults and weirdness, there’s still some pretty bad ass moments between Batman’s first appearance (beating up a couple of nameless thugs just to tell them who he was) and the Bat-jet swooping in over Gotham’s skyline. Also, this one sports one of the best Batmobiles ever created and the design of the city is so well done that it’s practically a character itself. To top it off, this movie has one of the best Danny Elfman scores ever, which is really saying something!
ComicZombie: Even as a kid, I recognized that this was a monumental step in the right direction. While part of me, even at 8 years old, cringed at the notion that the Joker was the guy that killed the Waynes, it was so far and away the best Batman adaptation that it’s hard to criticize it too much, even today.
Of all of the first series of movies, this is easily the best. The design of Gotham is really cool, and I like how it’s always either raining or cold (or raining poison gas). I also like the look of Batman, although he obviously can’t move his head or neck an inch. He just looks menacing, and somehow it just works. Love the shot at the end of him staring at the bat symbol, although I always wondered what in the hell he was doing up there…
What I don’t like is all of the Prince music scenes, like the museum, and the fact that Joker is obsessed with Vicki Vale. In fact, his whole scheme seems beneath him. Really, he’s kind of lame, and only saved by a tremendous performance from Jack Nicholson. He is just awesome, and turns in the best performance in any of the four movies in the series. He just looks super fucking creepy.
I’m also not a fan of the way that Batman (as Erik already mentioned) is a mass murderer. Hell, he kills every single person in that factory! Why does he even have guns and bombs on his vehicles?!?
But my biggest complaint? They committed the cardinal sin: they KILLED THE FUCKING JOKER. They didn’t even do it in a way that his death was ambiguous, like “he COULD have survived…”. No, they dropped him off of a giant building and showed his mangled corpse littering the street. He’s as dead as Alicia Silverstone’s career (more on that to come). You just don’t kill the Joker, although maybe it was a blessing in disguise, because who knows how badly Schumacher would have mangled the character had he used him.
This movie feels like Tim Burton took the old Adam West TV show and merged it with the Dennis O’Neal/Neal Adams and Frank Miller Batman comics. It’s a weird final product, but it works.
Batman Returns (1992)
Directed By: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton (Batman), Danny DeVito (Penguin), Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman), Christopher Walken (Max Shreck), Michael Gough (Alfred)
Plot: Oswald Cobblepot, the twisted Penguin, coerces Gotham businessman and all around scumbag Max Shreck to help him become the new mayor of Gotham. Shreck’s murdered secretary, Selina Kyle, is somehow brought back to life by cats as the Catwoman. Batman must stop the freak ass Penguin’s plans and decide what the hell he’s going to do with the super hot (zombie-ish) cat lady.
ComicZombie: Coming off of the success of “Batman”, people were rabid for the sequel before it came out. Advertising was everywhere, and people couldn’t wait to see Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, more Batman, and just to see what Tim Burton would do with the franchise next. Oh, yeah, and Penguin, or whatever.
Well, Burton did what he always does: he got weird. And dark. And super fucking weird.
I have no problem with either Penguin or Catwoman as characters, and rather like Catwoman at times. However, these versions are just… off (although I enjoyed looking at Catwoman, but who didn’t??). Penguin, in particular, was really fucking weird. He looked like he had some horrible disease, and I’m not talking about his deformities, but rather the insanely palid look. He lived in the sewer with a bunch of clown-looking characters, and just wanted to do what he wanted to do: obtain a lot of power, be accepted, and eat raw fish. Oh, and also attack Gotham with a gang of clown-themed weirdos.
He teamed up with some nobody character (Max Schrek) played by Christopher Walken, who just so happened to be in business with Bruce Wayne and also just so happened to have a secretary (huh?) named Selina Kyle. Well, Miss Kyle stumbled across some shady dealings of his, so what does he do? Pay her off? Fire her? Naw, he just shoves her ass out of the window to her death.
Sounds like a plan. What was your alibi going to be, Max? Dumb ass.
Well, of course as she is lying there dead, a bunch of cats run around her and start biting her, cause cats just love biting random fresh corpses. And somehow this brings her back to life and inspires her to be Catwoman.
As Selina Kyle there is an immediate attraction with Bruce Wayne, and as Catwoman there is an ever greater attraction to Batman, and vice versa. You can tell he’s like “gotta stop this chick who is stealing- DAAAAAAMN!” And really, who can blame him? Screw Viagra, need an instant cure for impotence? Check out Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Problem solved.
The movie just kept getting weirder and weirder, culminating with the stupidest/most awesome thing ever: penguins with rockets on their backs. Oh, and apparently penguins live in the sewer in Gotham? Ok….
While still better than the monumental shitfests that were coming, this just isn’t up to the level the previous installment set for the franchise, and was a sign of things to come.
Erik Smash: I have such mixed feelings about Batman Returns. For one, it might be one of the darkest ones yet, on the other hand it doesn’t make ANY sense.
For starters, the movie opens with a really disturbing scene with Oswald Cobblepots parents (who are somewhat reminiscent of Bruce’s parents, which makes me cringe at the implications) where they keep him locked in a cage and throw him over a bridge into the sewage system… It’s very Tim Burton, but it’s not very Batman. Besides, last time I checked, the Penguin in the comics wasn’t raised by… penguins… in the sewer… It’s like they spliced Penguin and Killer Crock with a mutant hobo.
Anyways, the part when Batman.. um .. Returns is really strong – sorta, but it makes Gotham look devoid of law enforcement, and makes Batman look like an asshole. I do kinda like that scene where Batman saves Selina Kyle from the clown-themed thug (Batman no like clowns).
I do like the style of the film, and the fact that it’s set during Christmas, but I felt like it should’ve been closer to the first one in tone. The first one had some credibility, this one is just so unrealistic at points, it’s baffling. I really don’t understand why there’s even a subplot with Christopher Walken, why make up such a one dimensional character? I feel like they should’ve just made him Black Mask or something, that would’ve been kinda cool.
What kind of sucks about this movie, is that it’s not much of a Batman movie. The movie is more about Christopher Walken’s plan to make the Penguin a puppet mayor (for reasons beyond our understanding) than it is about Bruce Wayne struggling with is duel identities. Ultimately the biggest problem with the movie is they should’ve made this one a much more personal conflict…
Once Selina Kyle actually becomes Catwoman the movie becomes a thousand times better. The scenes between Selina and Bruce are actually really captivating, they both have some serious on camera chemistry. Why couldn’t they focus more on them? Even though her origin was a bit weird, Michelle Pfeiffer made a purrrfect Catwoman.
Why’d they have to go and ruin it with the Penguin’s army of kamikazee penguins?! They could’ve cut that whole part out and it would’ve worked still. You would think after Batman stops the circus gang from stealing all the kids, that would’ve been the last straw right there, plus he could’ve interrogated one of the thugs for directions to the Penguins’ lair, but no – apparently Cobblepot had to strap explosives to some helpless animals to get Batman’s attention.
I didn’t mind that the Penguin was a disgusting freak, but I feel like making him a creepy horn dog trying to get lucky with Catwoman was going a little too far. And really, I don’t care how good your PR campaign is, after that whole nose biting incident in his nasty ass pj’s, there’s absolutely no way you can spin that. He’s not winning any elections any time soon…
Need I remind you there were McDonald’s toys with this thing?
Next up in Part 2: Batman Forever and the dreaded Batman and Robin – please kill us…