A Look Back: The Batman Franchise
Recently I went to the world tour arena show Batman Live. After seeing this play, I realized that I have experienced the character of Batman on every single medium he has been offered upon. This got me thinking, which one is the best? Of course, the comics are the classic source material, but I would be lying if I said they were all good. The same goes for the movies and especially the television shows. With the wrap up of the most recent trilogy envisioned by Christopher Nolan, however, I got to thinking about how amazing a change Batman has had in film alone.
Back in the 1960’s Adam West helmed the cowl in the TV series simply titled Batman. A film of the same name and cast was released in 1966. This was just as campy and crazy as the show on television and has some great moments like that of the ‘shark repellant’ or the hilarity of bats trying to discard a bomb. This is clearly the polar opposite of how we view Batman today, but it is still a fun movie for everyone. In 1989, this look of Batman to the general public would shift drastically.
Tim Burton put his spin on the classic character and boy was it a great ride. Michael Keaton starred as Bruce Wayne with Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Both did a great job with their roles, and to this day I still consider Jack Nicholson to have delivered the role of the Joker flawlessly. This movie shifted the campy look of Batman to a much darker tone, as most Tim Burton films have. No longer was he this hero who would be out and about throughout the day beating up villains, oh no. Batman took to the shadows and used the night to fight crime and induce terror in his enemies. We owe it to this film for making this much needed change in the character. There was a sequel, Batman Returns, but unfortunately the same praise can not be given to it. Tim Burton seemed to take a little more liberty with the character and made it a tiny bit more comical than needed. However, if we had known what was on the horizon, we would have begged for more films like this.
In 1995 the “he-who-shall-not-be-named” (Joel Schumacher) of the Batman world released Batman Forever. If there is anything good to say about this movie it is that Jim Carrey didn’t do bad as The Riddler, and Gotham City looks very pretty. Unfortunately, these two small factors do not come close to outweighing the negatives of this film. Val Kilmer is by far the worst Batman/Bruce Wayne to ever grace the silver screen and there isn’t a single other actor who was well cast. Even though Batman stays in the dark in this movie, we are brought back to all the camp of the 60’s movie. Every character is over the top and it seems overacting was a requirement. The next film, Batman & Robin, was just as bad. Chris O’Donnell returned as a horrible sidekick who does nothing but complain. And George Clooney as the caped crusader? Seriously? Even he admits to how awful a choice he was for the role. Don’t get me started on the nipples on the Batsuit. The only redeeming quality of this movie is how extremely laughable the Governator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is as Mr. Freeze. I can only imagine how much fun it was writing the dialogue for this character, as there is nothing but one bad ice pun after another. These movies even spawned terrible theme songs with Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” and R. Kelly’s “Gotham City”. When you bring in an R&B singer to do a theme song for Batman, you’re going to have a bad time.
For years Batman fans hid in the shadows hoping one day to receive justice just as the Dark Knight would want. Finally, it was announced that rising filmmaker Christopher Nolan would be redoing the series. There would be a trilogy, with an origin story and overall plot claiming to do said justice to the character. Hope was rising in us all, and in 2005 all expectations were reached with Batman Begins. Christian Bale delivered as a Bruce Wayne learning how to become the hero his city needed. World order for Batman fans was restored, and with the sequel, 2008’s The Dark Knight, everyone went insane. Heath Ledger portrayed a character that literally killed him; the resulting hype could not have been bigger, and by golly did it deliver. The late, great Ledger brought the Joker to a new light and, given Nolan’s universe, gave a brilliant performance. Just this summer the trilogy wrapped up with The Dark Knight Rises. This was a perfect ending to a great trilogy, tying up loose ends and bringing it all full circle. The lesson of “it doesn’t matter who you are, but what you do that defines you” and how the Batman is a symbol who can be anyone was shown. In the end Bruce passes down the helm of the Bat to a younger person than himself who he deems worthy to fill his shoes.
It’s amazing how far this character has come in movies alone over the decades. I almost hope there are no more Batman films for a very long time because of how perfectly done the last three were. To close this reflection, all I have to say is if you don’t think John Blake became the next Batman at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, re-watch not just that movie, but the other two as well. You won’t regret it.