Gotham Knight's Film Reviews
Batman Batman Returns Batman Forever Batman & Robin
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1989 was called the Year of the Bat, and not without good reason. That year, and every year since then, whenever superhero films are made, BATMAN always comes up, whether in positive or negative light. Comparisons are always made. That alone proves its greatness, and how it will forever be the film that made the Superhero franchise a permanent establishment, love it or hate it.
In 1978, Richard Donner's SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE took audiences by storm. Backed by screen legends Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve made us believe a man could fly, and could do so without being a completely laughable experience. While it did have its moments, and in recent years it's easy to place a date on it, the film proved the concept of masked and/or costumed men could be done, and done well. Of course, it also proved how quickly things could turn ugly, on and off screen. The producers, not wanting to deal with the monetary demands of Brando, cut him out of the sequel, to which all of his footage had been shot during the first film's production, and fired Donner, replacing much of the second film he had already shot. SUPERMAN II, while staying afloat as a good film, didn't carry the gravity of its predecessor. A blockbuster hit, it managed to spawn two more sequels.
SUPERMAN III and IV were disastrous to say the least, and in the late 80's a comic book film would be risky, it would be a big chance.
Remember, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE proved it could be done.
BATMAN took the next pivotal step. It set a tone, and standard that would influence all major success (00-present) in the genre.
The review: From the word go, this movie is different. It quickly breaks the formula of following the hero around and watching his every step. Instead, the view must see him through the eyes of those both in terror and in awe of his sinister presence in the alleys.
It has always been standard that the hero be tracked throughout the entire film in thematic action adventures, cutting back and forth to a villain, whose scheming and over the top manner garners him the bulk of the audiences desired attention. Because one becomes so desensitized to the hero, the point of thrills and chills becomes the villain who dances in and out of the picture, commanding the scenes when he is with the hero, always making a bigger and better entrance, and getting the better dialogue. BATMAN completely flips that coin. In the film, you follow Jack Napier in his plight into madness, all the while cutting back to the melancholy mansion of Bruce Wayne as Vicki Vale attempts to break into the locked and withdrawn places of his mind. The viewer cannot help but be more intrigued by this obviously traumatized and imperfect man. As if in Vicki's shoes the viewer asks of him:
Who are you?
Why won't you let me in?
And most importantly:
Why are you the way you are?
Oh and did I mention, there's a six foot bat in Gotham City! Where the flip of that coin (Discussed earlier) comes to true "actiony" fruition. You never even know when or where the Batman will make a grand entrance ("Wonderful Toys"), completely controlling the scene once he enters, even if only for a few brief moments.. HE is the point of FEAR, enveloping the viewer in the experience.
The flipping of roles does well with the personalities of the two title characters, Bruce Wayne/Batman and The Joker. The Joker wants to be seen, and tries to take up as much screen time as possible, meanwhile The Batman represses himself, not wishing to be seen, rising up only to cast a shadow onto the heart of evil.
The film triumphs again in capturing the depression era from which the Batman was spawned, and meshes with modern day, making it impossible to discern when or where it truly takes place, our past, or the not too distant future of an alternate reality. The 40's gangster clothes and clunky, yet human form of the Batman costume achieve a timeless journey into Gotham City.
The key to this film is that it isn't designed like a garden-variety film. Much like the distant films of the past, it commands more of you. You have to pay attention to finer details as the story progresses, unlike Batman Begins, this film won't hand you a characters personality on a silver platter, you have to watch each step a character makes, and much is left open for your mind to interpret. In the end, it's up to you who the Batman is. Is he a dangerous psychotic? Is he a hero? Is he a brutal vigilante? It is up to you.
Batman Returns (1992)
After completing BATMAN, Tim Burton went to work on what would become a classic coming of age tale, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, hitting theatres in 1990. From that film he would develop what would become his trademark style for his many films to come, including the unnamed BATMAN sequel that fans were buzzing about almost from the second the first picture exploded in the summer of 1989. Of course, WB executives approached him about dawning the director cap and once again visiting the dismal world of the Dark Knight. At first, Burton was hesitant, believing he'd said all he had to say about Batman. However, he was coaxed into the idea at the possibility of it being a more personal, 'Tim Burton' film. Interested in the idea of shedding the 'studio' feel of the first picture, he went to work. After rejecting a script by BATMAN writer Sam Hamm (whew! Anyone who's read the BATMAN 2 script knows what I mean by halleluiah!) Burton had Daniel Waters pen what would eventually come to be called BATMAN RETURNS.
Return he did.
In this reviewer's opinion, what Tim Burton and company created is the greatest Superhero film of all time, bar none. (Explained in detail at conclusion)
Oh sure, the film has it's fanboy critics, claiming that its just a 'Tim Burton' film, and not a 'Batman' film at all. I disagree to the fullest extent. With more ability to do so, Burton did what any great director would. Any director with any sense wants to make a film as personal as possible. It's the utmost importance to a filmmaker to feel what they are working on. True, Burton's style is unique and often quirky, but I believe that style of filmmaking fits Batman better than anyone else's who has taken the reigns of the director's chair on a caped crusader film project.
From the word go I love the film. Rather than taking place right on BATMAN's heals, it takes place some years later. Gotham has changed a lot since we last left it. Things seemed to have gotten better because of Batman's influence. But, there's an evil white-collar crook looking to take Gotham by storm, sucking the very life from it for his own twisted means. Little does he know, a true underworlder will offer him a deal he can't refuse, and a scorned and murdered employee, victim of his will to keep the plan secret, will take her revenge. Batman must destroy a host of evil alliances while wooing Selina Kyle and battling the erotic Catwoman. However some victories are hollow and empty despite what good is done for the sake of a city.
Michael Keaton is the perfect Batman. He's dark and mysterious. His presence onscreen makes the audience wonder if he indeed was aware of them. Batman, now more geared as a hero, is still terrifying and vengeful for Gotham's salvation. He plays the Bruce Wayne role quirky and out of place, perfectly portraying that the Wayne personality is quickly becoming little more than a part he plays when not Batman, and often badly. When discovering the similarities between himself and Selina, it begins to make Batman consider he can be himself around her, giving Bruce Wayne new meaning as a person, without having to hide behind ill-fitting facades.
Michelle Pfeiffer effortlessly portrays the complete differences between Selina before and after her murder and resurrection. At first, she is meek and unimportant, completely an underling. Then, she is pushed head first into a new life of dominance, eroticism, and revenge. However, her humanity stays stead fast as she meets Bruce Wayne and sees a place where she can handle all of her vengeful feelings with someone who understands. However, her desire for death proves too great, parting them, at least for a little while. Personally, this reviewer thinks she didn't stay away for too long, and the battles and loves began again, and perhaps a stalemate was found where the two could meet on some level, and achieve some kind of continuance in the rocky relationship put on hold one cold Christmas eve.
Danny DeVito methodically enters the life and world of the Penguin. He generates a sad humanity and the same time a grotesque monster all in one physically and mentally damaged shell. The character grew a lot in the translation, and was no longer just a little man with a top hat who stole jewels. He was so much more. He was the same intelligent man, but twisted and turned inside a retching speak and horrific deformity. Abandoned and alone, he rises up to take his revenge, doomed by the sins of the father.
Christopher Walken is pure evil. The focal point of all the insanity without a shred of humanity can be found on the face of Max Schreck. Much like Jack Napier, he has no goodness or kindness in his soul. There is only himself and his desires. Walken delivers one of his greatest performances as a calm cool collect madman who is in complete control until the very end.
Danny's music takes new heights. It's no longer an action score; rather, it is a dramatic one, filled with swooping melodies and dark themes. Fear not Batfans, the boisterous march of the Dark Knight finds its place, erupting forth to send chills up your spine as the Batman brings order to the chaos. Truly, without Danny, the world created in BATMAN and RETURNS could not exist effectively.
I stated earlier that this film was the greatest superhero movie ever. Strong words, and I won't neglect reasoning. BATMAN RETURNS has one of the most complex and riveting character studies ever seen in a film of its genre. While maintaining the same flipping of character roles in keeping The Batman suppressed (See BATMAN Review), you not only get an in depth look at three other characters, but from those characters, you get a piece of Batman himself. Through the Penguin, Catwoman, and Schreck, you get the three sides of Batman's personality while at the same time diving into their stories.
From Max Schreck, you see the joyless millionaire, surrounded by coldness, from Penguin, you see the scarred orphan falling into the darkness, and from the Catwoman you get the clash with revenge (Reflecting Batman's journey in the first film) and duel identities. All the while, seeing Bruce continue to brood, fight, and romance in vain against dark forces. Meanwhile, an awe inspiring plot unfolds, converging to one of the most dramatic climaxes ever seen in a hero genre film as Batman/Bruce pleads with Catwoman/Selina to come with him, to abandon the same dark path he has lead for so long, unable to reach her. The film concludes, carrying the solemn down note ending that is Batman's life. Yes, Gotham is saved, but at the cost of yet another piece of Bruce Wayne's soul.
Batman Forever (1995)
BATMAN FOREVER is the GREATEST BATMAN MOVIE...
NEVER made. (Actual common Internet name)
I am of course, referring to Tim Burton's Batman Forever, which he worked on until WB executives decided to dump him. (Its rumored he cast Robin Williams as a Riddler who had a question mark shaved into his head, and a returning Catwoman. Drools.)
When Batman Returns, the greatest Superhero film ever made in my opinion with Batman (1989) its only competition, hit theatres there was an immediate backlash from those who thought the film was too gothic, dark, gross, and not for children. And like the firing of Richard Donner (Superman, Superman II: Donner Version [On DVD, you gotta get it],) Burton was booted off the project (in favor of lightening up the franchise.) This proved to be the beginning of the end. Joel Schumacher, director of such great films as A Time to Kill, Falling Down, and Phone Booth, was given the project.
At the very beginning, all seemed well, even after Burton left. Michael Keaton stayed with the project, and had come in for costume fittings under the new director. However, after he received the script to Batman Forever, he left. The studio offered him a rumored 6 million, HUGE money at the time to return to the picture. He refused. Anyone see the dismal picture being painted yet, or the curse of "Third Superhero Film" establishing itself?
I'm going to start with what's good about Batman Forever first because it's a very short list. In fact there is only two things in my opinion. Well, two and a half maybe
1. This film manages to carry the progression of the Batman character from previous films, as he takes in Robin. He reevaluates his brutal methods when he sees the young Grayson taking the same path and in the only GOOD scene in the film warns Grayson not to make the same mistakes. "You make the kill...another and another."
2. The film manages at its basic structure to have a fairly decent plot.
2½. The BEST lines in the film are a homage to Batman (1989)
"Your parents weren't killed by a maniac."
"Yes they were." Still gives me chills.
Now, the film's failures. So this doesn't turn into an incoherent rant, I'll break this up into the separate aspects, from cast to production design, to music.
The MIS Cast
Val Kilmer as Batman. He's a great actor. But in this picture, I saw no true darkness in Batman and no depth to Bruce Wayne. Kilmer essentially slept his way through the role. While I don't think he was the worst Batman, it is strange how he left no impression on me really. Even Clooney left an impression. A bad one. But it was still there...tangible
Nicole Kidman as Chase Meridian. Like all of Schumacher's theatrical over the top pieces, he showcases how he can't accurately picture or develop a woman character. Like his version of Christine Daae, the Kidman character is far too feminine. And she's a major hooker. Even in skintight plastic with a whip, Michelle Pfeiffer managed to be not only charming and sexual, but provocative, sympathetic, and a worthy love of Batman. Not another bimbo in the long line of Bond girls in Bruce's sack. A persistent, permanent lover. She didn't come off like some two bit prostitute. I like Kidman. She's a fine actress. Schumacher takes the fall on this one. Poor Poor direction.
Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face. Probably the only man actually right for his role. Well, a version of this role. Not the stupid cartoony version in the film. Complete waste of his talent, this was the saddest falter of the movie because Harvey has so many layers, and Tommy Lee could really bring them out with the right man behind the camera. Problem one is that we don't get ANY time with Harvey, to grow to understand and care about him. He appears as Harvey in a brief news story in the film. VERY brief. Other than that, the character looks awful, like some Club Kid from the 80's. Also, no disrespect to Tommy Lee, but wasn't Billy Dee Harvey Dent? (I'll get to those kinds of issues in the conclusion)
Jim Carrey as The Riddler. While I like the idea of Rids obsessed with Bruce Wayne, someone needed to give Carrey something to bring him down. Like with one of his comedies, he over acts from the first time he opens his mouth. He jumps all over the place dropping one liners, basically owning the movie like one of his comedy vehicles such as Liar Liar or Ace Ventura. Quite frankly, I found him embarrassing to watch.
Chris O'Donnell as Robin. I hate Robin. I've never liked his character and see him as the watering down of a legend. That said, I actually kind of dig the older version of Robin character, even though that would make him Nightwing. But, for some reason, I find him just oddly annoying in this film. Not sure why. To Quote Dr. Evil, "...a certain, I don't know what."
A badge of honor goes out to Michael Gough for busting out a rock solid performance. He was completely off the charts spectacular and it's a shame he got trapped in this.
Production design can be summed up as follows. A bad, zany acid trip in some techno night club.
Music. It sounds like they recorded about five minutes of score, and just kept repeating bits of it through the picture. Danny, where are you!!!
In conclusion, the worst thing about this film is its inability to hold up as a SEQUEL. It breaks every rule set before it in previous films. Everything that could be redone WAS redone. Look, I know it was Schumacher's vision, but you have to work within certain confines established in the film before. I hate that people insist on lumping the Burton films into the same continuity with Schumacher's. If I can only have one wish granted in the old Bats Franchise, its that a press conference is held to disjoin the Burton from Schumacher. It was two different stories. Period.
A few random thought.
I'll get drive thru...
Bruce get shots in the head and lives. What?
The Batmobile. Ugh
I'LL GET DRIVE THRU
Batman & Robin (1997)
BATMAN FOREVER made considerably more money than BATMAN RETURNS because in my view, the Burton films were not only ahead of their time but the bulk of the 'comic book fanboy' audiences (I'm a fanboy too, but not in the same crazed loyalist way) watching them had no interest in getting a real depiction or character examination of a scarred psyche.
Instead they wanted the typical, worn out above and beyond righteous 'super' hero, which Batman is not. This trend would ultimately lead to Christopher Nolan's Begins films, which shows Batman as an overly idealized (Batman an idealist? Since when Mr. Nolan? He's a realist.) hero morally bound to societies definition of law and morality (The laws that failed him mind you. I don't know about you, but if I were scarred psychologically to the point of stalking the night as a Bat, I'd have a real passion for bringing crooks to police in a 'net' and upholding laws that are horribly inadequate, particularly in Gotham City. Ultra real franchise...pffft. You can confuse teenagers and Roger Ebert with that nonsense, but not anyone with any sense of reality.) Okay, so I've gotten a bit ahead of myself, but its important to discuss how the search for a overly fictionalized, morally Superman-like Batman (That's right, I said it) started with Schumacher and has ultimately ended with Nolan's so-called 'ultra realistic' mess.
Anyway, with the success of FOREVER, another film went into the works. Val Kilmer dropped out due to scheduling constraints (Yeah right, I bet that's his polite way of saying, 'I hated the script and didn't want it to mark my career.' Didn't care for his Bat but good move Mr. Kilmer, get off the ship that was already sinking when you came aboard.) Long story short, after getting George Clooney, and the new villains, the cast was set, they made the movie, so on and so forth.
You know, there are a lot of tasteless reviews out there concerning Batman & Robin...
Here's another one...
For a long time now, I've tried to put my thoughts together on how to review this film. At one point I considered listing all the things I hated about it numerically, but I will never have enough time. Forgive me if the review is brief. Most of my opinions are frightfully direct and to the point in this case, not necessitating further explanation. I can say, without reservation, that BATMAN & ROBIN is the worst film that was ever made by a studio, bar none. The depression era films depicting flights of patronizing fancy about getting into money and high praises during musical numbers doesn't even come close. Even if you put aside the misinterpretation of Batman, its STILL the worst film ever produced by a studio. Just for a moment, set aside the light campy Batman and consider that this version was an incarnation direct from the 60's comics that were taking their cues from the show, so it's valid in a certain sense. Even THEN, even when you try to view it as a parody, it STILL makes one sick to their stomach.
It's a mish mash of incoherency, lack of plot mixed with stupid clichés that segway in more pointlessness, bad acting, nods to the worst TV show of all time, and obvious toy marketing.
I wish I could say more than that on the overview, but I don't like using too many four-letter words in my reviews. Sorry. Maybe someday I'll give you an unedited, Tony Montana version.
George Clooney is a MARVELOUS actor and director (Good Night and Good Luck.) But he wasn't a good Batman. Hey, he admits it fully and has moved on to make many great films. Because of that, I refuse to bash him for it.
Alicia Silverstone is a poor actress. Period.
Uma Thurman is a great actress, but under Schumacher's direction follows suit in acting like she's in front of a kindergarten class
Arnold belongs in big actiony films in which he kills many people in camouflage or in comedies. Other than that, he ceases to be entertaining.
Chris O'Donnell still makes my skin crawl.
Why bother with anyone else...
Same five minutes of music.
The acid trip sets complete their metamorphosis into a complete drug overdose.
To wrap this all up, I wish to address Joel Schumacher and the WB (Like they will read this.) Bare in mind this is merely the opinion of this reviewer. Mr. Schumacher you stole what was to be the greatest Superhero trilogy of all time from Burton Batfans, for that you will never be forgiven. Oh, people have tried to make excuses, the popular one being because so much was cut out of FOREVER, you deliberately ruined B&R. If that's true, in my opinion, you're a hack who'll go to any lengths to be vindicated when you don't get your way even if that means jeopardizing the careers of those working under you, including actors, set designers, script writers, etc and that means you shouldn't be a director at all. Or maybe you thought it was really good...I don't see how...Either way, shame on you.
And WB, what the hell were you thinking?