Aug 13, 2012

Ranking the Batman Films: Part 1

After we watched The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in Christopher Nolan's epic trilogy, we thought it would be good to go back through the seven films that have made up the modern Batman films thus far, starting with Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, continuing through Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin (that temporarily killed the franchise) and ending with the Nolan films in the last seven years. How did they stack up to one another? Which was the best? And since we couldn't make up our minds alone (this was too important), we enlisted the help of tons of guest bloggers, friends, and colleagues to rate and talk about the seven films. Or, at least, we tried to talk to all of our guest bloggers - My Mom kindly declined, saying that "these are frivolous movies. I have no need for them." Harsh words, but, for the rest of us, here are the rankings:

7. Batman & Robin
Beware the odor
Plot: Bruce Wayne/Batman (George Clooney) battles Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), Alfred battles a life-threatening disease with seemingly no cure, and Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O'Donnell) battles his feelings for Ivy and Alfred's niece Barbara (Alicia Silverstone).
Director: Joel Schumacher
Femme Fatale: Poison Ivy
Mr. Freeze, if you're nasty
Best/Worst Villain Line: "As I told Lady Freeze when I pulled her plug, this is a one woman show" or "If revenge is a dish best served cold, then put on your Sunday finest. It's time to feast." What?
Thoughts: Often defended with faint "It's a movie for kids, and it shouldn't be held to adult standards," or "It's a live action comic!," this film is nonetheless the most sexually forward film in the series. Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy is one sex pun away from winning an AVN Award.  From the guest bloggers' rankings this was the only Batman film to fall pretty cleanly in the 'bad movie' category. As guest blogger Eau de la Trine adeptly put it, this movie is the "red-headed a$$-clown of the entire Batman series."
Poison Ivy
Saving Grace: As guest blogger My Cousin points out, it is nice that "Batman is brave and they [Batman and Robin] use tricks to capture the bad guys." Also, as new guest blogger Lemon Face points out, it can be campy fun. We don't personally see it, but we respect her right to an opinion. Also, loads of Ice Puns!
Rating: Bad. Bad Bad Bad. I think guest blogger Jennifer Love Bacon is the luckiest of us all. When asked about the movie, she could only say "I hardly remember it. I was only a child." Keep repressing, Jenn, keep repressing.

6. Batman
Plot: Batman (Michael Keaton) deals with the inner demons of his parent’s murder while flirting with reporter Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and fighting a crime syndicate headed by Jack Palance and The Joker (Jack Nicholson).
Director: Tim Burton
Femme Fatale: Vicki Vale, sort of
Thoughts: Chronologically the first Batman film on this list, Tim Burton's film had the daunting task of setting up the world for the three films to follow (Joel Schumacher’s films, though with different actors portraying Batman, are in the same 'Burtonverse'). And so many great things are established: the casting of Alfred (the fantastic Michael Gough), the strange city in which all Gothamites reside, and the fact that a city that could house millions is seemingly home to 100-200 citizens and one pitbull. That being said, there are some problems. Sure, everyone loves Jack Nicholson as The Joker, one of his juiciest roles. Some guest bloggers balk at the casting of Michael Keaton (Mr. Mom? Really?), while others herald it as an unconventional but interesting choice. Everyone agrees that Kim Basinger is terrible, though. Just terrible. One huge problem with the film is that, well, Batman isn't supposed to kill people, due to the lessons he learned from his parent's murder. For the same reason, he does not use guns.
Alfred, cleaning blood off the Batmobile
In this movie, Batman kills tons of people, with his car and fists. It's a bit disconcerting. And probably a mess for Alfred to clean up.
Saving Grace: Says guest blogger My Father, "the casting of Keaton might be unconventional, but it instantly set the film apart from the films, TV series, and comic books that preceded it." Burton also firmly represents the concept that 'the Batman' is the true identity and 'Bruce Wayne' is the mask that he puts on, a concept that is largely forgotten in the Schumacher films but is a cornerstone of the Nolan films that followed.
Rating: Pretty Decent – it has some problems, and the reworking of Bruce Wayne's parent's murder (we won't spoil it, but the plot reworkings make everything a bit too convenient) is not good. Still, Michael Keaton is certainly a shocking choice, and Nicholson is tops (2nd best Joker on film, for sure).

5. The Dark Knight Rises
The gangs all here.
Plot: Batman is really depressed and has been out of the game for a while. He's sunk most of his money into a nuclear power source that he's afraid someone might turn into a bomb (Chekhov’s Gun!), and there's a cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) who is trying to put him in his place. There is a lot going on in this film: a love interest played by Marion Cotillard, a brawny villain named Bane (Tom Hardy), a bunch of 99 percenters, misplaced familial disappointment courtesy of  Alfred (Michael Caine), some weary looks from Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and a whole subplot involving police officers, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Comissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, doing some great spit-acting). There is so freaking much happening in this movie.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Femmes Fatales: Selina Kyle (Hathaway) and Miranda Tate (Cotillard)
Thoughts: The latest Batman movie from Christopher Nolan is also his least popular on the list. And part of the problem is there is just too much going on and no real time spent developing anything. People have to shove out huge chunks of expository dialogue instead of letting character traits reveal themselves naturally over the course of the movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is good but underused, Michael Caine is sleepwalking through the part, and Christian Bale is just no fun. 
Anne Hathaway's Got Claws
Saving Grace: The film is beautifully directed, and some moments are quite lovely. There's a lot of good happening, but there's a lot of crap surrounding it. Nolan definitely could have used an editor, and a script rewrite might have helped. Let us also just say Thank God for Anne Hathaway's Catwoman, whose Sapphic tendencies and 'Power-to-the-People' attitude are both welcome additions to the cast. We, along with Square Peg, were worried that Anne Hathaway wouldn't be able to match the amazingness of Michelle Pfeiffer. Thankfully, Nolan sidestepped the comparison by making his Selina Kyle a completely different character, showing that there is more than one way to portray a cat (as well as skin one). What is the same is her athleticism, her ruthlessness, her survival instincts. She's no Michelle Pfeiffer, but she also doesn't pretend to be. Unfortunately, other than Catwoman, there aren’t a lot of stand-out elements. 
Rating: Ultimately, the movie doesn't stack up to the other films in the Nolan franchise. There's no interesting villain, Bane could probably be defeated by the mere fact that his face-mask prevents him from eating, and the plot twists are telegraphed from a mile away. Still, in a film franchise as well-regarded as this one, ending up in 5th place is not too shabby. Look to future guest blogger McWhiskey Wheats, who said, "I liked it better than Jurassic Park 3."

4. Batman Forever
Plot: Batman (Val Kilmer) fights the dynamic duo of The Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and makes his own dynamic duo with Robin (O'Donnell). In love interest news, psychologist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) presses her dynamic duo into Batman and Bruce Wayne’s face any time she can.
Director: Joel Schumacher
Femme Fatale: Chase Meridian
Nicole Kidman, being super sexy
Thoughts: Despite its middle ranking, this is a Batman movie that's very close to many of our hearts. Guest blogger Square Peg said it best: "Even though it belongs to a campier and less dramatic era of the Batman franchise, there is something delightfully irresistible about the Jim Carrey/Tommy Lee Jones combo. Also, [you get to enjoy] Nicole Kidman before the crazy plastic surgery." Speaking of Nicole Kidman, her Chase Meridian is literally the horniest character in a very horny film franchise – she breaks into police headquarters and sets off the bat signal just so she can feel up Batman on the roof. And she does it all wearing black lingerie – she is a woman of many varied yet single-minded talents. And she's glorious. On the other hand, we're not all convinced of Tommy Lee Jones as a villain, Batman is still pretty lax with the whole 'no murder' thing, and Ed Begley, Jr. and Drew Barrymore (as Sugar) are misused. Maybe guest blogger Funton Abbey isn't far off when she writes that in her mind the film is "last – for sure!"
The Riddler!
Saving Grace: Yes, it's a bit campy, the motivations of the characters are simplistic, and the neon-fight sequence between Robin and a gang of rapey gang members is unforgivable. Still, it's a lot of fun, and it has some great sequences, including a tense scene at the circus and some Edward Nygma riddle fun (written by everyone's favorite puzzle constructor Will Shortz) . Eau de la Trine goes a little farther with the praise, noting that "Val Kilmer, in my eyes, is the most underrated actor in Hollywood and rarely disappoints, even in a bat suit. Plus, a dastardly duo, TWO hot blondes [Kidman and Barrymore] and an intro to the Boy Wonder himself."
Rating: Again, this is a pretty good movie. Nicole Kidman is amazeballs, Jim Carrey is the right kind of campy (Thurman is the wrong), and Chris O'Donnell says the line "Holy Rusted Metal, Batman!" If nothing else, Val Kilmer has the best Batman voice of the entire series, and he pronounces 'circus' so weirdly. It sounds like 'thirkus'. 

The Guest Blogger Quorum

Well, that's the bottom 4. Agree? Disagree? Check back in to the blog soon HERE for our coverage of the top three, and let us know in the comments how you feel about the rankings so far:
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