Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Batman and Me

You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
With all the hype going into the new Batman The Dark Knight movie, I thought I would take a look back at the caped crusader from a personal perspective. After all, like a lot of kids I grew up on various versions of Bruce Wayne's alter ego. The ultimate orphan loner, Batman was either the coolest vigilante or the dumbest dork on the planet depending on which phase you caught him.

Batman (1966-1968)

As a boy I wanted to be Batman. But not just any Batman...old...chum...but the Adam West Batman. The one with the Batarangs, Bat shields, Bat metal detector, Bat Dance, Bat Gut...probably had a Bat condom somewhere-Bat everything! He had the best Batmobile with the siren and red trim and I've heard it drives as fast as 30 mph. Well, when you're a kid you don't know these things so it all seemed amazing. The Villains were well cast with Burgess Merideth as the wah wah wah Penguin, Frank Gorshin's obnoxious Riddler and a multitude of Catwomen to Wong Foo for. And even as a young boy, I found Bat Girl very watchable. I can't watch the show now that I'm older, but when I was a kid it was Bat-tastic. Holy Childhood Batman!

The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

I used to read comic books but by 1986 I had pretty much stopped. My brother collected comics (and still does) and one he had was The Dark Knight Returns which stood out because it had a thicker cover than most comic books. I read it and was engrossed in this nihilistic view of the Detective. Made by Frank Miller whose work I appreciated from the Daredevil comic, the future was going to hell and the Joker was having a field day killing people left and right. An older Bruce Wayne / Batman had to struggle with battling evil in a place where moral and economic decay was standard order and Superman stood for the extremist right. This comic singlehandedly recast Batman from campy fool to brooding vigilante. I think it is the best comic I've ever read. Holy Dystopia Batman!

Batman (1989)

The Dark Knight comic spurred interest in 'ol Bats leading to the development of a new Batman movie helmed by Director Tim Burton (Pee Wee's Big Adventure). Burton's whimsical and Gothic influences added dark humor and showed a willingness to explore some of the darker psychiatric implications of the Bruce Wayne character. The action sequences were a little more cartoonish than I preferred (The Joker shoots down the Batplane with one bullet if I remember right) and Jack Nicholson pretty much ran away with the movie. A summer blockbuster, the media was saturated with Batman everywhere. But there were plenty of good points to keep the movie going, not least of which was Burton's distinct visual style and an excellent Michael Keaton (Mr. Mom) who was controversial for being to old and comedic to handle Batman when cast. Once Keaton was done, he had become the definitive actor for the role. I must have seen this movie a thousand times. The Prince and Danny Elfman soundtrack had some good songs too. Holy Mass Marketing Batman!

Batman Returns (1992)

The success of Batman meant it was time for a franchise. Burton and Keaton return and bring Michelle Pfeiffer in as Catwoman and Danny Devito along as Penguin. My favorite of the Batman movies, Pfeiffer does an outstanding Catwoman and has some heat with Keaton. Devito also gives a great performance, one of the few times he doesn't give that one note little guy with a grouchy attitude schtick. Burton allows space for character development and even builds some sympathy up for Penguin. Plus the awesome Christopher Walken. I liked that Batman seemed to have more presence in his own movie this time. Very good popcorn flick even if it retreads most of the ideas from the prior movie. Holy Reruns Batman!

Batman Forever (1995)

Both Burton and Keaton must have gotten tired of Bats, because neither one of them returned for the next movie. With Burton's direction guiding the franchise, the filmmakers thought they needed someone with a strong visual style. Instead, they got Joel Schumaker (Flatliners). Just kidding, Schumaker has a very strong splashy colorful visual style it's just depth he lacks (his big contribution? Bat Nipples. Uh, yeah). Iceman Val Kilmer (Top Gun) is brought in to be Bruce Wayne and while he's no Keaton, Kilmer is more believable in the action sequences because of his comparative build and youth. Nicole Kidman is accompanied by scenery chewing performances from Jim Carrey as the Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face. This was so-so Batman, just good enough to carry the momentum from the prior two movies. I stopped caring at this point even though Seal had a great song on the soundtrack. I actually didnt see this until after I had watched Batman and Robin. Holy dullsville Batman!

Batman and Robin (1997)

Can something possibly be worse on an artistic level than the TV show? The answer was a resounding Yes! Batman and Robin brought George Clooney into the role so he could put a mask over his best known asset. Schumaker seemed to have more creative control because there was even less plot and Alicia Silverstone is clueless as Batgirl. At least Uma Thurman seems to know what's going on, she pours on the sultry yet slightly awkward sex appeal and steals everyone elses' thunder. The Governator collects his paycheck as Mr Freeze. Dreary and dull, Clooney's I-stare-in-your-eyes-a-long-time-because-I'm-deep acting tic is even funnier with a Bat mask. Makes him look cross eyed. Holy Crap Batman!

Batman Begins (2005)

After eight years, the decision to start up Batman again was made and a Director who specializes in dark cerebral themes was brought in (Christopher Nolan of Memento and Insomnia fame). Nolan immediately doles out a dilapidated Gotham City for Bruce Wayne to lurk around in and tells an engaging origin story that includes Rahs A Ghuls (sp?) and Scarecrow. Dark in tone with a focused Christian Bale in the lead role, the new Batman has more gravitas and brooding than the Burton films while returning to the edgier themes of those films and the Dark Knight comic. A strong reboot to the series and a lot of fun to watch. Holy American Psycho Batman!

As you can see, Batman went in and out of favor with me during the years. But the appeal of the original concept, a gadgety masked man with unlimited resources and a cool car has it's appeal. He'll never outrun his campy image, but at his best Batman makes self pitying schizophrenic psychotic millionaires with a serious hard rubber fetish fun.


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Sorry Mr. Mike, not much of a Bat- fan. I did see Batman I & II and that's about all the Batman I can Bat-take. I did like Keaton in the roll, tho. But I always did think he was underrated.

Arsenette said...

I hated the first Batman movie.. I felt that the last one (Batman Begins) was a HECK of a lot closer to the original dark theme of the story. Hubby owns the early comic books and even had a leatherbound edition of the compilation somewhere in his comic book drawer (with Woolverine 1-60 in protective sleeves so flat that I can't even turn the pages for fear they will shatter...).

That said.. I know it's going to be darker.. and I'm not sure I want to see it in the movie theater.. I'm not good with those type of movies LOL I'll wait for DVD.

As for nostalgia.. oh yeah.. BABLAZM!!!!! BLAMMMO!!! OOOOOOOOOOOFH.... oh yeah.. Gotta love it!

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

And my personal favorites... Sock! Pow!

Mr. Mike said...


Redskyy said...

A very nice look into Batman in his many live action incarnations. With my personal background coming more from his animated and comic book versions, it's a nice contrast and a great lead-in to The Dark Knight.

I have mixed feelings about Frank Miller's work, but I will respect what he did for the entire Batman franchise, bringing the character to a whole new level after a period of camp and light-heartedness that I'm sure was partially influenced by the 60s Batman series.

And as a side note, I actually own the metal poster of the Random Item pic you have on the sidebar. :)

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Redskyy! Thanks! I enjoyed your review on the new animated DVD and saw you have a review on the movie. I'm putting off reading reviews of The Dark Knight so I can go into the movie with as much of an open mind as possible (which is hard when every time I turn on the tv someone is saying if it wasn't an action film it would get an Oscar) but look forward to reading that one too.

And that's cool you have that Batman image on a metal poster.I like that version of the logo with his head above the word and the letters backed by the cape :)