Friday, August 3, 2012

Batman Marathon

All this Batman talk got me thinking about the older Batman movies. I'd seen Batman and Batman Returns many years ago as a kid, and sat down much later to watch Batman Forever at one point because I wanted to see The Riddler in movie form (although I wasn't very impressed). Then I realized, I'd never actually seen Batman & Robin. Of course, its reputation is generally terrible, and that probably has something to do with it, but I've always liked Mr. Freeze, and when I noticed (from the cover) that Poison Ivy and Batgirl both are in it, I figured, as a Batman fan, even if it's terrible, I have to watch it at least once. And having just marathoned the newer Dark Knight trilogy this past weekend, it seemed a perfect opportunity to go back and marathon the rest of the old Batman movies, too, in prep for seeing Batman & Robin. I'll record some of my thoughts about the movies as I go through them.

Batman (1989)

Batman hasn't aged very well. The movie has more of a fantasy feeling, especially in contrast to Nolan's Batman trilogy. The newer Batman saga seems as if it could be a more mature version of the story, made for adults who grew up with Tim Burton's Batman movies (and therefore, perfect for me). I remember really liking Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker, even to the point of being hesitant to like Heath Ledger's new Joker in The Dark Knight, but now going back again, my appreciation for Heath Ledger's Joker has grown so much that Jack Nicholson can't hold a candle to him. Jack's got a great laugh for the character, and he plays up the whimsical joke side well, which is probably more in tune with some other interpretations of the character, but honestly, I really like the more serious Joker of The Dark Knight (guess that's proof that I've grown up).

Casting for Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent in this movie reinforce the feelings I have about how good the casting for those characters is in Nolan's trilogy. I didn't even realize that was Gary Oldman (hello, Sirius Black) playing Gordon in the new Batman movies - he just looked so perfectly like Gordon, that I didn't even consider him as an actor! And Aaron Eckhart made an excellent Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight - handsome, charismatic, just the kind of public face you want to trust. Ironic that watching this old Batman movie just makes me think about how good the new Batman movies are, but that's how it goes.

Batman Returns (1992)

I like Batman Returns a lot better than Batman. I think I always have. It doesn't feel quite as dated, has a more interesting story line, and the Penguin, as envisioned here, is an excellent villain (who, unlike Jack Nicholson's slapstick Joker, possesses my kind of intelligent, cynical humor). Christopher Walken makes a fiendish Max Shreck, and Michelle Pfeiffer turns in a wonderful performance as the mentally unbalanced Catwoman. With her it goes without saying, but I'm surprised at just how blatantly sexual the innuendo in this movie is, between Catwoman's obvious wiles and the Penguin's shameless perversity. Actually, there's an interesting scene where Catwoman turns down the Penguin's sexual advances, and he tries to kill her out of spite, that to my academic mind just screams an excellent example of victim-blaming (if you look and act all sexy, like the Catwoman does, then any man you come across is gonna think he's entitled to your body, and god help you if you don't give it to him). Gosh, Catwoman - sexy, and a feminist! That warms my heart. <3

Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever definitely has a different feeling from the previous two films, what with Tim Burton passing off the directorial duty and Val Kilmer (somewhat odd choice) stepping into the role of Batman. But I'm not sure I can articulate what that difference is - it's less gothic, more cartoony, I guess. There are parts that are really not all that bad (damn, Nicole Kidman is hot!), but so much of it has me rolling my eyes. Like, there are way too many stupid jokes that just aren't funny. And villain-wise, Two Face hardly has any background at all, except via a short TV spot that you could almost miss, long after he's been introduced. It's like, you're just being handed these villains without having them built up for you - and while any Batman fan worth his salt will already know the story, it doesn't contribute to a very engrossing or moving tale.

The Riddler, on the other hand, gets a full build-up, but I don't know that I like his characterization here. He's way too manic, instead of being a cool, detached genius - I suppose Jim Carrey wasn't the best casting choice, in hindsight. And it's too bad, because The Riddler has always been one of my favorite Batman villains (in the old days, I liked him even better than The Joker, despite The Joker's greater popularity). That's probably partly why I was so eager to see Nolan tackle The Riddler in his Batman trilogy - I wanted to see justice done to the character - but, alas, it was not to be. Both of the villains in this movie laugh way too much, by the way - it's ridiculous. With The Joker, that's normal - he's supposed to laugh a lot. But that's not supposed to be the prototype for all Batman villains. It sounds like Two Face and The Riddler are perpetually high on laughing gas...

Batman & Robin (1997)

Batman & Robin is way too flashy. It's beginning to feel like just another flavor of the week film and not a movie with real substance. If Val Kilmer was an odd choice for Batman, George Clooney is stranger still (I can see him as a cool psychopath a la From Dusk Till Dawn, but here he's too calm and fatherly, there's no dark side, he's not intimidating as The Batman). Mr. Freeze is an awesome villain, though. Unfortunately, Arnold Schwarzenegger's relentless action hero quips and terrible puns really undermine and cheapen the tragic nature of his character. This movie plays a lot like a silly Blockbuster vehicle to deliver cheap laughs and unrealistic action scenes (and push product lines), and that's disappointing. Cloud surfing? Really? "Cowabunga?" Seriously?

I could say this about Batman Forever, also, but though Robin acts like a stereotypical teenage brat, he sure doesn't look like a teenager. I was really excited to see Poison Ivy in a Batman movie, but Uma Thurman oversells it to an embarrassing degree. Her antics would be charming in a 12 year old girl, but she's a grown professional. She doesn't have to act like a sexy woman, she could just be one. And I had high hopes for Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. I would have thought she'd be a perfect match for the role (she was totally sexy and sassy in those Aerosmith music videos), but, alas, her performance fell rather flat. It's no surprise at all that this movie sunk the Batman franchise (although it wouldn't have surprised me, either, if it had been a financial success, and spawned yet more crappy sequels - so too often goes public opinion/marketing directives); thank heavens for Christopher Nolan stepping in to reboot the series and begin anew with a much higher quality product. As for this stinker, I'll just leave you with four words: fluffy pink gorilla suit.

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