Monday, February 20, 2017

The Best and Worst of Batman

Photo Credit: DC Comics

I’m not much of comic-book movie guy. I still haven’t seen any of the Avengers movies. Or Thor. Or Captain America. Or Suicide Squad. If I could take back the time I spent watching the two Hulk films or the last few Spiderman movies, I would. That said I’m a big fan of Batman. I always have been. A guy that constantly fights his darker impulses and wears a disguise while lashing out violently at the evil men that surround him and threaten those he cares about… yeah, I can relate. When I heard they were making a Lego version of my favorite super hero, I had my doubts but my wife and I took the kids to see The Lego Batman Movie this weekend. While it isn’t as funny as the film it spun off from, 2014’s The Lego Movie, it was definitely entertaining. In fact it was significantly better than several other Batman efforts including last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  So just how good is it? I’ve ranked all nine of the big budget Batman film entries below.

Batman & Robin (1997)
Director Joel Schumacher all but destroyed the franchise with this cheesy mess. George Clooney might have been a decent caped crusader in a different film, but pair him with the abysmal Chris O’Donnell as Robin, add a bunch of lame villains including Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, then fill it with vapid dialogue and you’ve got the worst Batman film ever made.

Batman Forever (1995)
Schumacher’s first outing is only slighter better than his second. Val Kilmer is horribly miscast as our hero, both Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones are way too over the top as the bad guys, and the plot is positively insipid even for a comic book movie.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The faults of this film seem as if they can be laid at the director’s feet as well. Ben Affleck is excellent as our new dark knight, but Zack Snyder gave us a long series of dreary, disturbing scenes without any real plot or continuity to pull them together into a coherent story. I was never sold on the concept in the first place, but this film feels more like a two-and-a-half hour trailer than an actual movie.

Batman Returns (1992)
This is where they get good. Michael Keaton was a great Batman and Michelle Pfeiffer was the perfect foil/love interest as Catwoman. I’m not as enamored with Danny DeVito’s Penguin as some and Christopher Walken was more silly than scary as the evil Max Shreck, but this film remains a solid entry in the series and a nice example of the dark humor director Tim Burton can bring to a good script.

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Largely a spoof of the live-action movies in the series, this animated entry hits its marks for being funny, kid-friendly, and yet still an action-packed adventure. Will Arnett gets the gravelly voice just right and Seth Grahame-Smith’s script provides plenty of in-jokes to keep the adult fans of the Batman as entertained as the children.

Batman (1989)
Tim Burton’s Batman debut proved that comic book movies didn’t have to just be for kids. Despite initial fan protest, Keaton nails the dual-personality of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicolson’s take on the Joker served as the modern-day benchmark for comic book villains until Heath Ledger came along almost 20 years later.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
A little too long and a little bit of a let-down after its classic predecessor, this film is still a great piece of entertainment. Christian Bale remains the best Batman of them all; Tom Hardy does a menacing Bane, and supporting players Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are great as always.

Batman Begins (2005)
Director Christopher Nolan resurrected Batman after Schumacher nearly destroyed him in the 90s. Gone were the cheesy jokes and nipple-suits. His caped crusader was dark and brooding. His violence wasn’t cartoonish; it was gritty and looked bruising. With a great script and excellent casting, Nolan set a new bar for comic book movies that’s only been surpassed by one film – his sequel.

The Dark Knight (2008)
This is perhaps the best comic book movie ever made. It’s my favorite of the genre by a long-shot. With the best director of the series, the best script of the series, the best Batman of the series, and far and away the best villain of the series, The Dark Knight stands alone. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is mesmerizing as his posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor will attest.

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