Jul 17 2012
Speaking of definitive, Batman: The Animated Series is THE definitive screen incarnation of the character, at least to me. During its run, the show basically covered Batman backwards and forwards in a way that makes it hard to imagine a more thorough treatment of the character coming any time soon. Its creators were thankfully allowed to release a theatrical movie in 1993, the awkwardly-titled Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Honestly, this may be the Batman movie that focuses the most on the character of Bruce Wayne. I know that Begins spends a lot of time on him, too, but Mask of the Phantasm really digs into Wayne’s feelings and motivations in a way that Nolan doesn’t. But character work was always one of the strong points of The Animated Series; it only makes sense that their theatrical feature would… um, feature… the same.
And the acting in this movie rivals any of its live-action kin, too. Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne is very real. He loves, mourns, falls, and gets back up with the best of them. Hamill’s Joker is famously brilliant. The two of them have a confrontation in an abandoned amusement park towards the end that — in its way — is nearly as strong as the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight.
(Actually, the Joker’s usage in this movie isn’t all that different from The Dark Knight, what with the mob turning to him in a moment of desperation and all.)
How can you NOT trust this guy?
The most moving scene shows Bruce Wayne apologizing to his dead parents for wanting to give up the Batman crusade. Why? He’s found love in his life, something he never expected. The scene in question shows him kneeling in front of their graves, pleading for understanding: “I didn’t count on being happy.” This is a new dilemma for the onscreen Bruce Wayne, and it’s surprising that a movie based on an animated kid’s show was the one to tackle it.
Is it possible that the animated Batman movie is the most mature take on the character to date?
Now I have to talk about the two turkeys of Batman’s screen history: Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. It’s a shame that Schumacher has absorbed the brunt of the blame for what happened to the Batman franchise in the nineties. From what I understand, there was a considerable amount of studio pressure to make the movies more “toyetic,” which… wait, “toyetic??” WHAT THE F– [rant deleted].
Oh yeah, from that great “iceboarding” scene.
Anyway, I don’t have much to say about the Schumacher Batman movies that hasn’t been said. Both are pretty bad; even the more-tolerated Batman Forever grates on me endlessly whenever I find myself watching bits and pieces of it for whatever reason.
Actually, I’ll take Batman and Robin over Forever any day. Batman and Robin is objectively worse, but it’s so atrociously bad that it becomes a more compelling viewing experience in its own right. Batman Forever is just boring. Again, this is just me, and I don’t look fondly on either one.
And, of course, today we’re nearing the end of Nolan’s reign. And what a reign it’s been. As Burton did sixteen years before him, Nolan found the spark of life in what appeared to be a dead franchise.
The Dark Knight was the one that got him all the press a few years ago, but Nolan hasn’t wasted a single second of his time with this series. A lot of people talk like Batman Begins was just a warm-up for The Dark Knight, but I’d contend that Begins is in some ways the better movie of the two. It’s a slow-burner, a less flashy but more specific take on the character and world than its chaotic successor.
An aside: I wish people would stop under-appreciating Bale in these movies. He’s has been perfect from start to finish, clearly charting Wayne’s journey from an impulsive teenager to a determined vigilante to a weary hero. I can’t imagine a better center for the movies.
(Also, his voice is awesome. If we’re going to nitpick the movies, I think it should start with the pointlessly destructive Tumbler chase at the two-thirds mark of Batman Begins. And maybe some of the thudding one-liners Nolan keeps throwing in at odd intervals.)
What I like most about Nolan’s Batman is the emphasis he places on ethics and determination. One of Begins’s most powerful moments is when Bruce plots to kill Joe Chill and nearly pulls it off. It’s not every movie that stars a young man willing to commit murder in cold blood, and its even fewer who will hold him accountable for it.
The Dark Knight — while still having a strong ethical subcurrent — makes Bruce Wayne come to terms with what fighting against corruption and evil will actually require of him. Batman in that movie is beaten, he’s tired, and he’s hoisting the weight of the city almost single-handedly. It’s a truly epic stance for one man to take, and Nolan has us believing it every step of the way. Without going into all the other stuff — the action, the Joker, the sheer relentlessness of the plot — that bit alone is worthy of admiration.
What will we see in The Dark Knight Rises?
Hopefully a TON of this guy.
It looks to be a pretty punishing movie. I’ve avoided almost all of the media coming out ahead of the movie, so I’ll be going in nearly blind. What I want to see is Batman pushed to his breaking point, taken as low as he can go, and coming out of it anyway.
That’s what the movies have done, anyway. They fall from time to time, but they keep picking themselves up.
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