OT: Batman Thru the Years

hcazualcc's picture
November 2, 2012 at 10:19a

The development of the Batman series has played well into my life's progression.  As a grade schooler, I was brought up watching the Warner Bros tv series with Rino Romano...you know it well by the animated "KUNG POW" and "BAM" type phrases.  It was a rudimentary series, a poor man's Power Rangers with the weaponless fighting of mobs and ultra cool gadgety vehicles, and it was perfect for a kid.  Then there was the Tim Burton series featuring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson as Joker.  My taste for hero-villain action was not so sophisticated as a young teenager so these films were the bee's knees.  Michael Keaton's flamboyant curly hair, subtle lisp, and generally not-so-tough demeanor sticks out now, as well as the fact that the Joker could have just been a cartoon he had so much makeup on (thanks for showing us how it's done, Heath Ledger RIP).  It was still cool to dream up spacey villains like mister freeze played by none other than the governator (ahhneld).  To sum up Batman from the 80's thru to the 90's, it was like taking an 'action sledgehammer' of sorts to a 'wall of fans' and crossing your fingers they wouldn't dig into the subtleties of the plot and character development.

Now fast forward to 2005, the year my favorite movie was released 'Batman Begins.'  It was as if director Christopher Nolan parted the clouds to look upon us Batman fans and hand us down his masterpiece.  Just as I had grown to place importance on things like development, detail, and maturity..so did the Batman series.  Finally we have an understanding, or better yet one person's interpretation, of what Batman really is.  No - he's not wearing a cape because he up and decided to be the next superman...and no he didn't decide his life's work would be to live in a cave and drive an armored car around town (that's pretty cool either way though).  A darker, more realistic attempt at character development in 'Batman Begins' turned me into a believer whereas before I was the subject of entertainment.  That was kind of the apex of my Batman experience, because unfortunately I believe the subsequent films 'The Dark Knight' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' increasingly transition into action-emphasized plots and get away from the character development that laid the foundation for my peaked interest.  Nolan masterfully put together the Joker (as mentioned, played by Heath Ledger) for 'The Dark Knight' but in my opinion that was his only saving grace.  After that, we see a huuugely segmented movie that goes from 'Batman vs. Joker' quickly to 'Batman vs. Two-Face / Harvey Dent' in which both are ended and resolved, leaving us thinking "wait, what?"  Then we move on to 'The Dark Knight Rises' and though I appreciated the attempt to circle back on Ra's al Ghul, it was a spotty and incomplete attempt.  As I was watching Joseph Gordon Levitt climb into a waterfall as the newly minted robin, batman carrying a nuclear bomb off with a super nerdy helicoptor / hovercraft into the ocean, and bruce wayne's butler crying at bruce's fake funeral, I lost a lot of respect for what Christopher Nolan had done so far.  Batman can revert to its "KUNG POW" nature and I'll still watch and be entertained but I'm afraid I won't be a believer anymore!!    


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hodge's picture

Nice piece.
I have to say, I had absolutely zero faith in Batman Begins.  I was unaware of Chris Nolan at the time, and I'd only heard about the movie through hearsay.  Needless to say, when I was literally dragged to a showing, I left absolutely blown away.  Ironically, though, I thought that Batman Begins  was the least-realistic of all three movies: the whole "League of Shadows" ninja stuff, the "Narrows" part of Gotham, and even the "Insanity Gas" part was--though brilliantly executed--far and away Nolan's most comic-book-feeling film of the three.
I never really thought about character development in the subsequent two films, and I think you're on point here.  Though, it's worth mentioning that the first movie had to cover the most ground, character-wise, to show the evolution of Bruce Wayne into Batman.  I thought the two sequels did an exceptional job showing the realities of the double life Wayne leads, and the consequences of the dualitous nature of his real-life persona and crime-fighting alter-ego.  Very few movies have had the balls to delve into the humanity of such a character.  Even Watchmen, arguably the pinnacle of this psychological deconstruction, failed to reach Nolan's heights.
I do think that The Dark Knight Rises was a bit underwhelming when compared to its two predecessors, but I don't think the films are meant to be judged by their singular merits.  Like Star Wars (IV-VI, because the prequels sucked) and Lord of the Rings, these trilogies are meant to be viewed as a cohesive statement.  Sure, Batman Begins might have been the most successful in developing Bruce Wayne/Batman's character, but I think the three movies together provide an exceptional character study: an initially vengeance-driven man who leverages that anger to bettering his city who--while living a double-life as an outrageously visible celebrity playboy--loses what he loves most (Rachel Dawes), regains his faith in humanity (end of The Dark Knight), is willing to sacrifice himself to save the city he loves, and realizes that--in the end--his double-life is completely unsustainable, and for Gotham to truly be saved, he cannot exist--because it's his very presence that allows evil to continue to spring up to fight him.  By sacrificing Batman, he allowed the city to begin anew, while providing a check against future corruption in Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Robin character.
In my opinion, it's the mark that all superhero films should aim.  I don't think we've ever seen any better, nor do I think we ever will.

hcazualcc's picture

i'm blown away that you found batman begins to be the least realistic, just because of my entirely different initial opinion.  very ironic, but i understand your point.  the league of shadows, from my understanding, was the biggest stray from the 'batman path' in nolan's series.  if you buy into it, i think it adds a lot to the series, if not...well there's a lot of other things to enjoy.  
thanks for the well-thought response i enjoyed it.

hodge's picture

See, I thought that with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, the city of Gotham actually started to look like a city, and not just the over-elaborate Gothic setpieces that dominated the landscape during the Burton/Schumacher run.  The latter two films almost played out like crime dramas, and less like actual superhro films.  
Now, that's not to say that I didn't wholeheartedly enjoy Batman Begins.  I thought it had the strongest art direction of Nolan's trilogy, and though over-the-top, the League of Shadows was well executed.  I just felt like the other two films were much more realistic-feeling, which actually works in Nolan's timeline, since it's implied that Gotham really was cleaned up between the conclusion of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
Except for the whole "Bat-Sonar" bullshit in The Dark Knight, that was terribly corny and marred an otherwise exceptional film.

Dougger's picture

I see both your points of view. unfortunately the first movie i saw was the dark knight, and after seeing all three i regret not seeing batman begins first. I do think that they are easier to look at on the whole, and that the dark knight was the most compelling out of the three, simply because his battle wasn't only with himself but those other two evil characters (albeit a little scatterbrained yes). and the psychology of the joker made it so much more riveting; how can you get through to somebody who has absolutely nothing to lose, and just want to watch the world burn? deep stuff.

I like football

UrbanWoodrowEarlTressel's picture

I like that hat in your profile pic, HCAZUALCC

Bucksfan's picture

Sorry, dude...have to "football-up" your thread:

GoBucks713's picture

That trade of the first pick in the draft for naming rights was a genious move by Taco. LONG LIVE NECKFLIX!!

-The Aristocrats!

Alhan's picture

"Tickle me...and rub my belly"

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

Bucksfan's picture

Did you guys check your MyFace page?  I posted that Ohio State has a game today.

Earle's picture

I always found the Batman from the TV series to be a little effeminate.  Never more so than now.  That GIF is hilarious.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

ODEEZ330's picture

I'm a huge batman fan have read the comics grew up on batman the annimated series which I still love today. I love the dark knight trilogy I agree with Hodge. Best/favorite of my lifetime. Batman is ny favorite dc hero. There is a new animated dvd out called return of the dark knight thats very dark n gritty n comes highly recommended by me if your interested

stark county football

Alhan's picture

When you were talking about the series you watch as a kid I thought you meant the one from the 60s with Adam West (because of the BAM and POW comments).  That's really what I started on as a kid, though they were reruns on Nick at Nite.
From there it was the Michael Keaton Batman which is still an awesome movie.  The other 3 "campy" movies aren't worth watching in my opinion, though I have seen them all at least once.
I have a few Batman graphic novels by Frank Miller, but never really got into any of the animated series.  Fun Fact: more often than not, the Joker is voiced by none other than Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).  This is also the case in the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games, which are AMAZING.
I agree, the Christopher Nolan movies are the best of the bunch, and I am sad that they are now done.  I hope whoever picks up the brand next pays it the respect it deserves.

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

UrbanWoodrowEarlTressel's picture

I always thought Michael Keeton was the best BatMan

UrbanWoodrowEarlTressel's picture

Julie Newmar as Catwoman ... Hiyoooooo!

Bucks43201's picture

wow - she's hot
great pics

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

sarasotabcg's picture

Batman's portrayal, and in reality the portrayal of all comic book superheros, are a reflection of the times in which they are written.

hcazualcc's picture

interesting...all depends on your perspective i guess, life's not so bad is it? :P

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

I, a self proclaimed comic book super fan, could wax philosophical all day about The World's Greatest Detective.  While I favor Marvel, Batman has always been my favorite DC character not considering the Vertigo stuff.  The Paul Dini animated series is still one of the best cartoons ever.  I loved the recent trilogy and Rises surpassed all expectations that were set once I saw who the cast was.  Although Bane was awesome in Bronson.  
I do think better superhero movies can be made, and there is unlimited material.  Invincible, written by the guy who writes Walking Dead, would be a great example.  Top Ten, written by the guy who wrote Watchmen would be amazing if done right.  Preacher, while not in the superhero genre, would be great.  I could go on forever, but I hope there is never an end to adapting comics to film.  While I will always prefer the comic, or book to the movie, it's fun to see it on the big screen.