So, what did I take away from watching all five of the movies? Simply that each had its own fans and style and no one is going to agree on anything. :)
It’s all good!
Batman, like the DCU, is varied and with many different styles.
The first Batman movie with Keaton had a dark style but leaned more toward the TV show in the depiction of the Joker as acted by Jack Nicholson. Not quite the same campy zaniness, as this Joker is shown burning a man to death, but certainly the insane Clown Prince that we know from modern comics.
Gotham itself was dark and using Gothic-style architecture, and the tone was grittier than later films in the first cycle (the second cycle beginning with Batman Begins). Director Tim Burton also added another oddity: the look of the city and newsroom was of another era, with old-fashioned clothes, hats, etc. The newsroom looked like something out of His Girl Friday (1940), yet computers were in use. I half-expected to hear typewriters clacking and someone yelling, “Copy boy!” Which would have been great, but was a little confusing as to what era this was supposed to be. I suppose one could say it harkened to the character’s 1939 origins while updating it for a 1989 audience.
Even the Manor was dark and gloomy and decidedly Gothic, which worked for the film, as the constant darkness and shadows would for the second film.
The second film, Batman Returns, was decidedly dark and Gothic, Gotham rarely seeing the sun. It was Burtonesque all the way, but leaving aside the dreadful script, the mood of the sets and Gotham in general was quite interesting. It could have been so much more if someone had reined in Burton’s taste for the macabre, which ordinarily isn’t a bad thing (see The Nightmare Before Christmas) but was squickful in a plot to kidnap babies and kill them en masse. Without some of the excesses, the story would have fit the look: surreal.
The next two films were a deliberate change to the more cartoonish style of the ‘60s TV show. The first full-length Batman movie of 1966 used the characters and settings from the TV series and was charming ‘60s camp. The movie and TV show worked, possibly because the tone was perfect for the chaotic times.
Batman Forever and Batman & Robin? Well, we all know how they turned out. I didn’t think they were the worst movies in the world (seen much worse!) but they were not the gems of the franchise, that’s for sure.
The colors were definitely in the camp camp, and Gotham was transformed from dark and brooding to outsized and cotton candy in color. Now, that’s not bad in itself, as campy Batman is fun, but it was a big change from the previous movies. And by the second of the two Schumacher films, the sound and noise and bright lights were overwhelming. Any good scenes in Batman & Robin tended to drown under the lights and sound like a runaway discotheque. The villains were even more over-the-top than in the TV series/movie, as if more was better. A pity that we couldn’t have gotten a fun, campy adventure as in the 1966 movie.
As for the Manor, it seemed to lack a personality in the Schumacher films, as if cobbled together to appear as if it was this grand house, but the Manor had more character in the Burton films.
Batman Begins took a more realistic approach, toning down villain bombast and showing us a city that was neither surreal (Burton) nor kitschy camp (Schumacher). The Narrows was a believable-looking slum in a big city, and Arkham looked like a lot of other asylums in this country: built in the 19th century and grim and forbidding. The city itself was a blend of old and new (the monorail standing out but somehow managing to fit in, if that makes sense). It was recognizable as Gotham, as opposed to, say, Metropolis with that city’s shining, futuristic architecture, fitting for the Man of Tomorrow.
Batman Begins gave us less-is-more, understated and restrained at times and then giving us grand gestures when it made the most impact (Batman’s first appearance in Gotham, “I’m Batman!” and the summoning of the bats to Arkham).
Even the Batcave had a nice touch of a waterfall to add to atmosphere. J
Unfortunately, while this Manor had strong character in its style and architecture (I loved the kitchen, its old-fashioned look suggesting those six generations of Waynes living there), for whatever reason TPTB chose to burn it down, something that still makes me scratch my head as to why. I suppose it was to show a full-circle theme, as Bruce had burned Ra’s home. I felt the constant belittling and tearing-down of Thomas by Ra’s underscored his jealousy of Thomas’ influence in his star pupil Bruce’s life, and jen_in_japan thought the burning was a further way to cut Bruce off from his family legacy.
Remember the fight on the train when Ra’s says, “Don’t be afraid, Bruce”, exactly what Thomas had said to Bruce while he lay dying? Talk about twisting the knife! But it was said with mockery, as if to dismiss Thomas’ compassion, which of course Ra’s is contemptuous of, just as he was contemptuous of Thomas’ behavior during the hold-up, blaming him for the murders by his ‘failure to act’.
I also liked the outdoor scenes, giving us a better idea of the scope and grandeur of the Manor and the grounds than in previous movies.
Each movie had its own tone, and each one has its fans and detractors. I hesitate to say that it’s crazy to like one movie or another, as it’s all a matter of taste. I love Batman Begins, detest Batman Returns, and am so-so on the others. I did enjoy the 1966 movie for its campy style, done with some restraint or perhaps better talent in pulling off over-the-top villains.
Since I am currently obsessed with Batman Begins, my next essay will touch on the music of the film and how it enhanced the viewing experience.
‘Til next time, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! ;)