Burton and Robin

Batman is an unusual character…literally.

He’s a superhero with no superpowers other than being a badass and rich, yet he is one the most popular…ever! Everyone knows who Batman is! He’s just as popular as Superman, Spider-man, or any of the X-men, yet power-wise, he doesn’t even compare. Honestly, put Batman up against Superman, and it’s almost guaranteed that Batman would end up as a red stain on a brick wall.

Part of the reason for this is because most of his success has come from outside the realm of comic books. It all started in 1966, with the Batman television series. You all remember this show, right? Adam West and Burt Ward star as Batman and Robin, two masked vigilantes who fight crazed lunatics in Gotham City. Not exactly high-minded.

The show was well known for its camp. Which I’m pretty sure means cheesiness and overall poor quality. The writing was ridiculous, formulaic and contrived; and that’s why so many people love it…yeah, I’m not sure either.

Eventually, the show was cancelled, but not before a motion picture came out of it with the same cast and the same campy style. I never saw it and I honestly have no desire to. But after the show, and motion picture, Batman’s popularity began to wane. It took 20 years before he rose to prominence again, when director Tim Burton showed the world a darker view of the Caped Crusader, in the 1989 film, simply titled, Batman.

Not a creative title I must say.

Michael Keaton stars as Bruce Wayne, a millionaire who makes a hobby out of dressing like a bat and beating up criminals in the streets of Gotham City. Not a bad hobby per say. At the beginning of the film, Batman is merely an urban legend, a local myth. Nothing more. But eventually some members of the supporting cast decide to try to prove his existence.

Opposite Keaton, Jack Nicholson plays Jack Napier, a mobster who is assigned by his boss to clear out the documents at a chemical company before the cops can prove a connection between the company and the mob. But the cops find out about his plan, and decide to raid the chemical plant. In the ensuing struggle, Napier falls into a vat of chemicals which cause some serious deformities. His hair turns green, his skin turns white, his lips turn bright red, and his facial muscles are stuck in a permanent smile. He becomes the Joker, a crazed criminal mastermind and the film’s main antagonist.

The whole movie is basically about the Joker, as he terrorizes the city. All we really see of Batman is his responses to the Joker’s attacks.

But overall, I loved this film. Keaton was a perfect Batman. He did something I really loved, he played Batman separately from Bruce Wayne, and both roles really felt like they belonged, if you get my meaning.

Bruce was a casual businessman who looked like someone you’d want to just hang out with. His first interaction with the other characters involved him casually talking with a few party guests, before offering one of them a grant. Nice guy.

In contrast, Batman looked like someone who would tear your fucking face off if you looked at him wrong…and he would.

The man certainly has some range, and Keaton carried these skills over to the next film: Batman Returns.

Here, we see Keaton reprising his role, as a circus-themed street gang is terrorizing Gotham City. The biggest difference between this film and the last is the fact that this time, Batman is working alongside the police; instead of last time, where he sort of worked apart from them, and in one case, they nearly arrested him.

This film stars three new characters worth mentioning. Danny DeVito is a dark re-imagining of the Penguin, as a deformed child who was raised by penguins; Michelle Pfeiffer takes up the role of Catwoman, as a secretary gone mad after her boss throws her out a window and she is brought back to life by a herd of cats biting her; and finally, Catwoman’s boss, Max Shreck, played by Christopher Walken, a new baddie who’s nothing more than a simple evil businessman trying to steal Gotham City’s power.

Returns took a darker tone, mostly in palette. It’s literally darker. But it’s also darker in the figurative sense, especially whenever the Penguin is on-screen.

The highlight of the film is Pfeiffer, who plays the crazed Catwoman expertly. Like Keaton, she plays the role as a dichotomy. Selina Kyle (her alter ego) is mild-mannered and a bit timid, especially before her near-death experience. But when she gets into costume, she becomes cunning, sneaky, bold, and badass! She’s not really a villain in the traditional sense. Instead, she’s more of an anti-hero. She teams up with Penguin, only because she wants to get Batman back for kicking her ass after she blew up a building. But her real goal is to get revenge on Shreck for killing her. So in the end, she wants to kill a bad guy, and allies herself with Batman to do it. Especially when she finds out his real identity, and that they’ve been dating for a while. This is a weird movie.

Anyway, the biggest dilemma I have about these films is: Which one is better? But really, I don’t think they compare. Quality-wise, they are both about the same. Very different stories, so comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges.

So after Burton finished these two fantastic films, he was all ready to continue the series with Batman Forever…or at least that’s what I wish happened. Instead he handed the reigns to Joel Schumacher, who went in a completely different thematic direction.

The problems with Batman Forever are many. First and foremost, the film doesn’t appear to know what it wants to be. At times it seems campy and foolish, at other times it seems dark and serious. I don’t mind either theme, I just want them to pick one.

Then there are the characters. One of my favourite Batman villains is Two-Face. The man who had half his face permanently scarred by, in this case, a jar of acid being held by a mob boss who was on trial. You see, this guy thought the best defence would be to throw acid right into the prosecutor’s face while he was on the stand, with the judge, jury, and all those in the gallery as witnesses. I assume he wasn’t the brightest mob boss in family. How was that supposed to work out!? How was he supposed to get away with that!? OH! Don’t tell me he wasn’t thinking and it was a crime of passion! You can’t tell me he just always keeps a jar of acid in his back pocket ready for that kind of situation! That shit was planned!

Where was I? Ah yes! Two-Face. Along with his deformity is some psychological after-effects. He’s supposed to have multiple-personality disorder. But in Batman Forever, where he’s played by Tommy Lee Jones, he doesn’t. All we get out of this Two-Face is an extremely manic personality, and him referring to himself using plural nouns while flipping a coin. That’s not multiple personalities, that’s just being a nut!

What bugs me the most about Two-Face though, is the inconsistency with the previous films. Batman Forever is supposed to be a sequel to Batman Returns, which is a sequel to the 1989 film, where Harvey Dent (Two-Face) is played by Billy Dee Williams. I would have loved to see that! Lando Calrissian as Two-Face!? That would have been awesome! Why did they recast the role? Best guess, they wanted to cast an actor with more mainstream appeal, which in this case I’m using as a euphemism for ‘white.’ That’s right, I’m accusing Joel Schumacher of racism! I went there!

Honestly, that might be a big part of it, and not for racist reasons. I mean, in order to properly portray Two-Face, there would need to be a large contrast between both sides of his face, so how would the make-up guys have done Williams’ scarred side? Though, if they wanted to, they probably could have done it. I could honestly see it working, and I’m pissed it didn’t happen. Instead we get Tommy Lee Jones, who makes me want to stick a fork in my ass!

Though he is great in other films.

Then there’s Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell. This character doesn’t bother me too much, except he seems to take the death of his entire family really well.

Next is a newcomer: Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian. Like Max Shreck before her, this is a completely original character, not seen in the original comics. The only problem with her is the fact that she adds very little to the plot and she has absolutely no personality. She’s just bland and boring. Her interactions with both Batman and Bruce Wayne are forced, and that’s a major problem, because she’s supposed to be his love interest.

Which brings me to the Bat himself, played in this film by Val Kilmer. What’s with the continual and unnecessary recastings!? Anyway, Kilmer doesn’t turn in a bad performance…as Batman…as Bruce Wayne, however, he’s got nothing going on. In fact he acts a lot like Batman, dead serious and without compromise. The lack of contrast bugs me a bit.

Finally, there’s the last villain, Jim Carrey as The Riddler. Not much to say here. I think Jim Carrey was the perfect choice to play the manic-as-shit Riddler, and this is coming from a man who’s not really a fan of Carrey.

Overall, the problem with Batman Forever is clear, shitty acting, shitty casting and inconsistent tone, most of which was thankfully fixed in the sequel: Batman & Robin.

I know what you’re gonna say, “What? Where are you going with this? Aren’t you going to explain why Batman & Robin sucks like everyone else?”

Well…no, because I don’t think it does. Batman & Robin isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but it’s also not the worst movie in history, despite what every critic and their dog might say.

In fact, I’ll come right out and say it: I like Batman & Robin. It’s fun and funny! Now, this could just be because of nostalgia. It was the first Batman film I ever saw, and one of the few films I saw in theatres as a child. I really liked it at the time, so me watching it again, my opinion might be tainted by those happier memories.

Then again, when I re-watched Rush Hour I thought it was a piece of shit.

First, I’d like to talk about the film’s overall tone. It’s a sharp contrast to the earlier Tim Burton films. Has a goofier and campier feel, like the TV show of the 60s. That’s not a bad thing. True it’s stupid and corny, but that’s what makes it so fun! That’s also why it’s better than Batman Forever. You see Batman Forever pretended to be dark and gritty like it’s predecessors…and it wasn’t. Batman & Robin pretends to be campy and colourful, and it is. Sincerity my friends!

But, while I really like this film, I must admit, it’s not without its flaws. Let’s go over them.

First, the characters. Mr. Freeze is the main villain, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and has some of the best scenes, and the best lines. Most of them are ice-puns, but my favourite line, which I’m sure many people in the theatre appreciated when the film was released, involved Freeze watching a home movie. When one of his henchmen uninterrupted him, Freeze shot him with his icegun and said, “I hate when people talk during the movie!” I hate that too! Hey Freeze, can I borrow that thing next time I hit the theatre?

But I have no problem with him. I think Schwarzenegger played him well. I like to assume all the Batman villains had their minds warped in some way, and Freeze is no exception. He’s a goofy villain, who’s transformation caused his mind to crack as well, and his performance fits the overall feel of the film.

Poison Ivy is also a pretty good villain. I doubt Uma Thurman has ever turned in a bad performance. It’s cheesy and over the top, and, as I said earlier, fits the movie.

Then there’s Chris O’Donnell making a return as Robin. My only complaint with him is the suit. I preferred the one at the end of Forever. It more closely matched the suit the original Robin wore, while still being updated for the 90s. The Robin suit in Batman & Robin looks more like Nightwing’s suit, not Robin’s.

But two specific characters really rustle my feathers: Batman, and Batgirl.

First is the Caped Crusader himself, played this time around by George Clooney. The big problem with Clooney’s performance is actually similar to the problems with Val Kilmer’s performance, only more so. Instead of Bruce Wayne acting very similar to Batman, Bruce Wayne acts exactly the same as Batman. Clooney doesn’t even give Batman a gravelly voice. I guess this goes back to the 1966 TV series, so I should let it slide. Though it still bugs me.

But that’s small potatoes. The real problem character is Batgirl, played by Alicia Silverstone. This role is punctuated primarily by bad acting and forced plot progression.

Batgirl originated in the 1966 series, and was introduced in the comics at around the same time. She was Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara, and kept her identity a secret from everyone, even Batman and Robin. This Batgirl is a bit different. She’s Alfred’s niece and she discovers Batman and Robin’s identity when she runs across a disk that contains all the necessary information for someone else to take over as Batman’s butler. She then goes straight to the Batcave and tells a simulation of her uncle that she wants to help Batman and Robin.

Wow, that came out of nowhere. Which is the primary problem I have with this role. How they seem to shoehorn it in. In fact, I have a feeling the first draft of this script included no traces of Batgirl, but some prick at the toy factory thought they needed another action figure to market, so they had them include a new Batgirl. Write in a few scenes with this new character, knock off for lunch. We don’t even get any scenes that establish her as a competent fighter.

In Batman Forever, before Robin became Robin, he managed to fight off a gang of DayGlo clowns, proving he at least had the potential to keep up with the Caped Crusader. But in Batman & Robin, the only scenes we get establishing Batgirl’s fighting cred, is one scene of her street racing, and another of her flipping Robin on his back. Also, I thought Alfred had no idea she was such a badass! Why would he prepare a Batsuit for her!?

Not to mention the fact that, her first question when she got into the Batcave should be: “Where’s Batman and Robin!?” Because as far as she knows, they just went out for sundaes.

Then there’s her suit, which lacks the trademark cowl that Batman and the original Batgirl wore! She does wear a cowl for a few minutes, but takes it off during the final battle to show off her long, sexy hair.

While we’re on the subject, she seems to be pretty competent with the Batrope for someone who just got it a few hours ago.

Also, she talks a bit too much.

Though I do like the fact that they included Batgirl. She’s still pretty hot.

There’s not much more to say about this film. I didn’t spot any real plot-holes. I mean Poison Ivy is a crazy environmental nut, with fucked up priorities, but that’s just a naive character, not a plot-hole. There’s the Bat credit card, with the big question being: How does he pay the bill each month? But I’ll just call that a gag-prop. If they didn’t include it, the joke they were working on wouldn’t have had that fantastically ridiculous crescendo.

So, what am I getting at? I like Batman & Robin. At least it knows what it wants to be. Cheesy and stupid, and you gotta respect that.

Now of course, like any company that wants to make money, Warner Bros. had plans to make a fifth Batman film, with Clooney, O’Donnell and Silverstone all reprising their roles. Unfortunately, Batman Triumphant was cancelled before it even got off the ground. You see, even though Batman & Robin was a box office hit, earning nearly $100 million, the studio did something which surprises me. They looked at the reviews, which were all very critical.

I know what you’re thinking: Why does that surprise me? Because if they did that today, let’s face it, Paramount would have given the Transformers sequels to anyone other than Michael Bay.

Anyway, because they looked at the reviews of the film, instead of just the box office numbers, they decided to cancel Batman Triumphant, even though they had a script all ready to go. This script would have shown the big screen debut of Scarecrow and Harley Quinn, as well as the return of Jack Nicholson as Batman’s hallucination of the Joker. Amazing ideas, to be sure, and the fact that it wasn’t made kinda pisses me off! I really would have liked to see where it would go.

But, that’s life. Sometimes you don’t always get what you want.

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3 responses to “Burton and Robin

  1. Honestly my favorite origin for two-face was batman: TAS. That was a kick ass show. It has such a dark atmosphere but never felt like it was too cartoony or too dark.

    Also, I didn’t like Batman and Robin. It felt TOO comic-bookish. At least Batman was partially satirical in how silly it was. (I had an example but I can’t find it on youtube but it gos like this: How’d you open that safe in 4 seconds batman? With my 4 second safe opener!) Also THE PUNS. THEY BURNNNNN

  2. Well that’s actually the true origin of Two-Face in the comics, read The Long Halloween, that’s how it happens, the only difference is that they actually explian you the reasons why this happened. And its also really interesting to see that Warner actually cancelled Batman Triumphant because of the horrible reviews Batman and Robin got, despite having made a lot of money. So 10 years ago big studio companies actually listened to reviews, wow! That will never happen nowadays.

    • I figured Two-Face’s origin was the same as it was in the comics…doesn’t make it any less stupid. Why acid!? Why not just kill him?

      Actually, from what I’ve heard, Dent was supposed to be in Returns, taking the role of what would eventually be rewritten as Max Shreck, and Shreck’s big death scene was actually going to be Two-Face’s origin. That would have been much better than: Mob boss throws acid in his face for no reason.

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