Batman (1989): A Flawed and Amazing Exploration of Revenge and Identity

Batman (1989)

   Tim Burton’s “Batman” was my introduction to DC and the Batman Universe outside of “Batman: The Animated Series.” It has also been years since I have watched this film so it was great coming to it with fresh eyes as even though it is a favorite film, it has a lot of glaring flaws that bring down my overall experience of the story. What those flaws are, I’ll get into deeper into the review. This is the film that really made Super Hero films a thing as it was the success of the Tim Burton films that made Hollywood more comfortable taking a chance with other Super Hero films, for that reason we really can thank the Tim Burton for helping jump start this whole entire film genre in the modern age…for his was the first big hit that showed films about comic book heroes could be profitable and franchises.

   “Batman” was directed by Tim Burton and written by Sam Haam and Warren Skaaren while being produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber.

     The story involves the investigation into the vigilante Batman (Michael Keaton) by reporters Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) while Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) plots a coup against his boss so he can own the gangs, not knowing he’s already been betrayed.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman’s fantastic score captures both the mythicness of Batman, the darkness of Gotham city and even the personal of the romance and relationships we see on the screen. This was my first introduction to his music and from here I fell in love with so much of his work.

The Cinematography – Roger Pratt does a great job capturing the Gothic feel of Gotham as well as the fear behind Batman and the Joker. There are great color contrasts in this film, from the Joker’s purple, white and green…to the black aesthetic of Batman, which really illustrates how they took the scars to their identity.

The World – Burton’s world of Batman is awesome! The city manages to have both a modern and old time feel to it (much like “Batman: The Animated Series”) which gives it an epic and comic book feel. This is a world that feels lived in and has characters outside of those we get to know, to explore.

Harvey Dent – Billy Dee Williams really should have had the chance to play Two-Face. The guy does an amazing job as the charismatic Harvey Dent whose hands are tied by the corruption around him and the power of the Joker and the mobs. The only con is I wish he could have got more screentime and had interactions with the Joker and Bruce Wayne.

Bob – Bob is the Joker’s second-in-command and is  lot of fun. He’s a man fully devoted to Joker and can even hold his own against Batman. Sadly when Batman takes Joker’s poison balloons Joker kills him in anger. Poor Bob, you were a great Dragon for the Joker.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this and I really like Michael Gough’s portrayal of him. He comes off as a grandfather figure who is trying to look out for Bruce as best he can, while still having a level of detachment because of his job. He’s great at connecting Bruce to his humanity though as he does all he can to make sure Vicki and Bruce are as successful relationship.

Jack Nicholsan Joker

Jack Napier / The Joker – Nicholson’s Joker is very much a crazy mob boss, which works. Nicholson owns roles like this and he clearly had a lot of fun. His design manages to be opening yet threatening and he destroys Batman’s plane, breaks into Bruce Wayne’s home and nearly escapes Bruce at the end too. His moment of stupid besides using the chemical planet he was turned into the Joker in was his obsession with Vicki Vale and the fact that after he shoots down Batman’s plane, he doesn’t finish the job and instead chooses to retreat. After seeing him stand his ground multiple times, the moment of arrogance/fear/stupidity? cost the character his life. Also he is all about revenge and hurts Batman, kills the boss and girlfriend who betrayed him and even messes up Gotham. In this way he is an effective villain.

Bruce Wayne / The Batman – Batman like the Joker is a character motivated by revenge and ego. Neither really knows how to be around people and Bruce does that by giving and collecting while Napier just kills and destroys. In this Batman we really see how the death of his parents motivate him as he goes to where the shooting happens to give them roses and it is when Vicki finds out that he is finally able to feel real. Michael Keaton is an amazing Bruce Wayne and really illustrates his humanity better than Bale and the others. He feels like a man uncomfortable in his skin and in constant emotional turmoil. For this reason I get why his Batman kills. He’s a Punisher type Batman and wants to do all he can to prevent more Batman’s from being born (in the first scene we meet him he saves a couple with a child mirroring what never happened to him). For this Batman the Joker and crime isn’t just a duty, it is personal and how his crazy and anger comes out.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is key to this and both Napier’s and Wayne’s trauma transforms them into different identities that elevate their obsessions…from Napier’s disregard for life and obsession with people and art…to Bruce’s desire to hurt criminals the way they hurt him. This is expressed in their identities of Joker and Batman who give them permission to be those people and not have to answer to anyone for what they do.

Okay/Cons – Commissioner Gordon – The guy is invisible and wasn’t needed in this at all. I got the feeling they only put him in this since he was in the comics, Billy Dee Williams Harvey Dent was much more of an influence and punch when I saw Gotham’s leaders than the Mayor and Gordon.

Vicki Vale – Vicki Vale like Knox is largely there be rescued though Vicki gets it worse as she spends a good portion of this film kidnapped by the Joker or screaming…which is a shame. She is a character who could have been more as she was a reporter from a war torn region, yet once a psycho came around (the Joker) she froze and needed Bruce Wayne or Batman to rescue her.

The Mob Boss – He talks quiet and I never saw him as a threat. He owned one corrupt cop and that guys men but we never see him do anything but fail to kill Jack Napier. More could have been done to establish this guy as a threat.

The Cons: Damsel in Distress – Vicki Vale is saved so many times in this, this is distracting and I’d honestly expect more from a reporter who came out of a war zone. This con gets more obvious with each viewing. Vicki Vale is a love interest and something to be competed over with the Joker, not a character.

Obvious Plan – Joker uses chemicals from the place he was dumped into and that his boss had been tamed up with before…how did Batman not figure this out until the very end? This was a major dropping of the ball on his part.

    This is a movie with problems, but it is still one of my favorites and it is thanks to this film that one of my favorite animated series exists (“Batman: The Animated Series”) as well as the rest of Bruce Timm’s work from “Superman: The Animated Series” to “Justice League” and the spinoffs). Batman in all his variations and as a popular character today, probably wouldn’t have existed without Burton and Keaton’s Batman and for what they are…they are fantastic. The humanity of the characters is captured as well as the psychosis one must have to be a vigilante, and this lends power to the script and fills in some of the plot holes or weak characters that happen. This is a favorite film of mine and Keaton will always be one of my favorite versions of Batman.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – A Good Batman Story Trapped in a Terrible Film

Batman v Superman

      “Batman v Superman” is a terrible film. There is a good film in here (“The Dark Knight Returns” and what could have more fully come with that) but all that is drowned out in the baggage of Lois and Clark and anything involving some of the worst villains I have seen on screen. Lex Luthor and Doomsday are absolutely terrible characters and I never felt threatened or interested in them due to how they were written and portrayed. This is a film that tried to do so much and ended up completely failing because of it.

     The film was directed by Zack Snyder and wrote by David Goyer with Chris Terrio. The film was produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven.

     The story starts with “Man of Steel” leaves off with Bruce Wayne witnessing the destruction of a Wayne Tower by Superman in the “Battle for Metropolis,” after saving people he is filled with hate towards Superman and thinks he is a threat that must be dealt with. Elsewhere Lex Luthor plots Superman’s destruction as well.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Visually, this film like “Man of Steel” is beautiful. The dark color pallet creates a visually stunning film that Larry Fong truly did a masterful job portraying. It looks like comics turned film, which is one of the few things this film has going in it’s favor.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer once again creates a beautiful score and with Junkie XL we actually get some pretty rocking pieces…for example Wonder Woman has a fantastic theme that really captures the power of her character.

Perry White – Fishburne is finally allowed to do something! I really enjoyed the small role he played in this as the cynical editor of “The Daily Planet” who knows he is in a dying industry so is making the most out of what is profitable.

Alfred – Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred. His wit is dry and sharp and you can tell that he’s given up on helping Bruce Wayne move on so simply does what he can to protect him and help him realize the bigger picture. He really is an awesome character and I wish we’d gotten more time with him.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Ben Affleck is a fantastic Batman and I can’t wait to see his solo outing. He potrays Batman who has lost all sense of grounding and has gone full Punisher so well…this is the Batman of “The Dark Returns.” He’s lost everything and is ready to do anything to protect his city and people, even if it means killing an unknown quantity like Superman. From his branding of criminals, to his shooting of minions…this Batman has lost all hope and really doesn’t reclaim any sense of self until the very end.

Against Authority and the Corruption of Power – A running theme is one of anti-authority and a critique of power, especially that which is absolute. We see the government hearings, Batman and Lex attempt to hold Superman’s power in check, while in the case of Lex and Batman they were already a corrupt power already out for themselves…in this way there really aren’t any heroes. No one is there to protect the innocent and reel unchecked power in, and that is the true tragedy of the film as this should have been what the film was about with a moral Superman and vigilante Batman.

Okay: Wonder Woman / Diane Prince – We don’t get to know Wonder Woman all that well except to learn she was around in World War 1 and is a Meta-human. She has an awesome theme song though and the scenes we have with her are alright. I’m interested in her solo film at least.

The Cons: Lois Lane – Lois continues to be a cipher and plot device and I couldn’t stand her character. She never brings up Jimmy Olsen or his death or asks Superman why he isn’t looking at the bigger picture beyond her, she’s part of the problem with Superman and that never gets called out. She is a core reason why he’s so selfish.

Martha Wayne – Martha is just kind of there and also enabling Superman’s lack of growth as she tells him that he owes humanity nothing (um, Earth is his adopted world so he owes it by being a part of it) and she like Lois just needs to be saved and focuses as a cliched plot device.

Superman / Clark Kent – This guy is a cipher who can only see Lois and random people on television tops. I thought he’d seek to write the wrongs of the battle of Metropolis but instead he spends all his time being selfish and not taking those who may die in his fights into account. He has no moral high ground over Batman and is just as bad. If Lex had actually been a well written character I would have been rooting for him to kill this guy.

Doomsday – Boring villain who looks like a giant Cave Troll and gets more powerful when he is hit with energy. Seriously, he only exists to kill Superman. He wasn’t even needed in this as Batman could have killed Superman and realized his mistake…instead we get a villain that is poorly rendered CGI and has zero character.

Let Luthor – Where Doomsday has zero character Lex lacks a consistent character. I didn’t know why he wanted to kill Superman as him being anti-alien and super hero made no sense when he created Doomsday, his plots were also pointless too as Batman was already trying to kill Superman. Jessie Eisenberg is just awful. Seriously, this guy annoyed me more than Sandman and Venom in “Spider-Man 3” and Doctor Doom in the “Fantastic Four” films. One theory is he is Lex Jr. and the real Lex Luthor is still in the wings, I hope so because this guy is an inconsistent joke who comes off as a really poor rendition of the Joker.

Lack of Focus – There are three films in this. The Batman film, which is good. The Justice League film which goes from okay to bad, and the Superman film which is just terrible. Either one of these films on their own could have been a favorite, or at least enjoyable yet flawed like “Man of Steel.” Instead it all feels rushed and I found myself face palming and sighing multiple times during this film. I didn’t care about the characters because we were never given time to, or in the case of Superman and his villains…they were so poorly written no amount of time could have fixed it.

The Ending – Superman dies but maybe isn’t dead, he sent Lois a ring proposing to her, Lex says a bigger bad is coming from beyond the stars and Wonder Woman and Batman work on forming the Justice League to honor Superman…None of this worked.

  This is a film that could have been great. Had we gotten a story that only involved “Batman v Superman” and was Snyder’s “Dark Knight Returns,” it would have been amazing! There would have been focus, there wouldn’t have been the baggage and clutter and the larger themes wouldn’t have become lost within this mess of a plot. I don’t recommend this film at all, Affleck is not reason enough to see this film, just wait until the stand alone “Batman” film is released. This film is loud, pointless and the good of Batman is not enough to offset the cluttered story, terrible villains and bland Superman. I seriously don’t recommend this film. Not worth your money or time. Zack Snyder should have just done his version of “The Dark Knight Returns” or done another solo Superman movie.

Final Score: 5 / 10 For the good Batman story in the mess.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2011) – A Film That Grew My Respect for the Flash

Justice League Flashpoint Paradox

    As far as “The New 52” stories go, I actually enjoyed “The Flashpoint Paradox.” I wouldn’t call it a favorite but the Flash is one of the most likeable characters in a world populated by “New 52” versions of characters, where there is only tragedy and isn’t hope. This one also takes the grittyness to a whole new level with another timeline, that for what it is worth is fun exploring and establishes the strengths of the Nations our heroes represent.

     “The Flashpoint Paradox” was directed by Jay Oliva and written by James Krieg. While being produced by James Tucker and Alan Burnett and based off of the story of the same name written by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert.

     The story involves the Justice League and the Flash fighting off the Flash’s Rogues as it is all a trap set by the Reverse-Flash to force the Flash to make a choice that throws everyone into another timeline where the Justice League no longer exists.

The Pros: The Opening Fight – The opening fight against the Flash’s rogues is awesome. Especially when the Justice League has to disarm the bombs that Reverse-Flash put on them so that they can save the city. This was really well done.

The Justice League Voice Actors – Michael B. Jordan as Cyborg is perfect, the best Batman (Kevin Conroy) is voicing him again!, Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan and Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman make a great team.

Atlantis vs. The Amazons – I like how this war as presented as we have the Amazons taking over Britain to have a new home while Atlantis continues to strike with super weapons to wipe them out. Each side clearly has their own strengths.

Alternate Cyborg – Cyborg is trying to form a League to hold off both forces and save humanity. He’s the only really good character in this as everyone else is being used or manipulated.

Alternate Superman – He’s a child who was experimented on and doesn’t have much intelligence or strength but comes through in the end and is able to see the good in people again. His arc, for what it was was handled really well.

Thomas Wayne – Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne went crazy when Bruce was shot as a child. Thomas Wayne kills and is more akin to the Punisher while Martha Wayne became the Joker. You see how haunted he is and he always has a drink in his hand. He is also the first to help the Flash get his powers back when there is even the chance he can bring back the old timeline and in turn his son Bruce. He even writers a letter for Bruce too.

The Flash – The Flash is both the protagonist and antagonist of this as it was prompting from Reverse-Flash that lead him to go back in time to save his mother, which created the timeline where he doesn’t have powers and the world is ending in war. His arc is learning to let go and in doing so realize the truth of his mother’s statement about how each person matters in ways we can’t understand.

Okay: Reverse-Flash – We get he’s a sociopath, but he doesn’t seem to have any motivation beyond that that we are shown. This was a missed opportunity on the part of the writers. He could have been so much more.

The Cons: Not Enough Time Before the Time Change – I wanted more time with Kevin Conroy’s Batman in the main timeline! We never get how he and Barry are friends before the change happens. The new timeline is sudden and causes a bit of a whiplash to the viewer.

Why the War Started – The reasons are never fully explained as to why the war started…it seems that Wonder Woman killed Aquaman’s wife after her and Aquaman had an affair but it is implied the wife struck first…and why are both sides targeting humanity? Humans are innocent in all of this.

This was a film that could have become a favorite if they’d taken more time establish motivations. I didn’t get Reverse-Flash’s motivations or fully understand the reasons for the war as Aquaman was cheating with Wonder Woman, he had his chance to be with her now after his wife tried to kill her. It all came from a twisted sense of honor. There were some things I liked but the plot holes were big enough to bring it down from great and keep it merely at good. If characters we are know are willing to kill civilians and use super weapons…their reasons for doing so need more explanation. I’d still recommend this though, this is a story that shows why the Flash has fans.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Justice League: War (2014) – Moments of Charm But “The New 52” Brooding Brings Down

Justice League War

      Outside of “Batman: Under the Red Hood” I haven’t really checked out much of the DC Animated Universe outside of the Bruce Timm Universe which is one of my favorite animated universes and is truly the best of the DC Universe outside of the Batman Nolanverse. This a film with “New 52” vibes as all the characters are amped up and they are in a universe that isn’t a fan of them…so from the beginning it is starting out dark, which has been the whole theme of the new DC run of “The New 52.” There are some good moments in this, but the grim dark really brings it down.

     The film was directed Jay Oliva and written by Heath Corson and produced by Sam Register, James Tucker and Alan Burnett and based off the comic series “Justice League: Origin” by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Scott Williams.

    The story involves the Justice League coming together as they face off against one another to face the greater threat of Darkseid and his alien invasion.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is beautiful and is one of the best parts of the film. The animation flows, tonally it keeps the dark and shadows of this new universe  and the action is great.

The Action – The action is also one of the best parts of this film. The fights between our heroes and against the alien invasion flow nicely and you feel the punches and destruction on the screen.

Green Lantern – Hal Jordan is likable in this as Batman is his mentor figure as he learns to rise to leadership among the rag tag group of outcasts. He’s a great character and I liked that he felt so weak around the others and kept trying to make up for it by jumping into battle. His dynamic with Batman is really what made him enjoyable though.

Batman – Batman is the cool head in this who knows who all of the Justice League are and helps Hal Jordan rise to the challenge and begin working with the others on the team. In this his lack of super-humanity is played up and he wins through dialogue most of the time. He’s also pretty respectful too. The one thing that felt off is when he says his name and motivations (I became Batman to avenge my murdered parents) to Hal, if I was Hal that wouldn’t make me feel any less comfortable with him being “Mr. Spooky.”

Okay/Pro: The Flash – The Flash is alright but it feels like a lot of his positive and snark were picked up by Hal Jordan instead, so he is never allowed to become the full person he is on a team in other versions of the character. I like that we see his life as a civilian though and the fact that Batman respects his work and vise versa.

Cyclops – Cyclops is the superhero who never chose to be one as it was in a fit of anger that he is warped by technology his father is studying. He is the closest thing to a main character the movie has but he still feels underdeveloped. Beyond impressing his father, he doesn’t really have a motivation.

The Cons: Shazam – Shazam is a little kid who turns into a superhero who idealizes Cyclops from when he was a football star and now that he’s a superhero. His character creeps on Wonder Woman and as a kid he’s just annoying. Seriously, I really hope this character doesn’t get his own film.

Darkseid – Darkseid is weak. The Justice League takes out his eyes and knocks him back into his portal. Most of his power is from his alien army and outside of that he’s pretty forgettable. Never felt like he’d be all that much of threat given he’d been handled better in Bruce Timm’s DCAU and the comics.

Wonder Woman – This film plays up Wonder Woman being a woman out of time (kind of a Thor like character) but never fully explores it. I felt like we never got to fully know her character and motivations beyond her feeling like she’s fighting among the gods. What doesn’t help is how most of the male superheroes objectify her.

Superman – The guys a creep who doesn’t care about controlling his power. Seriously, this version of him is a douchebro. He’s creepy and eyeing Wonder Woman, he’s beating on the other heroes because he can…I really hate this version of him. Seriously, give me the Bruce Timm one or one who still remembers who the ideal hero is.

Every Guy Wants to be with Wonder Woman – This is a Justice League Team with 6 men and 1 women, at least 5 of the men want to be with Wonder Woman…what the hell? You don’t even know her. This was really annoying and I hated how each was either trying to impress her or act like they owned her feelings (Superman, seriously screw that guy). It was uncomfortable and it was hard to believe they’d ever become a team with them already objectifying one of their Team Members during an alien invasion.

The Dialogue – The dialogue is really stilted and took me out of the film on more than one occasions. There are often awkward pauses and some things people say don’t feel natural at all.

This was a film that okay in the end. When it managed to give time to develop it’s heroes I felt like I could appreciate what it was trying to do. Sadly the eyeing of Wonder Woman (almost as if ownership over her (disgusting)) pulled me out of that though. In the end it felt like so many of them were competing and because of this all the civilians dying around them during the invasion were completely forgotten. This also happens when Superman fights Green Lantern and Batman…it’s like he’s out of “Man of Steel” as he cares nothing for the buildings he destroys when fighting people who are just trying to figure out what’s going on, just like him. In the end, it’s up to you if you want to see it. It’s hard to really recommend either way as there is so much to dislike even though some things were done alright.

Final Score: 7 / 10