Batman: A retrospective look at a masterpiece – By Cameron Heffernan

With the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, Cameron, a true Batman fan-man, looks back at a series of films that brought respectability to comic movies and opened the world to a Batman film some thought not possible, a good one.

In my life, I’ve seen two Jokers, Bat-nipples, Two Banes, A horrendous Poison Ivy, A fairly well acted Penguin, two Cat-women, a future Governor as Mr. Feeze, and four different actors play the  Batman. Growing up, I loved the brooding and dark worlds of  Batman (1989) and Batman Returns, and as I got older I even loved the over-the-top escapades in Batman Forever,  and Batman and Robin. It was when at the age of 14 that I became as cynical as any High School-er who has an affinity for writing and an ax-to-grind for the lesser entertainment I enjoyed as a child.; those movies became cannon fodder for my adolescent jokes on cinema. When I first heard of Batman Begins I went in with hesitation, when it ended, I was taken aback that there could be a comic book movie which could be taken seriously; not as something just pandering to a child’s ideals of a hero, but asking the question of who the hero really is.

In 1989 the release of the first Batman by Tim Burton was a success, grossing over $400 million worldwide, from there spawned the sequel Batman Returns (1992) which by comparison did far less than it’s predecessor, only grossing $266 million worldwide. Three years later The Batman franchise needed a re-fresher, hand-picked by Burton, Joel Schumacher released Batman Forever(1995), in spirit a sequel to ‘Returns’, but in reality, had none of the darker and more macabre undertones of  Burton’s first two films.

The first Burton film is satisfactory at best. It appeases the idea of Batman, and allows for a great performance of the Joker by Jack Nicholson. It has all the dark and brooding “woe is me scenes” you would come to expect from a Burton film these days. Michael Keaton as Batman is, somewhat, believable and Prince providing most of the music doesn’t hurt its case either. ‘Returns’ on the other hand is in itself a decent film, but in no way should it have anything to do with any sort of Batman lore. In it, Batman at one point straps a bomb to a overweight-Jester’s chest then tosses his ass down a sewer pipe. Now, in Batman lore, “The Dark Knight” isn’t to keen on killing people, he’s always been more of a break every bone in your body kind of guy, so the idea of Batman resorting to defusing a bomb by letting it blow up in some fat guys chest at the bottom of a sewer is a little out there, you know what I’m saying.

Side note: I was totally cool with this scene when I was a kid. I didn’t care about the fact that Batman doesn’t use guns, or kill people because I just saw it as Batman had to do what he had to do. In all actuality he could have knocked out the fat-man, and tossed the bomb down the sewer, sans fat-man. 

After those two films, Burton brought in Schumacher, fresh off “The Client”, one of those BS John Grisham court room thrillers, in hopes that he could bring success to the whole Batman scene. It seems that Schumacher didn’t even glance at a Batman comic, or anything other than the ’60s television show. The entirety of the two films Schumacher made just bleed campy-ness. Out of those two Batman movies Schumacher made – ‘Forever in ’95 and “Batman and Robin” in ’97 – “Batman and Robin” is the crown jewel of why, sometimes, no matter how cool or popular a character, and no matter how many “A-list” actors you cram into one film, you can still screw it up. ‘B&R’ treats anything and everything about the character of Batman like it’s a joke, even to the point where there’s shameless promotion for Mastercard. On top of that, Shumacher decides to put the one character to who has physically gotten the better of Batman, so much to the point of crippling him, as this bumbling buffoon who is one-strike-to-the-head-away from being mentally handicapped. Bane was the character that broke the Bat, that was mentally and physically, more superior than Batman and Schumacher reduced him to a Muscle-bound-dominatrix.

The Batman franchise sat in ruins for a solid eight years. That was until Nolan released “Begins” in 2005.

Nolan never set out to make a trilogy, as any good auteur, they envision things with the character and progress the story line accordingly. Nolan said in various interviews when the ‘Begins’ came out, that he’d hadn’t thought about sequels and would like to see the character progress on its own first.

In a new book released subsequently with “The Dark Knight Rises”, entitled, “The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy” Nolan even remarks about not delving to deep into the future of the newly penned masterpiece.

“People ask if we’d always planned a trilogy. This is like being asked whether you had planned on growing up, getting married, having kids. The answer is complicated,” Said Nolan. “When David and I first started cracking open Bruce’s story, we flirted with what might come after, then backed away, not wanting to look too deep into the future.”

Thankfully, Nolan decided to do “The Dark Knight” in 2008, and with that came one of the most iconic movies of our era. In ‘Knight’ there is yet another portrayal of the Joker, only this time with less hi-jinks, and more sociopathic tendencies.  Nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as the Joker, Heath Ledger, brought a certain instability to the legendary character that few had seen before; the character put such a burden on Ledger that he was losing sleep which pushed him to the possible overdose that took his life. His death prior to the film only added to the mystique that this already iconic performance had. Ledger’s performance and the movie itself spawned many one liners, things we would hear ad nauseam in our daily lives like, “wanna see a magic trick,” and “wanna know how I got these scar,s” leading to later in the year when, on Halloween, everyone and their mother dressed as Ledger’s Joker. To this date the movie has grossed over one-billion dollars worldwide, and It’s everlasting impact on superhero films will forever be felt.

This brings us to the final installment of Nolan’s trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises”.

So as to not spoil anything for those who may be reading this and haven’t seen the film, I won’t give away too much in terms of plot and character development. I will however say that, Nolan crafted a perfect trilogy. In terms of comparing it to the greats like, “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones”, “The Lord of The Rings”, “Evil Dead” (serious, even though one and two are literally the same film, all three are solid horror/comedy.), and “The Godfather” it stands apart as the best. Nolan began with one goal in mind and you can tell by the time the credits roll that he crafted it like a perfectly aged fine wine. With things like “Star Wars” you finish with the heroes partying with little bears who use the Stormtrooper skulls as drums, hardly a fitting end to an iconic trilogy. With ‘Rises’ every little plot and sub-plot that Nolan has been building since the beginning comes together in sweet harmonious fashion, even the main antagonist, Bane, who previously came across as a ridiculous and obscene villain, is portrayed as a painless, precise , and persistent machine of death.

Nolan took what could be viewed as an over-the-top and pragmatic character in Batman and applied diligence and realism to it.No matter what the case any critic would like to make, it is most likely invalid, Nolan took a franchise and beloved character who was almost left for dead in a shallow grave in Hollywood and transformed it into a viable award contender. Nolan took something that had very slim meaning aside from day-glo gangs, Bat-nipples and a way to sell toys and transformed it into a something that poses introspective questions about the ideas of heroism and symbolism. To this I say thank you Christopher Nolan and here’s to hoping that any reboots that come, can in some shred of a sense live up to this trifecta of movie superiority.

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