Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Batman & Robin is terrible, and here’s why you should watch it immediately

By Kwame Opam of The Verge

Does It Hold Up is a chance to re-experience childhood favorites of books, movies, TV shows, video games, and other cultural phenomenon decades later. Have they gotten better like a fine wine, or are we drinking cork?

BnRDid you know that Batman & Robin is one of the worst movies ever made? That it killed Batman until Christopher Nolan resurrected it? Well, I have a confession to make: I love it. Sincerely. I recognize that I’m rare here — it took Netflix just one month to realize it made a grave error in adding the film to its streaming movies stable. But almost 20 years after it very nearly killed all love for superhero movies at the box office, I enjoy (almost) every minute of it. Not because it’s a good movie. It isn’t. I’m not a crazy person. It’s because it’s fun in a way that some of the best, most memorable comic book movies are, and it’s a reminder of how truly silly this entire genre can be.

Let me be clear, lest you decide to cast me into the pit of fire made for woefully misplaced fandom. Batman & Robin is terrible. It’s the Titanic of superhero films (the actual ship, guys, not the James Cameron movie); the movie was born of pure Hollywood hubris for the sake of selling toys, and watching it is watching a major franchise sunk by bad design and even worse puns. The casting, writing, costuming, and even set design were all so bad as to be utterly incoherent. It demonstrates a piss poor understanding of what makes Batman, well, Batman, and it wrecks what little of the source material it actually gets right. Not to mention, yes, the bat nipples. Sure, most of the film’s stars managed to escape what might have been a career-ending vacuum created by the film, but poor Alicia Silverstone’s star fell the furthest from her Clueless heyday. (Meanwhile, the world may never know what happened to Coolio after his decision to marshall Gotham City’s neon motorcycle races.) It takes a singular piece of dogshit cinema for a director to publicly apologize for it — Sam Raimi recently did so for another classic mess of a modern superhero film, Spider-Man 3 — and director Joel Schumacher is still apologizing to this day. It’s that bad.

Tragic Trio

All this being said, there’s a kind of sick thrill in watching a movie this bad. For me, Batman & Robin rests comfortably in the space where legendary bad films can be adored for how irretrievably awful they are, alongside the likes of Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Room. This is a special class of bad movie — the kind that, with time, lets you laugh at its mistakes like a drunk old friend. It lets you look back and appreciate how far you’ve come, and even wish you could go back and see it all for the first time again. And after a while, even the egregious has its charms.

There’s some actual, honest-to-god good to this movie, trapped under all Ivy versus the Duothat flash and bad acting. For one, Uma Thurman is perfect as Poison Ivy. Not because she does justice to the comics character, because that’s a mixed bag. Rather, in a movie that’s so committed to Schumacher’s over-the-top campy style, she vamps it up flawlessly. She commits, and she even looks like she’s having some real fun in the role, which is a far cry from George Clooney’s bored-and-boring take on Batman. For another — and you have to dig a bit here, so bear with Pamela and Bruceme — there are kernels of a good, well-paced story here. There are heartfelt and genuinely affecting meditations on the nature of family, partnership, and life and death in this film, hinting that, had things not been so mucked up by Warner Bros’ need to make this a family picture, Batman & Robin might have been something else entirely. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (who wrote A Beautiful Mind, by the way, so he’s not a total hack despite this god-awful script) even had the good sense to lift Mr. Freeze’s back story from Batman: the Animated Series, which comes close to Greek tragedy in its pathos.

But most importantly, it took this movie for studios to start thinking about what could make a superhero movie actually work. Batman & Robin is a watershed moment because, while it did decently at the box office, it was a failure of legendary proportions among critics and fans. All the industry at large had to do after this cautionary outing was do better — and it did. The evidence is obvious enough in how Marvel and DC now hold the box office in the palm of their hands, but today’s directors, who probably wouldn’t touch his style with a 10-foot pole, are actually just much better at what Schumacher already did.

Promo artworkI’m not talking about what makes a superhero story work regardless of medium. I’m talking about how the movies themselves are presented on the screen. Little by little, comic book movie directors were forced into becoming better filmmakers, and we’ve seen the fruits of that over the past decade, all tinged with lessons learned from Joel Schumacher’s colossal failure. The Dark Knight trilogy is the most obvious because it ran from the previous franchise as fast as it could for the sake of gritty realism, but the Spider-Man franchise reveled in its own camp sensibilities and it worked. Man of Steel didn’t shy away from overwrought action cheesiness and anatomically-correct costumes, and it mostly worked. And while DC and Warner Bros. have allegedly enacted a “No Jokes” policy for their movies going forward (which means no puns in Batman v. Superman), Marvel has been having fun for years, most evident in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy, which was every bit a comedy as it was an action movie.

Rogues gallery artworkWhy does Batman & Robin hold up? Because at this point you could (and should) watch the movie as an unwitting parody of the good superhero movies that came after it. It’s much easier to laugh at what’s wrong when you think about what’s right buried beneath the surface. As comics continue to dominate pop culture, so much of what we love owes this movie for helping studios think of superhero movies as films instead of just toy commercials. And you know what? Sometimes bad jokes are still funny. With all this in mind, it’s a shame that its run on Netflix was so brief. Oh well. We can only hope it’s not gone forever.

I was going to suggest renting it online, but… I’m not a monster. Wait for it to play on TNT or something.


Hmmm.  This is a tough one.

On one hand, this film was terrible in the scheme of the Bat-Universe and the nail in the coffin for the original Bat-series created by Tim Burton while also bringing about the spiral of Joel Schumacher’s career, which before taking the helm of the two Bat-sequels for Warner Bros., was doing quite well. To his credit while he burns in Bat-Hell, the regime at Warner’s demanded a light family fare in response to Burton’s previous efforts… in effect a living comic book.  It probably would have been easier for them to reboot under an Adam West like guise or seriously consider more cinematic animated tales than continue with the original Keaton/Burton story-line in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

Batman and RobinOn the other hand,  this film also opened the door for Marvel to slowly take over the comic book cinematic universe.  Blade brought us some grit for a Marvel Knights tale, X-Men took us closer to mainstream and finally the aforementioned Spider-Man blew the doors off.

This film also forced Warner Bros. to look for a non tent-pole director to helm a reboot for the Bat-Universe and gave us Christopher Nolan, who demanded non-interference from the Warner’s regime and gave us an actual/factual comic book Batman in return.

If only Bryan Singer thought of that for Superman Returns.

Is Batman & Robin watchable in the grand scheme of things?  Sure, just don’t go in with any expectations.  It is what is, an Adam West-esque Bat-tale that will kill some time.

5 of the Greatest Batman Animated Films

From: Wall Street Cheat Sheet

There’s little to no question that the most recent Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan has become the new standard to which all future titles will be compared. They acted as the perfect trifecta achieving financial success (Boxofficemojo.com lists combined domestic profits of the trilogy well over one billion dollars), critical success (the lowest metascore from Metacritic.com was a 70), and popular success, with an audience approval rating of 94% on rottentomatoes.com for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And while these films stand as the flagships of the franchise, they’re not the only full-length features that deserve praise.

 

The feature-length animated films of the Caped Crusader deserve — and have received — equal acclaim. It may be easy to dismiss these as “kids’ stuff,” but it would be doing them a huge disservice as they share many of the great qualities found in the Nolan films; brilliant visuals, immersive environments, and rich storytelling pedigree that can trace its roots back to some of the most famous Batman comics ever penned and inked. The sheer number of Batman animated features made choosing where to start a daunting task to undertake. So to make things easier, here are five of what are, arguably, the greatest Batman animated movies of all time.

5. Batman: Year One

Year OneIt may seem cliche to start with the beginning but cliches exist for a reason. Batman: Year One chronicles the first year Bruce Wayne transforms into the Batman and it does it in a very straightforward way, mirroring the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller. Miller is known for his very dark take on comics, with Sin City and 300 being terrific examples. Batman: Year One even helped inspire Christopher Nolan’s well-received dark take on the Batman franchise.

The similarities between Nolan’s Batman Begins and Miller’s Batman: Year One are numerous but that doesn’t mean this animated film is lacking in new content that fans of Nolan’s Batman are not already familiar with. Year One delves further into Miller’s classic comic by accurately following the original content rather than just drawing inspiration from it. Viewers are given the treat of seeing the comic come to life in the most precise portrayal possible.

 

The idea of Bruce Wayne being new to the crime fighting game is driven home time and time again as Bruce chastises himself for being an amateur — a lucky amateur. On top of getting this unique view of a less confident hero, audiences also get to enjoy the rise of a detective who one day becomes the staple and reliable, Commissioner Gordon, wonderfully voiced by Bryan Cranston. The film is just as much about the growth of Bruce Wayne as it is James Gordon, making it a must-see for anyone interested in the history of the Dark Knight and the honorable Commissioner. Not to mention that the action sequences are all top-notch.

~Personally, I would have moved this one up the list a bit.  It follows the Comic as closely as stated above and that wins points in a DC Animated Universe that often ‘borrows’ from the stories, but doesn’t duplicate them in full.~

4. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Return of the JokerIn the spirit of anachronism, next up on the list is Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, a full-length feature inspired by the animated series depicting the future generation of crime fighting. If the previous item focused on Batman’s first day on the job, this one depicts his retirement. Making the decision that he is too old to safely and productively patrol the streets of Gotham, Bruce Wayne decides to end his career as Batman. Twenty years pass until various chance situations result in 17-year-old Terry McGinnis taking up the mantle of Batman with an ancient Bruce Wayne as his mentor.

 

By focusing on Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, this film was able to delve into the popular history of the Batman franchise while telling a new story and maintaining its unique universe all at the same time. It was the best of both worlds; everything that was right with the Batman Beyond series combined with the staple characters and fascinating events of the Batman universe that fans know and love. Bruce Wayne being voiced by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voicing the Joker was practically all the movie needed to scratch that nostalgia itch that kept so many people from enjoying the Batman Beyond TV series.

~This would have moved up my list as well for the simple reason of it’s gritty story telling.  The fall-out of the Joker’s misdeeds is much more realistic as told here. If you have the opportunity, view the ‘uncut’ version as it depicts a disturbing torture scene not often seen in WB animation.~

3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Mask of the PhantasmIf there should be considered one true voice of Batman, it should be Kevin Conroy, the man who has voiced Batman since 1992 with the debut of Batman: The Animated Series. And Mask of the Phantasm marks Conroy’s first of what would be many times voicing Batman in a feature-length movie.

 

This film was commissioned after the very first season of Batman: The Animated Series, and it really shows; it drips in the style and soul that made the television series so wonderful. Gotham is amazing, portrayed with the signature art deco style from the animated series that helped distance itself from the campy Adam West Batman of the 1960s. That distance further increases with Conroy’s portrayal of Batman; a perfect blend of foreboding and heroic. The Batman seen in Mask of the Phantasm is a darker version that today’s fans are probably used to, but he is still the voice of moral guidance throughout the story, which makes him the hero every kid could look up to.

 

It’s easy to assume that kids were the target audience of this film, but there are plenty of mature themes that run throughout. Writers did something that had yet to be done in the television show by delving into the romantic life of Bruce Wayne. What’s even better is that this is done in a productive way that ties into Batman’s own origin story. If the added romance wasn’t enough, the film also contains multiple flashbacks that are reminiscent of Citizen Kane. It has since been revealed in Les Daniels’ Batman: The Complete History, that this was intentional.

 

There’s no denying that an entire generation, when asked about Batman, will hear Kevin Conroy’s voice, see the art deco Gotham skyline dotted with dirigibles, and feel the hair stand up on the back of their necks at the thought of Mark Hamill’s Joker. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is not only a terrific movie, but acts as a testament to one of the most memorable eras of the Batman mythos.

~Having seen this one in the theatre on it’s initial release, it easily would have vied for the Number One or Two position on the list.  It set a new standard for the Animated Series, which already had raised the bar all on it’s own.~ 

2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 and Part 2

TDKRThe writers of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm went out of their way to take a cartoon aimed at children and added a story line and themes that could be appreciated by adults as well. The creators of The Dark Knight Returns may not have ever even heard of children before. Based on Frank Miller’s 1986 comic book, the animated adaption is dark, violent, and incredibly mature. Though not really over-the-top in terms of what our society is used to violence-wise (it’s given a PG-13 rating by the MPAA), the film and depiction of Batman is definitely the most aggressive on this list.

 

Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment stay very true to Frank Miller’s comic in this animated movie adaption both in terms of plot and overarching themes. Anyone who was pulled in by Christopher Nolan’s darker take on the Batman universe will respond positively to this portrayal of the Dark Knight as well. Miller practically pioneered the dark tone for Batman, so much so that he’s been quoted as saying in an interview with Playboy that “[Nolan] seems to think he owns the title Dark Knight. [laughs] He’s about 20 years too late for that. It’s been used.”

 

Being “dark” isn’t the only draw Batman: The Dark Knight Returns has. The film tells tales that are relatively unknown to most movie-going audiences. Imagine that instead of taking on mentee Terry McGennis (mentioned before in Batman Beyond), Bruce decided to take things into his own hands and come out of retirement. Cleaning up a newly plagued Gotham, viewers are able to see what Batman has to do in order to make up for his age and resulting ailments. These new problems require new and sometimes unsettling solutions that fans aren’t used to seeing, but should find interesting all the same.

 

On top of the stories being new to people, they’re also huge in scale. There is a great sense of finality for Bruce and his relationships with many long-standing characters and super villains from the Batman universe. This animated feature even portrays one of Batman’s greatest challenges of all; going head-to-head with Superman, a clash that looks to have heavily influenced the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

 

The combination of new hurdles, dark tone, and climactic battles makes Batman: The Dark Knight Returns a must-see for anyone wanting to see Batman really let loose and do what needs to be done.

~I agree, this one, like Miller’s ‘Year One’, stays fairly true to the source material.  I may have dropped it down a peg out of the top two, but definitely on the list.~

1. Batman: Under the Red Hood

Under The Red HoodAll of the films on this list got here because they are loved by both fans and critics. They’re held in such regard for a multitude of reasons that include voice acting, animation quality, story line, and theme. Every movie on this list achieves some level of success in every one of the aforementioned categories, but Batman: Under the Red Hood might just do it better than all of them.

 

Neil Patrick Harris and John DiMaggio do a terrific job at voicing Nightwing and The Joker respectively. The latter deserves additional credit for putting such a unique spin on a character who has been portrayed in so many memorable ways over the years. John DiMaggio (best known for Bender from Futurama and Jake the Dog from Adventure Time) plays The Joker in a unique way that is every bit as good as Nicholson’s, Hamill’s, and Ledger’s portrayal of the psychotic clown.

 

Batman: Under the Red Hood employs a slightly more traditional animation style than The Dark Knight Returns in the sense that it’s reminiscent of many other DC universe TV series and movies. However, the creators managed to accomplish this without making it look dated or lazy. Everything looks beautiful while maintaining a style that DC fans have grown used to when it comes to animated movies.

 

A familiarity with the Batman pedigree is just as important, if not more so, than employing a familiar animation style. The creators of Under the Red Hood get points in this regard, too. Like others on this list, the film does an amazing job at combining important events from the Batman universe with new storytelling. Specifically by taking one of the most memorable events in comic book history, the brutal death of Robin (the Jason Todd incarnation), and exploring the long-term consequences of it. The result is something new that can be appreciated by long-time fans and newcomers alike.

 

This film is a combination of everything that makes a good animated Batman movie. Beyond just scoring top marks in “important” categories though, the film lets viewers see a much more vulnerable Batman and gives one of the best glimpses into why the hero adheres to the code he has made for himself.

~Although I can see why the writers altered the direction of the opening as compared to the original source material (which involved a larger comic universe storyline), it just doesn’t rate over ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ or ‘Year One’ for me.  It is definitely a well done piece, but maybe in the Five or Four spot for me.  Still worth seeing.~

Completing one of the Best Trilogies on Film… The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

235402id1a_MagnusMask_27x40_1Sheet_VER3.inddYes, even surpassing the Original ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy and ‘The Godfather’ Trilogy only because the third installment for each of those was the weak link. Though not the strongest film in its own Trilogy, this film can nearly stand alone, lose little in transition as an indirect sequel to ‘Batman Begins’ and neatly tie the strings from both predecessors with a minimum of fuss while delivering on the journey.

Drawing from 3 very important storylines in the Batman mythos; ‘No Man’s Land‘ (Gotham in disaster), ‘Knightfall‘ (Bane) and most importantly Frank RetiredMiller’s groundbreaking and industry changing ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, the film does at times feel a bit ‘smushed’ between the three. Set eight years from the close of ‘The Dark Knight’ (10 years in Miller’s ‘TDKR’), we find the lost soul of Bruce Wayne in need of transition. Here, to me, is one of the few failures in the script. In Miller’s ‘TDKR’, Bruce is an older retired bored still physically imposing but brooding man waiting to find the right death suitable to a crime-fighter of his former self…. in ‘Rises’ we have a Howard Hughes-esque recluse, a shell of the vibrant crime-fighter who traveled the world, who simply withdrew from the world and appears to be waiting for something worthwhile to do in the cape n’ cowl (Alfred has to elude it may be his death). If the script had simply given three minutes more screen time and explanation to this (aside from the Rachel Dawes tidbits), I feel a lot of the story would have situated itself better in the following acts.
A ReturnThat said, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is still a worthy closure to such a hard-hitting epic telling of a comic book journey. As usual, Nolan takes us on the realistic journey of such a legendary fictional universe and delivers us a cast of characters who we easily can recognize with in both scope and circumstance. Just as with ‘The Dark Knight’, we are again shown a comic book world that we easily can watch in awe telling ourselves “Yeah, I can see that happening in today’s society.” And that was the idea that clicked in the very first ‘Batman’ back in 1989 before it got so lost in its sequels… the idea that finally brought Marvel’s comic book heroes to the forefront in the last decade… realism. Comic Books have, for several decades, not been about good versus evil and Boys saves Girl but about the realistic approach these fictional characters, be they hero or villain, take to their lives. ‘Rises’ like ‘Spider-Man’, ‘Iron Man’ and its own ‘Batman Begins’ fulfills that promise (unlike Spidey and Stark as their sequels never lived up to the original).
The BraveWith great turns from returning stars like Bale and Oldman we get just as great support from Nolan players such as Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and of course Michael Caine in a slightly more limited turn.
The BoldThough not perfect in the ‘Bat’ scheme of things, it certainly does reach epic. Popcorn, SnoCaps and no bathroom breaks!

5 Stars

Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master? Batman Begins (2005)

Batman BeginsI thought Liam Neeson would be reprising his Jedi role in ‘Episode III’, released a few weeks later in the summer blockbuster schedule, but suddenly I see him playing the Jedi Master the way he should have been in ‘Episode I’.

Sure, the story for ‘Begins’ doesn’t follow the Batman mythos note by note, but this was easily the closest story of comic book to film I’ve seen. Only the original ‘Spider-Man’ came close to actual comic book lore, and didn’t miss by much. For this reason, I have listed the film in my ‘Best of’ category. This edition of the Dark Knight is a sideways view of the Gotham savior Tim Burton had envisioned, but far closer to the Frank Miller vision than Burton could get.

Master and Padawan Learner
Though not directly credited, Miller’s ‘Year One’ storyline, a defining Batman comic mini-series of the 1980’s was the driving force behind the screenplay. Miller, not only a genius for his ‘Sin City’ comic and film work, but Ben Affleck’s ‘Daredevil’ version as well, helped mold Batman back from his post Adam West comic persona and the Dark Knight “manhunter” phase that followed. More stylish, slick and polished than 1989’s ‘Batman’, it sheds new light on obviously Batman’s beginnings as well as his complex persona and the intricate world around him.

Dynamic DuoNot better per say, but different from Tim Burton’s original film, this one can be said.. epic.

5 Stars