It bothered me then and it bothers me now. The quintessential Batman on film argument on which is the movie which best represents the comic book character. We’re in the wake of the San Diego Comic Con, a place where many overpriced hotel rooms were filled with hushed and inebriated arguments about such things. Their own hand-stitched and re-sized to XXXL costumes back in the drawer for another sweaty unwashed day, the cologne safely thousands of miles away in their homes, they were free to discuss the merits and downfalls of Keatons and Kilmers, Wests and Conroys, Bales and Clooneys. Without impunity.
Utter fools answer with Tim Burton’s Batman. I apologize for tainting things by calling them fools but Tim Burton’s movie was seriously flawed when it came out and it has only gotten more and more unwatchable as time has passed. It’s a bad fucking movie, tarnished not only by the utter stiffness of the costume and the obvious pratfalls ["Batman… has guns!" – uttered before fanboy kills self in sweaty, awkward seppuku] but by the overblown work by Jack Nicholson. The Joker is still a beloved film character to many and I’m surprised at how few people then and now are willing to admit that it scuttled the film right out of the gate. I got swept up in the emotion of 1989 just like everyone else. I had fun at the movies. Twice. But the result was hollow, even then. Now it’s just a bad, bad movie.
The ones that followed weren’t much to write home about either, though the second film had the most merit even with Danny DeVito’s sizable efforts to wristfuck the franchise with a silly Penguin character.
Then, a beacon of light arrived for fans with the animated series and their big talking point Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Admittedly, it’s a decent little movie and the style of the animated series was second to none, but it is not the one true Batman. Even before the series was rebooted in the 00’s, it was simply the best available but hardly the kind of product I’d say delivered on half a century of mythology and promise. There simply wasn’t enough evidence of Batman on film to prove whether or not the character and brand had been treated right or was ever going to have the propulsion do ever be ‘right’. Especially if you’re of the belief that Batman lives and dies with The Dark Knight Returns. Or even Batman: Year One. The Miller essentials. If that is the goal, nothing by Burton, Dini, or Schumacher really delivered on that promise. If the goal is to capture two detective heroes, one manly and cunning and one elfin and silly [yeah, Robin is pretty lame], then the low bar is traversed. Congratulations.
But my love of Batman is all about tone. I don’t care who the villain is or if there’s a villain at all. I don’t care about the set pieces. I don’t care about whether we see familiar folks from the comic books. All I care about is tone. The tone of Batman done right didn’t exist on tube or screen until Batman Begins. God help me, if someone mentions Sandy Collura I’m going to eat a pile of nachos and unleash a torrent of shiss all over you.
Batman Begins, 3rd act flaws included, is the first tonally on point incarnation of Batman outside that select assortment of comic books that made superheroes cool for adults. I don’t care about what people think of his new car, his gadgets, or whether Christian Bale’s nose mole is a distraction. It simply does not matter. The film nailed the tone of the character and creates an environment where the action and particulars are rendered moot. It’s Batman. Even in our most rose-colored fantasies of what the character should be it’s hard not to block out just how many contrivances and leaps of faith the character requires. It’s funny how the mind shuts out the bad and filters the good when the situation calls for it.
Though I’m sure many fans who stood on the ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the best Batman film ever’ platform have changed their tune in the wake of Christopher Nolan’s creation, some still stand proudly.
Those people are living in a dream world. One where maybe Mark Hamill’s voice is a soothing cocktail of menace and familiarity. One where if you squint just right it almost looks like real people. One where Robin’s silly costume looks a little less silly.
I stand now in this odd and awfully late to be relevant piece to proclaim to the Heavens that Batman Begins is the best Batman film we have on film. Guess what, it’s also not going to be topped, because I think The Dark Knight is going to be a massive disappointment. Massive.
The Joker is a fun character in concept. He’s a great unifying thread for comic book arcs and his methods of far-reaching mayhem and tampering work fine on the page or in a cartoon where instant suspension of disbelief is granted. The Batman films, especially under Nolan, pride themselves somewhat on their adherence to a grounded world. The Joker defies that and I must admit that I wished they’d left that character out of themix for a handful of films. It’s very hard to not allow the character and his baggage to scuttle a very good story. Additionally, since [spoiler sort of]Aaron Eckhart basically admits that Two-Face comes into existence in the film in a recent Men’s Fitness magazine[/spoiler] I fear that we may be getting a little too close to the previous films in the amount of characters being used onscreen. Ra’s Al-Ghul and the Scarecrow could have been too many but it worked out fine. I don’t see the lightning striking twice, though my fingers are crossed.
I think we’ve seen the best Batman we’re liable to see for some time and it’s Batman Begins. I for one am satisfied. They proved it could work and it doesn’t require some leap of faith and allowances like the decent but seriously overvalued animated movie does.
It’s probabaly downhill from here, so be glad you got as close as you did Batman apologists, and move on to some other crushing desire. Like girls or sadism.