Posts Tagged ‘Batman’

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

As a comics reader, I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan. The same is true of the movies… for the most part. There have been exceptions to that rule, of course, notably with DC’s adaptations of Alan Moore classics V for Vendetta and Watchmen. The big-screen escapades of DC’s two most popular characters, Batman and Superman, have also piqued my interest on occasion. Of the two, Batman, being a man who has no superpowers to fall back on, is infinitely more relatable than the Last Son of Krypton.  So, of course, when it comes to a showdown between the two, I would always choose the side of the Caped Crusader. Not to mention the fact that I can count seeing Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman at the age of 7 as the event which changed me from a casual viewer to full-blown fan of movies. From 1978 to the present day, each hero’s cinematic ride has experienced the highest of highs, and (extremely) lowest of lows. 2016’s Batman v. Superman falls into neither category.

After a brief opening credits sequence which features what feels like the millionth depiction of the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne (played by “The Walking Dead” co-stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan), the action moves to the climactic battle sequence from the end of 2013’s Man of Steel, where Superman (Henry Cavill) winds up causing more destruction in Metropolis than he is able to prevent in battling General Zod (Michael Shannon). Only, this time, we witness the battle from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).

One cannot watch this sequence without automatically thinking of 9/11, and that’s what makes this the most effective part of the movie. It also helps to establish a motive for Bruce Wayne/Batman to see Superman not as a guardian of Earth, but as a threat against it. Bruce, who has been at this superhero gig for a while now, is using a much more harshly defined sense of justice these days, which provides Clark Kent/Superman with reason to voice his opinion on the matter via Daily Planet articles.

Unlike the Superman of the 1980s, who somehow was able to convince the leaders of the world to allow him to rid the Earth of nuclear weapons, this version of Superman has a hard time assuring the U.S. government that he has our best interests at heart. He is even compelled to appear before a Senate committee hearing on the subject. Unfortunately, the hearing is interrupted by a suicide bomb, which kills everyone in attendance, including Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter). Everyone, that is, except for Superman. As it happens, this event, along with the seeds of doubt pitting Batman and Superman on opposing sides, have all been orchestrated by the unhinged head of LexCorp, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).

Behind the scenes, Luthor has been very busy, collecting a Kryptonite sample, acquiring both Zod’s corpse and his spaceship, and also investigating the existence of metahumans. Bruce Wayne acquires both the Kryptonite and the info on meta-humans, the former to be used as a deterrent against Superman. The latter reveals to him four individuals with extraordinary gifts: the super-speedy Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), the underwater-dwelling Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the part man, part machine Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), as well as Amazonian Princess and daughter of Zeus, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Bruce is already familiar with Diana, having bumped into her at a party at LexCorp. He only needs the one meeting to be able to sense that there is more to her than most men would notice.

Diana is also interested in the meta-human file, though only for a specific photo which she claims belongs to her. Bruce shares the file via e-mail, noting that this grainy black & white image from a century ago is not merely her possession, but is in fact a record of her involvement in the events of World War I. I reserve any further commentary on the matter, as the movie does, for 2017’s Wonder Woman.

The film’s promised fight finally gets underway thanks to Lex’s maneuverings, the final piece of which is the kidnapping of Martha Kent (Diane Lane), which will ensure that Superman fights Batman at Lex’s bidding, lest Martha meet a fiery end. So the two heroes fight, with Batman using Kryptonite as a means to level the playing field. Eventually, Batman gains the upper hand, but is startled by the notion that Superman’s adoptive mother and his own dead mother share the same first name. For most who have seen this movie, this scene is one of the most heavily scrutinized. It’s the jarring transition from beating the hell out of each other to suddenly being best buds which earns that criticism.

So, Batman volunteers to save Martha while Superman goes to confront Luthor. Unable to accept defeat, Luthor unveils his Plan B: the Kryptonian abomination known as Doomsday. It takes the combined efforts of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to provide adequate defense against the monster, but only Kryptonite can kill it, and the only fragment left was used by Batman to form a spear. It falls to Superman to find and use the spear, but because of his own weakness to the shiny green rock it leaves him just as vulnerable, and thus Superman and Doomsday simultaneously kill one another.

An epilogue, which is mainly a teaser for the forthcoming Justice League movie, shows Batman confronting a deranged Luthor in prison, who warns of the imminent arrival of supervillain Steppenwolf (whose actual name is never mentioned), leaving Bruce Wayne with the sense that, soon, the meta-humans will be compelled to answer the call to battle. Meanwhile, a funeral is held for Superman, who is recognized in death as the hero he was never fully appreciated as in life. But there are indications that he may not be totally dead just yet…

Batman v. Superman is a fundamentally flawed movie, which is pretty much par for the course with Batman and Superman’s movies (except for 2008’s The Dark Knight). It gives us a terrific Bruce Wayne/Batman (not to mention a decent Alfred as performed by Jeremy Irons), and a not-so-great Superman. The battle scenes are great, but character behavior/motivation is a problem. Particularly depressing is the portrayal of Superman not as the ray of hope he’s been known as through the majority of his existence since 1938, but as a dark, brooding character. That’s supposed to be Batman’s territory! The whole point is for them to have two wildly contrasting outlooks on the world and life in general.

So desperate was DC to compete with Marvel Studios that it got a little too greedy. It’s never a good idea to cross pollinate two completely different comic storylines into one movie. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand did the same thing. So did 2007’s Spider-Man 3. All it does is undermine both arcs. If you’re gonna throw in “The Death of Superman” right after his first meeting with Batman, that’s fine. A little weird, but okay. What you shouldn’t do is pass off their chronologically final confrontation from the comics (“The Dark Knight Returns”) as their first in this movie. It’s rather jarring.

This movie is neither fantastic, nor fantastically awful, although it is clear that this wasn’t the best way to introduce the DCEU (DC Expanded Universe). One thing that Batman v. Superman got fantastically right is its portrayal of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Even her theme music is badass! The scene-stealing Gal Gadot’s performance is spot-on; so much so that, by herself, Wonder Woman gave hope that her own adventure might just give DC the boost it needed after this misstep. But that, as I said, is a subject best left for another film review.

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Batman (1989)

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Twenty-six summers ago, I wonder if anyone could have envisioned the explosion of comic book/superhero films we see today. Every couple of months or so, either DC or (more likely) Marvel is churning out another one. Back in 1989, however, the now mile-long list of films from this genre was limited to mere inches. Of the few that were in existence, most hadn’t made an exceptionally big splash. In 1986, “Howard the Duck” crashed and burned, and its ashes were doused in urine. It was so bad that Marvel didn’t really get back into the game until more than a decade later. Up to this point, only Superman had really grabbed anyone’s attention at the movies for DC Comics. Any prior big-screen experience for Superman’s Justice League partner had been the 1966 big-screen adaptation of the Adam West “Batman” TV series. Rather than anger fans of that show, I’ll say simply that I like Batman best when he’s not being played for comedy. Finally, in 1989, director Tim Burton would draw not upon the farcical 1960’s, but rather a mix of the Bob Kane/Bill Finger days of the 1940’s and the then-recent Frank Miller Batman stories (as well as Burton’s own brand of surrealism) to give both Batman and superheroes in general a wider audience than they had ever known before.

The orphaned son of Thomas and Martha Wayne, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) has not been left without the means to carry on nor the motivation to ensure that fewer people in Gotham City should have to live with the horror he has experienced in his life. Having witnessed the murder of his parents when he was just a child, Bruce now patrols the streets of Gotham at night dressed as his alter ego, Batman. Perceived as a mythical figure by the police officers and criminals who’ve yet to cross his path, Batman’s true identity is known only by Bruce’s butler and surrogate father, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough). Even reporter Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger), who wishes to get close enough to Bruce to know his heart and close enough to Batman to get a career-making story, has not a clue that the two are one and the same.

The leading source of organized crime in Gotham City is a gang led by Carl Grissom (Jack Palance). His top lieutenant, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), had been carrying on an affair with his boss’s mistress. What Jack didn’t know was that Grissom had already discovered the indiscretion and made plans to remove him from the gang’s future business… permanently. Unfortunately for Grissom… and for Gotham… his plans lead not to Jack’s demise, but to his transformation into the Joker. The man known as Jack Napier displayed aptitude in science, chemistry and art, demonstrating a high level of intelligence, but this was countered by an erratic mental state which gave him homicidal tendencies. As the Joker, this instability becomes amplified (nerve toxins are now his main weapon of choice). His insanity leads him into a love triangle between himself, Vicky Vale, and Bruce Wayne. When Bruce learns of Jack’s role in the death of his parents, as Batman, his vendetta against the Joker becomes about more than just saving innocent lives.

Seeing this movie theatrically with my father at age 7, “Batman” acted as my introduction to all of the film’s major players: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman. The only familiarity I had going in was with singer Prince, who provided most of the film’s other music not attributed to Elfman. It is this incredible collection of talent and not the film’s simplified story which makes it special in my eyes (that and, of course, the nostalgia factor).

“Batman” would simply not have been what it was with lesser actors. As Vicky Vale (a character which has yet to reappear in any subsequent Batman film), Kim Basinger shows us some of the talent which would eventually win her a Best Supporting Actress award (in 1997, for “L.A. Confidential”). Admittedly, a more recent incarnation of the Joker has caused me to look back and see Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the character for what it is. Rather than slip into the persona of the Joker, Nicholson is more or less playing himself AS the Joker. Doesn’t mean he isn’t fantastic as always. As much of a legend and as much of a scene-stealer as Nicholson is, the real coup in the casting department was in giving the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne to Michael Keaton. At the time, it seemed an unlikely hire, as Keaton was known best for the title role in Burton’s “Beetlejuice.” That character would lead one to think of Keaton then as being a more likely candidate for the Joker. Thank goodness we were wrong because, after all of the films in the series featuring the Caped Crusader (both the good and the bad) that have followed, Keaton remains the definitive Bruce Wayne/Batman. Almost as synomymous with the character is Danny Elfman’s main theme, much in the same way that the John Williams “Superman” theme is.

In addition to being one of the first truly successful films based on a comic book, “Batman” also did its part in the creation of the blockbuster. Oh, it’s true that there were a number of movies that had come before which made a ton of money for their studio. But it wasn’t really until after the summer of 1989 that we started seeing movies making $200 million, $300 million, and now sometimes $400-$600 million on a more annual basis. You can attribute this to inflated ticket prices if you must… but the numbers speak for themselves, regardless.

If I had to rely on just the story, there are ways in which I could pick “Batman” apart if I tried hard enough. Particularly in the climax, there are some small things which bug me, such as how the Joker can know he was “a kid” when he killed the Batman’s parents since he doesn’t even know who Batman really is, or how it is that Joker’s thugs could anticipate that their boss would choose the bell tower of the church when running from Batman. It’s also somewhat strange that more of an emphasis is placed on the Joker’s origins than Batman’s, but whatever. Overall, it’s still a lot of fun, and worth sharing the experience with our children as our parents did for our generation.