Thursday, July 26, 2012

Top 10: Batman Films

Having now seen The Dark Knight Rises twice, I figured now would be a good time to take inventory of Batman on film and see which Batman movies were my favorites.  Batman has had more movies made about him than any other superhero.  There are nearly twenty choices to nominate for a Top 10 list, but I believe that the Top 10 compiled here is the right list that is worthy of the Bat.  Without further ado, the 10 best Batman films:

10.  Batman Returns
While I feel Tim Burton took a few too many liberties with the origins and representations of Catwoman and the Penguin, his macabre vision of Gotham City is fully realized in his second outing with the Caped Crusader, creating a Batman movie that feels like a motion comic.  Not to mention, Michael Keaton proves once more he's a more than capable Batman, even if his screen time pales in comparison to Danny Devito's.

9.  The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan's Batman finale features the best onscreen incarnation of Catwoman I have ever seen.  Anne Hathaway nailed the character and her comic book persona without ever dipping into the absurd.  Featuring top notch action sequences, and a story feeling as if it was ripped from the pages of '90s DC Comics, The Dark Knight Rises is a great film, but doesn't quite reach the emotional highs of its two predecessors.

8.  Batman:  The Movie
Is this movie campy?  Yes.  Are there more faithful representations of the character on film that didn't make this list?  Yep, but this movie's so much fun, it's hard not to love it.  In two hours, you get the best of the old TV Show, combining the four best villains into one narrative.  Not to mention, Bat-Shark Repellent, the scene where Batman tries to get rid of the bomb, and Adam West and Burt Ward taking lessons from William Shatner in overacting.

7.  Batman:  Under the Red Hood
 Warner Bros. animation essentially took the comic book story arc of how the second Robin, Jason Todd returned to Gotham as the morally dubious Red Hood.  What makes this film shine is that the story delves deeper into the relationship between Bruce and Jason than the comic arc did, and it sheds some light on the lesser known Robin to create a uniquely emotional story with some marvelous animation and action.

6.  Batman Beyond:  Return of the Joker
 The Batman Beyond animated series was one of the things that Warner Bros. animation did that had no precedence in the comic books.  The idea of a young teenager in the future becoming the new Batman, whilst being trained by an old Bruce Wayne, was a large risk on their behalf, but it won over nearly every fan due to solid characterizations of both old and new characters.  This was the feature length movie of this show that brought an older Joker into the Beyond universe, but where the real meat of the film lies is in how the story perfectly conveys the tragic and creepy story that ties together the Joker and Bruce Wayne.  Not to mention, the film is just really, really cool.  I mean, it's Batman in the future!

5.  Batman Forever
 Some filmgoers felt that this was when the Batman film franchise started to slip a bit, but I disagree.  Batman Forever is faithful to the character of Bruce Wayne, and Val Kilmer does a fine job portraying him.  Even if Two-Face is poorly portrayed, and the Riddler is like the Joker's cousin, Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are so charismatic in their parts I'm laughing when I'm supposed to be laughing at their jokes.  That's why this movie still works for me.  It's fun, it knows how to make humor of itself, and yet it also tells a serious story about Bruce's past and why he must be Batman, and also it tells the tragedy of Dick Grayson with great clarity and emotion.  I'm still a fan of Chris O'Donnell as Robin, and all of the action sequences are exquisitely realized in over-the-top fashion.  As well, the art direction and the design of Gotham City in this film was staggering.

4.  Batman
 Tim Burton's first outing with the Dark Knight was also his best.  Even if Jack Nicholson's Joker ultimately has more screentime than Batman, it's Michael Keaton that seals the deal for me everytime.  He plays Bruce Wayne, not as pompously as Christian Bale, but as more put together and business-like, but it's how he plays Batman, showing the intellect underneath the cowl, that makes his performance stand out.  Take the hauntingly beautiful design of Gotham in the film, and the likability of Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, and this is one of the Batman films that manages to work on all levels, as action, drama, romance, and even occasionally, comedy.  Now, turn up the brilliant Danny Elfman score and try not to have anything but good memories of this film.

3.  The Dark Knight
 Still, probably the most popular Batman movie of all-time, I've said it before and I'll say it again, there's not much more that can be said about Christopher Nolan's second Batman film that hasn't already been said.  Heath Ledger is the Joker.  He nailed the spirit of the character better than any other live action incarnation, and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon -- he is the true heart of the film, as all of the chaos unfolds around Gotham, it's through his eyes that we see majority of it.  Featuring the most brilliant action sequence from all three of Nolan's films with the eighteen wheeler chase, The Dark Knight is still a masterpiece four years later.

2.  Batman:  Mask of the Phantasm
 This was the first film made in the universe of the Batman animated series from the early '90s, and is still one of the greatest Batman films ever made.  Sure, the animation was only a few shades greater than majority of the episodes of the show, but the story of this film was so powerful, that the story goes, when WB saw the film, they changed their plans of making it straight to video and released it theatrically. This is the only Batman film that is genuinely a mystery, as Batman tries to unravel the identity of the Phantasm, a cloaked figure surrounded by fog, and an original character to this film.  The Phantasm is creepy as all get out, but it's the romance that makes this film a moving piece of cinema.  The film tells flashbacks of Bruce's life before he became Batman, and how he nearly gave up his promise to his parents when he met Andrea Beaumont and nearly married her, till she tragically left him, and Bruce became Batman.  Now, Andrea returns in modern day, and all of those old memories start haunting Bruce once more.  It's a clever, emotional story, that is thrilling, and action packed, featuring one of my favorite Batman scenes of all-time, when he is chased by the police and is pinned down, bleeding out in a construction site.  Featuring my Batman, Kevin Conroy as the voice, my Joker, Mark Hammil, and Dana Delaney as Andrea, this is a Batman film that needs to be seen, even if you aren't a fan of animation.  It will rock your heart and soul as it barrels toward a conclusion, featuring one of the most high stakes battles ever seen between Batman and the Joker.

1.  Batman Begins
After I first saw this film, it jumped into my top 10 favorite films of all-time list, and it still sits comfortably there seven years later.  This is just the quintessential Batman movie.  The characterizations are perfect representations of the comic books, the action is superb, and the story is emotional and finally delves into deep detail as to not only how Bruce became Batman, but why.  The film deals with Bruce's psychological and emotional state from the first to the last frame, making it the most emotionally rewarding Batman movie.  Not to mention, it's probably the most fun, with tons of sly humor from Michael Caine as Alfred, even some from Christian Bale as Batman, as well, this Batman film has more stand up and cheer moments than perhaps any other I can think of.  I love it, and Batman Begins truly is the greatest Batman film ever made.

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