Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Batman v Superman: Who's King of the Movies?

There have been many theatrically released Batman and Superman movies, with Batman having nine so far and Superman having seven (excluding the two movie serials for both), that is more movies than any other superhero.  While folks like Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Spider-Man, are coming close to matching those totals, simply put, Batman and Superman are the two oldest superheroes ever and that will always give them a special place in the pantheon of superhero movies.  Batman and Superman were the first two superheroes to find mainstream success on movie screens, paving the way for the past decade and a half of Marvel dominance in theaters.  Finally, with this week's release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the two heavyweights are going to be sharing the big screen for the very first time and vie for the Marvel crown, so I thought it would be fun to review and rank all of the Batman and Superman movies that have ever been theatrically released (because there have been a ton of straight to video animated movies for both) and see which hero comes out on top.  This list is purely subjective and I am sure a lot of you wont agree with me, so take to the comments section after reading the list to share your own favorites.  With all that said, on with the list!


16.  Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Okay, if you've never seen this one, do yourself a favor and don't.  It's not that this movie's heart isn't in the right place with Superman spearheading a worldwide endeavor for nuclear disarmament, it's that the movie just isn't good, as a matter of fact it's almost incomprehensible.  There are a ton of plot holes in this movie and for this to be the final hoorah for Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, and Gene Hackman, it's a crying shame.  Superman deserves better than this, with this movie playing more as a quick cash grab for the producers than anything else.  It's a shame honestly, because Christopher Reeve still gives it his all, but his all can't make the story better.
Rating:  2 out of 10

15.  Superman III
Superman III is ever so slightly better than Superman IV, but only by a few charming and enjoyable moments.  The biggest issue I've always had with this movie is not the fact that someone thought it would be a good idea for Richard Pryor to be an unwitting bad guy, no it's the fact that the moviemakers sidelined Margot Kidder's Lois Lane for the whole movie in favor of Annette O'Toole's Lana Lang.  Here's the thing, the whole story line of Clark returning to Smallville and reconnecting with Lana at a high school reunion is sweet and brings many of the best moments of the movie alive, but after two whole movies investing in the Lois and Clark relationship, it's just annoying.  At least this movie has a pretty good fight scene in it between Good Superman and Bad Superman after the two sides of Superman are literally split apart.  Ultimately, Superman III is watchable, which is something I can't say for Superman IV, but it's not a whole lot of fun either.
Rating:  5 out of 10

14.  Batman Returns
Alright, the quality of the movies are improving ever so little, but at least they are improving.  With Batman Returns, director Tim Burton was sort of given free reign by Warner Bros. after the success of 1989's Batman, and it really shows here.  This is flat out the weirdest, darkest movie to have ever been sponsored by Happy Meal toys, and I wouldn't have a huge problem with that if the movie didn't try to fool you into thinking it's a Batman movie.  Here's how Batman Returns goes, we spend three-fourths of the movie with a really creepy Penguin (Danny DeVito), a deranged Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and a Christopher Walken playing some character created just for this movie, and occasionally we see Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne or Batman to remind the audience that, "Hey, this is a Batman movie and we've gotta have him in here somewhere."  Sure, there are some really fun moments in here, notably the opening action sequence and the final scene at the abandoned zoo, but I agree with what Jett on Batman-on-Film has always said about this one, and I paraphrase, "This is a Batman movie in name only."
Rating:  6 out of 10

13.  Superman and the Mole-Men
Finally, this is where the Batman/Superman movies start to actually be good.  Compared to all of the other movies on this list, Superman and the Mole-Men is rather lackluster in terms of scope and scale, but it wins points for essentially being the unofficial pilot for The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves.  This was the first time Reeves donned the Superman tights and he really knocks the character out of the park.  Sure, the plot of the movie is standard Fifties' B-movie fare, with misunderstood mole-men from underground surfacing and causing a panic that only Superman can resolve, but the movie is just fun.  Even to this day, the movie plays well because it's just a simple sci-fi movie that happens to star Superman.
Rating:  7 out of 10

12.  Batman & Robin
Yes, I don't think this was the weakest link in the Burton/Schumacher series of Batman movies from the late Eighties and Nineties, but while it's ranked higher than Batman Returns, that's not me saying this is the greatest Batman movie ever made, it's just a surprisingly fun one that if you get off your pretentious high horse, you can enjoy it for what it is.  Batman & Robin is essentially a throwback to the campiness of the Sixties' Batman TV show, and when you view it that way, all of the puns from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy are actually quite funny.  Plus, the movie actually has some really meaty material buried underneath with the sick Alfred subplot and the tension between George Clooney's Bruce and Chris O'Donnell's Dick really making the movie a surprisingly emotional experience if you can not look at everything through hate.  Sure, Alicia Silverstone was not my preferred Batgirl, but I'm still a huge fan of O'Donnell's Robin, and hey, Clooney wasn't awful as Batman, he just wasn't Christian Bale.  In short, fans wanted what they eventually got with Batman Begins with this movie, and now that they have had multiple dark Batman movies, maybe it's time to stop ragging so much on this movie and just enjoy it.
Rating:  7 out of 10

11.  The Dark Knight Rises
Some might be wondering how I could possibly put one of the movies from The Dark Knight trilogy this low, but you've gotta face it, The Dark Knight Rises isn't as good as the first two movies in the series.  Now with all that said, that does not mean Rises is a bad movie without awesome moments, it's just a movie that fails to match its predecessors, and a large part of this was director Christopher Nolan being so dead set on this being a definitive ending to his Batman.  Throughout the whole movie, Christian Bale's Batman is a shell of his former self, never kicking as much butt as he did in the previous two movies, and more often than not, getting his butt handed to him by the likes of Bane.  When Catwoman, and even random cops like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, kick more butt than Batman, you know the moviemakers have gone a little too far with this out-of-shape Batman idea.  Still, the first time Batman reappears in nearly a decade is one of the finer moments of the whole trilogy, and the ending is emotionally stirring, even if I'll never forgive Nolan for that stupid Robin reveal at the end of the movie.  All-in-all, The Dark Knight Rises is an imperfect epic, but one that is well worth watching.
Rating:  8 out of 10

10.  Man of Steel
This was a movie that I initially did not like upon seeing it, and as a matter of fact it took me multiple viewings to finally warm up to what director Zack Snyder accomplished with the movie.  Here's the thing, like The Dark Knight Rises, I think Man of Steel is an imperfect epic, a movie with many great elements that come together to make a movie that is stirring and action packed but lacking in something indefinable.  Ultimately, I still think this movie took itself a tad too seriously for a Superman tale, even still, Henry Cavill does the Man of Steel justice.  There is just an innate likability to Cavill that makes you want to root for him, on top of all that, this is the first Superman movie to actually interpret a post-Infinite Crisis Superman (when Superman was rebooted in the comics in the mid-80s to be more current), so this is the only Superman movie to this point to do a Modern Age Superman story as opposed to a Golden or Silver Age story like all the other Superman movies.  Now three years removed from the movie, I still believe Man of Steel could have been better and embraced more of a warmer feel to reflect a character who is all about hope, but the movie that does exist is a pretty good one if you can put aside your expectations and accept it for what it was.
Rating:  8 out of 10

9.  Batman: The Movie
Oh Adam West and Burt Ward, how I love your Batman and Robin.  Here's the thing, Batman: The Movie is essentially a feature length episode of the TV show in terms of production values and whatnot, but it's a really fun movie that rivals any of the better episodes of the series.  Not only that, this movie unites four of Batman's greatest villains in one movie for the first, and still, only time in movie history.  With Batman and Robin combatting the likes of Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, and the Riddler, all at once, the stakes feel rather urgent for the Dynamic Duo.  The funny thing about the Sixties TV show in general, is that a lot of modern day fans make fun of it and see it as an awful representation of the character, but at the time, this was the same Batman that was frequenting the pages of the comic books.  Also, this Batman actually does as much detective work, if not more, than just about most other Batmen there have ever been on the big or small screen, so how can anyone say that this is a bad interpretation of the character?  The show, and this movie, were intentionally campy, and that allows you to laugh alongside with the adventure instead of at it.  The moment when Batman tries to get rid of the bomb and nuns are one way and a baby in a stroller are in another, is comedic gold.  "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb."
Rating:  9 out of 10

8.  Superman II
Here's what I've always loved about Superman II -- it's the fact that this is the one with all of the action.  From the opening sequence on the Eiffel Tower, to the arrival of General Zod on Earth, all the way to the climactic battles in Metropolis and the Fortress of Solitude, this movie had the best fight sequences of any Superman movie till Man of Steel.  While a lot of the special effects are heavily dated now, that does not lessen the awesomeness on display here.  Add on to everything a moving story about Superman giving up his powers to be with Lois, as well as a phenomenal performance from Terrence Stamp as the villainous Zod, and you have a sequel worthy of its original.  Plus, there is no better moment in the Chris Reeve movies than the ending of this one with the ace line, "Funny, I've never seen garbage eat garbage before," just before Clark sends the bully sliding down the diner's counter and into the pinball machine.
Rating:  9 out of 10

7.  Superman Returns
This is easily one of the more divisive movies on this entire list, but I've always been a fan of Superman Returns.  Always meant as a loose sequel to Superman II with Christopher Reeve, the movie has received a lot of unnecessary flack over the years for that reason.  It was intentional that this movie was very similar to the first two Christopher Reeve movies, because it follows up on the storyline of Lois and Clark's one night in the Fortress of Solitude and their resulting son that Clark never knew about.  For that reason alone, this is one of the more unique Superman stories that have ever been told, but on top of that it's also a story about Superman returning to an Earth, after spending five years in space, and discovering that humans didn't really miss him all that much.  The world kept on spinning without Superman and everything was okay, so he has to rediscover his place once more in a very poignant and emotional way.  On top of all that, Kevin Spacey was genius casting as Lex Luthor and Brandon Routh is still only second behind Christopher Reeve on my list of favorite Supermen.  So what if the movie was not what fans wanted?  So what if Superman never got in a superpowered fist fight?  Who cares?  We got that with Man of Steel, it's time to value Superman Returns for what it is, a superhero drama that has spurts of action, but is more interested in examining the characters and what is going on inside of them more than anything else.  Plus, the sequence where Superman catches the falling plane is still one of the finer sequences ever made for a superhero movie.
Rating:  9 out of 10

6.  The Dark Knight 
There will be a great many people that think I've gone off my rocker not giving The Dark Knight my number one spot, but while The Dark Knight is a great movie, there are other Batman movies that I personally like more.  Look, Heath Ledger as the Joker was iconic, that final monologue from Gordon is still spine tinglingly awesome, and the epic nature of this movie has never quite been matched by any other superhero movie ever made, but it's just such a dark movie it's tough to rewatch.  Simply put, that is why it is number six on this list.  There is very little about The Dark Knight that is really fun.  The sense of fun that Batman Begins had was overtaken by even more seriousness and less comic bookishness (if that's even a word).  This is not me knocking The Dark Knight as a movie, because as a movie it is a tense parable that reflects the state of our real world, but it is not an easy movie to rewatch and it's a movie that over time I have discovered plot holes that never were explained (the most glaring is how Gordon fooled everyone into thinking he was dead only to surprisingly return to apprehend the Joker).  In summation, The Dark Knight is an imperfect masterpiece, and yes, I think there can be such a thing.  What director Christopher Nolan pulled off with this movie was special and will always be special, with this movie having changed the superhero movie landscape forever.
Rating:  9 out of 10

5.  Batman
The first Tim Burton Batman movie is still one of the most faithful incarnations of the character captured on the big screen.  This movie just looks like the comic books, and that is why Batman has always seemed a head above most of the rest in the superhero movie genre.  To this day, it almost seems strange seeing Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Batman, and yet when you watch the movie, it feels just right.  Keaton plays both Bruce and Batman as slightly unhinged due to his emotional scars.  This is the most psychologically unstable superhero performance I think there's ever been, and in a way, you gotta think a man who dresses up like a bat is almost as certifiably crazy as the criminals he fights.  In a great many ways, I think that was the whole idea that Tim Burton tried to tackle with his two Batman movies and I think Batman does a better job with that idea than Batman Returns, mainly because it's just a much more fun movie to watch.  Sure, Jack Nicholson as the Joker is basically Jack Nicholson with a case of the giggles, but he does it with so much relish and oomph that you've gotta love that Joker (if you've seen the movie as much as I have, you'll get that reference).  Plus, the romance between Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale and Bruce Wayne is perhaps the best romantic subplot in any of the live action Batman movies (hint, I said live action).
Rating:  10 out of 10

4.  Batman Forever
Alright, the people that thought I was off my rocker for putting The Dark Knight at six, are seriously beginning to question my tastes now, and I am perfectly fine with that, because Batman Forever brings a smile to my face each time I watch it.  This movie is just fun, I mean, do I really have to justify myself?  Jim Carrey as the Riddler is just a blast to watch, and I have been a huge fan of Chris O'Donnell's Robin ever since I saw this movie as a kid.  On top of all that, Batman is heroic and noble for a change, while still being a dark character on the inside, plagued by the tragedy that made him.  It's a tough balancing act of how tortured you should make superheroes versus how light they should be, and I think director Joel Schumacher and actor Val Kilmer found a nice balance with Bruce Wayne in this movie.  Not to mention, Batman Forever has Nicole Kidman as the criminal psychologist in love with both Bruce Wayne and Batman, not knowing they're one and the same.  I've long wanted to see Kidman's Dr. Chase Meridian in the comic books, but considering how a lot of fanboy's think of this movie, that will probably never happen.  But I can dream, can't I?
Rating:  10 out of 10

3.  Superman: The Movie
From the opening title sequence with John Williams' heroic fanfare blaring, to the emotional finale where Superman turns back time itself to bring Lois back to life, this is the Golden Age Superman at his Americana finest.  Director Richard Donner once said that Superman is about as American as apple pie, and I agree with that statement wholeheartedly, which is why I love the moral and patriotic honesty of Christopher Reeve as Superman.  There is a nobility to Reeve that no other actor playing a superhero has ever managed to bring to their role, and it's a nobility that I think rested within Reeve himself, as is evidenced by his immense real-life bravery following his accident to not give in to his situation and make the best of it.  I've always admired Christopher Reeve and while there will be many more actors to play Superman, and a few who will even be amazing at it, there will never be another quite like him.  Reeve is the sole reason Superman: The Movie works as well as it does, and it's why it's a genuine movie classic (of course Ned Beatty's hilarious turn as Lex Luthor's henchman, Otis, definitely helps on that score too).
Rating:  10 out of 10

2.  Batman Begins
Batman Begins very nearly secured the number one spot, but number two is not a mere consolation prize, it just speaks volumes about how many great Batman and Superman movies there have been, and there's only one that I like more than Batman Begins (I wont even deign to say better because that's an apples and oranges argument).  Batman Begins is the Batman movie that Batman fans always wanted, simply put.  Till this point, fans had never had the definitive origin story of Batman done in a movie, and that is what Batman Begins is.  It's a movie that examines the how and why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman in intricate, thorough detail, while at the same time honoring its comic book roots with the most comic bookish feel of any movie in The Dark Knight trilogy, lending itself to the finest action sequences in the whole trilogy as well.  Christian Bale was the picture perfect Bruce Wayne and Batman, and I can't say enough about Gary Oldman as the future Commissioner Gordon and Michael Caine as Alfred.  Director Christopher Nolan just got everything right with this movie, and more importantly, he made this movie fun and heroic.  There is a nobility to Christian Bale's Batman in Begins that doesn't feel quite as self-interested as his character got in the later sequels when he wallowed in self pity.  Hey,  I love The Dark Knight trilogy as it is, but I still think, had the sequels followed more closely to the tone and style of Batman Begins, the trilogy as a whole would have been even greater than it already is.  There, I said it.  Scrutinize me if you want, but that's just how I feel.

1.  Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was originally meant just to be a straight-to-video release, a feature length film in the same universe as Batman: The Animated Series from the early Nineties, however after seeing it's promise during production, Warner Bros. decided to release it theatrically and here we are.  Mask of the Phantasm is one of the lesser known Batman movies by most in the general public, and there are many that would scoff at it because it's an animated movie, but if you can put aside any animation prejudices you may have, you'll discover the most heartfelt and original Batman movie that's ever been made.  This movie tears you up on the inside, it tells the tragic love story between Bruce Wayne and Andrea Beaumont, a woman of wealth who, like Bruce, suffered the loss of her family to criminals.  It is Bruce and Andrea's romance that gives this movie its heart, and ultimately seals it's number one ranking.  This is the most I've ever cared about Batman in a movie, the most I wanted to see him succeed, and not in just stopping the bad guy, but in getting back the woman he loves, even though he's Batman, we know that can't happen.  On top of that, this movie features one of the greatest Batman villains ever in the Phantasm, a grim reaperish vigilante who kills criminals out of hatred and revenge, and whose identity will genuinely shock you (I wont spoil it if you haven't seen it).  As well, Mark Hamill voices the Joker once again in this movie and is as brilliant as he ever has been in the role.  Then there is the heartstopping sequence where Batman, having been framed for the murders committed by the Phantasm, is chased by the police to a construction site in one of the best realized action sequences in any Batman movie, period.  Still, at the end of the day it is the heart of this movie that makes it my favorite Batman movie ever made, and it's why it tops this list.


So overall, while Batman claimed the top two spots, Superman ranked pretty high having four movies in the top 10, while Batman had six.  Can I really say who truly is the king of the movies?   I don't think I can.  Both heroes have had good movies and not so good movies, so it's really just a personal preference thing when it gets right down to it.  Sure, I do like more Batman movies than Superman movies, but that is because there have been more Batman movies made.  Honestly, I'd call it a draw, but if this were like a boxing match and after fifteen rounds both fighters were still standing, Batman would win on points, purely because he's had more hits.  Still, I think Superman would win nine times out of ten in an actual fight.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry, SUPERMAN: The Movie is still the best! Christopher Reeve IS Superman!