The Dark Knight Rises: Batman Through the Years

Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight Rises”
Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros/Sportsphoto Ltd (Source)

So this week I had a fantastic time hanging out with my sister and her boyfriend in Whitby, Ontario and we had a Batman mini-marathon starting with “The Dark Knight” in preparation for seeing him “Rise”. I confess that I didn’t remember a lot about “The Dark Knight” other than Heath Ledger’s artful and disturbing performance as the Joker and that it was action packed. The plot itself was a little muddy in my mind now four years later and, because Christopher Nolan’s series is intended as one continuous story, it was good that I had the refresher.

I had heard a lot about this latest installment before seeing it – generally I try not to look at press before I see the film – but for “The Dark Knight Rises” it was hard to avoid. It had been dubbed everything from mind-blowing to awful. I found it to be somewhere in between. At the risk of sliding into reviewing territory, I thought the plot was clunky and disjointed and the action sequences a little tedious. With a running time of 164 minutes, it failed to hold my attention. Not a good sign in an action movie. But it wasn’t as terrible as I had heard either. I find Nolan’s trilogy as a whole far superior to previous incarnations of the franchise in terms of flushing out the characters, their motivations and relationships. Taken on its own merits, I found the third chapter the weakest of the three, but as the conclusion to an intricate, fully formed concept introduced in “Batman Begins”, it was a reasonably satisfying finale.

For me, half the fun of going to the movies is the discussion afterward with my fellow moviegoers. For “The Dark Knight Rises”, our reactions mostly revolved around comparisons between this series and the previous Batman films of the 1990s that we grew up watching. I thought that might be a fun theme for a Bat-post… a recap of the caped crusader on screen.

First things first. Even though Adam West’s Batman existed mostly on the small screen (although apparently there was a live action Batman movie in 1966 in which he donned the cape – who knew?), a Batman summary wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to the campy TV series (my favourite Bat-sound is “Ker-sploosh”):

Also you should know that I have only a passing knowledge of the Batman movies, by which I mean I’ve seen them all, but find it hard to keep them straight. Here’s a breakdown:

 

  • Batman (1989) – Directed by Tim Burton, “Batman” featured Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as his nemesis, The Joker. Also starred Kim Basinger as Batman’s love interest, Vicki Vale. Generally well received and big at the box office. Won Oscar for Art Direction.
  • Batman Returns (1992) – Also a Burton film with Michael Keaton in the title role. This time there were numerous villains including Danny DeVito as The Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and Christopher Walken as mastermind tycoon Max Shreck. Although reviews were generally positive, “Returns” was less successful at the box office.
  • Batman Forever (1995) – Joel Schumacher’s first turn at “bat” with Val Kilmer donning the cape. It introduced Robin into the mix played earnestly by Chris O’Donnell. The dynamic duo faced The Riddler personified by Jim Carrey and Two-Face played by Tommy-Lee Jones. Nicole Kidman appeared as Chase Meridian, Batman’s love interest. Despite being nominated for three Oscars, reviews were mixed.
  • Batman & Robin (1997) – Schumacher returned with George Clooney as Batman and Chris O’Donnell reprising his Robin role. Alicia Silverstone joined them in their fight against crime as Batgirl. Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze provided the criminal element. Generally agreed to be a great big bomb by critics and fans alike.
  • Batman Begins (2005) – Christopher Nolan’s first installment to his trilogy with Christian Bale as the title hero backed up by Michael Caine’s Alfred and Katie Holmes as his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes. Villains included Liam Neeson as the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul and Cillian Murphy as the psychotic Scarecrow. Popular with audiences and well-received by critics.
  • The Dark Knight (2008) – Nolan’s second film in the series again with Bale as Batman and Michael Caine as Alfred. This time Maggie Gyllenhal played Rachel and we had a new batch of villains and anti-heroes: Heath Ledger as The Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face. Best installment yet, both critically and financially. Heath Ledger was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, SAG, Golden Globe, and BAFTA.
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Nolan’s final Dark Knight film still with Christian Bale and Michael Caine reprising their roles and introducing Officer John Blake played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Anne Hathaway became Catwoman and Tom Hardy played pseudo-human Bane. So far reviews are all over the place with die-hard fans swearing it’s the best superhero movie ever, while being panned by many critics.

For a thorough and entertaining comparison of all of the Batmen, check out what Jay Pinkerton, contributor at cracked.com, has to say on the subject. For me, Christian Bale has breathed new life into the role, but his largely unintelligible “Bat-voice” drives me crazy. And I know I’ll draw fire for this, but I think that George Clooney was the best Bruce Wayne alter ego, despite being in the worst movie.

Here are the four contemporary Batmen… See if you can tell which is which:

I remember loving the first Batman at the time – so many quotable lines thanks in large part to Nicholson’s maniacal Joker: “Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in, where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press?” In contrast, Ledger’s Joker was less attention-seeking and more an insane advocate for unlimited chaos. This darker turn was reflected in all the elements of Nolan’s later trilogy, which feels more seedy and real than the more comic-book like style provided by both Burton and Schumacher. And I think I owe my movie-going friends from 1997 a long overdue apology for making them go see Batman & Robin with me. I worked at the town movie theater that summer and saw everything for free. My companions didn’t. I owe you all 2 hours and 5 minutes of your time, not to mention the $7.
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7 thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises: Batman Through the Years

  1. Rhondaroo says:

    I’ve never been a Batman fan. Not even back in the day when it was on Switchback every Saturday morning. I used that time to go pee or get a bowl of cereal. So I don’t have much to add here.
    Do you remember Batdance by Prince? I remember liking that back in the day:)

    • Oh see, I loved the Batman clips on Switchback – I had forgotten all about that. But yes I vividly remember Batdance. Prince helped the cool factor of that movie considerably. Thanks for the memories!

  2. Richard T. says:

    I’m a die hard Batman fan and have to say The Dark Knight Rises was least of the three films, still an excellent movie but no where near a great as The Dark Knight was. I think it was a great end to the trilogy, but hope they leave it at this and reboot if they must make more Batman movies. Nolan told an excellent story with a satisfying ending to fans of the films.

    • Agreed! I read somewhere that Christopher Nolan had a clear 3-film series in mind and that he’s now “done”, but the end of Dark Knight Rises seems to leave things wide open for another sequel… I hope you’re right in that it’s more a reboot situation than a continuation though. I would also like to see a bit more time between reboots. I didn’t see the new Spiderman specifically because I thought, “I’ve already seen this recently”… the Tobey Maguire trilogy just wrapped up five short years ago! I think Hollywood has a short memory (and very big pockets)!

  3. I prefer my Batman campy over melancholy Batman (though I dig Michael Caine as Alfred) and your take is enough to confirm my lack of interest in seeing TDKR.

    Point of clarification: you neglected to mention Prince did the soundtrack for the first Batman movie and it’s amazing. Seek out the video for “Batdance,” I’ll wait here.

    • I enjoy the camp, but I like my superheroes with a little broodiness/edge. And I love, love, love, Michael Caine as Alfred. Of course, I pretty much love Michael Caine in just about everything.

      I know, the Prince omission was unforgiveable. See Rhondaroo’s comment for pointing this out as well. This is why I need my faithful commenters!

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