Time for Batman,and a cruise through his eventful life and times in grim Gotham City,via a just-out,four-DVD box set. Of all the superheroes,Batman is the least likely to appeal to children. He is not really a superhero in the way Superman or Spider-Man is: he has nightmares; he lives in a town that never seems to see the light of day. But once you fall for the lure of the bat,the others look like sweet sweepers of the sky.
Tim Burtons brief in Batman was to take the TV series to the screen. A re-visit is a reminder of just how magnificently thats been executed. Gotham City is a swirl of snow,dark shadows falling on street corners,a place where crooks flourish and the good people stand to be mugged. The only person who stands tall is the guy in the batsuit,who drives a really cool car,and bashes the baddies. And of the four movies,the other three being Batman Returns,Batman and Robin and Batman Forever,the first stands tall,because Burtons imaginings perfectly match the comic-book conception of his hero.
Michael Keaton is a terrific Batman,but this is the Jokers movie. Jack Nicholson is unforgettable as the villain that the Bat has to best,his wickedness in your face,yet layered and mesmeric. In an insightful commentary,Burton talks about the making of the movie,which was done in pre-CG times. For that its pretty darn good in the special effects department. I had grown up on the TV series,and Batman was my favourite comic character by far, says Burton. He loved the Phantom of the Opera aspect of it,and the twin shades of the good and the bad. Mike was right because he was not the classic superhero looker,Jack was everyones first choice: the worry was that he would be almost too perfect,he was the real godfather of the movie…. The idea was to achieve a sort of heightened reality,to keep everything semi-real. Its a fascinating narration,of the making of a movie that went on to become a classic. Burtons second outing,not a personal favourite,went down the same route of pitting his hero (Keaton again) against the forces of evil. Danny DeVitos Penguin,the revolting half-human creature with a beak and webbed claws,is not in the same league as Nicholsons Joker. Maybe it was all that make-up,which hid DeVitos natural exuberance,whose abiding image from the film is the one in which he is caught tearing at at a raw fish. It was Michelle Pfeiffers Catwoman who stole this film,all sharp claws,sharp teeth,and a sting in that slinky tail.
Things perk up in Batman Forever,with Joel Schumacher at the helm. Val Kilmer is Bat this time,and he does a good job of resurrecting his character. Hes helped by Riddler (Jim Carrey in his super-manic avatar),and the scarred Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones). It also helps that the damsel in distress is Nicole Kidman,a vision in her blonde ringlets and crimson lipstick.
Schumacher was again at the helm of Batman and Robin,and his directive was clear: to make the film more child-friendly. So we got George Clooney donning the batsuit,Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy,eager beaver Robin (Chris ODonnell),and very girl scout Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone). Despite the gorgeous Clooney and his hard-working companions,this is the worst of the foursome: everyone got buried under the villainous Mr Freezes (Arnold Schwarzenegger,in a ludicrous turn) ice-creating abilities.