Although it pains me to admit it, I was one of the few people who went to go see Batman Forever and actually expected it to be a good movie. Even though my experience with the comic books was pretty much limited to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, I had been a fairly devoted bat-geek since Tim Burton gave us the first “serious” Batman film in 1989, which I had seen no less than ten times in the theater. And even though the sequel Batman Returns was something of a disappointment, there was enough of Burton’s kooky gothic flair to save the film from total failure—plus Michelle Pfieffer’s performance as Catwoman, which was a total delight. That’s why, come 1995, I was one of the first in line to catch Joel Schumacher’s take on the Caped Crusader. What a cast! What a production! Plus I’d actually enjoyed some of Schumacher’s oeuvre, with the cheesy-but-fun Lost Boys putting a slick 80’s gloss on the moldy old vampire legend. I couldn’t wait to see what he could do with that other winged creature of the night.
By the time Tommy Lee Jones made his first appearance as Two Face, I was ready to about-face straight for the door.
Lord have mercy, that was a stinker. Schumacher seemed to have ramped up all the camp of the original 1960s Adam West series and forgotten all of the charm. But it made enough money for Warner Brothers to bring him back for Batman & Robin—of which I was more forgiving, as I expected it to be terrible and only saw it for a good laugh. Audiences agreed, and the studio buried the Bat for a solid seven years before daring to resurrect him.
It was worth the wait.
The approach that Christopher Nolan took with the material reminded me a lot of Richard Donner’s attitude toward directing Superman: The Movie. “Verisimilitude” was his modus operandi for the film. The characters were to be taken seriously, not as comic book caricatures—the same track that Nolan clearly took with Batman Begins. Fantastical as the premise was, he grounded it in a reality that kept the film from veering off into the absurd, and the result was a gritty, believable drama that actually took its time to fully develop Bruce Wayne, well beyond the childhood trauma of seeing his parents murdered. We actually get to see what it took for him to become the Batman, from immersing himself in the criminal underworld to learn their ways to the fabrication of all those wonderful toys. As a Batman film, it was, in a word, definitive.
Alas, that’s not good enough for some people...
Now, I’ll cut Buck a little bit of slack here, because my own trauma of being subjected to the Schumacher films obviously means I’m grading on a curve. I was just happy that Batman Begins didn’t suck, so that earned a lot of good will from me. However, in all fairness, to say that Nolan’s follow-up The Dark Knight is anything less than a spectacular piece of filmmaking that transcended its superhero roots to become a classic crime thriller is, quite simply, madder than a box of frogs.
The Dark Knight Rises is also about as good as a superhero film gets—and while it’s not quite up to the level of its predecessor, Tom Hardy’s Bane makes it eminently watchable, so much that it’s my go-to movie whenever I take a long flight.
So say what you will, Buck—most of the time you’re my boy, and I‘ll cheer on every word—but in this case your opinion about Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is about as daft as Sonny Bunch’s love of Sucker Punch.
Or is that going too far? :)