For me, one of the most impressive fall TV offerings so far has been the Batman-prequel-series that is Gotham. For anyone who has not yet watched, it's a series focusing on Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, the city, and the criminals behind Gotham's descent into darkness. And. It's. Awesome.
I'll admit, I was starting to get a little Bat-fatigued, so I'm thrilled to see something that has actually made me excited about the mythology again. Yes, Batman is amazing, and iconic, and generally a synonym for awesomeness, but after 75 (ish) years, there is space for something fresh in the Bat-verse. Enter: Gotham. While some fans are frustrated by the lack of a Dark Knight and the departures from canon, many others (myself included) are happy to explore new possibilities, and are willing to be a little less rigid when it comes to interpretations of characters.
Gotham has renewed my interest in the Bat to the extent that I even decided to go back and revisit the 90s live-action incarnation; Those wonderful Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher movies. Starting with....
OK, technically this is an eighties movie, but only by a few months, so I'll allow it. That said, it's actually possibly my least favorite of the four. It's clear in retrospect that the writers weren't willing to get too creative for this first film outing in over twenty years, and that makes sense. However, the result of that decision is something much more formulaic than the later offerings in the series - relying a little too heavily on a love triangle rather than the heroes and villains themselves. It's a surprisingly basic plot, and while there are some colorful details (the Joker's diabolical attack on beauty products, for one thing), the re-watch was actually pretty disappointing.
That said, I adore Tim Burton's work, not just on screen but (after being lucky enough to catch his exhibition at MoMa several years ago), a favorite fine artist as well. His gothic style and the way that he plays with form and color work so perfectly with the darkness and insanity of Gotham and the Batman mythology, and no level of simplistic storyline can negate that. It's also truly creepy to watch; I had wondered if I was remembering horror through the eyes of a child, but no, it's actually just incredibly terrifying at times. That surgery scene...*shudder. It's really interesting to see a superhero movie that has such a strong element of horror to it, rather than just blow-em-up action.
There are some great little nods to the comic books, especially in the opening sequence, and the Burton touch is as perfect as always. Still, so much more could have been made of the Joker (especially with an actor as gifted as Jack Nicholson), and so much less could have been made of the love triangle. As the film that launched an incredible series of movies, I love it. But alone, for me, this bat-movie just doesn't fly.
Batman Returns (1992)
This has always been a personal favorite of mine, and it's no secret why. Catwoman. It's all about that black vinyl suit and Michelle Pfieffer's beautiful portrait of a deranged woman. I think that this version of Catwoman resonates so well with so many women because she gets to play out that part in all of us that wants to go a little crazy - smash the phone full of annoying messages, suit up in something wholly inappropriate and run around kicking the asses of bullying bosses and bad dates.
But it's not just Selina Kyle who makes this movie. The whole thing ups the creep factor left, right and center, and layers it nicely on top of sparkly lights and snow and Christmas trees. Those Burton touches from the first movie are more marked and intense, and it gives the whole thing somewhat of a comic-book-feel without any hint of Sunday morning cartoons. It's visually stunning and horrifying at the same time, and Penguin is the perfect villain. He is truly grotesque in almost every way, but somehow manages to come across as a pitiable figure.
Appearance aside, I love that here, the plot thickens. We aren't just dealing with Batman v Joker and the winner gets the girl. This time, we are treated to multiple villains, from the Penguin to the evil boss to the split personality villain/victim that is Catwoman. The concept of who is bad, who is worse and why they are is complicated and difficult, and that makes it so much more interesting. Even the love story is far more nuanced, leaving behind the straightforward bat-meets-girl of the first for something more realistic (well, in terms of the relationship dynamic, of course. Clearly a psychotic cat-zombie dating a billionare superhero doesn't exactly fall under "realistic"). I would also like to give a standing ovation to the fact that at the end, Selina turns him down. Not easily, but with the gloriously un-Hollywood attitude that she just can't be the little woman at home, not even for him.
Batman Forever (1995)
The third installment comes a close second to Batman Returns for me, but the lack of a crazy bad-girl is a sore point. (What can I say, I've got a weakness for the villainous femme fatale, far more than straightforward reporters and girlfriends!) This is also the point in the series where Burton gives way to Schumacher, and while it's not jarringly obvious, the difference is noticeable.
This is definitely a movie that isn't too concerned about hyper-realism, and in my mind, that actually makes it. Unlike the current trend in superhero movies, where everything is just on the verge of possible, Batman Forever is full technicolor goodness from Robin's costume to Riddler's bright green spandex. It's an absolute feast for the eyes, full of over-the-top costumes and scenery that truly bring comics to life. If nothing else, you should watch it just for Two-Face, with his world split cleanly down the middle from his crazy suits, to his perfectly dichotomous lair, to the girlfriend for each half.
Another incredible element for me (and one that is often missing in recent films) is the almost total disregard for backstory in order to focus on the current situation. We get a glimpse at Nygma's past, but only a glimpse, and Two-Face is just presented as a straight-up bad guy, no explanation necessary. While I am a sucker for knowing what drives a character, sometimes it's just unnecessary, and too much concern for history can be at the expense of the present.
It's a star-studded colorful extravaganza and there are some particularly genius fourth-wall moments that I absolutely love. (Holy metal grate, Batman!) It's not perfect, however, and my main issue lies in Jim Carey as the Riddler. The cast list reads like a who's who of the 90s, so it's no surprise to see him, but I am rarely a fan of him in his funnier roles. The rubberface bothers me, and although it suits the cartoonish elements of this movie, I can't see him as just Ed Nygma. Instead, I look at him and see Jim Carey, and it really ruins the character for me. Of course, if you are a fan of Carey, it probably just makes this one even better!
Batman and Robin (1997)
The final installment of nineties Batman leaves the Burton creep-factor by the wayside, and instead chooses to teeter on the edge of ridiculousness for two hours. This is a perfect example of weekend cartoons brought to life, with terrible science, eye-strainingly bright costumes and cringeworthy one-liners to boot.
Arnie as Mr Freeze pretty much sums up the movie, in a lot of ways. There's some complexity to the character, and he's certainly never boring, but you just can't take him seriously. It's great to see Robin getting a proper outing in film, as he's been pretty much ignored recently (hints of Joseph Gordon-Levitt aside) and he deserves to be seen as more than just a silly sidekick by the general public. It's also nice to see Batgirl make her appearance, although her role as a "strong female character" and verbal sparring with Poison Ivy is about as subtle as a three dollar bill.
Batman and Robin is laughable, but that is both it's failing and it's success. As a serious adult take on Gotham, it could never work. But if you've got a couple hours to spare where you just want to be entertained by some lighthearted silliness, you could do much worse.
What do you think of the 90's Bruce Wayne? Comment below with your thoughts, favorite moments and Batman memories!