Article: The Last 25 Years of Batman On Film

Batman has seen many incarnations over the years including tv shows, movies, and numerous animated series. This week marked 25 years since Tim Burton brought the bat to the screen and reignited comics to screen craze.

"Thug meet fist!"
Rather quietly this week we saw the passing of the 25th Anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman. I still remember the excitement I had about this movie back in 1989. In many ways, it revitalized the superhero movie genre with a blockbuster cast and cutting edge director. 

Despite many doubters about the casting of Michael Keaton (Warner Bros. received over 50,000 angry letters in an era before the internet), the film was a massive success. Keaton proved himself to be perhaps the best actor to strap on the cape to date while a superfluous Jack Nicholson turned in an epic performance as the Joker.

Watching the movie 25 years later, I still love it. It holds up well despite the lack of modern CGI wizardry that we've all come to expect. The movie just has a look and feel all of its own thanks to the style Tim Burton brought to the project. 

"You son of a bitch! You forgot
to clean my litter box this week!"

The Burton / Keaton duo went on to bring us 1992’s Batman Returns, a solid sequel that didn't quite live up to the first film. Danny DeVito was a good choice to play the Penguin, but some aspects of how the character was written and delivered were a little too over the top. Michelle Pfeiffer was fantastic as Catwoman, an iconic role that took over twenty years to be properly represented on screen again. Batman Returns did well enough at the box office, but the studio felt it should have done better and placed blame on the dark tone taken by Burton. So, they decided to make major changes going forward with the franchise, a decision which would prove to be very, very incorrect.

How did Warner Bros. decide to improve the franchise? They introduced Joel Schumacher and gave the city of Gotham a major neon overhaul. 

"Is this the S & M party?"
Batman Forever was gifted to the world in 1996 with Val Kilmer now filling the role of the Batman. This film marked the first appearance of Robin to the mix as well, with Chris O’Donnell playing the Boy Wonder. This film made me wonder what the hell had gone wrong. Jim Carrey as the Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, as Nicole Kidman and Drew Barrymore added even more star power to the cast. This movie made money but I always thought it was a train wreck. Not to be outdone a year later by Batman & Robin though. B&R nearly killed the franchise with yet another lead change as George Clooney became the third man to slide down the batpole in as many films. Clooney was joined by O’Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger (in one of the most ridiculous roles ever) as Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and the addition of Alicia Silverstone to the bat pile as Batgirl. If Batman Forever was a train wreck, B&R was a complete one liner infused abortion. Seriously though, Schumacher went out of his way to make the worst Batman movie of all time.
"Blue meth! Thank you
It would be eight painful years before our hero saw the silver screen again. 

Christopher Nolan wiped the slate clean and started over in 2005 with Batman Begins. His Dark Knight trilogy saved the Batman franchise and did massive business at the box office worldwide. The movies are not perfect but they are pretty damn good, in my opinion, with my favorite being The Dark Knight. The work Heath Ledger did as the Joker was nothing short of brilliant. The Dark Knight Returns wrapped with the three film series and was for me the weakest entry of the trilogy but still a pretty enjoyable film.

Now we await the next chapter in Batman lore. Ben Affleck will be the next man to take on the role and early fan reaction has not been too enthusiastic to say the least. While I find the choice of Affleck to be a bit odd I’m willing to give it a chance. After all, 25 years ago nobody thought Michael Keaton could fill the cape and he turned out just fine.

~Brian Rohe