Film Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin

When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.

While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.

We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.

The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.

Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.

Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.

Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.

Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.

This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Mr. Freeze

I’ve been reading these Batman Arkham trade paperbacks, as they are collections of tales featuring famous Batman villains that cover their earliest stories up to their most modern. This volume on Mr. Freeze was pretty enjoyable, even if he was a fairly weak character until he was reinvented in the ’90s for Batman: The Animated Series.

Reading these collections that span decades also shows you how a real hokey character can actually become quite compelling. Plus, it’s cool to see how different generations have rewritten Freeze’s origin. Granted, I will always see his origin as the one that was established in Batman: The Animated Series, which was adapted into the comics shortly after. The newer twist to his origin isn’t nearly as good, where Nora wasn’t his wife but was his long dead mother.

Most of the stories here are pretty entertaining. I like reading the really old school classic stuff and it is cool seeing where the character came from and how he originally burst onto the scene. Mr. Freeze was originally called Mr. Zero but that was changed after his first appearance.

The best Freeze stories are the ’90s ones, though. The story in here that was done by Paul Dini, who also worked on Batman: The Animated Series, was by far the best tale in this collection.

Mr. Freeze is an interesting villain that has changed a lot over the years. While he isn’t as iconic as the Joker or the Riddler, he is still one of Batman’s toughest foes and a collection of his top stories was long overdue.

Film Review: Batman (1989)

Release Date: June 19th, 1989 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman, Prince
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter

Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – The Joker

Sure, there are several movies that had a major impact on me, as a young kid. However, none of them, except maybe Star Wars, quite hit me like 1989’s Batman. This was the cinematic event of my childhood that probably shaped my life for quite some time and is responsible for me still being a massive Batman fan today.

After seeing this, I got into comic books a lot more, started drawing my own and even had a comic publishing company in middle school with some friends. And to this day, Batman is still my favorite hero and he also has the coolest villains, hands down.

I was so excited to see this, being that I was ten years-old. I bought the novelization when it went on sale and read it in a day. Then I read it a few more times before the film actually came out. Was I worried about spoilers? Nope. Seeing it come to life in the flesh was all I really cared about, even if I knew the story, inside and out.

All these years later, this is still my favorite Batman film and Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman. Adam West is a very close second though, as I discovered him and the ’60s show alongside this film.

As a ten year-old, I had never seen anything as perfect as this. When it came out on VHS, my cousins and I watched it three or four times in a row, until we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we probably watched it another half dozen times. This was the cherry on top of the summer of 1989, which is still one of the best summer movie seasons of all-time.

Watching it in 2018, I still absolutely love this film. Sure, I see some of the minor flaws it has, like a sometimes nonsensical plot and weird developments that don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this is a comic book come to life and for the time, it was some top quality stuff and it has aged really well.

The film sort of has a film-noir and a German Expressionist style. Gotham City looks timeless because of the film’s style and that style helps to keep this grounded in its own reality. While some things are over the top, it feels much more plausible than most of the comic book films today. Batman and the Joker could both exist in some way because no one here has super powers. This is really a crime thriller where the hero of the story just has a lot of money for cool gadgets and a sweet jet.

Over the years, some people have complained that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker is corny or just a retread of the ’60s Cesar Romero incarnation. I think Nicholson was fantastic and it is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, right alongside Jack Torrance (The Shiningand Jake Gittes (Chinatown and The Two Jakes). Maybe Nicholson didn’t look like the perfect comic book version of the character but he made up for it in his madness and his ability to come off as convincing, scary and cool.

Michael Keaton is my Batman simply because he was my first and well, he is the perfect balance of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne wasn’t the best but it was acceptable while his Batman was exceptional. In later years, we got Val Kilmer, who I thought was too dry, and George Clooney, who did a great Wayne but a not so good Batman. Christian Bale was grunty and just sort of there and Ben Affleck hasn’t really wowed me, although he hasn’t disappointed either.

1989’s Batman is still a perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. Within the context of what it is, a living comic book, there isn’t a whole lot that one could nitpick about. Then again, some writers and critics over the years have tried to call the film out for not being as good as it is remembered. But some people on the Internet survive by posting clickbait articles and whining. Some people just think they need to show how cool they are by trashing something they will never be as cool as.

While I would also go on to love the direct sequel to this, Batman Returns, this chapter in the Tim Burton Batman duology is the best. While I am a fan of directors being able to convey their vision and Burton had more control with the sequel, I like how this one turned out compared to its followup. It’s more of a studio movie, sure, but it has just enough of that Burton touch to make it fairly unique. Plus, the score by Danny Elfman mixed with the sweet tunes of Prince created one of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time.

Batman has a few problems but they pale in comparison to a lot of the blockbusters today. The film didn’t try to be too big, which is what every contemporary blockbuster does. It also has a dark edge to it, coming out of a decade where Reaganomics and new wave music had most people acting cheery and cheesy. This was a precursor to the edgier ’90s where darker indie films and grunge music became the pop culture of the time.

Documentary Review: The Image Revolution (2014)

Release Date: January 25th, 2014 (Amazing Arizona Comic Con)
Directed by: Patrick Meaney

Respect Films, Sequart, 81 Minutes

Review:

The cool thing about The Image Revolution is that it covers the coolest time in comic book publishing history and, as a fan, I lived through this when it was happening and it was honestly, the coolest thing that my young middle school brain got to experience. I used the word “cool” a lot in that run-on sentence but that’s what the early ’90s were all about: cool.

Image Comics was, by far, the coolest comic book company to ever exist. When seven of Marvel Comics’ top dogs left the company to breakout on their own and go independent, it was like the comic industry’s version of the punk rock revolution.

Here you have Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino and Whilce Portacio: all heavy hitter creators at Marvel, bucking the system and forever changing the game. These guys were superstars within the industry and after their revolution, became rock stars in pop culture.

This documentary covers why these guys felt the need to kiss away their steady careers and stick it to the man. It also follows the formation of Image Comics, the struggles they faced and how even after things seemed to fall apart, these guys all sort of found each other again, despite their young rebellious attitudes, their fallouts and their intense competition with one another. It also shows how each artist formed their own studios, what that meant and how all of this built a solid foundation for new and emerging talents to ply their trade independently. And truthfully, without Image Comics and what these guys did, there probably wouldn’t be The Walking Dead or McFarlane Toys.

This is an exciting documentary for fans of the comic book industry, especially Generation Xers that were savvy to this story, back in the day. It’s really cool seeing these guys, all these years later, reflecting on the details of how this all went down. While comic industry reporting was great back in the early ’90s and my friends and I knew the story, some details were unknown until now.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Two-Face

I’m really happy that DC Comics is putting out these Batman: Arkham trade paperbacks. They cover the long history of specific villains in the same way that the much beloved The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told anthology did. Many Batman villains have been around for almost as long as the Caped Crusader. It’s about time that those with a long history in the comics get a collection that covers their tales from all eras.

This Two-Face one really goes all the way back to the beginning and shows us how District Attorney Harvey Dent became the famous villain. I mean, we all know the story but have we all seen the original version of how it went down? Plus, back in the oldest days of his existence, he was known as Harvey Kent… not Dent.

While I read the Batman: Arkham on the Riddler first and loved it, this one eclipses that volume a bit. I prefer the Riddler slightly as a character but this anthology for Two-Face is so solid and perfect that I really can’t recommend anything else on the guy’s history. Although, there was this ’90s story where Two-Face reconnects with his wife after saving her but that was excluded and shouldn’t have been. However, that tale was collected in a 1995 anthology titled Batman: Featuring Two-Face and the Riddler, which came out in 1995 to coincide with the release of the film Batman Forever. You should also check that one out if you are a Two-Face fan but a few story selections are repeated in that trade paperback and this one.

In the Riddler volume, I wasn’t as keen on some of the more modern stuff but in this Arkham collection, the modern Two-Face stories that were selected are pretty damn good. The final story, which sees him in league with Scarecrow and the Court of Owls is pretty interesting and it shows an incredibly sinister version of the Two-Face character.

Real Batman fans out there should probably pick all of these Arkham books up. They do not disappoint and I actually plan on working my way through all of them. At the moment, there is eight volumes, all focused exclusively on a particular villain. There are also at least three more that are being released over the next year.

I just got the volumes on Mr. Freeze and Scarecrow in the mail, so those will be the next I read.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – The Riddler

If you are a fan of the big anthology collection The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, then you will probably love the Batman Arkham collections, each of which focuses on a specific villain from Batman’s huge rogues gallery.

I actually found these while looking for a collection of tales featuring the Riddler. He’s always been a favorite villain of mine but I feel like he gets pushed aside for the Joker and that still newb to me, Harley Quinn.

This edition of Batman Arkham is pretty badass and a must own, if you are a real fan of Edward Nygma.

It has his earliest stories and a bunch of others throughout several decades leading up to more modern tales. Some of these are key Riddler stories, although a few are not. Some of the more modern stuff felt like extra pizzazz added in for newer fans that might not be too keen on that older overly cheesy stuff.

Overall, I was really glad that I picked this up because a Riddler collection is long overdue and at about 300 pages, this was enough to satisfy me. Granted, I’d like a second collection because there are just so many good Riddler stories to go around.

Also, this has got me excited about picking up the other Batman Arkham collections. I already possess the one for Two-Face, so that will be my next read.

Documentary Review: Batman & Bill (2017)

Release Date: May 6th, 2017
Directed by: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce
Music by: Brooke Blair, Will Blair

9.14 Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

Man, I really enjoyed this documentary and it is always great to see a positive conclusion to a long standing injustice, even if those who were directly involved didn’t survive to see it.

Batman & Bill is the story of Bill Finger. Most people don’t know the man but he was instrumental in creating Batman and a lot of his supporting characters. Due to a shifty deal that happened back in 1939, Bob Kane got all the credit for Batman’s creation and thus, reaped all the benefits. Kane went as far as to deny Finger’s involvement and claimed sole credit in Batman’s creation.

This film was well put together and tells the story of how Kane and Finger came to be a creative duo. It also goes through the history of Batman and his evolution as a character and a phenomenon.

Marc Tyler Nobleman, an author of seventy-plus books, uncovered more about the real story behind Batman’s creation than anyone else. He investigated Bill Finger’s story for years and eventually published the book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-creator of Batman. Nobleman made it his mission to draw attention to Finger and his contributions in an effort to get him the credit he deserved.

Nobleman eventually finds a long lost heir to Finger and with her, is able to fight for justice and to right the ship that was misguided more than seventy years earlier.

For true fans of Batman, this is a story that must be known. And for fans of justice, this will make you feel good.