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.

Comic Review: Penguin: Pain and Prejudice

The Penguin is a character that has been a major thorn in Batman’s side since he first appeared in Detective Comics #58, which was published in December of 1941. In that time, he has had some great moments and iconic stories.

Although, none of them really hit the nail on the head as well as this story does, at least in regards to who the Penguin is, underneath his sinister personality.

This examines the psychology and the origin of the character. It is dark but it is a necessary read for fans of the character that want something more intimate.

In fact, after reading this, it’s obvious that they borrowed some bits when developing the character of the Penguin for the television show Gotham. Specifically, the parts about his relationship with his mother. Granted, they replaced his abusive father with the kindhearted one, played by Paul Reubens, in the show.

Pain and Prejudice is well written and the art is superb. While Batman appears in the story, it is nice to see the Penguin as the main character. It follows his past family issues, mixes them with a current love story and weaves it all into a tale where he loses his shit and decides to attack the children of Gotham City. This, of course, brings Batman into the story in an attempt to foil the Penguin’s insane plot.

This trade paperback also includes a bonus, a one issue comic where the Joker tells his version of a Penguin origin story. The Joker tale is just a small part of this book and it isn’t a fleshed out origin like the Pain and Prejudice tale but ultimately, this collection is a real tribute to the Penguin character and just how human the inhuman villain is.

I read good things about the main story before buying this. The praise for it was justified, as this is one of the best Penguin stories I’ve ever come across in my long history of reading Batman comics.

Comic Review: Batman: The Long Halloween

This is considered to be one of the best Batman stories ever put to paper. It is certainly one of my favorites of all-time. It is followed up by Dark Victory and Haunted Knight and form a pretty cool trilogy as a whole, even if the third part is a collection of multiple stories and not a big epic like the first two parts. Also, Catwoman: When In Rome is made by the same team and takes place concurrently to these stories.

The Long Halloween is a good departure from the standard Batman stories. It is very heavy on the noir and less so on gadgetry and the more sci-fi elements. It reads like an old school classic Batman tale but is much more modern in its approach, in that it isn’t hokey and comes off really dark and serious.

The story focuses on a serial killer the press has labeled “Holiday”. The killer always strikes on a holiday and seems to be targeting high ranking family members in the Falcone crime family and their associates.

This is also an origin story for Two-Face. Even though it is a tale that has been told before, nothing really carries the weight that his origin does here.

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale combined and made one hell of a team. This was originally published over thirteen issues from 1996 to 1997 and was released as a graphic novel in 1998. The writing is great, the art is even better. This truly is a quintessential Batman story. It’s as perfect as a Batman story can get and it even sprinkles in some of the better known villains, even though they aren’t the primary focus of the story. Seeing Scarecrow and Mad Hatter team together is pretty fun.

The Long Halloween is something that true Batman fans should have already read and should certainly own. There are very few Batman stories this good. It puts a lot of emphasis on the crime families and it has since gone on to spawn a lot of other Batman related projects like the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy of films and the Fox television show Gotham.

Comic Review: Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland) is highly regarded as one of the best Batman stories ever written. It is hugely popular and fanboys the world over embrace it like it is some sort of geek bible. It tells the origin story of the Joker and gives us the event that leads to Barbara Gordon’s transformation from Batgirl into Oracle. It essentially covers a lot of ground for only being 48 pages.

Being written by Alan Moore (Wathcmen, Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) adds a certain level of credibility and mystique to this tale. That being said, for me, it doesn’t live up to the hype and the fanfare. The story isn’t bad but it just doesn’t develop into something all that thought-provoking, which is what one would expect from Alan Moore.

The Killing Joke gives us one of the many Joker origins and the one presented here has seemingly become the most popular. The thing is, there have been several different Joker origin stories told by several different writers that all vary to large degrees. In fact, in Batman canon, no Joker origin story is considered to be “the one”. The mystery of the character is that we just don’t know what his true origin is and frankly, I think it should be left that way: open for debate till the end of time. Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight plays off of this, as his Joker goes on to tell varying stories of how he got his scars. Even the film Joker’s beginnings are unknown.

When it comes to the character’s origin, I’m more in favor of what was written by Michael Green in Batman: Lovers & Madmen. If you haven’t read it, I suggest that you do. I found it to be a better story than The Killing Joke.

The one thing that The Killing Joke has going for it, especially at the time of its release in the late 1980s, is the amazing art by Brian Bolland. The scenes are fantastically orchestrated and Bolland’s ability to convey emotion through his subjects is pretty spectacular. This definitely upped the ante at the time and brought a new level of artistry to the comic book industry, which was in the midst of a big evolutionary jump at that time. The inks and colors were also incredible and gave this book such a vibrant presentation. More than reading this graphic novel, I just liked to stare at its pages in awe.

I do thoroughly enjoy The Killing Joke but apart from the revolutionary art, it lacks in meat and potatoes, which is pretty uncharacteristic of Alan Moore. I think a lot of people embrace it simply because Moore’s name is on the cover, as he has become a comic book writer who has been deified by the fan community. I’m not saying that Moore hasn’t earned that distinction but this book isn’t on the literary level of someone who has reached that level of worship.

Comic Review: Batman: No Man’s Land – The Complete Saga

There have been a lot of huge stories in the Batman mythos over the last 75 plus years. This story may have been the biggest.

Following the events of Contagion and Cataclysm, No Man’s Land tells the long and epic tale of life within Gotham City after a massive earthquake.

In a nutshell, everything was nearly destroyed and the United States government condemned the city and requested that everyone leave, as it was christened “No Man’s Land”. Nothing comes in and nothing comes out of Gotham City in this world. It is essentially like the world in Escape From New York. Except this is Gotham City and this world is full of Batman, his allies and his enemies.

This event took place across every Batman related title throughout 1999. It encompassed the entire Batman world and involved just about every living character that existed in the flesh, at the time.

This is a great series to pick up, as it sort of reinvents and reestablishes the Batman landscape. With Gotham being wiped out everything literally has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Batman reestablishes his connections with his allies and makes some new ones in the process. This series also invloves just about every major Batman villain, so each chapter in this series is literally a Who’s Who of Batman’s rogues gallery.

This series is also notable for being the first time that Harley Quinn and Mercy Graves appeared in comic book form, as part of official DC Comics canon. Both characters started out in the DC Animated Universe but became so popular that they were officially adopted by DC.

The art and the writing in this series is well beyond top notch. There are a lot of things that make this one of my favorite Batman sagas, if not my absolute favorite.

If you’ve ever wanted to see how Batman would live in a post-apocalyptic scenario, here’s your chance.

Comic Review: The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told

greatest-joker-stories-ever-toldThe Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told is a hefty trade paperback I have had in my collection since around 1989. I remember my mum buying it for me just after the first Michael Keaton Batman film came out that summer. I have cherished it ever since and actually read through it in its entirety almost yearly.

The title of this collection says it all. Up until the point that I got this as a ten year-old child, these were the very best Joker stories of all-time. And here they were, collected in one mammoth book for my little fingers to thumb through like a fiend – absorbing every evil deed that my favorite comic book villain could dish up.

Sure, some great Joker stories have been told over the last quarter of a century since I first got this collection but regardless, for any fan of the Joker, this trade paperback is absolutely essential.

The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told starts with the first Joker story ever and gives you some solid works from each decade up through the late 1980’s. There is half a century of fantastic Joker tales, his best tales.

The style and tone of the writing and the artwork changes from decade to decade and this book is also a pretty cool piece of history, as reading through its stories are like riding in a time machine. It isn’t just a piece of Joker history or Batman history, it is a piece of comic book history and shows the reader the best there is from each epic era.

If you collect comics or you just like Batman or the Joker, this should already be in your library. If it isn’t, what’s wrong with you?

Film Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

Release Date: August 1st, 2016 (Premiere)
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Steven Price
Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller

DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Warner Bros., 123 Minutes (theatrical), 136 Minutes (extended cut)

suicide-squadReview:

Let me start by saying that I am really glad that I didn’t pay to see this movie in the theater. From the awful trailers, I expected this to be pretty bad. Well, it somehow managed to exceed the negative expectations I had for it.

It sucks, because on paper, this is a movie I should have loved. I really wanted it to be great. But ultimately, it goes to show that DC has no idea how to make a movie unless Christopher Nolan is in charge of it. I mean, between this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel, I already want DC to start over.

I watched the extended cut of the film, as I heard that it fleshed things out and made the story more coherent. It did? Because what I got was a very disjointed clusterfuck that made little-to-no sense at all. The film was hard to follow due to its inconsistent pace, awful editing and never really being able to explain what is happening on screen in any sort of intelligible way.

The biggest issue with this picture isn’t that it is a giant mess that plays more like a series of vignettes. The biggest issue is that it is trying so damn hard to be cool and edgy.

First is the music. Yes, there are great and iconic songs in this movie. However, they’re all songs already used in other films, in other iconic scenes. It’s like David Ayer made a Pandora station called “cool music from cool movies” and then just used the first twenty tracks that played. It was really a piss poor use of those songs and their usage doesn’t make much sense, for the most part, except to establish, “Look how cool we are using this cool song that everyone knows is cool! Aren’t we fucking cool?! C’mon, we’re cool, right?!”

Apart from the pop tunes, the score of the film is boring and generic. Suicide Squad is another movie, in a long line of blockbusters, that can’t give us any memorable themes to sink our teeth into. Long gone are the days of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme, John Williams’ Superman theme and a slew of others.

Then you had Will Smith’s Deadshot, in 2016, dressed like a cool character from a 70s blaxploitation flick. Killer Croc only cared about having BET in his cell, El Diablo had to play up the Mexican gangster card to the max and everyone else was too uninteresting to matter.

Harley Quinn was tolerable but pretty one-dimensional. The film does nothing really to show how she falls for the Joker. There are just a few flashbacks but they aren’t even that important. Sure, she proves her love by jumping into a vat of chemicals but why? Where is the build to that? How did she go from a presumably normal psychiatrist to Harley Quinn? I mean, I know, because I read the comics. But it is obvious from Suicide Squad that the people behind the movie never read them or just didn’t care enough about the character to give her life.

The Joker was awful. You had him covered in juvenile tattoos unfitting of the character. The Joker also had fronts in his teeth while being some sort of nightclub owner that cared about supercars and living in opulence. The Joker was also more of a wannabe punker trust fund kid than anything that felt Joker-like, at all. It was like some angry rich emo teen saw the real Joker on television and did his best trying to emulate him, all while never actually understanding the character. Wait, this is Jared Leto playing the Joker, so this is exactly what happened in real life.

The villain is the Enchantress. She is a boring villain. Granted, she is super powerful but that just makes me wonder why this “suicide squad” of extremely dangerous villains, mostly without superpowers, is sent to take her down. Where is Batman? Where is Wonder Woman? Aquaman? The Flash? Superman is “dead”, if this fits in the timeline after Batman v Superman. But seriously, wouldn’t any of those people be more capable and experienced? And the leader of this squad is a guy who has an emotional attachment to the villain? So the one good guy holding it together and trying to control these villains, is an emotionally unstable wreck?

The writing in this film sucks. The dialogue sucks and just serves the overall point of this whole film, “Ooh, ooh! Look how cool we are!”

The movie is also over two hours, which was too long. It should’ve been 90-100 minutes. 105, max. There was so much useless garbage scene-wise. Maybe the problem is the fact that they don’t even set off on their mission until 43 minutes into the picture.

What really sucks, is that the Suicide Squad was already on the CW show Arrow. They were handled really well and their story was building good momentum. Then because of this film being made, DC told the producers of Arrow to nix those characters. So a really good live-action version of the Suicide Squad was sacrificed to give us this shitty film.

David Ayer made a really bad movie. But that doesn’t seem to matter, as DC is letting him make a spin-off called Gotham City Sirens. That film is supposed to feature Harley Quinn and other female Batman villains.

It takes a lot for me to really hate a film. I hate this film. Comic book films have jumped the shark and at this point, it feels like exploitation of the original creators’ characters for a quick buck. DC Comics has yet to make a film that has any sort of soul. Suicide Squad is the worst of them, so far. I want to give Wonder Woman and Aquaman a chance but man, am I losing faith. Not that I had much since Man of Steel.