There seems to be bat in the air! After Suicide Squad garnered interest in the Batman mythos after it was given a black mark with Batman v Superman, I have seen some people discussing the other related media regarding the Batman. I have seen the Otaku Judge review both the animated Suicide Squad film, Batman: Assault on Arkham and the infamously controversial animated retelling of the Killing Joke. That has got me kind of in the mood for talking about something related to the Caped Crusader and while I would love to wait for a month where I can just talk about superhero things in general I decided to jump the gun.
So Batman…arguably the one superhero over the course of both cinema and television who has become a famous pulp culture icon. Yes the others are too, but Batman has had some really stand out material over the course of its long cinematic lifetime both animated and live action. I never grew up with the comics, but I had my fair share of the television shows and the Burton films before eventually loving the caped crusader enough to go out of my way to watch his material. Batman is still, to this day, being put into fantastic movies that don’t have Zac Snyder helming them and taking gamers through the streets of Gotham to stop heinous plots. So I decided to make a list about my favourite films of his…brilliant segue.
11. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Batman Beyond barely missed my list, but thankfully the film Return of the Joker didn’t. There is a certain edginess that I didn’t enjoy in the original series that also carried over to this film. The dance clubs, the revamped “hip” character designs, the way Terry’s costume was only really one tone. There were a lot of flaws, yet there is a plus to that entire series and that it spawned this film. Return of the Joker gives us a finale to the Joker as a character regarding the animated series showing us both a great clash between the old and the new as well as giving us yet another Mark Hamill performance. Albeit this is probably not the pivotal Joker performance, but the banter between Terry and Joker during the finale really worked. It also showed up the newer designs of the Batman Beyond series, proving that you can’t beat a classic.
10. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman
A multi-tiered mystery that certainly makes up for its rushed nature, Mystery of the Batwoman tells a personal story of Bruce Wayne and the women in his life as he tries to figure out who the new vigilante is. Unfortunately all the women he knows are suspects, each with a potential motive to ruin Penguin’s arms ring. I didn’t think I would enjoy this film as much as I did as the characters of the Kathy Duquesne and her father, were focused on quite a bit and went through an arc that is while cliché well told with enough time given to it. Sadly that means other characters such as Roxanne Valentine and Sonia Alcana feel rushed in both their motives and execution, especially Sonia. Half the fun is figuring out which of these women is Batwoman and the other half is watching the Penguin’s empire come crashing down as well as a great showdown with Bane during the final hurrah. It does though at times come off as a tad bit too sexual, especially for a children’s cartoon but I still feel it never devalued them as strong female characters.
9. Batman: The Killing Joke
There is a lot of controversy revolving this particular title and I kind of see it both ways. While yes the opening is not essential to the overall story as the main focus is heavily centered on the Joker and Batman, I also don’t find it offensive. It certainly made the film more of a slog to get through in the beginning, but it was an interesting take on the average criminal with Paris Franz and delved into the relationship of Barbara and Bruce. I didn’t feel more emotional attachment to Barbara as a character since I never considered her or her father important characters to the overall point of the film. They were more catalysts of the events rather than the players. It wasn’t bad per se, just not necessary and felt more like a grittier episode of an animated series.
That being said I can watch Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill discuss rhetoric and philosophy all day long in the roles of Batman and the Joker. Watching the lengths Joker goes to in order to prove a point is creepy and depraved, but also a cry for attention which is only amplified by the concluding joke to the overall story. We learn about how the Joker remembers his past in multiple ways as the way we are even shown may not actually be truthful as it feels like Joker is unreliably narrating this past only to say he’d rather his past be multiple choice. The dialogue taken from the comic was brilliant, but I also think they did a good job at recreating it on the big screen. The iconic scenes of course had more care put into them than others, which juxtaposed to some of the less than stellar animated sequences made it more obvious with the quality dive. There is a reason why I put this film on my list, but having not read the source material I am more apt to read the material now than watching the film again no matter how well the performances were.
8. Batman (1989)
What hasn’t been said about this seminal work of Batman on the big screen? It gave us the darker Batman we are more accustomed to and helped pave the way for future Batman films until Joel Schumacher messed it all up with bat credit cards. Michael Keaton works surprisingly well as the stalwart dark knight and has a great repartee with Jack Nicholson as the Joker. My problem with this film is that while it set up the whole legacy of Batman films (I am not counting Adam West’s Batman) I can never remember it. Heck I remember Batman & Robin more than I remember it and that is what makes me think it never resonated with me. It has good origin stories and a very subtle Bruce Wayne portrayal, yet I think it’s that very subtlety that doesn’t make it as memorable in my mind. The problem being that I watched the film not too long ago and still have a hard time remembering lines or plot points that stood out from it. There is no denying that this is a good film, but various reasons I just can’t put it much higher.
7. Batman: Under the Red Hood
A great recreation of the Red Hood, Under the Red Hood gives us one of the best personal stories of Batman in the animated DC films. If you don’t know about the age old story of Joker killing one of the Robins in a bloody way with a crowbar, then this is the story for you. It pits Batman up against a vigilante who isn’t afraid to kill mercilessly and even hunts down Batman. You see Batman’s morals put up to the test as the choices he makes in this film are questions regarding his moral code and executed in a manner that sticks with you even after the film ends. Under the Red Hood is a film I wish I could talk more about, but the best parts come during the climax of the film, and since this feels more like a recommendation list as much as it is a top list I won’t delve into more. It is a short film that opened up the modern age of Batman with something more than trying to sell figures or tell a story about a whiny brat with little to no actual development during the runtime.
6. Batman vs Robin
The only new animated film that involves Batman’s child, Damian Wayne, that I actually enjoy and think is good. The first may have started the relationship with Damian and Bruce, yet it never tried to delve into it and it often revolved around Damian trying to understand the morals of Batman without ever really giving enough time to that development. That being said this film does arguably the same, but with more of a focus on the actual relationship instead of the revenge plot of Damian against Deathstroke. The introduction to the Court of Owls was fabulous and I loved watching Talon reel in Damian. They create an actual basis for Damian to bounce off of as both him and Talon come from similar backgrounds but end up traversing different paths. This is a very interesting way of fleshing out the relationship as well as giving us a villain you truly feel sorry for despite the cruelty of his actions.
5. Batman: Assault on Arkham
If you ask me, this is how they should have done a Suicide Squad movie. A self-contained story that isn’t overblown with an equal share of character moments all the while ending off with one of the best finales in a Batman film and it doesn’t even focus on Batman! Assault on Arkham has suspense, laughs, and integrates itself into the established world of Batman without needing 40 minutes of background development (which was the best part of the live action film, but I do love the more concise version in the animated feature). The characters interact in more meaningful ways and it sells me on the whole villain angle, but also about the humanity shown through characters like Deadshot. It never lets up and is easily one of the better films for entertainment value in the batverse of films.
4. Batman Begins
Ahhhh the one that started off the Dark Knight trilogy, Batman Begins still remains to this day as one of the better depictions of a superhero origin film with how it handled its plot and characters. Bruce Wayne coming into his own with Batman was great to watch and the way they handled Scarecrow was actually not that bad, until his last scene of course. Was all the acting great? Not really, but the standout performances are exactly where it matters all with having a fun and well-paced plot alongside it. Christian Bale with the voice of his still manages to be the full spectrum of Batman throughout the events of this film even if the events that transpire weren’t the best showcase of his ability when he returns to Gotham as Batman. I do love Nolan’s energy as a director has he manages to create fantastic action set pieces and well-choreographed fight sequences that blow other superhero films away. Batman Begins is what brought the Bat back into the limelight and it is a much watch for a general audience as much as the fandom.
3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman Begins may have been a good live action origin story, but Mask of Phantasm handles the origin story in such a way that you feel the full gambit of Bruce’s emotional torment for being Batman. You see Bruce find happiness in his past and how it was ripped away from him setting him up to be the caped crusader. Kevin Conroy is electric in this performance and it arguably is his best as Batman. Jumping between past and present never truly derailed the pacing of this film as the plot was simple enough to follow but the emotional and mental struggles were always ever present and allowed to be looked into. Mask of Phantasm may be the best well-rounded film about Batman in his prime especially as a standalone film and is a must watch for those who enjoyed the original animated series.
2. The Dark Knight
Praising this film is not hard to do and many have done so because of one thing, Heath Ledger’s Joker. I think many overlook the fact that the Joker wasn’t the only interesting element in the entire film and that is thanks to Nolan’s taut directing and those fabulous set pieces. The warehouse sequence, the showdown in the streets, the third act, blowing up a hospital, my goodness there are so many! At the height of it all is of course the Joker with that excellent opening scene in the bank. This sociopath entrances the viewers in such a way where we need to keep our eyes fixated on every action he does no matter how detestable. Terrifying and utterly visceral are two ways I describe that performance and it is easily the piece de resistance on this film. The mob angle was done a bit too much for my taste, despite it being needed to build up Harvey Dent as a character, and I felt a little bit less of them might have done better to make this a neater film overall. That is probably one of the only criticisms (off the top of my head) that I can say about this film. It is fabulously shocking and mesmerizing from start to finish.
1. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 & 2
Now I know what you are thinking, I am technically cheating with two films in this number one spot but one is essential to the viewing pleasure of this animated gold star so I have to have them both in the same spot. These animated films barely beat out the Dark Knight for my top spot and for good reason. This is a story of a retired Bruce Wayne who is thrown back into the psychological torment of being Batman and seeing how his actions become a vacuum for crime in Gotham. He must come to terms with why he is Batman in the first place and we are shown how delusional he is in points. This isn’t an origin story nor does it try to be, it is about establishing the full torment of the character of Batman and trying to understand his methods despite how archaic they may be. These films tackle giant action sequences, intense showdowns with familiar friends and foes, and to top it all of makes you wonder about how essential Batman is to Gotham and how much that very acceptance becomes a double-edged sword. It also shows different sides to the characters you know including a terrific story about Two-Face that resonates with Batman.
The Dark Knight Returns is probably best viewed after understanding Batman as it pulls from many painful memories and past experiences. It takes characters and makes you ask different questions about them. This coupled with say Mask of the Phantasm would make for a great viewing legacy of the Batman in film. You get the beginning and the end of the journey of the dark knight in animated format. This is also probably the best representation of a “Batman vs Superman” film for a long time, and done far better than Snyder’s version.
One could talk all day about Batman and his lifespan across multiple entertainment media. He has a legacy that spans more than film, but that is where I am going to stop today. Growing up with Batman and still enjoying his material to this day is truly a testament to his sustainability as a character (well that and his Rogue’s Gallery). So tell me about your favourite film about Batman, animated or live action. Hopefully I got some of you to think about viewing some of the more hidden pieces regarding Batman.