Few fictional characters have made such a long-evolving impact as DC Comics caped crusader Bruce Wayne Aka Batman, who resides in Gotham City. This is a character that has been taken in several forms and spawned into several franchises like videogames, comics, and TV series besides the movies. This is a character everyone is familiar with and during this articles-series Batman: The Caped Crusader we’ll take a deep dive behind the mythology of the famous comic-book character.
Tim Burton’s incarnation of the detective hero sprawled and stirred up some Batmania once again. This time it was a different interpretation of the famed, gloomy caped crusader in a new exciting way. As for 1989, Michael Keaton brought something different to the characters’ enigmatic aura that still resembles modern times characters. Despite 30 years later, things like the Batman theme, certain elements return to the character once again. The whole aspiration of the mythical character was established, and the audience returned to a different character, much inspired by the comic-book era from 1970-the 1980s. The film has been appointed as the original film that has inspired not just the 90s escapades of films but also the animated series that DC and Warner Bros created. One of the most successful series of all time.
“I was never a giant comic book fan, but I’ve always loved the image of Batman and the Joker. The reason I’ve never been a comic book fan – and I think it started when I was a child – is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don’t know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that’s why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read. It’s my favorite. It’s the first comic I’ve ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels made our ideas more acceptable.”
( Tim Burton, Burton on Burton: Revised Edition (London: Faber and Faber, 2006) 71.
Keaton and Burton’s interpretation of the detective and philanthropist stay influenced in today’s filmmaking. It’s how it all began. As Keaton was typecasted in mostly comical films, it was a bold move by Burtons to cast him but as it seems now, it worked. Tim Burton has taken responsibility for this superhero trend.
“Ever since I did Batman, it was like the first dark comic book movie. Now everyone wants to do a dark and serious superhero movie. I guess I’m the one responsible for that trend.”
Interesting enough, the story of Keaton’s version follows up in comic-book 6-part issues as it continues after Batman Returns. The comic book ignores the disastrous interpretation of characters such as Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. As this film was a global success, both financially and critically, it dominated for a brief moment the box-office. Keaton, a low-key comedian, broke into the superhero genre that prior to this film was a forgotten phase in the past. With Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger as the front performances, a new era of dark superheroes was introduced. With its wit and charm, it has been established as the pillar of modern storytelling concerning heroes.
It took up to three years later for the sequel to arrive, and with The Joker gone, Penguin and Catwoman took the clown’s place instead and is a more formidable follow-up than the first. Despite the errors that plagued the second film, it holds a different stroke to the detective’s journey to defeat each villain from the rouge gallery. Batman Returns with Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito is far darker than the former. It’s enabling the characters to span wider in the larger scope. With these rouge characters, it gets occasionally messy in the plot it tries to deliver despite an interesting performance of Pfeiffer as Catwoman.
Danny DeVito is playing The Penguin in this version of Gotham, a penguin-humane morphed creature. An orphan child that learned the linguistic basics such as speaking and reading, which is an impossible task to do when growing up with penguins. Sadly, the two other instalments didn’t really improve the rest of the charm that the two first reincarnations had on the character. The follow-up to our beloved hero was with Val Kilmer and George Clooney in Batman & Robin (1995) and Batman Forever (1997) respectively. Joel Schumacher has afterwards apologized for the ridiculed low quality both these films have given. These films are still part of the film series working in the background. Even though there are few people showing a liking for these films, they could be compared to the Star Wars atrocity of the prequels that the toxic fandom has butchered for years now.
Batman Forever showcases two villains that are considered popular in the modern incarnation of Batman. Hell, the Harvey Dent Two-face, played by Tommy Lee Jones joins the team with an unnecessary quirky Jim Carrey as The Riddler. Harvey Dent showed up in The Dark Knight (2008) and The Riddler was the main villain in The Batman (2022). Despite being a long time watching this, one can’t forget the ugly dress Carrey was forced to wear as Edward Nygma. Tim Burton was still one of the producers of the film.
Even Chris O’Donnell has commented on Batman’s nipples due to Joe Schumacher’s homoerotic theme:
“It wasn’t so much the nipples that bothered me. It was the codpiece. The press obviously played it up and made it a big deal, especially with Joel directing. I didn’t think twice about the controversy but going back and looking and seeing some of the pictures, it was very unusual.”
Batman & Robin is the worse of the pair, considering how it played out for both George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell which was decent. With a cast of Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger, one hopes that it would play out in better shape than what it did. George Clooney even refunded people watching this film and after filming said: “I think we just killed the series.”
What’s ironic in this case, is that many fans consider the 1989 version of Batman a modern classic. Michael Keaton will even return as the character in the upcoming The Flash-movie. While Burton’s incarnation of the character, true to its originality and redeeming the comics’ true essence, the film series went totally sideways, from being a cultural phenomenon in the very late 1980s to becoming one of the most hated Batman-film that many disregards as lousy and unethical in many forms. It also shows how the producer’s unbalanced form of storytelling and the ongoing misshapes of a franchise that was born during the 1930-the 1940s. It shows also how the concept of a character can’t redeem itself through just famous characters and actors. These two now latest films have depth and are now a determined character study that the audience could embrace. They understand the character and his journey. As one looks at the first one we see the origin of the character as a phoney villain with Jack Nicholson as The Joker, but it is considered less of a failure than the other three.
The second film, from Burton’s visual mind, comes with Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito and we see growth as well from both sides. DeVito crumbles into a villain and Pfeiffer does it as well. Her journey is far more established as Catwoman. This evolvement is nowhere to be seen or ratified in Schumacher films. Here they’re loud, noisy and unfit for their costume. The lines are stupidly written, and the characters don’t have a main goal. It’s the black sheep of the whole franchise. Maybe it’s also why Warner Bros. Pictures didn’t rehire Joel Schumacher to do a third film about the famous character. Even 20 years later, we now get to know that an extended and mature version of the disastrous Batman Forever actually exists causing fans to start the movement to release the Schumacher cut. A cut with more psychological themes and a more mature theme of almost 50 minutes extra. Although, it’s unclear if the late Schumacher deleted scenes would save the film it would revise the public opinion about the film and make it less corny and 60s-style Batman. After Burton’s darker, mature-themed duology, Schumacher was hired to create a more light-hearted cartoon style of the hero and a gallery of rouge characters. Of course, it didn’t work out as planned, as the result provides.
However, Schumacher intended to shoot a third movie and the fifth sequel of the Batman films from the 90s. But due to the massive criticism and negative reviews Batman & Robin received; this project was scrapped. The unproduced film was to include Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow as the lead villain, Harley Quinn as the backup character with The Joker returning just to fuck with Bruce/Batman’s head thanks to Scarecrow’s toxic gas. The late director wanted to make a more mature film to justify the character:
Schumacher felt he “owe[d] the Batman culture a real Batman movie. I would go back to the basics and make a dark portrayal of the Dark Knight.”
The script for Batman: Unchained aka Batman Triumphant has been available online for a while now. You may read it here:
When you are reading it, you can see there’s an obvious conflict and a deeper relationship between Robin and Batman. There’s also a circus scene with Harley Quinn, as she is introduced. A scene that hasn’t been portrayed in modern interpretations of the character.
Even the response to the film of the nineties was critically bad for obvious reasons, maybe the studio got greedy when on the roll and didn’t know how to handle the success of the first film. However, the decade shape the beloved character and Hollywood hasn’t stop produced films about the hero ever since.