Not long ago, I participated in a little online vote on a blog that I follow, ScreenAge Wasteland. The idea was to rank the eleven theatrical Batman “solo” movies, and make a short comment to justify our rankings. Then, points were assigned and collated, and a definitive list was created.
Well, as definitive as seven people’s opinions can be considered to be. You can read the combined listing with excerpts from the various comments here:
I will post my personal listing below. It’s not too far off the final combined vote, but there are differences. For example, the top three films combined are the same as my top 3, but all in a different order. And there are a couple of other films that I seem to be in the minority in terms of opinions.
Anyway, here is my complete vote.
11. Batman and Robin
Is it possible for this film not to be at the bottom of the list? In the pre-internet days of 1997, I remember being excited about another take on Batman…and then having that excitement give way first to confusion and then to despair as I watched the dynamic duo floating through their fight scenes, the villains churning out a string of terrible puns, and the plot lurching from one miserable sequence to another. Even back when I was somehow oblivious to Joel Schumacher’s design excesses, I knew I was watching something ghastly.
10. Batman Forever
In the simpler days of the 1990’s, I thought I liked this movie, but looking back it’s hard to see why. I think it’s because Batman felt a bit more moral and heroic than he did in the previous two outing, but really in hindsight it’s hard to find a redeeming quality to this outting. It’s only because it lacks the shear abysmal misery of its follow-up that it’s not on the bottom of the list.
9. Batman (1989)
I know I’m supposed to like this movie, with its memorable performances and auteur direction from Tim Burton, but I don’t. I find it stilted and artificial, with a hero as unlikable as its villain. It’s probably a bit hypocritical that I put Batman Returns so much higher than this one, as it has a lot of the same problems, but there’s a humanizing element in Bruce’s relationship with Selina that’s missing here.
8. Batman (1966)
This is a silly movie but at least everyone–cast, crew and audience–know this up front going in. It’s got one laugh-out-loud moment (Batman & the bomb), and of course, includes Bat-Shark Repellent, but aside from that it’s forgettable, though harmless.
7. Lego Batman Movie
A bit of a let-down after The Lego Movie‘s presentation of Batman, there was still stuff to enjoy here, but not really enough to sustain a whole movie. Maybe this version of the character would be better suited to animated shorts.
6. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Most of this movie’s points go to it for having such high aspirations, and for the coolness of actually putting Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman on screen together for the first time. There are some good moments–like Bruce Wayne plunging headlong into the collapsing city at the movie’s start–but mostly it’s a storytelling and character failure which disastrously fails to take advantage of the incredible opportunity implied in its premise.
5. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film suffers from being a letdown compared to his first two efforts, but it still stands up in this crowd as quite a solid movie. There are a few painful narrative choices, but the production still benefits from Nolan’s ability to immerse the viewer into his movie’s world and bring dramatic action to life.
4. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
If I remembered this movie better, I might rate it higher. As it is, I remember it as a solid and enjoyable take on Batman including a good look at his early days, but I can’t recall much of the details of what actually happens.
3. Batman Returns
Batman Returns stands almost entirely on the strength of its performances and characterization. Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken and especially Michelle Pfeiffer all show an absolute commitment to their roles, macabre weirdness and all, that keeps the viewer engaged in the midst of what would otherwise be a narrative mess. Plus, Keaton and Pfeiffer have really nice chemistry as a couple.
2. The Dark Knight
I’m always sort of annoyed at how no one calls out the Joker for what a liar he is–this supposed “lover of chaos” is actually a meticulous and detailed planner. Aside from those small quibbles, it’s not just a great action film, but a great crime movie, with many memorable performances.
1. Batman Begins
Even though there are ways in which The Dark Knight is more powerful, I like Batman Begins the best because it’s the most legitimately about Bruce Wayne as a character out of every film on this list. Christopher Nolan’s visceral, immersive storytelling is perfect for a story about how this troubled man turns into a masked vigilante with a rigid moral code. It was the Batman movie I’d been waiting for for years.
And that’s the list. Go and have a look at the ScreenAge Wasteland site for other people’s opinions on the same list.