Thursday, July 19, 2012

Batman-a-thon Part 8: Batman Awards

[Note: These links will be available as the reviews are posted: Batman (1966)/Batman Prime, Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Batman and Robin (1997), Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008)]
It's hard to believe it, but FINALLY! The Batman has come BACK to the BIG SCREEN!

The final leg of the Dark Knight trilogy ends in The Dark Knight Rises, and I'll be going over brief thoughts over the weekend. However, I won't be rating it until I've had time to let the emotion of it wash over, so wait about a week or two for that one.

While we all wait the last day, though, I've got a final piece for you: The Batman Movie Awards!

For those who need the reviews, all the live-action film reviews are at the top of this article. Let's begin to go over the legacies of all these Batmen.

Best Batman: Michael Keaton (Batman + Returns)
(Christian Bale 2nd, Adam West 3rd, Val Kilmer 4th, George Clooney 5th)

I judged this category strictly on the performance of the Batman character - not Bruce Wayne. Keaton, for all his screw ups as Bruce, was an iconic Batman. His words were kept brief but completely in line with Batman's words and he was legitimately fear-striking.

Bale does an excellent job, and he wasn't psychotic like Keaton in Returns, but where Bale's voice seemed off its game at times, Keaton's matched his look perfectly. And he knew when to be silent when he needed to be.

West was an ideal Silver Age Batman. His script wasn't great and people will laugh out loud at much of his performance, but he played it true to the Batman of the time and is fun to watch.

Kilmer did a serviceable Batman job, but the writing was bad and many mannerisms were just too out of character. And Clooney, well, the less said about the man who tried to play a Silver Age script with dark undertones with almost total apathy, the better.

Best Bruce Wayne: Val Kilmer (Forever)
(Christian Bale 2nd, Adam West 3rd, Michael Keaton 4th, George Clooney 5th)

It's unsurprising that Kilmer wins Best Bruce Wayne because his movie was the only one that really locked into Bruce Wayne. Bale's films did a lot, but it's very clear that Bruce becomes the background.
Kilmer made Bruce come alive as a being in his own right, and he took the character to a level not often seen. He plays Batman in a way that he grows up, and this is the only film where Bruce grows beyond the basics of his origin.

West, Keaton and West are very close, but the key is that Keaton's performance in Returns was far too good to go under Clooney, while his performance in Batman was not good enough to put him above West. It's a law of averages.

Best Villain Movie Team: Batman Prime
(2nd-7th: TDK, Begins, Batman, Forever, Returns, Robin)

The original Batman film from 1966 had something that no other of the films had: four Batman rogues being played accurately to the era, sitting on equal footing with each other, and acting as legitimate threats.

Throughout the film, I was captivated and entertained by all four villains. Penguin clearly was the man with the plan and is played beautifully by Burgess Meredith; Lee Meriweather plays the femme fatale Catwoman brilliantly, though still not up to Julie Newmar's level; Frank Gorshin's Riddler was well within his character and his actions were well-timed; and Cesar Romero's Joker played the clown portion of his character well while still being threatening within the level of the film.

TDK and Begins had about equal villains in caliber, but I put TDK ahead because the names Joker and Two-Face are more iconic and of the four rogues, Heath Ledger's performance was probably strongest.

Nicholson single-handedly makes his film fourth. Jim Carrey and Michelle Pfeiffer were great, but were dragged down by Tommy Lee Jones and Danny DeVito. And again...

Best individual villain: Heath Ledger (Joker, TDK)
(2nd-16th: Burgess Meredith - Penguin, Prime; Liam Neeson - R'as al'Ghul, Begins; Jack Nicholson - Joker, Batman; Aaron Eckhart - Two-Face, TDK; Cillian Murphy - Scarecrow, Begins; (Tie) Michelle Pfeiffer - Catwoman, Returns/Jim Carrey - Riddler, Forever; Lee Meriweather - Catwoman, Prime; Frank Gorshin - Riddler, Prime; Cesar Romero - Joker, Prime; Uma Thruman - Poison Ivy, Robin; Tommy Lee Jones - Two-Face, Forever; Danny DeVito - Penguin, Returns; Arnold Swarzenegger - Mr. Freeze, Robin; Jeep Swenson - Bane, Robin)

OK, so there's not much else I can say about Ledger's performance, so let me touch on some other things.

Burgess Meredith IS the Penguin in my view. He's a little goofy, but even in the Silver Age, the man was a threat and his plans, even in the 60s, were well thought out.

Eckhart narrowly beats Murphy because of the alter egos - Eckhart's Harvey Dent beats Murphy's Jonathan Crane.

Though many of the Prime villains are pretty far down, it's not a knock on them. The first 11 are all at least good. The four villains in Prime as a collective beat the others, and it's that chemistry that makes them the best movie villain unit, but individually, they don't match up.

Uma Thurman was serviceable. Jones was grating but inoffensive. DeVito started poor but got decent by the end (not enough to make up for miserable writing, though).

Best supporting cast member: Michael Gough (Alfred, Batman thru Robin)
(2nd: Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon, Dark Knight trilogy); 3rd: Michael Caine (Alfred, Dark Knight trilogy)

Most non-hero, non-villain, non-love interest characters are lacking in these films, but I wanted to pay homage to the job Gough played in the original Batman series. No matter what craziness was happening, he played the wise-cracking straight man well and was the only thing redeemable about Batman and Robin. Oldman and Caine also deserve credit, but this was a point to give props to Gough.

Best Love Interest: Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian, Forever)
(2nd-7th: Michelle Pfeiffer - Selina Kyle, Returns); Katie Holmes - Rachel Dawes, Begins; Lee Meriweather - Miss Kitka, Prime; Kim Basinger - Vicki Vale, Batman; Maggie Gyllenhal - Rachel Dawes, TDK; Elle Macpherson - Julie Madison, Robin)

As I've said before, Batman Forever had the best human characters in this entire set of fims. I actually bought into the romance here and her ability to analyze helped to drive the plot. She was a damsel in distress, but then again, so were all of them. Pfeiffer's romance with Keaton was expertly navigated and even more intensified by the femme fatale aspect.

Three through six are all really close, but Holmes did well despite looking WAY too young, Kitka's romance was ultimately insincere and it showed when she was exposed. It's the only time when I was taken out of her character. Basinger did great, but to do well, she had to bounce off Keaton, who again is too subtle and bland for his own good. And Gyllenhal did well but was made so much like a martyr that we lose a sense of who Dawes was in the first film.

I can't say much about Macpherson because she's in only two scenes and doesn't do a freaking thing.

And, finally, the overall awards...

Best Overall Sampling of the Batman Comic Mythos: Batman Prime
(2nd-7th: Begins, Forever, TDK, Batman, Robin, Returns)

I've harped on this point, but here it is one more time: the 60s Batmand film is a direct take from the Silver Age background and dialogue. This story could have easily been a story during the era. It is exactly what a movie adaptation of a comic would have been at the time, and it deserves to be rewarded.

Begins is a great take on Year One, but even with its long time had to alter the story slightly. Forever played the Robin origin well as well as Nygma's portrayal, but it loses points for Two-Face's lack of good coin use. TDK does great with Joker and Two-Face, but the bipolar element was gone from Two-Face and although Batman might be willing to take the blame for murders, it goes against his code, which is well understood in the comics.

The others all take penalties: Batman for the circular Batman-Joker relationship, Robin for its poor execution, and Returns for bad backstories and the fact that Batman ACTUALLY MURDERS PEOPLE.

Best Overall Representation of Batman's Full Range of Character: Batman Forever
(2nd-7th: Batman, TDK, Prime, Begins, Robin, Returns)

Batman Forever was able to hit a middle ground no other film could. It gave a good show of Bruce as well as Batman. It gave both villains equal time and status (for better or worse). It mixed the dark/brooding with the extravagant/campy. And it showed Bruce growing up as a new tragedy began.

It's the only Batman story that went so deep into so much of all of Batman and showed both the lighter Batman of the early days and the darker Batman of the more recent era.

Batman in 1989 was very dark, but the film tried to show its lighter side with the Joker's portrayal and over-the-top scenes. TDK had a little more lightness in its less brooding moments, which overall showed how far along he was as Batman. Prime and Robin were too campy without seriousness, and Begins by its nature was going to only show the darkness because he was still in a dark place. Returns showed a range, but it was either too light or too deranged for Batman, missing the mark completely.

Best Overall Film: The Dark Knight
(1A: Begins; 3-7: Forever, Prime, Batman, Returns, Robin)

I consider both of Nolan's films to be on the same level, but TDK for its legendary status picks up a tiebreaker.

Otherwise, you can read the reviews to understand the rest.

It isn't really surprising, but I have great respect for the Batman mythos, and I consider all of these to be entertaining... even Batman and Robin, if for no other reason than to mock it.

Well, that's all I have. Have fun with The Dark Knight Rises! Read my thoughts after my first viewing of the film here.

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