Sunday, August 26, 2012

Batman Trilogy Comparison: Nolan vs. Burton Part 2

Welcome back to the comparison. Part 1 can be found here. Let's continue...

Better Supporting Cast

I initially felt like this category HAD to go to Nolan simply by way of the massive span of supporting characters. However, one man made that hard.

Michael Gough, the man who played Alfred in the originals.

Here is a man who's voice is the one I have in my head when I read Batman comics. (Well, him or Clive Revill from the Animated Series, but the voices are very similar). Even though Michael Caine is a great Alfred, he never felt like the icon Gough was.

Gough was exactly what I expected the character to be: an adviser, a confidant and a generally good-hearted older gentleman. That was present with Caine, but his long-winded speeches and almost surrogate father status LONG after Bruce grew up changed the dynamic to a degree.

They're both good, but I love what Gough did and I just couldn't get Caine to ascend above him in my mind. He's really a brilliant actor (and the saving grace of The Movie We Shall Not Speak Of).

All of that said, Gary Oldman plays Jim Gordon brilliantly where his character is almost inconsequential in the originals. Lucius Fox isn't seen in the originals but is key in Nolan's movie, and Morgan Freeman plays it beautifully.

Nolan knew how to make every person's role count, and for that, he gets the point. But because Alfred is the only common major supporting role and was won by the original, I give each a point.

Alfred Winner: Burton Trilogy
Rest of the Cast Winner: Dark Knight Trilogy

Better Fights/Sets/Effects

This is about as much of a no-brainer as can be conceived. The sets in Nolan's movies are modern, sleek and was consistent for three films. Burton's... were not.

The set in the first film was a dark, dreary city reminiscent of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. Returns does that as well, but it's made even more ridiculous, almost delving into the surreal and supernatural when Penguin's areas are shown. Forever diverged completely and went for a realistic city look that had been beaten over the head by Vegas neon.

It really changes the feel of the movies to have such different sets, and Nolan understood that he had to keep a consistent look to maintain a trilogy.

Effects are obviously Nolan's. He had better technology and better equipment. If you want a specific, go watch Bale and Gyllenhal fall from the Wayne penthouse in TDK and compare it to Pfeiffer getting shoved out the window in Returns.

Fights were going to be the original's simply because Pfeiffer's scenes were easily the best of the first five films. However, TDKR's scenes between Batman and Bane (and some of Catwoman's) were just great and I'd now call it a wash if not slightly toward Nolan.

All of this is really one setting of comparison, and so the whole point is Nolan's with no special caveats for Burton this time.

Winner: Dark Knight Trilogy

Better Overall Batman Story Arc

This is kind of the big one, and with the score 4-3 to Nolan, it's certainly key to this contest.

For this, I am taking execution of acting skill out of the equation. I have also taken many plotpoints out as well. I'm only talking about the overall Batman character arc, which is really what a Batman story boils down to at its core.

The story of Bruce that I took from Nolan's trilogy is that of a man who was broken early on in his life and had to break from that being in order to grow past it.

Losing both parents the way Bruce did is a tragedy for anyone in that position, but unlike most, who move on by using that pain to drive their lives forward, Bruce fell into a state where he both wanted to honor and avenge his parents.

He wanted vengeance and to kill Joe Chill, but when he couldn't, he turned to fighting and terrorizing criminals as a means of revenge. But at the same time, he knew his parents detested murder, and Rachel's message of his parents being ashamed of his vengeful nature causes him to honor them by refusing to kill.

Because Chill was never dealt with by him directly, he sees no purpose for himself beyond cleaning the city as Batman. Rachel remains as his only link to life beyond the Manor as Bruce, and when she is gone (and Batman is no longer as needed), he gives up on life besides as a recluse.

The end of TDK also establishes that all this has given him the message that the truth may not be good enough (Bullshit!) and he and Gordon choose to lie to the public. That message is revealed to be utter crap, and it further pushes Bruce to not fear death, and in many ways desire it.

It is in TDKR that, through both Catwoman's reviving of his energy as well as Gotham's peril, that he sees that he has reasons to care and reasons to fear death, and his time in the faux-Lazarus Pit helps him to get that fear pumping through him. However, rather than simply reconciling his past and choosing to honor his parents' name as Bruce, he decides life would be easier with a clean slate and kills off both Bruce Wayne and his version of Batman.

The thought of wiping the slate clean seemed to be a running theme for both Bruce and Selina, but with Bruce it almost feels like an escape. He never truly dealt with his parents in a healthy manner and decided that the only way to get away from his life as a Wayne was to end the Wayne persona (and by extension, the bloodline). It's a happy ending, as Bruce and Selina are able to be happy without their old identities, and they presumably grow up there, but it is a poetic end to very flawed individuals.

Burton's story never really had an outright theme... until Forever. Joel Schumacher, for all the hell he gets, turned the series from random Batman fights with arch villains into a story about a man reconciling his pain and feelings of revenge to legitimately become a grown-up, heroic individual.

In the original film, Bruce is pretty reclusive and very focused on his parents' deaths. It's clear that he is in pain, but he isn't really dealing with it. Ultimately, when he finds the killer (who should NOT be the Joker, but is), he is able to fight him and ultimately see his end.

However, that is not enough for him. The Batman in Returns is far more aggressive, even blowing up henchmen in the movie. It's a clear step away from established Batman mythos and actually is an annoyance that I berated in the individual film.

But in the context of the trilogy, this is a natural step and is touched on later. When Selina Kyle has a chance to get revenge on her "killer," Bruce tries to appeal to her better nature, specifically due to the growing feelings he was having for her. She chooses not to listen, though, and Bruce never knows for sure if she survives.

This mark clearly sticks out later on when Dick Grayson wants revenge on Two-Face for killing his family. He tells Dick even if he got what he wanted, then what? It wouldn't fill the hole, and so he'd just continue a vengeful path of death to try to understand why he isn't feeling better.

While this is happening, Bruce sees that vengeance - his primary motivation for being Batman - is not a valid reason to do what he does, and this is shown in flashes while he's talking to Chase Meridian. So his motivation is now simply to keep close to Chase, and when it's clear she wants Bruce, he's willing to retire the cowl.

It isn't until Riddler kidnaps her and blows up the original Batsuits that he comes back with a new, armored suit (kind of like how the Power Rangers changed Zords and suits to signal an escalation or change in the battle). When he is forced to choose between saving Robin and Chase, and manages to do both, he makes a realization that he says to Riddler is the answer to his riddle, "Who are you, Batman or Bruce Wayne?"

He says, "I'm Batman, and I'm Bruce Wayne, not because I have to be, but because I choose to be."

As weak as that line is, it's a monumental shift in the story and is a full rounding out of Bruce's journey.

In the beginning of the trilogy, he sought revenge on criminals by being Batman, and when he had to explain it to Vicki Vale, he admitted that even he didn't understand it, but he did what he did because "no one else can."

By the end, he not only has dissected his motivations, but he has moved past them. He is no longer shunning his Bruce half to be Batman; rather, he is embracing the Bruce half so that he may finally live a happy life, but is remaining Batman because he can still do good in that position and, again, "no one else can."

The original trilogy is a story of what all heroes strive for: a reconciliation of their civilian and heroic sides. Nolan's trilogy is in many ways a tragic story of an immature man who ran from dealing with his issues by taking on an alter ego, and then destroyed both personas when he wanted to finally move on from his pain rather than try to rectify the schism between Bruce and Batman.

In many ways, the original trilogy is more a complete character story than the remakes.

This sentence feels so weird to say in this order, and I am sure the Internet will explode with rage on this, but...

Because of the story provided by Joel Schumacher, and how it tied together the films while concluding a character arc, I am giving the nod for better main story to the original movies

Winner: Burton's trilogy


Best Execution and Overall film

This really is the deciding factor in this film series, and it's obvious who wins.

While I LOVE the original three films, and in particular the first and third installments, this is a superhero driven by the characters in the universe, and Burton's characters, while creative, were pretty bizarre and at times made me want to avert my eyes (DeVito!)

Both movies take tremendous liberties with the source material, but Burton really diverged from it in order to tell his story. Yes, I suppose a man who is driven to become a bat would be more likely to kill early on in his crusade, but that's what makes Batman who he is - that since his solo comic debuted, he doesn't take a human life.

At times, I felt like the Batman in Returns was the one in the All-Star Batman books. (Geez, could you imagine a film about that psycho?) As I said, it's a great arc for a story, but it's not a good depiction of the hero.

What I find interesting is that Burton's trilogy could name any of its three films as the best, and certain sects of fans would flock to each argument. Those who like superhero, flashy Batman will be drawn to Forever; those who like dark and disturbed go to Returns; and those who like a mixture tailored to mainstream appeal like the original.

With Nolan's movies, I could argue that any film is the best of the bunch, but it doesn't divide the fans into certain sects of tone. The tone stays pretty uniform, which allows the viewer to focus on the story.

And I think that that is the biggest factor in this discussion - consistency. One theme that seems to be running rampant while I've been writing this is that no matter the category, I end up saying "X was done well in this movie, but was just awful in this movie."

While the story itself resembled a trilogy, the movies never felt like that. The second got too dark to the point that it felt like a parody of the first one and had a totally different vibe. And the third was so colorful and comic-like that it bore no resemblance to either of the other two.

Nolan had the advantage of having a trilogy in mind and tying his universe into a uniform look, and Warner Bros allowed him the freedom to execute it clearly. Burton had some restraints on him initially then went crazy with the second one, giving no mind to building a story (beyond a Catwoman sequel that went into development hell and spawned evil embodied through film). The third film had restraints on it and limited the story Schumacher wanted to tell.

It's really not a contest once the execution is taken into account. The better representation of Batman overall, and the better movies overall, are the Nolan movies.

Winner: The Dark Knight Trilogy

In closing, I want to note that even though the modern films are better as a trilogy, the fact that the battle was as close as it was should tell you about what the originals accomplish. They tell an amazing story and really do have a tremendous impact on the world of comic movies today.

It goes to show how great Batman is as a character - that he's able to carry two series and have them both be amazing. Burton's movies should never be disrespected as inferior; rather, they should be celebrated as the groundwork for the successors.

I would recommend any of the Batman films (besides Batman and Robin) to any fan, and I'd even recommend the goofball film to anyone who wants to introduce a five-year-old to the character - provided of course that the TV series, the Animated Series, and the Adam West movie aren't available.

I hope you've enjoyed these last couple of months of Batman live-action retrospectives. Keep an eye out for my thoughts on the animated movies as we get closer to the animated adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns.

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