Thirty Batman/Superman Movies, Ranked: Part 3

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Thirty Batman/Superman Movies, Ranked: Part 1

By Last Caress.

Holy Top Ten, BRWC! Concluding our rundown of thirty Batman/Superman movies, ranked in order from worst to first (Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE):

10. Batman Returns (Burton, 1992)

The outstanding picture of the Burton/Schumacher cycle sees Danny DeVito hit all of the tragic, comic and terrifying notes in his performance as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin which were absent from the performances of either Jack Nicholson as The Joker in the preceding movie or Jim Carrey as The Riddler in the succeeding one. Michelle Pfeiffer matches Batman’s broken psyche pound for pound as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Michael Keaton continues his fine work as Bruce Wayne and Christopher Walken steals every scene he’s in, as he always does. With its festive backdrop it also qualifies as a Christmas mainstay, certainly in my house. Terrific theme song from the wonderful Siouxsie & the Banshees, too.

9. Batman: Assault on Arkham (Spaulding/Oliva, 2014)

In Batman: Assault on Arkham, The Caped Crusader plays a mere supporting role while The Suicide Squad – starring in their own live-action feature in 2016 – take centre stage. Ruthless government agent Amanda Waller coerces Black Spider (played by Breaking Bad‘s Giancarlo Esposito, who also plays Ra’s al Ghul in Son of Batman), Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, KGBeast, Killer Frost and King Shark into taking on a covert mission to break into Arkham and assassinate The Riddler. The Caped Crusader frequently takes a back seat to other characters in his animated features but here, it’s in a good cause.



8. Batman: Under the Red Hood (Vietti, 2010)

Robin. He’s the Scrappy-Doo of the Superhero world. I’ve never liked him. I only warmed to Dick Grayson once he became Nightwing. Jason Todd though… f*ck him. Most irritating Robin ever. What can be done with him? Kill him off? Make an asset of his petulance and reinvent him as a villain we’d love to see get his comeuppance? How about both? Of course, Todd was always such a bellend, there’s no way he could serve as a capable antagonist for The Dark Knight. But in Batman: Under the Red Hood, that’s exactly what transpires. It’s as though the bitterness and resentment of the character is borne not only from Jason’s experiences within the fictional framework of his universe, but also as the inevitable reaction to the years of disdain poured upon him from our side of the comic pages or the silver screen. The results are fantastic, though; it’s Jason’s finest hour. Coincidentally, Scrappy-Doo was also reinvented as the chief antagonist in the second live-action Scooby-Doo feature, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (Gosnell, 2004). That film remained a pile of old bumwank, however.

7. Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013)

ManOfSteel

Kicking off the DC Cinematic Universe comes this origin story for Kal-El, last son of Krypton. Falls apart a little towards the end when it devolves into a big boss fight ‘twixt Supes and General Zod (an impressive turn from Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Shannon) but Man of Steel actually has a lot of heart, mostly coming from Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman and from Kevin Costner in excellent form as Clark’s human adoptive father Jonathan. Director Zack Snyder tends to polarize opinion but I’m a fan; I even liked Sucker Punch (2011). What I’m also a fan of, is Batman. At no.7, Man Of Steel represents the highest position on this chart for a Superman picture. It’s all Gotham from here on in.

6. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Radomski/Timm, 1993)

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the cinematically-released spin-off movie from the hugely successful TV show Batman: The Animated Series. A tragic love story as much as anything else, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm has a dark, violent tone which was still considered a sizeable break from the norm for a superhero animation in 1993. Kevin Conroy, not especially well-known for his live-action roles, plays Batman here as he did in the TV show, and he went on to play Batman in many other shows and movies within the DC Animated Universe, so many in fact that he’s played Batman more than any other actor on the planet and is considered by many fans to be the definitive version of the character. Also reprising his role from the TV show is Mark Hamill (Star Wars) as The Joker in another performance many consider to be definitive.

5. Batman: Year One (Liu/Montgomery, 2011)

In 1986 DC published Frank Miller’s stunning take on the end of Batman’s career in The Dark Knight Returns. A year later, Miller took on the origins of The Caped Crusader and of his relationship with James Gordon, one of the only honest cops left in Gotham in a in a strip entitled Batman: Year One. Almost a quarter of a century later, DC made Batman: Year One the twelfth in their DC Universe Animated Original Movies sequence and, given the movie’s relative brevity, it’s a remarkably faithful retelling of that hugely popular tale, in which Bruce Wayne has just returned to Gotham after years away training to fight criminals, Jim Gordon has just been transferred to the city from Chicago and the pair of them team up to take on the corrupt police force and local mob kingpin Carmine Falcone. Voice talent for this instalment includes Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as Jim Gordon, Eliza Dushku (Tru Calling) as Selina Kyle and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) as Sarah Essen, Gordon’s future bride.

4. Batman: Gotham Knight (Various, 2008)

A Batman anime? Yes, please! Batman: Gotham Knight takes an Animatrix (2003) approach, being made up of six smaller stories all by different writers and drawn by different artists. Supposedly set specifically between the events of live action pictures Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005) and The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), the segments in Batman: Gotham Knight are in truth standalone enough to fit anywhere and nowhere in the Batman Canon. The wildly differing animation styles can initially be jarring for some but ultimately, Batman: Gotham Knight is one of the best superhero pictures out there, animated or otherwise.

3. Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005)

With the releases of Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men pictures and of Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies, faith in the superhero genre was at an all-time high in the mid-noughties. Faith in Batman as a live-action property… well, that wasn’t so high. In fact following on from the critical disaster of the Joel Schumacher pics Batman Forever (1995) and particularly Batman and Robin (1997), Batman’s stock was as low as it had ever been in movies. Still, the character remained hugely popular, having gone from strength to strength throughout the 90s/00s in comic and animated form, so he was always going to be worth one more crack, at least. That crack was taken by Christopher Nolan, director of the critically acclaimed Memento (2000), the result was Batman Begins, and it immediately placed The Dark Knight back amongst the biggest names in cinema with its dark and realistic vision of Gotham and of Batman, played with a singular ferocity by Christian Bale and surrounded by gravity-lending luminaries such as Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon.

2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Oliva, 2012/2013)

Released in two parts, Kill Bill-style, Jay Oliva’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic story represents what may be an unbeatable high water mark for Superhero animation cinema. And since The Dark Knight Returns is a high water mark for superhero literature, it’s only right that the movie does it justice. Set ten years after Batman’s retirement with Gotham overrun by a gang called The Mutants, Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller, Robocop) is prompted back into service – along with a new Robin (Ariel Winter, Modern Family) – following Harvey Dent’s release from Arkham, immediately upon which he disappears. The first part of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns largely deals with Batman’s struggles against The Mutants and a resurgent Harvey Dent whilst simultaneously waging a futile, losing battle against his gravest nemesis yet: His own impending old age. But Batman’s not the only veteran about to stage a comeback. Following years in a catatonic state, The Joker has just woken up, and Part Two of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns sees these two greatest of enemies find one another for one more dance, and last time pays for all. Not everyone is too pleased to see the caped crusader though; his endeavours have inspired the people of Gotham to turn the tide against the criminals, which causes embarrassment to the Government, who are failing nationally in a war being taken head on by a middle-aged vigilante in what was the worst city in the country. The government decide Batman needs to be shut down for good before he causes a national uprising, so they send their lapdog to carry out the task: Superman…

1. The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)

“You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.”
“Criminals aren’t complicated, Alfred. Just have to figure out what he’s after.”
“With respect Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man that you don’t fully understand, either.”

If Batman, The Joker and (eventually) Harvey Dent/Two Face weren’t the hyper-theatrical freaks of their society and the hyper-stylized icons of ours which mark The Dark Knight out not only as a superhero picture but as the greatest superhero picture ever made, and instead they were just three relatively regular guys on either side of the law, The Dark Knight would still be one of the all-time great crime thrillers. The heavyweight stellar ensemble from the first picture in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Batman Begins (2005) – Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman – return and are augmented by Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent and by Maggie Gylenhaal as Bruce’s lost love and Harvey’s current squeeze Rachel Dawes (a massive, massive upgrade on Katie Holmes in the same role on the earlier picture). But, as mouth-watering as that cast is, nothing could prepare anyone for the terrifying performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. Kept entirely free of backstory, openly contradicting himself with tall tales, half-truths and bald-faced lies about his past, present and future, here was a foe on whom Batman couldn’t get a bead with all of the resources in his arsenal. He doesn’t want money, or power, or revenge. He’s as suicidal as he is homicidal, he’s the smartest man in the room and although he might be a genius, he might also be insane.

Some men just want to watch the world burn.


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2 COMMENTS
  • last.caress 8th April 2016

    For the record, I have since seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and my first impressions would see it slide into this rundown in tenth place, between Batman: Assault on Arkham, and Batman Returns. I enjoyed it, whilst simultaneously understanding and appreciating the considerable criticisms currently being levelled at it, particularly with regard to scenes which make little to no sense either in context or in isolation. Also, I’m still not sure how I feel about Ben Affleck’s take on Bruce Wayne, which is strange because I’m generally a fan of Mr. Affleck and his role in BvS is one of the few areas of the movie receiving almost unanimous praise. Has he disappeared into the role and become “Bruce Wayne/Batman” quite as completely as Christian Bale did? Or is it just Ben Affleck in a funny costume? I may need a re-watch or three to decide for sure. Conversely, I found one of the movie’s most derided aspects – that of Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor – to be nowhere near as objectionable as I’d been led to understand, although maybe that’s because I’ve little affinity with the character so I don’t care how much he’s tinkered with. Same goes I suppose for this incarnation of Superman. I’ve never especially cared for Superman in “live action” form but I like this darker, angrier Superman being presented to us by Snyder/Goyer/Cavill.

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