Top 5 on The Strip: Batman movie villains

Joker comboThe Joker

You knew he was going to make the list. How could he not with at least two movie outings devoted to the clown prince of crime, both played by different actors that received rave reviews for their performances? The Joker is Batman’s arch-nemesis and thus deserves his own movies, which he gets to the delight of Batman fans. If you can posthumously win an Oscar for your performance as the Joker (Heath Ledger) or have your performance talked about for decades afterward as the standard bearer for psychotic criminal masterminds (Jack Nicholson), you’ve done something right as a character.

 Tom Hardy-Bane

Bane

Bane has so many quotable lines in “The Dark Knight Rises” that it almost makes up for the weak way he gets bumped off (spoiler alert: Bane dies). Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane was intense and satisfying, making the film a must-see just from the trailer alone. If you didn’t care about Batman after Heath Ledger stole the show from Christian Bale, you cared when Hardy uttered the infamous “Gotham’s reckoning” line. Oh, and we only count Dark Knight Rises’ version of Bane. The mockery that was in Batman and Robin is best forgotten, much like the rest of the movie.

 Two Face combo

Harvey Dent/Two Face

Another villain that gets two outings in the franchise, the first time around for Mr. D.A. was campy yet fun. You learned the crazy that was Dent in a slightly lighthearted-yet-dark way that only Tommy Lee Jones could provide in Batman Forever. Contrast that with Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal in The Dark Knight, where he’s a tragic figure caught in the crossfire of Batman and the Joker’s battle. Dent made you understand where he was coming from and sympathize greatly. You could sort of understand why he lost his mind. Oh, and that makeup job as Two Face was so well done, we can’t picture Eckhart without it now.

 Catwoman combo

Catwoman

The sly kitty lady shows up twice in the franchise as well, and boy is she awesome both times. Michelle Pfieffer and Anne Hathaway give new meaning to the term minx. And, any time a woman can look fierce in 4-inch heels while attacking people and holding her own in a fight alongside Batman, she has our vote as a credible character. She’s credible as a villain as well because, let’s face it, Catwoman is not exactly helpful to Batman any time you see her. In fact, every time you do so, it means trouble. That’s a troublesome minx for you.

 Jim Carrey-Riddler

The Riddler

OK, so the surrounding movie wasn’t all that great. But, truth be told, Jim Carrey actually kind of stole the show with his over-the-top portrayal of the man in green. Carrey is the kind of comedian that you know what you’re going to get when you go see a film he’s in: He’s going to be ridiculous and he’s going to ham it up. And the Riddler was the perfect vehicle for that. He made a complete mockery of Batman’s detective skills and somehow managed to elevate the crazy past Tommy Lee Jones’ weird Two Face (see above). Hell, he even managed to make Val Kilmer’s disappointing turn in the tights slightly watchable. You’re a good villain when you can manage that feat.

Property review: Batman Returns

Batman Returns 01
Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Batman Returns

Warner Bros., 1992

Batman returns with a little fanfare, but too many enemies

Batman Returns is solid, no doubt about it. Sure, it has some stumbles and could use a little polishing in the finer points, but like most Tim Burton-directed pieces, the Batman’s second outing on the big screen is an enjoyable cinematic set piece designed to bring the malevolence, sexual tension and tortured soul platitudes that can be mustered from Batman’s arsenal.

What we love the most about Batman Returns is the comfort zone it presents. It’s directed as if it knows its Batman in the second round of the fight, and it’s OK with being Batman. There’s no fussiness with establishing who Batman is and why he does what he does; the viewer already knows that — it’s already banking on the fact that you’ve seen the first film.

Batman succeeds here with the brashness expected of a box office experienced sequel. Burton pulls no punches letting you know that Bruce Wayne is a man used to getting his way and he will work as either the Caped Crusader or Wayne to achieve his goals. And this is where Michael Keaton succeeds once again. His Wayne is more self-assured, more confident in his approach to playing the dual role required. Michelle Pfeiffer is deliciously decadent as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, though we never once bought the “Kyle is a meek woman” act at all. Whatever Pfeiffer managed to build, she wonderfully and masterfully destroys with a simple meow to a stunned Batman and Penguin. Her Catwoman is a master class in movie sexiness. And all that needs to be said about Danny DeVito as the Penguin? He was born to play the role. And along with Christopher Walken, he manages to steal the film.

And that belies the problem with the film. For all of its panache and star casting, Batman doesn’t get enough screen time to justify calling it a return. Keaton isn’t on screen nearly enough because there’s basically three villains all chewing scenery at once. Returns falls prey to — and is the progenitor of — the concept of “Too Many Villains Syndrome.” When Batman’s attention is split that many ways, the story’s focus suffers. It’s hard to wrap up Returns and it’s pretty obvious in a specific scene: Batman chases the Penguin and Catwoman after Shreck’s Department Store blows up and each fly off in a different direction. Batman winds up not catching either one because he really can’t figure out how to catch one over the other first. That is not the dilemma your hero should have.

Batman Returns still remains one of our favorite Batman tales and favorite movies, in general. It’s got the dark, gritty atmosphere that we’ve come to love from Burton, and it remains the last real, viable and serious Batman film until the Christopher Nolan trilogy of films were launched. Returns still provides a good return investment if you’re into the origin of Batman’s silver screen outings.

Like the comics?: 3

Casting: 10

Plot: 8

Overall score: 21 out of 30 or 7

How we grade

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in the case of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory, and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Strip Talk #16: Too many villains plague some comic films

Lyndsey-2013-cutout-onlineNearly every year that I’ve been alive and conscious enough to know what’s going on in the world, there’s been a comic book movie released. And I take great pride in having seen the majority of the offerings out there. Sure, there’s some modern stuff that I haven’t watched, but that’s mostly because I’m on a journalist’s salary and one can’t just blow into a movie theater on that kind of cash. Made of money, I ain’t. But when I do manage to watch a comic book-based property, I look for a few things. The first and foremost is the ratio of villains to heroes. Some of my least favorite films have fallen prey to the darker and over-numerical side of things.

The first film that I can recall where I fell in love with the concept of hero/villain balance is Batman Returns. I was a lad, no more than 11, dying to go with the grown folks (read: an older cousin and my older brother) to see the sequel to Batman’s big screen outing. I was a child in love with Michael Keaton, and I was especially excited because 1. Tim Burton was at the helm of everything; and 2. I was allowed to stay out extra late with older folks related to me who understood my love of movies.

Mr. Burton, whose style I still love to this day, didn’t disappoint in the aesthetics department. But where I found fault a little later after some discussion with my fellow movie-goers and genius parent was the fact that Batman played second fiddle to just about everyone and everything. Make no mistake, I loved the Penguin and Catwoman. Michelle Pfeiffer was and still is iconic in the role of one Ms. Selina Kyle. But, seriously? Did we really need that many villains? And let me point something out here: Keaton is badass and will always be Batman for me. But the man was severely shortchanged in his screen time as the Bat. Despite the immersion in the world of Gotham, I felt the pangs of longing for every moment that Batman wasn’t on screen yet dealt with three villains. Burton could have killed off Christopher Walken’s Max Schreck and we would have all been OK.

Let’s skip a few years and come upon my time as an adult moviegoer. My dollars are more precious — now on that aforementioned journalist’s salary — and my time a little more wisely spent paying attention to story and plot connectivity to the comic book the movie’s going to be based on. Spider-Man had become a major player in the comic movie world, and Tobey MacGuire’s adorable take on the friendly neighborhood wallcrawler was particularly decent at drawing in the must-see crowd. But you see, even the most adorable Peter Parker couldn’t save the particularly mundane and not-quite-up-to-par third outing for Spider-Man. Why? Because he had too many foes just waiting to make that spider sense tingle. Spider-Man 3 suffered from the same problem that Batman Returns encountered: too many villains. There was absolutely no need to have Harry Osbourne (Hobgoblin), Sandman AND Venom. And to make matters far worse than Batman Returns, Venom was poorly done. That was a blow to my heart as a Venom fan. His origin is handled correctly, but his overall look is terrible. Also, as a matter of record, Venom deserves his own movie as a major Spider-Man foe. It was obvious that Venom’s resolution was crammed in at the last moment, and the film suffered mightily for it.

I’m a purist at heart, so when I sit through your overlong film and I walk away thinking there wasn’t enough of the hero, there’s a problem. Two villains are enough for the protagonist — and the viewing audience — to handle. Movie directors should take a cue from doctors on too many villains syndrome: Physicians heal thy self.

Lyndsey Hicks is editor-in-chief of Gaming Insurrection. She can be reached by email at editor@gaminginsurrection.com

 

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Property review: Batman (1989)

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Batman

Warner Bros., 1989

Batman’s exploits begin in excellent 1989 adventure

When the Tim Burton-directed Caped Crusader’s vehicle hit the silver screen, comic book movies were in their infancy. Sure, there was the Dolph Lundgren version of The Punisher and numerous Superman movies featuring the irreplaceable Christopher Reeve. But there was no big screen adaptation of arguably the next-most important DC hero: Batman. Enter the 1989 feature with big-name stars.

Nicholson. Keaton. Basinger. Those three names were omnipresent then and now. Jack Nicholson stole the show outright as the Joker from Michael Keaton’s lead. Once Nicholson makes his grand entrance as Jack Napier/the Joker, you can’t go back. Being fans of the Joker (and Nicholson as well; we affectionately refer to him as “Uncle Jack” because of a shared family name), GI wholly encourages taking this version of the clown prince of crime as an altogether awesome spin on the malevolent DC supervillain. Earlier and later takes on the Joker, such as the late Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, were well done, but Nicholson holds a special place in our hearts as the first movie version of the character.

Keaton, despite a well-reported reluctance for his casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman, nails the part of the tortured playboy-turned-crime fighter. And though the comparisons to Christian Bale have been brought up, Keaton like Nicholson is special because he brought Batman to life with a thorough look at the inner soul of the man dedicated to avenging crime in Gotham City.

Kim Basinger rounds out the trio of leads and does an admirable job as Vicki Vale. It’s not often that someone can chew scenery with a man dressed as bat and another man sporting green hair, a menacing grin and face paint. Though we disliked the naivete of the character in the beginning, Basinger does a good job of leading you to believe in her gradual falling for Wayne as the story progresses.

It also doesn’t hurt that the chemistry between Basinger and Keaton is immediately palpable in their first scene together.

While Batman succeeds mostly because of the acting chops of its leading trio and surrounding cast, we would be remiss in not giving praise to the costume and set design. The background scenery and look of the movie is what really shines.

With the introduction sequence featuring Danny Elfman’s iconic score (later improvised upon in the equally iconic Batman the Animated Series) and Batman logo, you’re pulled into the world of Gotham from the beginning. It’s gritty and can be darkly humorous, much like Burton, but you know it’s right. Batman feels appropriately like Batman and the film is a template from which all comic book films could learn a lesson about quality showmanship.

Batman is, quite frankly, one of the best comic book films ever made. GI fell in love with the movie 23 years ago as it played in theaters and made its way home to VCRs. It’s stood the test time for film — far better than its later sequels — and stands admirably next to any of the modern-day reboots.

HOW WE GRADE

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Plot: 9.5/10

Like the comics?: 9.5/10

Casting: 9/10

Total: 28/30 or 9.3