The Dark Knight vs. Batman Returns
Part 2 of Old vs. New: I will compare The Dark Knight with Batman Returns (vice versa).
Aaahh...2008, what a year it was. A year where we had an historical election between Barack Obama and John McCain and Barack Obama won the election, making him the 44th President of the United States of America and the first African American to become President. It was the year that the Great Recession started and Lady Gaga released her debut album, The Fame (which would change music completely the following year). It wasn't that special of a year pop culturally, but it was the best year ever for my personal life and the best year of my entire life period.
It was a year when many different movies were released that ended up becoming huge hits. It started out as a watered down version of 2007, but really came into it's own during the second half of the year. It wasn't as good of a year for film as 2007 was...but 2007 did not give us The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight (2008):
"You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
- Harvey Dent
Few blockbusters this big ever fully live up to their hype, let alone far defy everyone's expectations. While there are several films that made jack loads of money at the box office (which were expected to), they didn't have the critical reception that The Dark Knight had and were only mildly enjoyed by the audiences. As I much as I enjoy films like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and Spider-Man 3 (2007), there is no denying that those films disappointed a lot of people and didn't stand a chance when it came to living up to everyone's expectations of what those films should have been.
Hype for The Dark Knight:
Keep in mind, this was the sequel to Christopher Nolan's first Batman film, Batman Begins (2005), a film which gained a huge cult following and was a surprise hit for Warner Bros. It originally did not do well at the box office, but when it finally arrived on DVD in the fall of 2005, people were buying it and renting it and sales for the movie went through the roof. Batman Begins toys also begin selling like hot cakes and people became really curious about the new Batman film (including my parents who didn't even see Begins in theaters). A lot of people didn't even know there was a new Batman film out.
Two months after Batman Begins came out, my parents bought me a Christian Bale Batman action figure at Target, which I loved playing with as a kid and will keep as a collectable for a long time.
But what really kicked things in was the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker.
If anyone thought the backlash to the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman in the Late 80's was bad, that was nothing compared to the backlash Warner Bros. got when they announced Heath Ledger would be playing the Joker. "The dude from Brokeback Mountain, really?" everyone thought. Keep in mind, this casting was announced around or shortly after Brokeback Mountain (2006) came out. Everyone, even my parents hated the casting decision.
A lot of Batman and comic book geeks ended up boycotting the film because no one thought it was going to be good. There was no way the guy from 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and this homosexual cowboy (this is not a homophobic remark) was going to pull of the Joker.
And then a teaser for the film of Heath Ledger's Joker talking finally came and pictures of Heath Ledger in Joker makeup came, and everyone started to calm down. Then a trailer of The Dark Knight finally came and people started taking back everything they said about him and started getting excited for his take on The Joker and The Dark Knight itself.
And then a very unfortunate thing happened...probably the most tragic thing to happen to a celebrity since Dale Earnhardt's death in the 2001 Daytona 500. On January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger died from an accidental intoxication from prescription drugs just a few months before he finished filming his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. I remember when me and my family first heard the news the night he had died and we were so shocked especially me! I didn't know he had problems with drugs and my friends and everyone at school were talking about his death.
Heath Ledger's untimely death back in Early 2008 made people really sorry about what they said about his casting and this is when things were really kicked into overdrive. This meant that The Dark Knight was going to be his last film he would perform in and everyone wanted to see it, especially since he was taking on the Joker. This made The Dark Knight the MUST SEE movie of the year.
By the time the summer of that year came, the hype for this film was getting bigger and bigger. My family had a big vacation in California that summer in June because one of my Dad's sisters lived there at the time. It was our first time ever going to California (and yes I had an excellent time) and while we were there, we went to drive around Los Angeles and Hollywood. While we were there, we saw tons and tons of cool upcoming and recent film posters and advertisements on buildings and billboards. There were already Dark Knight promotions on billboards and buildings like the one above.
When I finally saw the film, I went into the theater as a 13-year-old teenager not knowing what to except and was just happy that I was finally seeing the sequel to Batman Begins...and I was blown away by it...
I thought it not only topped Batman Begins in every way possible, I thought it was the best comic book movie I had ever seen and the best movie I had ever seen in theaters period. It was definitely the best Batman film for me up to this point.
The story starts off with a gang of criminals, who work together (with clown masks on) to rob a Gotham City mob bank, double-crossing and murdering each other until there is only one left: The Joker:
The Joker then takes off his clown mask and puts a canister in the bank manager's mouth and reveals himself to him and us (the movie going audience). He then attaches a string (the safety pin) out of the canister in the manager's mouth. Instead of exploding, it released fumes of an unknown nature. The Joker then escapes with all the money in a school bus along with a bunch of other school buses with smoke coming out of it.
Mob bosses Sal Maroni, Gambol, and the Chechen hold a videoconference with corrupt accountant Lau, who has taken their funds and fled to Hong Kong. The Joker interrupts, warns them that Batman is unhindered by the law and offers to kill him in exchange for half of their money. Gambol puts a bounty on the Joker instead after he insults him.
After escaping and smuggling himself as a corpse, the Joker kills Gambol and takes over his gang. The mob ultimately decides to take the Joker up on his offer.
Heath Ledger's Joker:
I absolutely loved Heath Ledger's Joker. It gets said too many times, but he absolutely nailed the character for me and was better than Jack Nicholson in every way (although I still enjoy Jack Nicholson's Joker). His Joker was heavily influenced by the graphic novels Batman: The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
Not only that, but he totally reinvented the character into a more anarchist-like figure that desires to upset the social order through crime and chaos. The Dark Knight perfectly nailed the constant obsessive conflict between the Joker and Batman that they always have with each other.
Maggie Gyllenhaal's Rachel Dawes:
Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne's love interest, Rachel Dawes, and I must say she is quite an improvement over Katie Holmes. Although, Katie Homes is a better looking woman than Maggie Gyllenhaal and I sympathized more with her Rachel in Batman Begins, Maggie Gyllenhaal is a much better actress than Katie Holmes and she isn't bad looking either. I just wish one of the actresses played the part both times instead of one.
Batman's chase for the Joker in Gotham:
After Harvey Dent publicly claims that he is Batman, Dent’s arrest transport is ambushed by a garbage truck and a semi trailer driven by the Joker and his henchmen and thugs. But then the real Batman arrives in the Batmobile, crashing the garbage truck and driving to the rescue. So, The Joker attempts to kill Dent during transport while using an RPG which hits the approaching Batmobile causing it to crash with irreparable damage.
So, Batman takes on his secondary transportation, the Batpod which bursts out the front of the self-destructing Batmobile. Batman successfully causes the Joker's truck to stop by flipping it over with cables.
And I might I say I absolutely loved this action sequence in The Dark Knight! This was the second best put together superhero action scene I had ever seen in theaters behind only the Spider-Man vs. Doctor Octopus action sequence on the train! I loved the Batpod that Batman had in the sequence and seeing him driving through a Gotham building and flipping over that semi truck was so cool to me as a 13-year-old! And it still is.
The Batpod was something we had never seen in ANY of the previous Batman films, so Christopher Nolan really introduced some cool Batman technology in this film.
As the Joker stands in the middle of the road yelling "HIT ME!" while Batman is approaching him fast, Batman is forced to crash in order to avoid killing the Joker (honoring his no kill policy) and lays wounded on the ground. Then Commissioner Gordon (who faked his death and had been driving Harvey Dent's transportation van), sneaks up behind the Joker and arrests him.
And I love this scene because it is one of the few moments in the film that perfectly nails the constant obsessive conflict that Batman and the Joker always have with each other.
Batman vs. Joker Interrogation Scene:
At first, with the Joker in custody, everything seemed to be safe. But unfortunately, it is revealed that Harvey Dent never made it home. When Commissioner Gordon questions The Joker as to what he did to Dent, he hints that Wuertz was the one responsible for Dent's predicament (which later turns out to be true); then Jim Gordon, desperate to save Dent, leaves the Joker in Batman's hands.
And I love this scene in the film, because you get to see Batman interrogating the Joker in such a brutal fashion. This is another moment in the film that perfectly nails the constant obsessive conflict that Batman and the Joker constantly have with each other.
He continues to interrogate the Joker until he intentionally reveals that Rachel and Dent have been taken to opposite sides of the city, far-enough apart that Batman does not have time to save both of them. Batman heads off to save Rachel, while Jim Gordon and the police head after Harvey Dent.
Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent/Two-Face:
Aaron Eckhart plays Gotham's district attorney who is hailed as the city's "White Knight," but later becomes a psychotic vengeful serial killer after half of his face is disfigured and becomes obsessed with avenging Rachel's death. And I have to say, not only did he give an excellent performance and nail the character of Harvey Dent, but he completely stole the show in this film and deserves just as much praise for his performance as Heath Ledger and Christian Bale get for their performances seeing as it was just as much his film as it was Bale's and Ledger's.
His Two-Face was certainly an improvement over this one.
It's not about what we want, it's about what's FAIR!!! We thought we could be decent men in an indecent time, but we were wrong. The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. FAIR.
One of the coolest things about Two-Face's character is the way the comics usually play on Batman's attempts to bring Harvey Dent back to his senses; sometimes he succeeds at times and sometimes he fails, and it's always a "will-he/won't-he redeem himself in the end" scenario.
Don't get me wrong, Aaron Eckhart's performance is amazing and I really like what they did with Harvey Dent and his character for the overall story and theme of The Dark Knight, but I admit I was disappointed that the story killed him off so quickly and never had the chance to move into that phase of Batman trying to save Harvey from himself, beyond what happens in The Dark Knight's final confrontation.
In conclusion, The Dark Knight is an excellent film and is definitely not just the best Batman film, but the best film of the genre period. And while it may be a little overrated in some cases and I don't consider it to be the best film of all time or even one of the best films of all time, it's certainly a much better and more competently made movie than the majority of films that come out these days. It's the only comic book film that has everything going for it and succeeds with everything it has.
It's hard to believe it has been almost a decade since The Dark Knight came out. It doesn't seem that long ago at all, but a lot has changed since then.
Batman Returns (1992):
Aaahh, the one and only Batman Returns.
I first saw this film on TV when I was either a baby or toddler some point in the Late 90's/Early 2000's. Of all the old Batman films, this was the one me and my mom would watch all the time whenever it was on TV as a little kid. For a long time, I considered Batman Returns to be the best film of the original Batman series and it always had a special place in my heart.
But after growing up and becoming a much more serious Batman fan, I've come to see how inferior this film was to the original Batman film and I can't let go of how heavily Tim Burton deviated from the Batman mythos with this sequel.
Danny DeVito's Penguin:
Danny DeVito portrays the Penguin, but more as a psycopathic deformed man who was abandoned by his parents when he was a only baby. He ends up being raised by penguins of an abandoned zoo. 33 years later, he returns for revenge along with the Red Triangle Circus Gang after being cheated by businessman Max Shreck.
Danny DeVito gave an excellent performance as this character and he was such a thrill to watch throughout the entire movie, but it's hard sympathize with this character nor did I care at all one bit what his motivations were. The film doesn't tell us much of Penguin's early life is from then on, except the fact that he basically ran off to join the Red Triangle Circus Gang. Then when the circus returned to a town for two weeks, it featured newly added goons: The Poodle Lady, The World's Fattest Man, and an Aquatic Bird Boy. The circus's two week stay was put to an end early because while guests were at the circus, their kids went missing. One of the freak-show performers vanished before he could be questioned, and some said that it was the Aquatic Bird Boy who was, by that time, been nicknamed The Penguin by his fellow freaks.
At the end of Batman Returns, following the dramatic final confrontation between Batman, Catwoman, and Max Shreck, which culminated in Catwoman killing Shreck with a taser and a high-powered electric cable, the unmasked Batman was left to confront a gravely injured Penguin who emerged from the water, and was ready to kill him.
Although seriously injured and horribly intoxicated by his fall into the poisoned water, the Penguin drew an umbrella from his collection, only to find that it's a harmless toy ("a Cute One"), and dropped it. After he complained of the heat, Penguin mentioned to Batman that he "will murder him momentarily", just as soon as he "can get a cold drink of ice water", which ultimately turned out to be his last words. And that's it.
Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman:
It shouldn't be hard at all to get this character right. I mean we're talking about the second most popular character in the Batman mythos behind only Batman himself. So why does Hollywood keep getting Selina Kyle wrong?
I'll admit Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman outfit resembles how Catwoman SHOULD look, much more so than Halle Berry or Anne Hathaway (although I didn't like all the silver lines on the costume), she did not fit the role at all as I did not find her hot or sexy at all. Not only that, but she is given an incredibly stupid origin story. At her apartment, Selina Kyle discovers that Max Shreck's proposed Power Plant would suck power from Gotham City, store it and effectively bring Gotham under control of the Shreck Family. Max Shreck himself appeared and confronted her about the new information, and although Selina swore that she would not let it slip, Shreck pushed her out of the window in order to silence her.
Though she apparently died, Selina Kyle was mysteriously revived by alley cats and returned home in a daze. When her answering machine gave an advertisement on a perfume that was sold by Max Shreck, Selina suffered a psychotic breakdown and ransacked her apartment, destroying her possessions and sewed a homemade cat costume in preparation for her revenge on Max Shreck. After all this, she called herself Catwoman. Then Selina Kyle became a vigilante in her own right; on her first night, she brutally beat a mugger for trying to rape a helpless woman, but then chastised the woman for being unable to defend herself. Okay.
Christopher Walken as Max Shreck:
Christopher Walken plays the evil businessman Max Shreck who wants to control Gotham City through electric power. While I like Christopher Walken as an actor, I hated his character here and found him very useless in this film. Max Shreck was one villain too many and he didn't need to be in the movie at all.
Batman Returns McDonald's Toys and controversy:
Oh, the 1990's...back when McDonald's ruled the world. And how I missed out on movie marketing like this.
Before Batman Returns came out, Warner Bros. and Tim Burton let McDonald's do a big tie in selling toys in their happy meals based off of not just Batman Returns, but the upcoming groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series which would come out that fall. McDonald's also sold cups with the characters from Batman Returns on them.
But all this backfired quickly after the film came out. Parents everywhere got outraged that McDonald's was promoting the new Batman movie to kids when it had violence and sexual situations that was too disturbing for kids. The backlash was so big, it greatly effected the box office of Batman Returns and caused McDonald's to cancel their entire Batman happy meal campaign.
It's like if Zack Snyder, director of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), decided to release the R-rated cut of the film in theaters, but it was marketed as a PG-13 movie instead. Then Warner Bros. would team up with Chick-fil-A and release happy meal toys based off the film. Imagine just what kind of reactions that would get from the type of people who love eating at Chick-fil-A. Those things just DO NOT go together.
Batman had that Gothic atmosphere that fitted the tormented mind of Bruce Wayne the billionaire, vigilante and misfit, and the noir tone of the film fitted a city where organized crime reigned supreme; but had it been just an exercise in style and design, Batman would've been poisoned by its own depressing mold. The first film worked because it had an antidote, a grinning psychopath played by Jack Nicholson, a Joker who, as far as characterization went, was no joke.
Batman Returns is by no means a bad movie, but it falls behind the original Batman film and Batman Begins in terms of quality. In terms of action, set-design, scoring and acting, there's nothing to envy from its predecessor in 1989. Yet something was lacking, definitely. Whatever it was, I was so turned off that I'd rather explain why the original was superior instead.
It felt like Tim Burton didn't know what to do with the Batman character after the first film and decided to make his own movie using Batman characters and disguised it as a Batman film, thus showing he wasn't the right director to make a Batman series of his own.
So the winner goes to The Dark Knight. Yes, Christopher Nolan won this time around. This wasn't much of a competition for me. The Dark Knight is an excellent movie that not only reestablished Batman as one of the forefronts of pop culture, but it totally reinvented the Batman character in general and gave us the Batman Arkham games which are the definite take on the Batman mythos for me.
I know it might be pushing it to be talking about The Dark Knight on a retro site and I'm sorry if this article came off as nothing but me going on and on about how great The Dark Knight was. I know a lot of people love Batman Returns and consider it to be some kind of underrated masterpiece of the Batman mythos, but I'm not one of those people.