Batman is my favorite superhero. I think it’s because, in comparison to other superheroes, he’s fairly grounded. Bruce Wayne only needs incredible intellect, brute strength, and an unlimited amount of monetary resources to pull from. I’m inclined to think that a great number of other people like Batman too; just about every decade has seen its own Batman screen adaptation. And, with the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I thought I’d take a look at the two most famous Batman franchises to reach cinema screens: Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Sorry Joel Schumacher – I think it’s better if we forget your little contribution to the Batman legacy.
Today, the general consensus is that Nolan’s Batman, more specifically The Dark Knight (2008), is the best Batman movie – best Batman anything out there. IMDb currently shows The Dark Knight holding a 9.0 user rating. That makes it one of the highest-rated films on the cite – behind only The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather Parts I and II. Meanwhile, Burton’s Batman from 1989 holds a 7.6 rating and the follow-up Batman Returns a 7.0. That’s a pretty dramatic difference in user opinion. And, I’ve got to admit that I am one of the few who believe that Burton’s two Batman films are superior. That’s not to say that The Dark Knight isn’t a good movie, but by no means does it deserve to be ranked the fourth best film on IMDb.
So, what has led me to the determination that Burton’s is the better film? Well, to compare the two let us look only at Batman and The Dark Knight. They are, in some ways, similar. Batman acts as a lone crusader in crime-ridden Gotham, acting outside the purview of the police, and must match wits with The Joker who has taken on a gang of criminals and gangsters to carry out his dirty work. Both films are also dark, recasting the Caped Crusader in his original, darkened light. But, the singular difference – and I think the difference which elevates Burton’s film – is that the original is a fun movie. Neither Batman nor The Dark Knight feel like comic book movies, but while the latter is simply a run-of-the-mill action flick, Batman is more respectful towards its source material.
I am of the opinion that when a comic book is being adapted to the screen, it is a difficult proposition. Comics have their own continuity – intense, complex continuity – which is hard to translate fully to the screen. So, if a movie doesn’t adapt every tangled plot thread from a series of comics, I understand. However, Batman managed to get the elements right. It presents us with the most popular Joker origin story which, though never truly confirmed, was proposed in the fan favorite graphic novel The Killing Joke. That origin cannot be said for The Dark Knight. More is made of Heath Ledger’s Joker performance than Christian Bale’s Batman, and he is the highlight of the movie. But, in an effort to bring the character into the modern era, screenwriters Jonathon and Christopher Nolan, made their new Joker all but unrecognizable. Yes, he is a first-class psychopath, but little else makes the transition to the screen. It is understandable when changes are made to a character to keep up with the times, but it’s imperative that that character remain, at their heart, the same.
And, let’s just speak a moment about the look of the films. I think Burton’s Gotham City – partially modern and partially Gothic, set in an ambiguously timed location, is evocative and mirrors comic book artwork. It fits the atmosphere brilliantly. Again, Batman doesn’t feel like a comic book movie, but it does respect its source material while The Dark Knight seems determined to distance itself from its origin.
Now, as I said, The Dark Knight is not a bad movie. I will say that its action sequences are better. It’s a more intense movie elevated by some first class explosions and set pieces. Also, The Dark Knight doesn’t feature any Prince songs. Hey, I have nothing against Prince, but really who thought: “This Batman movie needs more Prince.”
At the end of the day, it really is all up to opinion and your tastes. The best thing about Batman is that the character has seen so many different versions that no matter what your mood you can kind a Batman to satisfy it. Want some ‘60s camp? Try the Adam West TV series. Dark, ‘80s fare brought to you by Tim Burton at his best? Try Batman and Batman Returns? Want some intense, high octane action? The Dark Knight Trilogy will satisfy that. And, if you’re looking for a good laugh, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin fit the bill pretty well.