With BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE finally hitting theatres, I thought I’d take a look at some of DC’s two most iconic heroes’ cinematic outings of the past – the good, the bad, and the mishandled.
Best Batman: BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD (2010) In which Batman soul-searches and confronts a ghost from his past. You know, it pained me to not choose something with Kevin Conroy – the best Batman – in, but Bruce Greenwood does a fine job in his place. His Knight is a force to be reckoned with, and bring an appropriate melancholy and nuance to proceedings. Michael Keaton remains the definitive Bruce Wayne thanks to his recognising the comic in addition to the tragic side of the character, but unfortunately Tim Burton’s Batman kills people. This is all about the Knight not being infallible, making mistakes and living with them. The performances and animated choreography consistently impress, but the film is made by two powerful scenes bookending the story that debate, perhaps in the most cogent fashion we’ve ever seen, how and why Batman is trapped in the most vicious of circles.
I am vengeance, I am the night, I am: A fascinating exploration of Batman’s demons and flawed code.
Best Superman: SUPERMAN (1978) In which Kal-El is saved by his parents from his dying planet and sent to Earth to become the hero humanity needs to become the best they can be. Christopher Reeve is charming, unironic and otherworldly, we know this. His complete embodiment of the Last Son of Krypton makes him one of the canniest pieces of casting in cinema history and for many he remains the only true Superman. Reeve is also adept at slapstick clowning and wholeheartedly embraces the “aw shucks” corniness of Clark and has killer chemistry with Lois (Margot Kidder). The Krypton opening manages to be both grand and pulpy and the rest is an adventure of pure joy that doesn’t require Superman to fight anybody, only to sit through Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) talk real estate and try to save everyone he can. Note: This is only my favourite Superman if you don’t let me count Richard Donner’s cut of the sequel.
For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you: The template for the hopeful superhero movie.
Worst Batman: BATMAN & ROBIN (1997) In which Batman tries to thwart Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy’s (Uma Thurman) scheme to freeze Gotham with the help of Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone). This was the first, but certainly not the last superhero movie with far too much crammed in. An embarrassed George Clooney is restricted by a comical suit and deeply uncomfortable with cracking wise. Clooney looks even more embarrassed with his face fully exposed and doing his damnedest to look sad at the right prompt.I know everyone harps on about Schwarzenegger’s puns, but the real foot-dragger is Thurman, who looks like she’s reading cue cards and hasn’t noticed that Ivy’s stake in the plan makes less than no sense (a new ice age will help plants…how?). This is almost bearable if you’re watching inebriated or if you’re under 10, but is rightly derided by everyone else.
I am vengeance, I am the night, I am: An amusement park ride with a tone-deaf script and sinful performances.
Worst Superman: SUPERMAN III (1983) In which Superman goes up against a tycoon (Robert Vaughan) and a misguided hacker (Richard Pryor) and struggles to remain himself when he is poisoned. Here Supes is either helping people out with mundane everyday problems or acting like a superpowered schoolyard bully (“evil” Superman never convinces). He famously pushes the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight and nearly outright murders people after a lengthy session as a barfly. Also Superman grows a five o’ clock shadow to demonstrate just how far he’s fallen (snigger). Reeve doesn’t do well as a bad guy and looks bored with Clark’s storyline and his re-connection with school sweetheart Lana (Annette O’Toole) back home in Smallville – what should be the heart of a film with a mostly absent Lois – lacks fizz. The Big Blue Boy Scout should never be an afterthought in his own movie, and someone should have told Richard Lester returning from re-shooting most of Donner’s SUPERMAN II just how badly he was handling this material.
For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you:
An ugly pile of discarded Richard Pryor skits, plus Superman, I guess, if we must.
But what about THE DARK KNIGHT I hear you ask? I’m not denying the quality of Christopher Nolan’s middle chapter in his Bruce Wayne chronicle, I just consider it more a crime thriller that happens to feature Batman than a Batman movie per se. Looking at the other end of the scale I actually think SUPERMAN IV has a certain charm. See you all after we see whether Zack Snyder’s royal rumble was worth it. SSP