Recommendations sought for Batman film


I used to read Batman and other comics as a boy but for whatever reason have not seen any of the major Batman films that have regularly been produced in the last few decades.

In general, I am not a fan of the superhero genre of films but like to get a sense of how the filmmakers translated the books to the screen. However, filmmakers seem to churn them out on a regular basis and I do not wish to see a whole slew of them. I would like to see just one but am not sure which would be a good one for the Batman series. In the case of Superman, I saw just the first one with Christopher Reeve. With the Marvel comic book heroes, I watched The Avengers because it had a lot of the characters in it and while that was fun, it was enough for me. I get bored with non-stop action, which is what these films tend to show. I never watched any of the Spiderman films because that character annoys the hell out of me.

I have benefited a lot from film recommendations from this blog’s readers and was wondering if people had any suggestions as to which Batman film might be the best to see, if I were to see only one. I should perhaps add that I am not a fan of excessive violence, blood, and gore.

Comments

  1. DonDueed says

    I haven’t seen all the Batman movies, but it’s hard to go wrong with the 1989 Batman, with Jack Nicholson as the Joker. It’s pretty iconic, and not really gory as I recall.

    How it compares with the most recent entries in the franchise I can’t say.

  2. jaxkayaker says

    I second the 1989 version with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. I’ve seen some of the Christian Bale ones, but frankly I don’t recall them. I think that says something.

    Christian Bale is a good actor, though. American Psycho is a must see.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    The Dark Knight.

    It’s the pinnacle of Batman movies. Heath Ledger won an Oscar, for appearing in a Batman movie. Enough said.

  4. fentex says

    The best Batman film is, far and away, The Dark Knight – and that solely for Heath Ledger. He absolutely deserves all the superlatives heaped on him. If you were interested in the genre comparing it to the first Tim Burton film is interesting – showing how the treatment of the subject has changed.

    As for superhero films in general, while the Marvel films should be thought of as episodes in Comics, some stand out. I would recommend Captain America Civil War if you wanted a good sample of the Marvel product – because it features a lot of characters and has the best structured story – with the best pay off in drama, villain and climax of the Marvel films.

  5. phhht says

    I like Batman Begins. It presents a semi-quasi-plausible rationale for the superhero-ness, and as I remember it, it’s not too violent.

    But I like violence in films, so there is that.

  6. deepak shetty says

    I’d go with read the comics instead. Batman : Holy Terror.
    If you still want to watch a movie , then Batman Begins or choose from the DC Universe animated movies. Lego batman is good too.
    Dark Knight is a crowd-pleaser and Ledgers wok is good but its still more a Joker than a Batman movie (and a Joker that I as a long batman fan , don’t like at all and too dark)

    I guess it also depends on what facet of Batman you like ? If “Detective” then you really need to read the older comics for e.g. The current one does so little detective work (either in the movies or the books!)

  7. beetlenaut says

    I don’t usually like superhero movies either, but The Dark Knight is well worth watching. As well as having great performances, it gets bonus points for using almost all practical effects.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    Looking at what you’ve already watched, and asking about, a next question suggests itself. You’ve already sampled the single most successful cinematic universe in The Avengers, and seen an excellent representation of DC by going for Reeve. Due to dull rights issues, not all Marvel characters appear together, and there’s an entirely separate continuity dealing with the X-Men universe. There’s the original trilogy (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn), the “First Class” reboot trilogy (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and, er.. Hugh Jackman), a trio of films featuring the most popular character, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and hugely amusing, violent, gory, potty-mouthed and fourth-wall-breaking, self-aware comedy spinoff in “Deadpool”, which only features Hugh Jackman as a paper cutout mask the main character wears briefly near the end.

    Of those, given your preferences, I’d recommend starting with X2 – the first sequel. Like Avengers it’s an ensemble effort, not too gory, has one of the best opening sequences of any comicbook film, and comes from the era when “first one’s OK, second one’s better, third one is where they lose it” was still a reliable rule of thumb (i.e. before the MCU).

    Some might recommend the stunningly good “Logan”, but given your stated disdain for violence and gore I can’t. It’s a great film, but it takes full advantage of its adult certification to show what the character is really capable of. X2 (like most comicbook movies) is pitched so that kids can watch it, for sound financial reasons.

    Footnote: I disagree with the recommendations for Burton’s first Batman. For me, it was spoiled by the presence of Jack Nicholson. He overshadowed the film, and not in a good way, but with the force of his own personality. He had TOP BILLING, for goodness sake, above Michael Keaton. And he played a gangster called Jack with all the over-the-top hamming you’d expect. Heath Ledger vanished entirely into the part of the Joker and to an extent ruined the part for any actor who tried to follow him – see (or rather, don’t) Jared Leto.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    deepak @12: No idea. Never read the comic. I just happened on the film on telly one night, and was very impressed.

  10. suttkus says

    Quick note: Batman Holy Terror was mentioned earlier. I haven’t read it, but I hear it’s good. HOWEVER, there is another readily available story called Holy Terror that stars a guy who is a blatant Batman ripoff, a blatant Catwoman ripoff, and Frank Miller’s questionable politics. No, sorry, Frank Miller’s questionable politics is should have come first in the list of stars. If you don’t believe every Muslim is terrorist and needs to die yesterday, and that torture of foreigners is always justified, it should be avoided at all costs. Just saying. On the other hand, Linkara’s review on YouTube is both hilarious and touching. It’s also long. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50mpARmMGSg

    Well, with that out of the way, on with the question.

    The question is rather difficult to answer without knowing when you read Batman comics. Batman has been all over the place in the comics.

    1938 Batman was a grim, lone vigilante who sometimes guns down criminals. (I don’t really suspect you read Batman in 1938, I’m just being complete.)

    1939 through the 1940’s introduces Robin and Batman loses the guns (mostly, there’s at least one issue where he machineguns some Nazis) and becomes a lot more open to smiling occasionally.

    The 1950’s see superheroes nosedive in popularity, but Batman survives largely by adopting the mores of the day, which gives us a lot of Batman vs. goofy aliens.

    In the early 60’s, Batman gets a bit more down to earth as Superheroes come back into vogue, lots of Superman teamups start to happen. Batman joins a team.

    Then the TV show happens and Batman gets VERY silly for a while.

    The 1970’s see the creators trying to desperately scale back the silliness. This is my favorite era of Batman, the Dark Knight Detective, gothic imagery and light-horror abound, Batman is the intelligent hero, and Robin goes off to college.

    The 80’s are a confusing time for Batman. Comics are getting “grim”, and the creators try desperately to change with the times and make Batman Grim (not helped by one of the most influential comics of the era being Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), but have to keep him accessible to the all-ages demographic. There are a lot of experiments. Some work, lots don’t. Batman is horribly uneven through the decade. There’s some great stuff and some head-scratching “HUH? What did I just read?”

    The 90’s tries to pull Batman back to his roots with the controversial Knightfall storyline, which was basically the creative team saying, “Hey, let’s give the audience what they THINK they want Batman to be, the ultraviolent no-prisoners vigilante monster, and show them how stupid that is.” It sorta works if you read it that way, but since it involves a lot of stupid, it’s got stupid parts.

    I haven’t honestly read a lot of Batman after that point, so I can’t give you my unwarranted opinions on anything since.

    As for my take on Batman media:

    The TV Series is an awesome example of camp comedy at it’s finest. Depending on how you define Batman, it might not be great Batman, but it’s a lot of fun.

    Batman ’89 is basically good, only has one “ick” scene (I remember I had to edit a copy of the tape so my young sister could watch it back in the day). It’s got some flaws, though. Jack Nicholson being very JACK NICHOLSON (as the joker) having already been mentioned, Vicky Vale is… something that could have been handled so much better. Batman gives out his secret identity WAY too easily.

    Batman Returns is a lot better than I thought it was back in the day. It’s a bit more over-the-top than the first one, but good fun. Michelle Pfeifer makes up for what the first film lost in feminism credit. And the Penguin makes a surprisingly good metaphor for Donald Trump. See: http://www.syfy.com/syfywire/75-thoughts-i-had-while-watching-batman-returns-the-worlds-greatest-holiday-movie As far as the “gore” factor… there’s no real gore, but something about the general way the movie seems drenched in dirt and goop makes me want to take a shower afterward.

    The other two 90’s Batman movies should only be watched if you’re a Batman historian, looking to make fun of bad movies, or high on something. Preferably, all three.

    I mostly liked the three Christopher Nolan Batman films, but each of them has some moment when Batman goes completely out of character and that drives me nuts. The second one, The Dark Knight, is the best, and the third one is the weakest but still watchable, as long as you turn subtitles on because there’s no way on Earth to understand Bane otherwise.

  11. Mano Singham says

    Wow, thanks for all the thoughtful responses! Unfortunately they did not arrive at a consensus, which is always too much to hope for when you are discussing people’s tastes but they did give me good context for when I pick one (or maybe two) to watch.

    I read the comics at a time when Robin was his sidekick so seeing a film without Robin would seem a little weird but I know that many Batman fans dislike Robin and think that the series was better without him.

    suttkus@#16 made me think back to when I read these comics. The catch is that because I was in Sri Lanka at that time, we did not really subscribe to the comics so we did not read them as they came out. What would happen is that somebody would get a comic from who knows where and then they would circulate among friends. Or we would buy them from second hand bookstores. As a result, we did not read them in sequence and some of them might have been decades old. So I cannot pin an era for the ones I read except that they must have been from earlier than 1970.

    For some reason, one particular story came to my mind as a result of suttkus’s query. It was when Batman was injured and out of action but not wanting to let the evildoers know that they had a free hand, Robin put on a bat costume and pretended to be him. The only clue that this was a substitution was that there was a little robin bird insignia on the chest of Robin’s Batman costume. It was a long time ago and I cannot guarantee that I remember this story correctly.

  12. jaxkayaker says

    Logan and Deadpool are both excellent, but possibly too violent. Deadpool is one of my favorite characters and Ryan Reynolds does a very good job of embodying the spirit and irreverence of the character. Like Logan (/Wolverine), Deadpool is an antihero.

    You might find it interesting to compare Jokers between Ledger and Nicholson.

  13. deepak shetty says

    @suttkus

    HOWEVER, there is another readily available story called Holy Terror that stars a guy who is a blatant Batman ripoff, a blatant Catwoman ripoff, and Frank Miller’s questionable politics.

    To be fair to Miller , This was a Batman against terrorists in Gotham story , agreed upon by DC . DC bowed out of it and let Miller publish it elsewhere with some changes so the blatant ripoff as such was intentional – but yeah don’t read it unless you are an alt-right Islamophobe. Holy Terror by Alan Brennert however is a good Batman story with some commentary on religion which appealed to me.

  14. Carl Fink says

    I’ll chime in with another strong recommendation for The Dark Knight. I agree with the others that it’s far and away the best live-action film to feature the character. That said, it’s about the most intense PG-13 film I’ve ever seen, and it’s more than a little violent, with a couple of scenes that were obviously cut in such a way as to specifically avoid an R-rating. It’s the middle film of a trilogy but I believe the film would stand on its own, particularly if one is already familiar with the character and lore.

    The ’90s Batman animated series was also excellent, and was pretty much the definitive vision of the character for my generation.
    It spawned a theatrical film, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It’s also an excellent choice and well worth watching.

  15. suttkus says

    While it’s true that Miller started his Holy Terror as a Batman story, with the approval of DC, Miller’s own explanation is that he came to realize that it wasn’t a Batman story, so he had to take it to a different company… because DC won’t publish anything but Batman stories, I guess. It’s generally assumed that this was his attempt to save face, because DC had actually seen the content of the story and rejected it, but that’s not what Miller says. It’s difficult to agree with Miller by actually reading the story, though, especially with things like totally-not-Catwoman talking about having nine-lives. As such, I was “throwing some shade” at Miller, as the kids say.

  16. file thirteen says

    Here are the Rotten Tomatoes rankings of Batman movies. Admittedly these are by critics, and in general I find the audience rankings more reliable, but given The Dark Knight got 94% in both it’s hard to argue that you should watch anything else. If you’re going to watch only one, that is.

    Disclaimer: I never liked *any* of the Batman movies, not even The Dark Knight (although I do agree that Heath Ledger’s performance in that was spectacular). To me, watching my son play Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City on the Xbox showed me much better scripted stories with better acting and better dialogue than any of the numerous Batman movies I’ve seen (I’ve never played the games myself, can’t stand the controller, but watching them was compelling). My 2c: any X-men movie beats any Batman movie hands down.

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