The Batman Saga: Before the Dark Knight (1989, 1992, 1995, 1997)

Posted: July 18, 2012 in Action, Crime, Fantasy, Thriller

Gotham City is not a safe place, but there is an unlikely protector lurking in the shadows willing to risk his life to save his fellow citizens. Bruce Wayne is the rich playboy who happens to have the funds to supply his hidden identity as Batman. Brought to Gotham to research the vigilante protector, Vicky Vale begins to follow the actions of the caped crusader. Meanwhile, an evil has risen as the Joker and his gang have begun to infiltrate Gotham’s high society. After a wave of crimes that have tested Batman as a hero, the Joker is about to unleash his greatest plan yet. Using a number of tainted products and a parade of poison gas balloons, the Joker looks to cripple the citizens with laughter. Batman must determine which products contain the poisonous materials and stop the Joker before he is able to destroy Gotham.

Starring: Michael Keaton (Bruce Wayne), Jack Nicholson (Jack Napier/Joker), Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale), Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), Billy Dee Williams (Harvey Dent), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Jack Palance (Carl Grissom), Jerry Hall (Alicia Hunt)

After the chaos of the Joker, a new threat to Gotham has appeared. Abandoned at a young age due to his deformities, Oswald Cobblepot was raised by a group of penguins in the abandoned Gotham Zoo. A number of years later, Oswald, secretly known as the Penguin, has developed is own circus gang and captures the wealthy businessman Max Shreck. Hoping to reintegrate into society and learn more about his past, he blackmails Max to be his partner. When Max returns to his office, he discovers that his secretary, Selina Kyle, has discovered some of the information regarding his unhanded dealings and Max chooses to push her out of the window. When she survives, she starts a double life as a kleptomaniac vigilante. With the Penguin trying to cheat his way into power through the mayoral elections and Catwoman partnering with him to destroy Batman, Bruce Wayne has his hands full.

Starring: Michael Keaton (Bruce Wayne), Danny DeVito (Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin), Michelle Pheiffer (Selina Kyle/Catwoman), Christopher Walken (Max Shreck), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Michael Murphy (The Mayor), Cristi Conaway (Ice Princess), AndrewBryniarski (Charles ‘Chip’ Shreck)

While the streets seem like a never-ending parade of criminals and thugs, Bruce Wayne has begun to struggle more with his inner demons and the memories of the loss of his parents. Not looking to make his experience any easier, former district attorney Harvey Dent is raising hell with his new gang after suffering a chemical accident that disfigured half of his face. When one of Bruce’s more eccentric R&D guys (Edward Nygma) gets fired and feels dejected by the millionaire, he vows to use his knowledge to torment his former employers. The two villains team up as Two-Face and the Riddler, with plans to hypnotize Gotham City with Edward’s brain drain device. When Edward learns Bruce’s secret past, he uses the information to lure him into a trap. Meanwhile, Bruce begins to date psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian, who also has a thing for Batman. Also out of sorts after the loss of his family, Dick Grayson finds himself under Bruce’s care and eventually discovers Bruce’s heroic secret.

Starring: Val Kilmer (Bruce Wayne), Tommy Lee Jones (Harvey Dent/Two-Face), Jim Carrey (Dr. Edward Nygma/Riddler), Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian), Chris O’Donnell (Dick Grayson/Robin), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Drew Barrymore (Sugar), Debi Mazar (Spice), Rene Auberjonois (Dr. Burton)

With their partnership officially cemented, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson have developed as the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin. A new villain has emerged, calling himself Mr. Freeze, who goes on a spree of stealing diamond to power his sub-zero suit. Meanwhile, Dr. Pamela Isley is struggling with the inhumane treatment of subjects and gets poisoned when her partner drops a shelf of chemicals on her. She rises as the deadly villain Poison Ivy and chooses to return to Gotham City to partner with the incarcerated Mr. Freeze. Along with their muscle, Bane, the trio work together to build Freeze’s ice cannon to put the entire city under ice. Poison Ivy disguises herself at one of Bruce’s events and uses her seductive dust to create conflict of attraction between Bruce and Dick. At Wayne manor, Barbara, Alfred’s niece, arrives to take care of her ailing uncle but gets caught up with the crime-fighting action and eventually partners with Batman and Robin to take on the trio of villains.

Starring: George Clooney (Bruce Wayne), Chris O’Donnell (Dick Grayson/Robin), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Dr. Victor Fries/Mr. Freeze), Uma Thurman (Dr. Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy), Alicia Silverstone (Barbara Wilson/Batgirl), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), John Glover (Dr. Jason Woodrue), Elle MacPherson (Julie Madison), Vivica A. Fox (Ms. B. Haven), Vendela Kirsebom Thomessen (Nora Fries), Jeep Swenson (Bane)

  

The first two films had a similar feel due to their director, Tim Burton. His desire was to combine a darker element with the more colorful and whimsical atmosphere of the late 80s (and eventually 90s with his second film). Nicholson was truly the star of Batman with his psychotic and playful rendition of the Joker, but Michael Keaton’s performance as Bruce Wayne was actually the best of the series with his play between high status and quiet contemplation. Burton’s films included some of the slightly nauseating dialogue that included bad puns, but they were also written to be more sombre with Bruce struggling between his life of wealth and desire to rise to service with the loss of his parents always in the back of his mind.

  

Joel Schumacher took over for the third and fourth installments of the series and the sombre element nearly went out the window. The villains became quite a bit more animated, though it worked better in Batman Forever as opposed to Batman & Robin. Jim Carrey may be the best of actors to play a villain in the series after Jack Nicholson. While the addition of Robin in the third film worked better between the integration of the characters and the development of a more compelling story, the introduction of Batgirl and the combination of the villains in the fourth film was a complete disaster. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a horrible choice to serve as Mr. Freeze and had more bad puns than the entire rest of the series. The destruction of the character Bane also ignores all of the literature of who the character actually is.

  

One of the most important elements of the films, besides the heroes and villains, were the gadgets and vehicles. The first film included the Batmobile, but it actually evolved as the films went through their progression. In addition to the Batmobile, he used the Batwing in the first film, the Batwing and the Bat Speedboat in the third film and the Batcycle in the final film. His utility belt includes the speargun, grappling hook and paralyzing gas. The Batsuit went through a number of upgrades throughout each of the films, from simple coloring to shine/sheer to adding extra definition to the chest and rear of the suit.

  

The series deteriorated throughout its existence, possibly due to its change in directors. It proved to a certain extent that some series can clearly go too far as to water down the opportunity for enjoyment out of the stories. Still, the first and second films were rather good premises to work with and the villainous duo from the third film was entertaining to watch. If only the final film never happened…

Batman – Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

Batman Returns – Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Batman Forever – Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

Batman & Robin – Dan’s Rating: 1.5/5

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