Thursday, February 8, 2018

Batman Through a Kid’s Eyes 1

I realize that I’m starting to stretch the definition of “kid’s” as time passes.

Yet, the intent is the same- seeing how someone unconnected to the time and culture of something’s original release reacts to it independently of its historical context.

Unsurprisingly, my daughter knows Batman in many forms. A great deal of this knowledge came from growing up with me, living in a house with Bat-information books and playing with Action Figures her whole life.

The key source of her knowledge about “real Batman” probably came when we watched the animated Justice League and JLU series twice together. (not counting the later episodes that originally aired when she was teeny)  Plus she’s seen a bunch of Adam West and Batman the Animated Series episodes.  She’s seen all of Batman: Brave and Bold and Young Justice as well, and the near perfect (in some aspects) Lego Batman Movie.

As far as actual comic book stories, she’s read a bit of regular Batman, all of Tiny Titans, Young Justice and Johns's run on Teen Titans.  Batman wasn’t the star of those books, but you can learn a lot about someone by how others see them.

She also read through all of Gaiman’s Sandman and related books at lightning speed last summer.
That’s got nothing to do with Batman (minus a cameo) but was too cool not to mention.

The point is, she knows the character in several of the universes he inhabits.

It was interesting to see her reaction to the different live action versions, many of which were believed to be definitive at the time.


It is excessively difficult to explain the impact this movie had to people who didn't experience it in the overflowing with superhero films, television shows and references world we live in.

Director Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve treated the subject matter of 1978’s Superman seriously, but it was obvious from the sequels that the producers and studios didn’t.  The franchise started at a high point and rapidly devolved.

Batman was really the first time where everyone involved took the comic book property seriously and set out to construct, not just a superhero story, but a well-made film. Bat- logos were absolutely everywhere in this country and using Prince music pushed it further into the mainstream.

Prince’s late 80’s musical style is no longer anywhere near “mainstream style.” They are much more “what the heck is that?” style.

At the time, most of us were happy just to have a live action Batman treated with respect.  The whole concept of small framed Keaton as a black clad, armored to the point of near immobility Batman didn’t work at all for Anabelle. This is probably from seeing the normal fluidity of Batman’s movements illustrated in his standard costume in many shows, and the Marvel films’ gymnastic allowing, correctly colored uniforms.

She liked Nicholson’s performance as the Joker. While he was basically playing Jack in whiteface, she didn’t know who he was from anywhere else.  And his taking the personality to extremes does match the Joker she knew.  

One of the high points of every version of Batman has been Alfred and she was a big fan of Michael Gough’s interpretation, except for letting Viki into the Batcave, which original Writer Sam Hamm vigorously denied, along with having the Joker fill in for Joe Chill. (Another huge “What the heck?” in our home.)

She rejected “standard Hollywood romance” and “standard Hollywood back story” most of us accepted at the time in exchange for finally getting a movie.  Basinger's Vicki Vale spent most of the film defined by the others and didn't leave much of an impression.  I think her favorite character was Alexander Knox, because Robert Wuhl is awesome. I’m going to have to dig up some of his old stand up for her.

As a Tim Burton fan, she liked most of the visuals, though she thought the city’s designs were a little over the top.

Man, she hadn’t seen anything yet.

Batman Returns

Ugly character designs, totally incorrect personalities, and a Batman who kills about thirty people in the opening scene:  This is my least favorite of the franchise, and I apologize to family, friends and anyone within five hundred feet of me when we saw it in the theater for my sustained outbursts.

I figured having a much less of a personal investment in the character; my daughter would enjoy the Tim Burton visuals and go with the changes.


She didn’t like any part of the film, or any of the characters. (Other than Alfred, naturally.)

That’s my girl.

After the initial shock wore off, I'm willing to admit that Michelle Pfeifer had some solid moments as Catwoman. Anabelle was not as forgiving, and thought everything she did was (much like the amped up outlandishness of the architecture) “too weird.”  The less said about Danny the Were-Penguin the better.

She watched the whole thing, mostly complaining about what was wrong, or at least ugly, and couldn't think of anything positive when it was done, other than Stan Winston’s penguins being cool.

Watching the making of, mostly out of morbid curiosity, confirmed what I long suspected- Tim Burton didn’t want to do a sequel, but they enticed him back by offering him the opportunity to “ignore the mythology.”

Batman Forever

Once more with these kinds of movies and shows, the people who pick on it now have no connection to, or memory of, the environment of its release.  Yes it’s goofy, but it was also a massive hit that made truckloads of money.

My daughter routinely exclaimed, “This is the best movie ever.”  This is likely due to two reasons:
A:  The same reason I liked it much more when I first saw it than on later viewings, the insane improvements over the last installment.
B:  The Riddler.

She didn't have any previous knowledge of Jim Carrey, making his antics, expressions and mannerisms completely new and fresh to her. Basically, we recreated his rise to stardom in our home over two hours.  Then we gave her waking nightmares by transitioning to The Mask, but those are thoughts for other times.

One thing I noticed- rebounding off Batman Returns I enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones’s performance as Two-Face. Later the fact that it was “wrong” compared to the comics turned me off.  Now that I'm older, and mellower, I like it again. Actually, the villain he most resembles is Caesar Romero’s Joker.  OK, he’s not Harvey Dent, but he’s fun!

Anabelle also shared our family’s (and beyond) opinion that Chris O’Donnell did a fantastic job. He started as the later, college age, nearly Nightwing Dick Grayson, and it worked.

She found Val Kilmer better than Michael Keaton.  I guess she valued looking the part more important than psychological intensity. Either that or the surroundings and humor enhanced the role. The comedy around Nichole Kidman’s Chase Meridian having a dual relationship with Bruce and Batman impressed her more than Basinger's Vicki Vale as well.

Batman and Robin

Now, for the controversy:  this movie is close to universally reviled, and credited with temporarily killing the superhero genre.

I maintain it is exactly what it set out to be.  The direction from the studio was to make a kid friendly Batman film, featuring of boatloads of gadgets and vehicles to inspire toys.  
That’s what Schumacher aimed for and that’s what it is.

It in no way reflects the dark and gritty avenger of the night that the Batman comics of that time were showcasing.  On the other hand, it’s not far off of the goofy insanity Batman of the 1950’s embraced.

This is the first live action Batman my daughter saw. When she was really little we found it on TV, and she was completely mesmerized by it, and laughed and cheered along throughout. Even now, while she recognizes that the Nolan efforts are much better films; this is the one she’d want to watch multiple times.

O’Donnell’s performance was just as good, and more Nightwingy.  Bringing in Silverstone as (an admittedly new and different, probably the most like Stephanie) version of Batgirl was an added bonus for this young woman watching the movie.  

Uma and Arnold clearly had far too much fun making the film, and it’s infectious if you’re in the right mindset.  Frankly, I would have loved to see John Glover return as the Floronic Man myself.  Jeep Swenson was clearly not Bane, but he matched the comic book tradition of one of Ivy’s plant based, dumb muscle assistants.

Then there’s George Clooney. He may apologize for the film, but he also embodied the over the top lunacy of past eras of comics, and his scenes with Gough’s Alfred are some of the best depictions of that relationship.

Clooney gets some bonus points for being the only live action Batman who doesn’t kill, or by his inaction allow the death, of anyone.

People occasionally forget that it is OK to relax and have fun with superheroes.

Come back next week for the more cinematically acceptable Dark Knight.

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