Tag Archives: joker

Batman: The Animated Series – “Christmas With The Joker”

Christmas_With_the_Joker-Title_CardEpisode Number: 2

Original Air Date: November 13, 1992

Directed By: Kent Butterworth

Written By: Eddie Gorodetsky

First Appearance(s):  Robin, Joker, Summer Gleason, Arkham Asylum

An interesting choice for a second episode of a series. It’s a Christmas episode, which feels kind of inline with Batman thanks to Batman Returns. It’s also the debut of The Joker, and introducing him through a Christmas themed episode also feels odd. Naturally, since the show premiered in September this episode was held back to be more topical when it did eventually air, though its original air date still came before Thanksgiving which still feels off.

In this episode, we are immediately introduced to The Joker, who with other inmates at the famed Arkham Asylum, is decorating a Christmas tree and singing “Jingle Bells.” In a moment that would probably now be described as “metta,” Joker adds in the “Batman smells,” variation which probably delighted 8 year old me at the time while he improbably blasts away on a rocket-powered Christmas tree just as he arrives at the “and The Joker got away,” part of the song. Right away, we see this episode isn’t going to care much for realism as Joker is going to quickly establish lots of unique traps and engineer a few kidnappings in a short amount of time with zero explanation on how he accomplished any of that. And unlike many of the villains who will follow, this is not a depiction of Batman’s first encounter with The Joker. It’s pretty clear that the two have a relationship that predates the events of this show and have been at this game for years, assumedly, just as this isn’t Robin’s first foray into crime-fighting even though it’s his first appearance in the show (we’ll get to see his origin later).

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The Joker’s humorous, but improbable, escape from Arkham.

Batman is naturally unnerved by The Joker’s Christmas break-out, while Robin (Loren Lester) thinks even villains prefer to spend the holidays with family. Batman is quick to remind him that The Joker has no family. Naturally, Batman is right and when Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson sit down to watch a television broadcast of It’s A Wonderful Life they soon find the airwaves taken over by The Joker. Joker has kidnapped three pretty important figures in Gotham:  Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, and television news reporter Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). Joker, lacking a family to spend the holidays with, has dubbed this trio the Awful Lawful Family and given them personalities of Mommy, Daddy, and Baby (Bullock gets to wear the adorable bonnet). They’re hog-tied, and presumably in danger, as are other citizens of Gotham.

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The Joker and his “family.”

Joker lays some traps, including taking out a railroad bridge and arming an observatory with a giant cannon, all while tormenting his captors in a mostly PG sort of way on television. His use of a discontinued toy is what clues Batman in on the fact that The Joker must be housed in an abandoned toy factory and he and Robin race to the rescue. They have a mostly slapstick encounter with The Joker and his toy-themed gadgets, and Robin even gets to make a pretty terrible bat pun when Batman makes use of a baseball bat. The ultimate goal of The Joker’s crime is to get Batman to open a Christmas present from him, and it’s genuinely amusing and makes The Joker look like a psycho, albeit a G-rated one, and I kind of appreciated that fact.

joker08

Merry Christmas, Batman.

“Christmas With The Joker” is a middling episode of this series that’s neither great nor bad. It’s hamstrung somewhat by the Christmas theme and just feels inappropriate as the debut for The Joker. Of course, if I were going in broadcast order it wouldn’t be The Joker’s debut, and those of us watching at the time were introduced to the character in a better fashion. As the debut of The Joker though, it still is a fine reception for Mark Hamill in his second most famous role. His Joker is often regarded as the best voice for the character. It’s mostly goofy and fun, especially in this episode, but when he needs to get a little more malevolent he can slip into a darker tone with ease. And his laugh is brilliant.

BTAS - S1E2 First Appearance - Robin

Not to be forgotten, this episode also marks the first appearance of Robin.

As a Christmas episode, I will give this one props for not being an adaptation of a more popular Christmas story. At first, I was afraid it would go in a It’s A Wonderful Life direction (a non-Christmas episode kind of will much later this season) when Robin name-dropped the film, but it thankfully did not. I do hate how Gordon and Bullock are just assumed kidnapped, and the episode is too eager to “yada yada” over such details. It’s the only episode written by Eddie Gorodetsky, and if he could do better it’s too bad he didn’t get a chance to show it. For a show that does a good job of elevating what children’s entertainment could be, this one feels too close to the cartoons of the 80s which treated its audience as imbeciles. It’s not as bad as those old shows, but definitely lacking when compared to future episodes. I’m probably being a little too hard on it, as even this mostly serious show is entitled to just have fun now and then. It’s still a worthwhile episode to toss into your Christmas viewing experience though.

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Batman: The Movie

Batman:  The Movie (1966)

Batman: The Movie (1966)

The Batman character certainly has changed a lot over the past 50 years. Sure, under the mask he’s still Bruce Wayne, his parents are still dead, and he can usually be found prowling the streets of Gotham City by night accompanied by a juvenile in a red and yellow costume. Many things have changed though. For one, Bruce Wayne is no longer content to be a millionaire so he’s jumped into the billionaire ranks. The blue and gray spandex Batman used to wear is now often black and gray and even armor-plated, depending on the artist. Robin, thankfully, isn’t parading around in tights either or a bright yellow cape (no wonder why he’s usually the one getting picked off as opposed to Batman) and sometimes he even gets to be an adult. Mostly though, the tone of the work has changed. A lot of writers have received credit for turning Batman into a more serious and mature character during the 70’s and 80’s with most of it going to Frank Miller, but the change was actually rather gradual. In order for a character to survive decades upon decades and remain relevant, he has to change with the times as the general tastes of the public are always evolving.

In 1965, Batman was faced with becoming irrelevant. His comic book sales were down and he hadn’t appeared in a film reel in decades. Television was still pretty new, and pretty limited, but the idea to give the caped crusader a shot at television came up and by 1966 Batman was more than relevant once again; he was a star! Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo, Batman appeared twice a week (a rarity at the time) on television in a serialized nature, often with the first night’s program continuing into the second’s. The show was a hit with children mostly, but also adults who grew up reading the Batman comics. Color TV was new at the time, and Batman was presented in eye-popping color for those fortunate enough to have a color set. The jazz-infused soundtrack was catchy, and the wild cast of villains gave the show a new flavor each week. Stars were born, of course, with classic comic villains such as The Joker and The Penguin seeing their star burn even brighter while villains mostly abandoned by the books, such as Catwoman and The Riddler, found a new lease on life. The show was basically a farce, with Batman and Robin presented in an ever serious manner oblivious to the ridiculous circumstances they would find themselves in week after week. The supporting cast of Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) were equally oblivious while the villains came across as the only ones in on the joke. Batman and Robin would find themselves in dire situations often, but would always get out of it either thru ingenuity, sheer coincidence, or via an oddly situation specific “Bat” gadget. This was Batman in the 60’s and it’s what people wanted.

Look out, caped crusaders! The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler have joined forces!

Look out, caped crusaders! The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler have joined forces!

When the show was first conceived, it was decided that a movie would be created to help launch the program. Plans changed, however, when the network involved surprisingly picked up the show with production needing to start immediately to meet a January air date. The movie was back-burnered for awhile in order to focus on the television show, but filming resumed in the early spring to make a summer release possible. This ended up being a boon for the show, and the film as well, as Batman took off and created great anticipation for the film. The increased budget for a feature also meant that new gadgets and vehicles, such as the Batcopter and Batcycle, could be created for the film and then used again for the television show. In order to make the film feel bigger than the show, four villains were present instead of the usual one: Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman. The only complication was Julie Newmar, Catwoman on the show, was unavailable so the part had to be recast and went to Lee Meriwether. Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin were able to play their roles as Joker, Penguin, and Riddler, respectively, and the rest of the television cast was available for the film as well.

The style of the television show was incorporated into the film. The art direction is distinctly pop for the era. There’s an abundance of bright, primary colors. When the characters are put into a more realistic setting, such as Batman during the infamous bomb segment, they stand-out against the background and appear as out of place as a man in a batsuit should (though the extras in the shots carry on as if this is business as usual). The action sequences are surprisingly kept to a minimum, but when a fight breaks out expect many haymakers and somersaults (the editors saved the famous “pow” animations for the film’s climactic battle). The Batman theme is present but in small doses. The film’s main theme is perhaps relied upon a bit too heavily as it’s used for every long shot of Batman and Robin in their various vehicles used throughout the film.

Still the coolest Batmobile ever created.

Still the coolest Batmobile ever created.

The plot from the film is rather rudimentary. The four villains have teamed up to kidnap the world leaders using a bizarre dehydrating ray that reduces any human it touches into a pile of dust to be rehydrated later. The protagonists deduce their foes’ motives thru absurd means presented as deductive reasoning but are either lazy writing or an attempt at humor. Batman is the straight man while Robin is more of a hot-head (and possibly a sociopath who wants to murder alcoholics). The villains are as over-the-top as their TV personalities. Gorshin and Romero present their characters as cackling madmen with The Riddler having the added flaw of feeling compelled to leave Batman and Robin clues in the form of riddles. The film actually draws attention to how similar the two villains became once they hit television, but both actors perform so well in their roles it’s mostly forgiven. Meredith is a delight as The Penguin. He waddles everywhere and gets so much personality out of that long cigarette holder always stuck between his teeth. Meriwether’s Catwoman is basically the same as Newmar’s with her always feeling compelled to use the word “perfect” when describing something she approves of, but drawing it out into a long “purrrrrfect” because she is, after all, a crazy cat-person. Catwoman also gets to have an alter-ego in the form of Miss Kitka, who seduces Bruce Wayne to lure him into a trap so that he may be used as bait for Batman. As a kid, I found it odd how easily Batman is able to see thru a disguise The Penguin uses later in the film, but he’s blind to Catwoman’s. Apparently, even Batman sometimes ends up thinking with the wrong head from time to time.

The special effects in the film will impress no one accustomed to the movies of today. When Batman is attacked by a shark early in the film it’s clearly made of rubber and its teeth leave no imprint on Batman or draw blood. A scene of some ducks in the water are obviously decoys, and every character who throws a punch whiffs by about six inches on their target. And who could forget the climbing scenes? Scene thru the lens of today, these shortcomings just add to the campy charm. The comical bomb Batman is forced to dispose of is cheeky and the ray-gun effects are delightfully cliche.

Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb (I had to do it!).

Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb (I had to do it!).

The film is a farce, an exercise in the absurd, and it is entertaining. I grew up watching the television show in syndication during the 80’s. I suspect my generation may be the last who can say that as I assume most kids today have never seen Adam West as Batman and I wonder if they would appreciate it. Perhaps if this is the fist Batman they’re exposed to they’ll see what the kids of the 60’s saw, or maybe they’ll just see a very ordinary looking man in gray and blue spandex. Batman was fun for me as a kid with all of the different villains and bat-gadgets and as an adult I find it funny and charming. It’s not really clever comedy, but I wouldn’t call it stupid either. The Batman premise is one that’s far-fetched and unrealistic, and the writers approach the character as such. While writers and filmmakers today are more interested in a realistic portrayal of a masked vigilante, it’s kind of fun to see the character portrayed in the only manner he could actually exist. The entire 1960’s television series is finally set for release this holiday season in a massive, and expensive, box set. That might be overload but for anyone seeking out just a taste of the Batman from 1966, the movie represents a good, and cheap, snap-shot. The blu ray from which this review is for, looks great considering the film’s age. The colors pop as they should, the picture is sharp, and there’s quite a bit of extra content. The film doesn’t look as old as it really is, which is often the best compliment one can give to such an old movie. This was my first Batman on television and I would go on to enjoy Tim Burton’s take on the character and fall in love with The Animated Series. I never lost my affection for this Batman though, and even though I view it in a different way than I did as a five year old, I am still charmed by it. Hopefully, I’m not the only one.


Batman’s Top 10 Feature Length Films

No other super hero has taken to the big screen as well as The Dark Knight.

I didn’t do an official count, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that Batman has had more movies made featuring him than any other comic book superhero.  Over the years he’s been featured in both live action and animated films, wide release and direct to home video.  Some of these films have been among the handful of movies I’ve enjoyed above all others, while others have been truly dreadful.  When a character has been around as long as Batman, that’s bound to happen.  He’s not only had great and terrible films made about him, but he’s also had great comic book stories and poor ones, fantastic television moments and truly embarrassing ones.

Recently though, it’s been mostly good films that have found their way to audiences worldwide.  And I’m not just talking about the much praised Christopher Nolan directed projects, but also some of the smaller ones that never made it to theaters.  Today we are on the eve of the release for the third and final film in the Nolan trilogy.  You may have heard of it, it’s called The Dark Knight Rises and it figures to take in money hand over fist for the next several weeks and make the executives at Warner Bros. very happy, and even more wealthy than they already are.  It probably doesn’t even have to be a good movie for it to be a cash cow, just look at the much maligned Spider-Man 3, which made more money than either of its two superior predecessors.  Hype is a powerful thing.

As most are looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises I am looking back.  I started to reflect on the films that came before it to feature Batman and decided it would be fun to make a top 10 list.  For some only familiar with the live-action stuff, it may be surprising to know that there have been more than 10 Batman films made, but that man gets around.  Truth be told, there are even a couple I haven’t seen such as the Batman Vs Dracula one that was taken from the The Batman universe.  I just never got into that show as it was geared towards a younger audience but if someone thinks I’m really missing out on something special feel free to let me know in the comments section.  Otherwise, let’s take a look at number 10…

Batman: The Movie (1966)

10.  Batman:  The Movie

It was actually a tough call between this and Batman Forever.  Batman Forever tends to get lumped in with Batman & Robin since they both share the same director.  While Batman & Robin is one of the worst movies I’ve had the misfortune of seeing, Batman Forever is merely average.  It’s quite different in tone from the Burton directed pictures, and whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of taste.  I’m not really a fan and I don’t think anyone who skips Batman Forever is really missing out, but it does contain an entertaining performance from Jim Carrey as The Riddler, even if he’s just playing the same screwball he was playing in every other movie at the time.

Batman The Movie, on the other hand, is a truly unique entry among the Batman films.  Based on the television series starring Adam West, it’s basically the definition of camp.  It exists purely to entertain movie-goers of all ages and never takes itself all that seriously (with the exception of Burt Ward’s rather intense portrayal of Robin, which is kind of an in-joke in and of itself).  For fans of the show, this was like the ultimate as the best of Batman’s rogue’s galleries team up to take down the caped crusader.  The plot is rather hokey, but the film isn’t short on laughs.  Fans who take their Batman stories very seriously probably find this one off-putting, but this was more or less Batman in the 1960’s.  The comics were geared towards six-year-olds and at least the television show made an attempt to appeal to adults as well which actually helped keep Batman relevant.  This one’s a guilty pleasure and is placed here for nostalgic value, if nothing else.

9. Batman:  Mystery of the Batwoman

Mystery of the Batwoman is the third feature length film based on Batman:  The Animated Series and the second that was direct-to-video.  It was the only one based on the relaunched version of the animated series which featured new character designs and improved animation.  I prefer the style of the first three seasons as opposed to this one, but it’s not too off-putting.  Mystery of the Batwoman is exactly what the title implies; a mystery story.  There’s a new vigilante in town and Batman has to deduce the identity of this female who has borrowed his image.  The film features a few “names” in prominent roles such as Kelly Ripa and Kyra Sedgwick while the usual cast is excellent, as always.  The villains featured in the film include The Penguin and Bane and this mysterious Batwoman apparently has a bone to pick with them, among others.  Not surprisingly, her methods are more ruthless than Batman’s which is what drives Batman to try and figure out her identity and put a stop to her activity.  The film’s mystery proves to be pretty satisfying, and as a whole it’s an entertaining story.  The minimalist production values tend to make it feel more like an extended episode of the show though which is why it doesn’t place higher.

I’m still amazed at how awesome (cool?) Bruce Timm and Co. were able to make Mr. Freeze.

8.  Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero

SubZero is the second film based on The Animated Series and was the first to go direct-to-video.  Unlike Mystery of the Batwoman, it’s production values are more on par with Mask of the Phantasm, the only animated Batman film to receive a true theatrical release.  Mr. Freeze was a surprise star in the television show and it was clear that the writers really enjoyed working with him so it’s no surprise to see him receive the movie treatment.  As was the case in the excellent episode “Heart of Ice,” Freeze is driven to crime in an effort to save his beloved wife, Nora, whom he has cryogenically frozen until he can find a way to cure her of the illness that threatens her life.  Once again, the writing crew prove they’re up to the task of creating a worthwhile Mr. Freeze story but unfortunately the film sort of feels like an extended version of the “Heart of Ice” episode, and an inferior take.  Despite feeling like a retread, it’s still an engaging film and I’d love to see more from Freeze in a future feature film.

7. Batman Returns

Tim Burton’s Batman was a huge success with movie goers when it was released in 1989, so a sequel was pretty much a foregone conclusion.  Burton’s Batman brought the caped crusader back to his roots.  The work of writers such as Neal Adams started to bring some semblance of maturity back to the character in the 70’s, while the work of Frank Miller in the 80’s really drove it home.  This Batman, portrayed by popular comic actor Michael Keaton, was the strong silent type not interested in bantering with his foes.  The first film featured an iconic performance from Jack Nicholson as The Joker, and the feeling going into Returns must have been more is better as the sequel featured three prominent villains.  Fans were used to both The Penguin and Catwoman, but created for the film was Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck who is perhaps the film’s true villain.  In keeping with the style of the first film, both Catwoman and Penguin feature unique designs that represented quite the departure from what fans were used to.  Catwoman comes across as a cat-obsessed dominatrix while The Penguin is a truly hideous creature.

Perhaps Burton felt like the Batman character was explored and developed enough in the first film, because he’s kind of brushed aside here.  The focus of the film is placed squarely on the villains as we learn what brought them to this state.  Burton is also more comfortable here interjecting his brand of humor into the franchise, more so than he did with the first.  Both The Penguin and Catwoman are pretty ridiculous, but the film plays them straight.  It starts to fail though in the final act as even the most forgiving members of the audience will find it hard to accept an army of penguins packing serious heat.  DeVitio (who actually received an undeserved Razzie nomination) and Pfeiffer are both memorable in their roles, but even they can’t carry a Batman movie that’s light on Batman.  A fun, but ultimately flawed experience.

This one’s not for the kids.

6. Batman:  Under the Red Hood

I was pretty surprised to see Warner Bros. was releasing an animated Batman film that did not feature Kevin Conroy in the leading role, or would include The Joker but no Mark Hamill.  To me, so long as neither actor is demanding an absurd wage for their services, Conroy and Hamill should be the voice of Batman and Joker, respectively, until they can no longer do it.  That said, both Bruce Greenwood and John DiMaggio do an acceptable job as Batman and The Joker in Under the Red Hood, an animated film that adapts parts of popular comic plots such as “A Death in the Family,” “Hush,” and “Under the Hood.”

It’s that first story that attracted me to this direct-to-video feature and the one that made it most interesting.  For those not in the know, “A Death in the Family” is the iconic story where Robin is murdered by The Joker.  It was one of those rare stories where comics crossed over into the mainstream as it was a pretty big deal to see Robin go down.  Under the Red Hood starts off like a mystery, but it’s one that is solved almost immediately.  Batman and Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris) both encounter the new vigilante/villain Red Hood and are unsure of his motives.  He appears to be positioning himself as an adversary for crime boss Black Mask, and doing a good job of it.  As I said, the mystery is revealed fairly early in the film, and the second act deals with Batman confronting this new foe.  The animation is fluid and quite enjoyable to behold, and the opening scene featuring the murder of Robin is appropriately disturbing and graphic.  The film’s signature scene though is not the death of the boy wonder, but the climax which features Batman, Red Hood, and The Joker in a memorable stand-off.  The true motivation for the Red Hood is revealed and it serves as a believable and some-what heartbreaking reveal.  It’s really that climax that pushes this one up to the position of number 6 on this list.

5. Batman Beyond:  The Return of the Joker

I’ve mentioned before how I wasn’t a believer when I first heard about Batman Beyond.  It seemed too gimmicky and totally unnecessary; a cheap way to go after the younger crowd.  Were there really no stories left to tell for Bruce Wayne?  I was proven wrong though and Batman Beyond, while not as good as the series it followed, proved to be a worthwhile entry into the Batman canon.  The Return of the Joker though, ended up being one of the best Batman stories every brought to animation which is something I don’t think anyone could have predicted.

One of Batman Beyond’s major weaknesses as a series was the absence the classic rogue’s gallery.  A few good villains would be created to battle this new Batman, and even Mr. Freeze would make an appearance, but few could hold a candle to some of Batman’s most memorable foes.  One who was missed perhaps the most was The Joker.  How can you have Batman without The Joker?  I think most fans suspected his presence would one day be felt, but as the actual Joker who terrorized Bruce Wayne’s Batman so long ago?  That seemed crazy, but The Return of the Joker proved it could be done.  Sure there was a sci-fi explanation for how The Joker could still be around and the film took some liberties in getting the audience to buy into the explanation, but at the end of the day, we were willing to believe anything if it meant the return of perhaps Batman’s greatest foe.  And this Joker, once again played by Mark Hamill, is an even darker take on the character.  He’s even more sadistic than before and kind of pissed off to boot.  The production values are no better than an episode of the television series, but no one cares when the plot is this well executed.  If I have one complaint with the film it’s that the final encounter between Batman and The Joker isn’t quite as satisfying as it probably should have been, but the film makes up for it by showing us the final confrontation between the original Batman and Joker which was just as excellent as it should have been.

Now there’s a dynamic duo.

4. Batman (1989)

I’ve already done a full review for this one, so I won’t get into too much detail here.  Simply stated, this was the film that proved Batman could be a box office juggernaut and appeal to both kids and adults.  Perhaps more so adults with this dark and gritty take on the caped crusader.  The choice of Michael Keaton as Batman was much maligned at the time, but he easily won crowds over.  The look of the film was particularly striking and would go on to influence The Animated Series in a major way.  Jack Nicholson’s Joker was so good that, as hard as it may be to believe now, many people felt like no one could ever come close to matching it.  This one may not hold up as well today when compared with the Nolan films, but this Batman is still pretty unique and the one most like the Dark Knight featured in Frank Miller’s work.

3. Batman:  Mask of the Phantasm

Last year I dubbed Mask of the Phantasm as the definitive take on the character to make it to film.  I also said that is not to be confused with best film to feature Batman.  Mask of the Phantasm, quite simply, fully captures the essence of the character in a way that not even Christopher Nolan’s works can match.  The film focuses on the early challenges faced by Bruce Wayne as he struggles with keeping to the promise he made to his deceased parents and the graveyard scene is the most memorable scene, for me, from any Batman film.  I love this movie, so much that I made a full entry on it last year shortly after my verdict on the definitive Batman film.  If you like Batman, you absolutely owe it to yourself to track this one down.

Well done, Mr. Ledger.

2. The Dark Knight

Considering the work done by the other directors and actors featured on this list, it’s pretty high praise to award the top two spots (yeah, that’s right, hope I didn’t ruin the surprise) to the team of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale.  Of course, The Dark Knight owes a great deal of its success to the late Heath Ledger who’s turn as The Joker is already one of the most memorable performances in a comic book movie to date.  Batman Begins was a successful movie, but it wasn’t the massive hit The Dark Knight turned out to be.  A great deal of that probably is due to the aura the film garnered after Ledger’s demise and word of mouth of the actor’s fantastic performance.  It cannot be understated;  Heath Ledger’s Joker is phenomenol!

That said, The Dark Knight is not a perfect movie.  It’s certainly very good, excellent even, but Batman has seen better.  Part of that is due to the same thing that harmed Batman Returns, which is a de-emphasis of the Batman character.  Nolan explored Batman in great depth in Batman Begins, so he probably felt like that afforded him a lot of freedom with this picture.  Nolan also approached this one as a crime drama and often cited the popular heist film Heat when discussing the picture.  Batman still has a strong presence, as both himself and his alter ego Bruce Wayne, but the scenes with The Joker are just so good, so memorable, that they over-shadow the rest of the film.

I do find Bale’s performance to be noticeably worse in this one than the previous film.  Some of that is some quentionable dialogue in the script, but a big piece of it is the dreaded bat voice.  In Batman Begins, Bale uses a lower and slightly throaty voice when speaking as Batman.  In The Dark Knight, the voice is almost distorted and Batman sounds like he’s auditioning for a death metal band.  It doesn’t work, especially when Batman is asked to have full conversations with characters, and really detracts from many of the film’s most critical scenes.  I also feel like the Two-Face part of the story was rushed and the resolution still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Criticisms aside, you can’t be number 2 on this list and be a bad film.  The Dark Knight is an engrossing crime flick and is tremendously entertaining.  Its faults are forgivable, and its biggest fault is that it’s just not as good as the number one film on this list.

There’s just no topping this.

1. Batman Begins

When Christopher Nolan was brought on to reboot the Batman franchise many people had no idea what to expect.  Nolan, at that time, was best known for Memento, a really cool and engaging film but not one that could easily be applied to the Batman franchise.  The often rumored to be in development Batman 5 never got off the ground, and Warner Bros. wisely decided to distance itself from the catastrophe that was Batman & Robin.

A fresh start is really what the doctor ordered, and by doing so it gave Nolan a chance to do what no director had really done before:  tell a complete origin story.  Batman Begins is exactly what Batman needed.  The film goes into meticulous detail to explain to the audience how Batman came to be and what truly motivates him.  His morals and methods are fully defined for the first time and the film is focused fully on Batman with no villain to steal the spotlight.  Nolan’s universe is grounded and absent of most of the characters we’re used to seeing which gives the film it’s own sense of authenticity.  Christian Bale proves to be worthy of dawning the cape and cowl, but some of the supporting cast really steal the show.  Michael Caine is perfectly cast as Alfred, the closest thing to a maternal figure Bruce has, and Gary Oldman is easily my favorite actor to portray Jim Gordon.  Rachel Dawes, an assistant to Gotham’s D.A. and childhood friend to Bruce, is created to help the Bruce Wayne character feel more real.  Played by Katie Holmes, she’s a strong female type that actually works pretty well in that role.  My only major complaint with the film is when they try to force a romantic undertone to Rachel and Bruce’s relationship which just lacks any chemistry and feels unnecessary.

Batman Begins is the best Batman film created thus far.  It just hits all of the right notes and I still get chills when I watch the film’s final scene.  Will it remain the best?  As I sit and type this up we are just over 3 hours away from the release of The Dark Knight Rises.  I have intentionally avoided all press related to the film.  I do not know how it has been received by critics, I do not intend to speak to anyone tomorrow about it as I want to experience it in a pure way to form my own opinions. I’ve never taken a film this serious, and I’m not sure why I am now.  I think it’s because I just haven’t been excited by the few trailers I’ve seen or the concepts I’ve heard that the film is supposed to contain.  I fear I’m already approaching it with too much of an opinion, and I want to distance myself from that.  I have tickets to see it in IMAX this Sunday, and I’ll try to post a review that night for anyone who is interested.  Regardless, I fully expect this trilogy of Batman movies to be among the best trilogies comic book fans, or movie fans in general, have ever received.  I doubt very much it will top Batman Begins as a stand-alone experience, but so long as it’s on par that’s all anyone can ask for.