Batman DVD Reviews (General – from 2009)

Originally published on Live Journal:  13 March 2009

Note, these are some older reviews, originally published exactly as below in a single post.  Please note that the post below is from 2009, so some of the information is out of date and/or has been supplemented with more recent info.  I have reviewed the DCAU Batman movies that I own (well, I’m working on The Dark Knight Returns, which was awesome).  I’ve also now read most of DC’s Final Crisis series of Graphic Novels, but very little of The New 52.  So, I’m a bit more familiar now with Tim Drake than when I wrote the series of reviews below.  And I must say, as Tim got older and started working with Dick Grayson, I liked him better.  Thinking about it… I’m only going to correct typos below, and leave the out-of-date information.  Enjoy!

Oh, and yes… this previously appeared on my Live Journal, which is under a different name.

Batman DVD Reviews  (Minor Spoilers)

Batman Overload (DVD Reviews)

Well, I kinda’ stocked up on Batman DVDs and now that I’ve watched everything I’m a bit overloaded – tho’ I still need to track down the DC Animated Universe movies.
Anyway here’s what I now have:

Batman: The Animated Series Vol. 4 (DVD set) (aka “Gotham Knights”)
I was a bit dubious about this collection, because I much, much prefer a solo Batman, than a Batman-with-a-family. However, this collection is better than I expected. First, tho’ Robin is now Tim Drake and Dick Grayson has moved on to become Nightwing — the production crew gave Tim Jason Todd’s personality and backstory. This fits better than Tim Drake, who with his “Oh gee whiz” personality reminded me of Beaver from Leave It to Beaver and drove me nuts! (Mind you, I’ve only encountered Tim Drake in the graphic novel “A Lonely Place of Dying” where he’s introduced — and he may have been toned down later.) Jason Todd, OTOH, was a street-wise kid famous mostly for his end (see the wonderful graphic novel “A Death in the Family”). Batgirl is also present in this collection. However, there are several solo Batman adventures that at least feel like the classic Batman the Animated Series program. Overall, I liked it and it finishes off the B:TAS DVD collection nicely. (I have all three previous volumes)

I also bought Batman: The Dark Knight on sale at Target (more about why it was on sale in a moment) for $10.00. ‘Course, that meant I had to see Batman Begins and Batman Gotham Knight first. I checked Amazon, decided I didn’t want to wait (especially with my trip to Florida with Mom to think about) and bought both at Best Buy.

Batman Begins was awesome! In some ways, I liked it better than The Dark Knight and I really liked Dark Knight. I’d somehow managed to miss all the announcements for casting, so besides those from Batman The Dark Knight that I really liked (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman) – I was pleasantly surprised to see Liam Neeson! I must admit tho’ — as good as the training scenes between him and Christian Bale were — I half expected him to say “You must learn to use the force, young Padewan.” And so much of what he said sounded like it should have come from a script for a Star Wars movie. I also was very surprised by his return at the end of the movie (and it explained why Wayne Manor was a burnt cinder in “The Dark Knight” – something that confused me).
Again – Chicago was the setting for Gotham City – which was awesome! As I had when I first saw The Dark Knight in the movie theater – I recognized parts of the Loop and the Chicago River area. But I loved the way the movie used the back story lore of Batman — Bruce’s fall into the well, and the death of his parents. The kid playing young Bruce did an excellent job! I also really liked Bruce’s father — too often there just isn’t any information about him, yet Bruce seems to dedicate everything he does to his parents’ memory (including as CEO of Wayne Enterprises). I also liked Christian Bale better as Batman in this film — I really didn’t like the “motorized”-sounding voice in the second movie (oh, Kevin Conroy, where are you?) – Bale did a better job playing both Batman and Bruce Wayne and I liked seeing Bruce’s journey into becoming Batman.

Batman Gotham Knight was an interesting experiment. I liked having Kevin Conroy back as the voice of Batman (and Bruce Wayne). Conroy really is my Batman in a sense, and since I started watching B:TAS about a year or two ago — he’s now the voice I hear in my head when reading the graphic novels (even re-reading ones with a distinct style like Frank Miller’s classic “The Dark Knight Returns”). David McCallum does a good job as Alfred, tho’ I was a bit disappointed with the writing for Alfred. Michael Caine played the part perfectly in the two new movies; and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., did an excellent job in Batman: The Animated Series. Both actors gave Alfred that nice, dry, sense of humor, but also showed his caring for Bruce – the man he raised. Actually, I really like Efrem Zimbalist Jr., because he managed to put across both his understanding of why Bruce has to go out each night as Batman, and his concern for Bruce’s physical and mental well-being. Michael Caine has his moments as well – in both movies, encouraging Bruce, as well as doing the “Alfred-thing” of reminding Batman of his obligations as Bruce Wayne – something that Batman tends to forget. (It’s complicated).
What I didn’t like about Batman Gotham Knight was the animation style. Sorry – but Japanese Animé style just doesn’t work for Batman – a quintessential American hero. Even in the better stories of the six – the Japanese Animé style was distracting (especially the way Bruce Wayne was drawn – he looked like he stepped out of Star Blazers (aka Space Battleship Yamato) and into a business suit). In terms of stories, the quality varied. The first one, with three street kids telling their own stories about Batman was a direct copy of two B:TAS episodes — I didn’t really like them in B:TAS, and a third go was totally pointless. The remaining five stories are better, with each getting better as it goes on. I was probably most excited to see another take on Bane – but that “part” felt a bit flat. In fact the whole movie, with its six inter-related parts felt kinda’ flat. It also didn’t really seem to do what it needed to (or stated it would) do, which was link Batman Begins with Batman the Dark Knight.
Batman The Dark Knight of course is an awesome movie. In many ways, the villains, Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, and The Joker (often named Jack Napier in the comics, but not in this movie) steal the show. Also, Batman’s costume seems to be a step backwards — less flexible and with the annoying voice-changing box, that I didn’t like. I DID like the movie tho — great cast: Christian Bale (who does do a very, very good Bruce Wayne — I especially liked the bit where he smashes his Porsche to save Dent then claims he didn’t do it on purpose), Michael Caine (excellent as Alfred), Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox – so nice to even see the character – sorta’ a “business” Alfred for Bruce), Heath Ledger of course (fantastic as the Joker), Anthony Michael Hall (as the reporter who keeps showing up – I kept expecting him to have visions! Yep, he was in the TV version of “The Dead Zone”), Gary Oldman again as Jim Gordon (and doing a darn good job!), and even Keith Szarabajka (Chicago native and of The Equalizer), oh – and Eric Roberts was in one of the movies as a mob boss. Again – nice to see Chicago playing the part of Gotham City.   (To quote The Blues Brothers, “This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive!” – what the movie identified as “Lower 5th”).  And the real Chicago PD Pipes and Drums band playing for the funeral.
But yeah, Batman Dark Knight — awesome.
But about the sale part — yep, it’s widescreen, but the disc has no special features, not even a commentary, I’d have to “trade-up” to the “Deluxe” edition to get any special features — and I hate buying something twice.
But, despite all the Batman stuff – I still want to find the two Batman “TV” movies (DC Animated), and perhaps Batman Beyond on DVD. (I’d like to SEE Batman Beyond first to find out if I like it!).
If you haven’t seen Batman Begins /  The Dark Knight – I highly recommend them.

Batman Begins

 

  • Title: Batman Begins
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Date: 2005
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
  • Genre: Action, Drama
  • Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, 2-disc Special Edition

“Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” — Alfred, quoting Thomas Wayne

Batman Begins is an excellent telling of the origins of Batman, which also manages to bring in two of Batman’s best and scariest enemies from DC Comics books – Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul. The movie begins with young Bruce, falling into a well, being frightened by bats, and being rescued by his father, Thomas. Flash forward to adult Bruce having nightmares about those same bats. We also, fairly quickly, see flashbacks to That Fateful Night – the death of Bruce’s parents. Interestingly enough, in this version – rather than Bruce and his family seeing Zorro at a local movie theater and having a good time — they are at the Opera, where some costumed witches on wires remind Bruce of bats, frightening him, – and he urges his parents to leave the theatre early. Either way, Bruce Wayne has a deeply felt guilt about the death of his parents.

Batman Begins then shows Bruce literally slumming around the world, learning the ways of the criminal. He’s found and “rescued” by Liam Neeson who brings him to the League of Shadows to train him as a Ninja. The training sequences are well done, and especially a training fight on a frozen lake is breathless to watch. When Bruce is ready to graduate, he faces one last test – killing a thief and a murderer. Bruce refuses, and in the ensuing fight destroys the mountain top hideaway, and Ra’s Al Ghul, he thinks.

Bruce then returns to Gotham City, to take his revenge by killing the man who killed his parents. Fate intervenes, however, and the man is killed by one of the gangster Falcone’s people before he can testify against Falcone and win his release. Bruce takes this for what it is – a sign. As do arguments against blind vengeance from his once girlfriend now Assistant DA Rachel Dawes. And so Bruce is set on another path, a path also suggested by Neeson during their training sessions — that of a symbol for justice, instead of a man seeking his own vengeance.

Bruce develops Batman, including picking up a few toys from the Applied Sciences/R&D department of Wayne Enterprises – the basis for the Batsuit, the Batmobile (now a modern tank), mono-filament grappling wire – the basics. But this Batman is not tech or gadget heavy. The classics and necessary are there (I love the memory-wire cape) but nothing silly or over-wrought is present.

Bruce then needs to test out not just the costume and his toys, but his mission. He goes after Falcone, the gangster. In the process of catching Falcone and his thugs during a drug bust, he finds out about Scarecrow, who has developed a lethal hallucinogen toxin (Scarecrow’s “fear gas”). When Bruce is exposed he ends up being rescued by Alfred, and then Lucius Fox, and is out of it for two days. Later, he rescues Rachel from the same gas but is too late to save “the narrows” an island in the Gotham River and home to Arkham Asylum. Bruce, as Batman, also discovers that Scarecrow’s plot to pour his toxin into Gotham’s water supply is the tip of the iceberg – the man behind the curtain is Ra’s Al Ghul – not the man Bruce thought he killed in Tibet, but the man who taught him how to fight – Liam Neeson. Neeson trails Batman back to his manor, fights him, and burns down the house. But he also plans on destroying Gotham by using a Wayne Enterprises prototype Microwave Emitter to vaporize the city’s water supply and thus release Scarecrow’s toxic fear gas – causing Gotham to tear itself apart in mass panic. Batman succeeds in stopping Ra’s al Ghul.

Batman Begins is a very successful film. I enjoyed immensely the building up of all the little moments that made Bruce into Batman, not just the death of his parents, though that was certainly tragic enough, but his learning how to fight, and Bruce’s own drive not for simple vengeance but to see to it that no other little boy (or girl) goes through what he did.

I also liked the portrayal of the relationship between Alfred and Bruce in this film. Michael Caine plays Alfred perfectly – Bruce’s close friend, his advisor, and the only one who can stop Bruce when he starts to go too far. Alfred also has not only a deep caring for Bruce, the boy he’s raised like a son, but a deep understanding of why Bruce does what he does. For his part, Bruce trusts Alfred completely. Once he’s finished his training in Tibet – it’s Alfred he calls for a ride home (albeit in a private jet, but still). And when Bruce is nearly fatally poisoned with fear gas toxin by Scarecrow – it’s Alfred he calls, and Alfred who has to pick up the pieces. And when Bruce tears through Gotham in his tank-styled Batmobile, wrecking several police cars in the process – Alfred tears into Bruce, and although he gets through, Bruce also stops Alfred cold – by saying he did it to save Rachel, before asking Alfred to take her home. Caine is a perfect Alfred, and Bale is extremely good not just as Batman – but as Bruce Wayne, something other versions of Batman have often ignored. The rest of the cast also does an excellent job, especially Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox (Bruce’s man at Wayne Enterprises, though at the moment he’s been kicked down to the lowly Applied Sciences/R&D dept), and Gary Oldman as Sgt. James Gordon.

This film also goes to the roots of Batman in the DC books — borrowing story elements from Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween/Dark Victory. I appreciated seeing less obviously well-known Batman villains, namely Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul. I also really liked seeing how Bruce Wayne became Batman.

Finally, something has to be said about the excellent filming. I enjoyed seeing Chicago as Gotham City, though it’s not as obvious here as in The Dark Knight.  But I also like how light and shadow, so important to the myth of Batman, are used — and in a color film, too. There are moments when the lighting on Christian Bale’s face, where he’s half or even three quarters in shadow, that reminded me of the great film noir films. And Noir has always been an inspiration for and important background to the Legend of Batman.

Recommendation: See it! Buy it! Show it to your (older) children.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars