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  Please note that the post below is from 2009, so some of the information is out of date and/or has been supplemented with more recent info.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  Thinking about it… I’m only going to correct typos below, and leave the out-of-date information.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 The Dark Knight

  • Title: (Batman) The Dark Knight
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Date: 2008
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Drama
  • Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Keith Szarabajka
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

I simply adore The Dark Knight, the action-packed sequel to Batman Begins. Actually, I saw it first, in the theater, and then saw Batman Begins second, and on DVD when I did see it for the first time. But, re-watching it, it still strikes me as an incredibly well-crafted film. Yes, it starts big and fast-paced and gets bigger and bigger and bigger — but like the Legend of the Batman itself, it gets darker and darker as it goes along. It’s also a very enjoyable film to re-watch because of the little touches and attention to detail that come from a fine director.

The Dark Knight in some ways is The Joker’s film, played with maniacal insanity by Heath Ledger. The film starts with his violent robbery of a mob bank, which includes the systematic killing of each of his accomplices, and ends with The Joker’s death. But, Ledger’s performance, as compelling as it is, isn’t scene stealing — and the rest of the cast also performs extremely well. Bale’s performance as Bruce Wayne is even better, and now Bruce seems to have grown up a bit. He is, however, still capable of playing the “dumb playboy” as when he crashes his Italian sports car to protect a witness transfer and then claims to Gordon it was an accident. (Gordon: That was a brave thing you just did. Wayne: What? Trying to beat the light? Gordon: Protecting that transport van. Wayne: Why, who was in it? Gordon: You don’t watch the news much, do you, Mr. Wayne?) Christian Bale does a particularly believable “dumb blonde” act (or “fluffy bunny” act as a famous blonde actress once described it, wish I could remember who). Anyway, he’s also equally marvelous in the various scenes where he’s supporting Harvey Dent’s political career.

As Batman, they made one change in Dark Knight from Batman Begins that I didn’t like, and that was messing with Batman’s voice. It sounds like “Bruce” is speaking through some kind of voice changing box, which in turn, sounds electronic and artificial. In Begins, Bale gave Batman a deeper, more resonant, gravely voice that also sounded scary. Though I could see Bruce Wayne, billionaire at large, trying an electronic voice altering box to protect his identity – overall it was one effect I don’t think worked.

Michael Caine is wonderful as Alfred. You can see how much he loves and cares for Bruce, and how much he understands him. After the opening scene, when Bruce gets mauled by a Rottweiler, among other things, and is trying to stitch himself up, Alfred arrives and admonishes Bruce for making a mess of things. He calmly stitches the wound. Bruce then turns away as he’s pulling on a white business shirt, and Alfred winces at the bruises on Bruce’s back. But, equally, he will not say anything, because he knows it’s what Bruce must do.

Morgan Freeman is wonderful as Lucius Fox, particularly when someone at Wayne Enterprises thinks he’s discovered that Wayne Enterprises is supplying Batman his toys, and he intends to get $10 million a year for the rest of his life not to reveal the secret. Fox shuts the guy down… then asks Bruce about the re-funding of the R&D department. Fox also shuts down Batman when he discovers Batman’s plan to use cell phone signals to create a sonar map of Gotham City – but Batman knows Fox well, giving him the key to destroying the mapping software without telling him what it is.

Lucius Fox and Sir Alfred Pennyworth — the two men who keep Bruce sane, and allow Bruce Wayne the time to be Batman — running interference, covering for him, and producing cover stories and alibis.

Gary Oldman, again, is a wonderful young Jim Gordon, who gets appointed to Commissioner in this film. Eckhart is an inspired choice for Harvey Dent. Physically, he’s quite different from the Dent of the books, but his performance as Dent is perfect — and even better when he becomes Two-Face — he, also, is truly nuts — and the scene in the hospital between Joker and Two-Face is brilliantly written and brilliantly played by both Ledger and Eckhart.

The first time I saw the film, I saw Harvey Dent, and being a fan of the books, knew who he would turn out to be, but I thought, especially with Joker in the picture, maybe not in this film. Then, when Dent proposed to Rachel my first thought was, “oh no, she is so dead”. Because in the Batman universe, pretty much no one can be happy, and everyone just endures. Re-watching the film, of course, I know where they were going with Dent — and it becomes even more tragic. Watching Gotham’s Golden Boy DA being destroyed has almost a mythic quality. (And yes, he “dies” at the end, and no, I don’t believe that one for a moment).

Finally, the city of Gotham itself is brilliantly played by Chicago. From the first scene, looking at skyscrapers on the edge of the Chicago river, to Commissioner Loeb’s funeral on State St — this movie is very obviously filmed in Chicago. And Chicago, with all it’s Art Deco architecture and the modern extremely flat glass skyscrapers, is a perfect Gotham. The area near the River is used a lot. Lower Wacker Drive is actually used several times, especially in the car chases (yes, that’s not a super long parking lot, it’s Lower Wacker Drive). There is actually even a line spoken by a cop in the film “turn on to Lower 5th”) as they turn onto Lower Wacker Drive. The Chicago River bridges are used again, even more effectively and more often than in Batman Begins. But the best “oh, that is so Chicago” scene is the funeral for Commissioner Loeb, right on State St. in front of Marshall Field’s (or what used to be Field’s — it may be a Macy’s now), those narrow, tall windows that Gordon wants checked for snipers? That’s a style so identified with Chicago that it’s called the “Chicago window”. Also, there are some nice shots of Art Deco decoration on the buildings during some of the pans, as the camera moves around looking for the snipers. And, the Pipes and Drums band playing for the funeral? That is the real Chicago P.D. pipes and drums band playing – they even get a credit. Also, I imagine several of the “extras” in uniform were real Chicago cops. Ah, it’s “my kind of town”.

The filming again is brilliant. Although not as intimate a movie as Batman Begins, which centers on Bruce becoming Batman, The Dark Knight, again based in Graphic Novel canon, including Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, and Loeb’s The Long Halloween trilogy, opens up the film’s universe and brings in two of Batman’s best-known enemies, The Joker (Batman’s Moriarty) and Two-Face. Yet, there’s still very nice filming tricks like a full circular sweeping shot, and brilliant use of light and dark (such as the scene in the interrogation room, where, in the end, Gordon leaves Batman with the Joker). I also liked the sound design, with the high-pitched squeal that sounds half like a scream and half like nails on a chalkboard being used whenever the Joker was about to do something particularly nasty.

Overall, a film not to be missed. I happen to own only the single-disc edition, and I’d considering upgrading to a Blu-Ray player just to get this movie (and Lord of the Rings) in an expanded edition with more special features.

Recommendation: See it! Show it to your older children. Own it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars