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Batman’s Cinematic Beauties from Least Favorite to Absolute Favorite

harley-quinnThe latest trailer for David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” movie just dropped and fans are excited for it (obvious Marvel bias!), mainly because it looks to be a bang up action movie with a great sense of humor. It also looks a lot like a comic book version of “The Dirty Dozen” with a bunch of scoundrels on a suicide mission and their superiors fully aware that they’re set to take the fall or die should they fail their mission. Along with the big screen versions of Killer Croc, and Deadshot coming to the film, among others, we have some classic Batman villainesses, one of whom is Harley Quinn. The long time fan favorite who made her debut in the nineties as an original creation from “Batman The Animated Series” has taken on a life of her own and is the center of the marketing for “Suicide Squad,” as she finally makes her big screen debut with Margot Robbie playing the role.

With the absolutely beautiful and sexy Robbie portraying the longtime psychotic fan girl and girlfriend of the Joker, I thought I’d run down a list of the most notable cinematic beauties from Batman’s long line of theatrical films. Since Quinn and other villains from “Suicide Squad” are Batman rogues, you can kind of almost count the upcoming film as a Batman spin off of a sorts.

Here is a list of Batman’s Cinematic Beauties ranked from My Least Favorite to Absolute Favorites. How would you rank the list?

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Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

peeweesbigadventureTim Burton’s adaptation of the comedy eighties icon is still a film that’s an acquired taste all things considered. Pee Wee begins as a slightly grating presence, but his enthusiasm eventually wins you over. Even to this day easing in to “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” is a fun and unique fantasy film with Pee Wee Herman managing to entertain with his charismatic presence, unusual voice, and still excellent dance sequence to “Tequila” in a biker bar. I remember just about every kid in the late eighties would at one point imitate Pee Wee’s dance on the pool table.

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Dark Shadows (2012)

2012, DARK SHADOWS

Were people actually clamoring for a big screen adaptation of a soapy daytime horror melodrama from the fifties that only hardcore horror fans know? Did we really have to have a big screen adaptation of a Gothic soap opera? It’s no wonder director Tim Burton approaches the adaptation of “Dark Shadows” with a tongue in cheek often derisive attitude. The show is obscure among the broader audiences, and even when he fine tunes the film with goofy humor and testicle jokes, it’s still so niche that not even hardcore Burton apologists will enjoy what he has to offer. Like most recent Burton productions, “Dark Shadow” is gaudy, busy, and feels like Burton going through the motions without an inch of heart injected in to the narrative.

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Mars Attacks! (1996)

Watching this almost twenty years ago, and again a few days ago, I am still left pondering: Who exactly did this movie appeal to? What was the niche audience? Director Tim Burton bases an entire science fiction film on specialty trading cards from the sixties, he creates a meta-alien invasion movie that throws comedy and menace at every turn, and then piles every moment of the film on with big celebrities and actors. Who exactly did this movie appeal to, but Burton?

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Don't Say No Until I Finish Talking: Richard D. Zanuck

Richard Zanuck is a man who spent most of his life living under the shadow of his father Darryl F. Zanuck, and what is most peculiar and quite riveting about Richard Zanuck’s story is that rather than trying to step out of his dad’s shadow, he embraced his father’s status and used it to his advantage. Often times we hear of someone chastising their own status as a wealthy successor, but Richard Zanuck used this fact as a means of bettering himself, and carving his own niche in the Hollywood business.

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Planet of the Apes (2001)

Subtlety has never been one of Tim Burton’s strong suits as a filmmaker. As a storyteller and overall director, Burton’s films rely on imagery and over enthusiastic narratives to do what he can’t as a craftsman. Oddly enough Burton is assigned to direct a remake of one of the most thematically subtle films of all time. “Planet of the Apes” is one of the most relevant commentaries on humanity and politics that has ever been brought to the big screen, and Burton never really grasps that aspect.

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Batman Returns (1992)

Batman-Returns

In the first “Batman,” the dark knight is described and thought of as something of an urban legend. He hides in the shadows, is mistaken for something of a myth, and only arrives to instill justice when the police are outnumbered. In “Batman Returns” Batman is basically the police. You assume for a massive political event in the first twenty minutes of the film, there’d be barricades and strong police force, but Penguin is able to pretty much wreak havoc with the Red Triangle gang, while the streets are left in tatters with no police around. Only does the order get restored when Batman arrives and Commissioner Gordon is left to thank Batman for saving the day while the police are seemingly sitting with their thumbs up their collective butts.

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Batman (1989)

batman-1989After all these years, it’s safe to say that Tim Burton’s entrance in to the pantheon of Batman films is an admirable effort, but one that doesn’t really master the lore or the character. “Batman” is a very fine film. It’s watchable and occasionally entertaining, but there just isn’t too much fodder for the more conscious batman fan in the end. Burton does strive to set up parallels and subtext, but much of it is sadly never touched upon or explored. The psyche of Bruce Wayne is a corner of the Batverse that is never given a spotlight in “Batman,” and while Burton does enter in to corners of his life, there’s not a lot of warmth or interest in what makes him tick. He has a gallery of various armored bodies from around the world, but there isn’t a lot of reason as to why.

How did the armor influence him? Did they influence him? There’s never an indication as to why Bruce is tortured, if he is tortured, and Bruce’s life is depicted by Burton as often very cold and closed off from the world. Rather than the Joker, Bruce becomes the target of inadvertent comedy while Joker’s journey is more menacing and complex. There’s an odd scene of Bruce hanging upside down while sleeping for no particular reason, and in one instance Bruce’s date with Vicky Vale begins with the two sharing a dinner of soup far apart on a dinner table so long they can barely converse with one another. Bruce is of course oblivious to her desire to talk on what is obviously a date. Burton doesn’t often seem very empathic toward Bruce’s life and misses chances to provide insight in to what he’s all about and what makes him function as Batman.

In the prologue there’s a fascinating parallel to Bruce’s fate where we meet two parents and their son trying to catch a cab in Gotham to no avail. Anxious to find transportation they enter in to an alleyway where they’re held at gunpoint by thugs who almost kill the parents. It’s never pointed out how this comes close to Bruce’s own fate, and the poetry of the situation is avoided. Sadly, even with his masterful comedy chops, Michael Keaton can’t keep up with Jack Nicholson for most of the film, and Burton is aware of that, handing the film over to Nicholson for a good portion of the film. Surprisingly, Bruce and the Joker rarely share screen time with one another, so their war for Gotham feels detached and impersonal at times.

The journey of both characters feel like two very different films. The Joker is more centered on revenge while Bruce is more prone to trying to find his place in the world. The Joker views Batman as insignificant and holds no real concern for him, while Bruce doesn’t seem to understand how menacing Joker is until the climax in the city with the giant float. Only in the very final scenes do Batman and Joker duke it out and even then it’s very brief and abrupt. It’s a shame since Keaton is a very powerful actor in his own right while Nicholson can play well off of anyone. In spite of the film’s inherent flaws, “Batman” is still a rather entertaining fantasy action film with Michael Keaton doing quite well in the chair of Bruce Wayne.

His performance is restrained and layered, and Keaton is able to make due with what Burton gives to him. Nicholson has a blast in the role of the Joker and he really does manage to give the character a horrific personality paired with his trademark demented sense of humor. Burton provides a beautiful Gotham that seems boundless in its darkness and skyscrapers. It often feels like a limitless dimension rather than a city, and Burton excels at set pieces and moody locales. “Batman” is an interesting start in to a complicated and varied franchise. Ultimately, “Batman” is not a perfect film as it tends to rely on delivering two separate narratives involving Batman and the Joker rather than connecting them and intertwining their universes as much as possible. While one is a force of justice, and the other is a force for evil, they never quite affect each other’s world until the final moments of the film. While Keaton and Nicholson are dazzling in their roles, Burton never quite finds much to explore with Bruce Wayne, and that’s wasted potential.