Batman may have first flown in the comics and then on the small screen, but he has had several incarnations on the big screen. There have been seven films in total so far. The first film Batman was made in 1989 and the most recent The Dark Knight Rises was released into theatres in July 2012 and came out on DVD December 4, 2012.
Tim Burton was the first to bring the Bat to film. Michael Keaton, was given the cape and cowl. Gotham City became a stylized art deco city, something of an alternate New York. Keaton’s Batman is a wealthy playboy who seeks to avenge the murder of his parents. The young Bruce Wayne watched both of his parents be killed by a gangster. In the first film Batman, Jack Nicholson plays the villain The Joker. Viewers learn how the Joker get his rictus- like grin. Nicholson brings the Joker to life with a hideous grin, green hair, and a wardrobe that is both dapper and clown-like at the same time. No one plays crazy like Nicholson. The Joker as the villain was no laughing matter. Kim Basinger was the love interest of both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
Burton’s second Batman film Batman Returns (1992). Keaton once again wore the Batsuit. Danny deVito was cast as villain Oswald Cobblepot (aka the Penguin). The Penguin was abandoned by his wealthy parents due to his freakish appearance (flippers instead of fingers). He was raised by actual penguins. Cobblepot has a major grudge against the upper echelon of Gotham. The other villain of the is Maximillian Shreck, played by Christopher Walken. Michelle Pfeiffer is Selina Kyle, who starts off as Shreck’s mousy subservient secretary, but who transforms into Catwoman. She is both beauty and beast all wrapped up in a black patent leather bodysuit. She, like Batman, is something of morally ambiguous figure, which makes her a perfect match for him.
Joel Schumacher became director of the next two films in the franchise Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997). While Burton’s work had been dark and stylized Schumacher went for a more commercial comic book approach in Batman Forever. The darks are darker and the brights are psychadelic neons. Val Kilmer became Batman. His two foes in this outing were the Riddler (Jim Carey) and Two Face (formerly known as Harvey Dent) played by Tommy Lee Jones. Carey first appears as Edward Nygma, neglected Wayne Corps employee. The Riddler becomes the brains of the operation with Two Face and his gang providing the brawn. Honestly, viewers get the impression that the villains are having way more fun in this outing than the heroes. Batman finally gets his Robin. Chris O’Donnell plays Robin- a former circus acrobat whose family was murdered by Two Face (an eerie parallel to Bruce’s own experience). Nicole Kidman rounds out the cast asf Dr. Meriden Chase as Bruce/Batman’s love interest. Kidman’s character feels more like a plot convenience than anything else.
Schumacher’s final film Batman and Robin was even more outrageous and colorful than its predecessor.George Clooney is Batman and O'Donnell returns as Robin, and Alicia Silverstone is Batgirl. Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed Mr. Freeze (aka Victor Frieze) who keeps his wife on ice (literally) while he searches for a cure for the fatal disease from which she suffers. Along the way Freeze is paired up with Pamela Isley. She went from mousy researcher to the villainess/eco-terrorist Poison Ivy. Uma Thurman plays Ivy with gleeful malice in in a green catsuit (think Catwoman crossed with the Riddler). Style, spectacle, and entertainment abound, but this would be the final outing in this series.
Batman took a break from the big screen from 1997 to 2005 but would return with a new director and a whole new look. Stay tuned for the next article in this series where Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman on the big screen is explored.