The weekly Superhero Theory feature on this ol' blog is going on hiatus for a bit in favor of a new series of posts to come over the next two weeks or so.
I have resolved -- for no other reason than I have a blog, and you are reading it -- to rank the popular, wide-release live-action Batman movies (which I will define here as Batman ’66, Batman ’89, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight, leaving out the less popular '40s serials, fan films, and weird little unauthorized things like Andy Warhol’s Batman Dracula). I didn’t want to rank the “best” Batman movies based purely on critical analysis (whatever that ultimately means for the Batman series), nor just my “favorite” Batman movies based on personal preference, but some kind of aggregate of the two. (Maybe 66% heart, 34% brain?) Ultimately, what I tried to do was rank them according to my personal reactions after filtering out pure boyhood nostalgia as much as possible.
Now, the tricky part. Some might argue that you can’t actually compare Batman ’66 with ’89 with Batman & Robin with The Dark Knight. They are, after all, trying to do very different things (unlike, say, the James Bond movies, in which the producers generally tried to maintain consistency of brand by nixing any changes, both story-wise and stylistically, that could be seen as too radical). But that is in fact perfect for Batman, who has always been open to various, contradicting interpretations.
However, since the intent varies so greatly from film to film, it is hard to compare each movie as a whole, as a film, with the others. Instead, I’ve tried to look at each movie’s components -- specifically, components that are unique to Batman movies, like how Gotham City is handled, how the villains are handled, specific themes, Bat-iconography, the intrusion of comic-book reality upon the “real world”, and, of course, the interpretation of Batman himself -- and weigh how successful they all are at what they’re trying to do, and what they maybe ought to be doing.
Short version: Seven movies, totally subjective, but I thought really hard about this, you guys.
Each post will cover one movie with a little analysis, and there'll be a new post up every few days whenever the next one gets written. At the end, maybe, a short wrap-up about what I've learned from all this? Shorter, bullet-point rankings of best Batman, best villains, best Batmobile and the like? Eh, we'll see when we get there.
We begin tomorrow with the somewhat predictable bottom.