As Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice inches closer (just a few more days!) we feel it’s the perfect time to look back on the on-screen adventures of The Dark Knight and Man of Steel.
Now, this is mostly to remind ourselves how deeply we adore these characters. But there’s nothing better than re-watching your favourite movies and shows to hype yourself up for a brand new adventure. Think about it: We’re about to see a new story featuring these characters for the very first time. It’ll be years before we get another one.
While these characters might be pretty superheroic in the movies, the movies themselves are hardly invincible - quite a few of them could’ve very easily been made by Scarecrow or someone. But, as Harvey Dent once said: “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” We would never be able to appreciate the good without the bad. We present to you, The List.
Tim Burton’s first Batman movie gets a pretty bad rap these days. For one, it hasn’t aged that well since its 1989 debut. For another, while Michael Keaton’s performance as Bruce Wayne is spot on, his Batman simply isn’t that menacing, now that we have Christian Bale’s version to compare him with. Perhaps the movie was ahead of its time. Its sequel, 1992’s Batman Returns certainly was. Looking back on it now, it seems crazy that a movie as mainstream as it would have such grotesquery like the Penguin casually planning the murder of children. But maybe Burton’s Batman movies aren’t even about Batman. Maybe they’re just extensions of his exploration of misfit characters, which makes Returns at least, a movie about Penguin’s quest to find his identity. Whatever we think of them now, they’re still minor classics of the superhero genre, despite Burton’s frequent claims that he had never been a fan of the Batman comics.
Batman: The Animated Series
While The Animated Series was initially designed to ride on the coattails of the movies’ success, it quickly evolved into its own thing. And now, decades after its 1992 debut, it has firmly established itself as one of the best portrayals of the character ever. Its stylish visuals, mature writing, and quirky new characters like Harley Quinn have made it timeless. And we haven’t even mentioned Mark Hamill’s performance as the Joker and Kevin Conroy’s as the Caped Crusader yet. The series inspired everything from the great 1993 animated film Mask of the Phantasm to the Arkham games we love playing these days. And if you were to ask us, we’d definitely be willing to bet good money that some of that influence has rubbed off on Dawn of Justice as well.
The Max Fleischer cartoons came before everything else. The debuted in 1941, not too long after Superman made his debut as a comic strip in 1938. The series ran for 17 episodes that ended in 1942. It was short lived, but set the tone for not only the future of animation, but also the future of the character. Let’s not forget: This was the early ‘40s. A lot of the stuff they were doing with these cartoons had never been done before. The Fleischer series became known for its detailed animation style and flowing action. It might not best written Superman show you can watch, but it’s by far the most historically relevant. And all the episodes, luckily, are in public domain.
Batman TV Series
Yes, the super-campy Batman TV series (1966) tarnished the character’s reputation for decades and is still only enjoyed ironically, but we would never have gotten Tim Burton’s Batman had it not been for this.
Superman 1, 2 and Returns
‘You’ll believe a man can fly,’ claimed the marketing for the first-ever live action-film featuring Superman. And there’s no way you cannot fall for the mild-mannered Clark Kent and the mighty Man of Steel after watching this movie. The first Superman movie from 1978 defined the character as we now know him. Everything from the classic origin story to John Williams’ legendary music was first seen (or heard) here. This continued with 1980’s Superman II, but to considerably diminishing returns. But despite the troubled production which saw director Richard Donner’s expulsion from the project, it is still a confident sequel that introduced us to the only villain who could come close to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor from the first movie: Terence Stamp as General Zod. Sure, the effects are super-cheesy by today’s standards, but that’s no reason to not watch these two films.
What you probably should do is skip III and IV. Which is what Bryan Singer did when he made Superman Returns in 2006. The entire movie was designed as a continuation of the Donner films by ignoring the middle ones. Everything from the score to the casting of Brandon Routh as Superman simply because he looked an awful lot like Christopher Reeve, was done consciously. Now, there aren’t too may fans of this movie, but we like it for its complex Jesus parable and for having the insane guts to be the only Superman movie in which he doesn’t even throw a punch. Yes. Look closely.
Superman 3 and 4
There is no defending these movies. They’re the lowest point in the cinematic depictions of Superman. Was this what creators Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel envisioned back in the ‘30s? Was this – their brainchild saving a cackling Richard Pryor – why they created him as a Nietzschean means to confront their Jewish identity? We think not.
The less we say about this cocaine-fueled toy commercial the better. The less we think about how these movies were more like the inside of an European gay club in ‘90s the more secure we’d feel about our childhoods. The more we remind ourselves that this was the price we all had to pay to claw our way to the Nolan Batman, the better we feel about enjoying these movies once upon a time. Don’t judge. We didn’t know any better.
Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy
More than anything else; more than the iconic Joker performance by Heath Ledger, more than the often-imitated Batman growl, more than the instant classic nature of all three films, the greatest achievement of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is that it is a testament to taking chances. It’s a series of movies that completely redefined how we look at superheroes. It changed the entire landscape of filmmaking. It showed us how we can still get a respectful treatment of iconic characters despite changing everything we know about them. Batman Begins portrayed a broken Bruce Wayne and a Batman who was perhaps just as deranged as some of his nemeses. With The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan gave us one of the greatest movies ever made. And while its sequel The Dark Knight Rises might not have lived up to the high bar, really, which movie can?
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The author tweets @NaaharRohan