Netflix has every Batman movie from the original Burton franchise up, and I love rewatching them all over again. One of the first Batman anything I ever saw was Batman and Robin, the fourth movie of the franchise that featured Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze.
The movie was terrible, and still is today, but it’s an enjoyable sort of terrible. The Burton Bat films all range from decent, to great, to horrible, to enjoyably horrible. The first Batman with Jack Nicholson as the Joker is good, not my favorite, but good. It’s the first mainstream version of the Joker since the original 60s version with Adam West. Nicholson is good, but Heath Ledger is my favorite live action, and my favorite overall will always be Mark Hamill’s DC Animated Universe version—he was able to toe the line between cartoon insanity and joyfully evil. Nicholsons’ Joker isn’t what I’d call “dark” in the same way Ledger’s is, but that’s okay. Different time periods required different things.
The second Batman movie, Batman Returns, is hands down my favorite of the bunch. Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle is still my favorite Catwoman to date. I adore Eartha Kitt from the 60s version, and Anne Hathaway did a fantastic job in The Dark Knight Rises (one of the few aspects of the movie I enjoyed), but for me nothing beats Pfeiffer’s portrayal of the enigmatic Catwoman. It was also my first introduction to Catwoman as a character. Pfeiffer gave such a nuanced performance as the sexy, tragic, and complex Selina Kyle that I fell in love instantly. I cheered at the final shot of the movie where we see her silhouette implying she did survive, but her entire persona is now a mystery hiding in the shadows of Gotham where she wants to be. No other live action adaption has, for me, provided that same feeling. That mystery and intrigue tainted with tragedy and finally personal redemption and catharsis.
Then, after the second movie, things just went downhill. Burton bounced out of the franchise and Joel Schumacher (Phantom of the Opera, Batman and Robin), stepped in. It was as if Schumacher saw what Burton left him with and decided Gotham needed a black light paint job, and as many puns as possible. Oh, and Bat-nipples became a thing. After the brilliant second movie this was originally a disappointment. I mean Val Kilmer as Batman? He had two facial expressions the entire movie and one of them was one of the creepiest smiles I’ve ever seen in my life.
The movie also pretty much ruined Dick Grayson with its awkward stumbling of his back story and his adoption by Bruce. The movie played fast and loose with his age so that he could be old enough to fight crime, but young enough to be legally adopted by Bruce. It was weird, awkward, and terrible the first time I watched it.
However, now I love it, because I realized they just gave up. Sure let’s give the suit Bat-nipples, let’s have Dick Grayson kung fu fold his laundry, and the chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey as Two-Face and the Riddler? Fan-freaking-tastic. I realized that unlike the first two movies, the tone had completely changed, so rewatching the last two movies on Netflix with this in mind, I enjoyed them both so much more.
Arnold Schwarzenegger grunting through ice pun after ice pun, while Uma Thurman purrs and slinks her way about in a terrible red wig and a green body suit is such campy fun I can’t help but love it. I’m a good ninety percent sure most of the dialogue and actions between Jones and Carey in Batman Forever was completely improv.
If you go in watching the Burton Batman films, go in knowing the first two are good, and then Schumacher comes in and blows black light primary color spray paint on the franchise with Riddler-like glee.