Batman and Superman: A Filmic History, part 2
June 6, 2016
Following on from last week’s post is the second part of our exploration of the history of these two pivotal superheroes. Here we say a final farewell to the 1980s with Superman 4, and take a look at what the 1990s has to offer…
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) – Directed by Eric Radomki and Bruce W. Timm
The mob bosses of Gotham City are being murdered and Batman/ Bruce Wayne (voiced by Kevin Conroy) is wrongly accused. Batman, the world’s greatest detective must investigate to clear his own name. Soon he comes face to face with the shadowy masked assassin known as the Phantasm and The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill), but is he the master mind behind all of this?
Bruce Wayne/ Batman is at the forefront of the story, journeying into his past and seeing the man who becomes the Bat. He is a tragic character in more ways than one, as he has the chance for happiness but ultimately must become the bat. The story explores this side of Wayne/Batman thoroughly, granting both equal screen time. All of the characters are interesting and fully fleshed out, which is arguably rare for an animation movie. The film also tackles mature themes. It is full of action and suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat, whilst also making for a visual treat. The voice actors are at the top of their game, putting all they have into the characters to make them come alive; this movie is a great testament to what animation can do.
Don’t stay in the shadows, give it a watch! The art work in this movie is great to see for any film and comic book lover.
Superman 4: The Quest For Peace (1987) – Directed by Sidney J. Furie.
Superman is on a mission to rid the world of nuclear weapons in the hope for world peace. Lex Luthor returns and has created a superhuman to finish off Superman once and for all, known as Nuclear Man.
Sidney J. Furie is behind the camera this time around and he does a good job considering the pressure he was under. There were problems behind the scenes which I normally wouldn’t mention, but sadly the issues bleed into the quality of the final product. Superman 4 was set to be Cannon Studios biggest movie to date, with a large budget of 34 million dollars, but – due to many of their movies failing at the box office – they had to cut the budget in half. Many aspects of the movie suffer due to these issues, such as visual effects, lighting and the fight choreography. Some scenes look rushed or unfinished. All of the Superman movies had been a show case for visual effects and epic storytelling, but cutting the budget and editing the movie from 134 minutes to only 90 minutes made this fall short of its predecessors.
Having said that, there is actually a lot to enjoy here, which comes down to the cast and characters. Hackman and Kidder do very well in their roles, as does Mariel Hemingway as Lacy Warfield. Reeve’s performance as Superman is a joy to watch and, yet again, he doesn’t disappoint.
Batman: Forever (1995) – Directed by Joel Schumacher
After the lukewarm response to Batman Returns from concerned parents, who stated it was too violent and grim for a superhero movie, Warner Brothers decide to lighten The Dark Knight up. Some of the supporting cast returned to their roles and Burton returned as a producer. Joel Schumacher is a highly acclaimed director and shows off a lot of his talents here, sticking closely to the source material which pleased the fans.
The sets are beautiful; Gotham City looks bright and colourful, which is both a positive and a negative. It has lost some of its Gothic charm and, in turn, part of its identity. The Batman mobile has also had a more colourful make-over, leaving behind the dark practical style that came before it. Elliot Goldenthal takes over from Elfman, composing a new theme for the Dark Knight. Seal Kiss From a Rose and U2 Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me have become affiliated with the movie, both tracks suiting it in their own way.
Unfortunately, Batman Forever has become known as a bad superhero movie, not just a bad Batman movie. It is tied with the same brush as its sequel, which is a little unfair in my opinion. Perhaps it is just that the story moves by at a fast pace and is a little weak. But, it has some great moments; the action set pieces are well done, and seeing Batman suit up for a night of crime fighting is great fun. Batman is very much driving the story in his live action movie and we get a live action insight into his past. This insight is wonderfully executed and I just wish they would have continued down this story line. I would recommend this as it is entertaining and a lot of fun while you are watching it. Although, sadly, I don’t think you will remember it ‘Forever’!
For the sake of continuity we will continue here with Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (1997)
Batman/Bruce Wayne (George Clooney) and his sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) are still working side by side to stop the cold hearted Dr. Victor Fries/Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has teamed up with Dr. Pamela Isley/ Poison Ivy. Both plan to end the world in an ice age in order for a new plant life to live. There is tension growing between the dynamic duo as their trust is tested and Poison Ivy has the power to make people fall in love with her. But our heroes may not be able to do this alone… Batgirl/ Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone) is the new member to the team and just in time too.
The cast of the movie have stated that they felt this went into production far too quickly, but Batman was big and this time everyone wanted a piece of it. There is a strong sense that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, pulling in different directions. It wasn’t what fans were expecting from Batman. The tone shift is too far in the wrong direction, the acting too over the top and it is even more comical in tone. There is a balance between Batman (1989) and Batman Forever (1995) but this missed the mark. Whilst there are some great moments – the best scenes are between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth, during which time is taken to expand the characters as they discuss the true meaning of Batman, the responsibility of a hero and mortality – the rest of the movie plays out more like a spoof of the 60’s Batman than a continuation of the first three movies.
Schumacher has gone on record and apologised to fans for this movie, which I think is commendable. Schumacher did his job and made the movie he was asked to make, even though he wanted to make a darker adaptation of Batman: Year One. Burton had made Batman dark and for an adult audience, whilst Schumacher’s Batman is for a younger audience. So, with that in mind, maybe Batman & Robin does have its place with its fans as a way to introduce younger family members to Batman without giving them nightmares.
Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (1997) is infamous for putting the Batman Franchise on ice, so, before moving on to the next age of Batman movies, I would like to mention the returning supporting cast of Batman 1989 – 1997: Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth and Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon. Both have been excellent and the films would not be the same without them.
Make sure to check in next week for the final installment of this mini-series, which brings us right up to the present day and the meeting of Batman and Superman on the big screen.