Batman and Superman: A Filmic History, part 1
May 30, 2016
In light of the recent surge in prequels, sequels and remakes, one of our writer’s has delved into the pasts of both Batman and Superman in order to offer us an in-depth history of these two renowned superheroes! Following the release of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier this year, in which The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel finally meet on the big screen, Peter Aldred takes us through the years of multiple Batman and Superman films, revealing the exciting development of each of their characters. How have the two titans fared over the years in their stand alone movies? Let’s take a look at the greatest gladiator match in history of the world: God versus man; day versus night; Son of Kypton versus Bat of Gotham: Batman and Superman!
Due to the sheer amount of information that is covered, we have created a mini-series of our own here at TSOTA, releasing one ‘episode’ a week and working up towards the present day in chronological order. And so, without further ado, we present you with the first installment.
Batman: The Movie (1966) – Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
In this film Batman and Robin (Adam West and Burt Ward) must face off against a team of super-villains, known as the United Under World, comprised of: The Joker (Cesar Romero), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin). The Villains’ plan is obviously to take over the world by using an invention that instantly dehydrates people into dust. It is in the film that Batman makes the leap from the small screen onto the cinema, with his first feature length movie. The TV series had proved popular with fans, embracing the silly and the wacky. But, as ratings began to fall, there were rumours of the show being axed. However, as the saying goes, some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb. And so, the film-makers tried to win the fans over with a movie which is basically the TV show but on a bigger scale – more gadgets, more locations and more visual gags.
The one drawback of stretching out a thirty minute episode to an hour and forty- five minute movie is that the pacing suffers; at times the story nearly slows down to a stop and we are left waiting to get to the next action scene or joke. And, sadly, not every villain gets their time to shine. The Joker and the Riddler get lost somewhere in the shuffle, appearing more like hench-men than Batman’s super-villains. With that said, the movie has a lot going for it. Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo have great chemistry and comedic timing. It’s entertaining, it’s silly and I can sum this movie up in one word: “fun”. I recommend this to fans of The Bat, fans of the 60’s Batman TV show and anyone who enjoys great light comedy.
Superman: The Movie (1978) – Directed by Richard Donner
Kal- El is an alien sent to Earth following the destruction of his home planet, Krypton. Under the secret identity of ‘Clark Kent’ given to him by his earth parents, he works as a reporter at the Daily Planet. When duty calls, he fights for truth, justice and the American way as Superman. But Lex Luthor has plans of his own: firstly, taking down Superman to prove that he is more powerful, and secondly – getting rich in a land deal.
This movie has an amazing cast, starring Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Susannah York as Lara – Superman’s biological parents, both of whom play their parts excellently. Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor is over the top, cartoonish and brilliant – he brings a lot of fun to the movie. Alongside Luthor is his henchman and comedic opposite – Otis, played by Ned Beatty and the very charming and sexy Eve Teschmacher, played by Valerie Perrine. And, of course, what would a Superman movie be without Superman?! Many actors were considered for the part but Donner wanted to go with an unknown actor – Christopher Reeve, who brought the man of steel to life. His performance is amazing and absolutely spot on in regards to his comic book counterpart. Supporting their performances is the music John Williams provides. He is responsible for some of the best music scores in movie history, such as Star Wars (1977), Jurassic Park (1993) and the Indiana Jones movies (1981), always bringing something great to the story, adding atmosphere, tension and excitement. The music that Williams composed for Superman is synonymous with the character of Superman and is, in a word, “amazing”.
Maybe it is nostalgia but for me Superman: The Movie gets a lot right. It does have its faults, and the end of the movie has been heavily criticized, but – with that that said – you can’t walk away from this movie without a smile. This is a must see for comic book fans, film lovers and the whole family, especially around Christmas.
Batman (1989): Directed by Tim Burton
Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) has been cleaning up the streets of Gotham for sometime as the mysterious Dark Knight vigilante, known as Batman. Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) has been sent into Gotham City to investigate the urban legend that is the six foot bat. There is also another story on the horizon: “The Joker” – the unpredictable Clown Prince of Crime – is planning on poisoning the people of Gotham, so Batman must swing into action to stop him.
By 1989 the Batman symbol was everywhere and the movie was a hit at the box office. Burton has taken more than a few liberties with Batman’s methodology for the sake of the story-telling, which may upset some fans. The focus of the story is The Joker and his origins, which is a shame as this is his first movie since the 60’s. But it is great to see the live action Batman as the dark and brooding character from the comic books. The design of this world is exciting; the visuals of the City to the Bat-mobile are amazing, the matte painting make the city look larger, and the miniatures of the Bat-wing flying above Gotham look excellent. Jack Nicholson as The Joker is perfect, and Kim Basinger plays reporter Vicki Vale very well, bringing more to the role then just a love interest or a screaming damsel in distress. Michael Keaton is equally great as the brooding Batman/Bruce Wayne, capturing the essence of the character.
Despite taking liberties with the source material, the film captures Batman’s character excellently. It is a classic in every sense of the word, bringing the comic book-world to life in a way which is aided by the gothic frame-work it exists in.
Superman 2 (1980) : Directed by Richard Lester/ Richard Donner
Richard Donner directed Superman 1 and 2 back-to-back, which was relatively uncommon at the time. He had almost finished Superman 2 when the producers decided they didn’t like the direction Donner was taking with the story, and Richard Lester stepped in to finish it, a switch which was not without its problems. Donner shoots the movie like an epic adventure story with lots of movement and energy, whilst Lester’s vision is more in line with comic book panels and static shots. Donner’s approach was a little darker in tone, Lester’s bringing some slap-stick humour.
The movie moves along at a very good pace, and the returning cast are all terrific. Both Reeve and Kidder’s performances are amazing, their scenes together some of their best work. Joining the cast is Terence Stamp, who plays the over-the-top villain General Zod. Sarah Douglas as the evil Ursa fits the story brilliantly, whilst Jack O’Halloran brings some comic relief and plays the goofy villain very well.
Whilst it does have its problems – some scenes are not explained very well and some of the comedy is used at the wrong moments – Lester did a great job taking over from Donner. The story is fun and it is great to see Superman go toe to toe with three villains. It’s fun, exciting and a great follow up to the first movie. Find the time and see the adventure continue.
Batman Returns (1992) Directed by Tim Burton
The Penguin/ Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) plans on becoming mayor of Gotham with the aid of corrupt businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), in order to control the city. Selina Kyle/ Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) plans on causing as much trouble for Batman/Bruce Wayne (Keaton) and Shreck.
Batman once again takes a back seat in his movie as Burton gravitates towards the villain’s story. The story-line is a strange mash up of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and hammer horror movies. Although back then it was deemed too dark to even have a happy meal tie in, now it is just fun. Interesting how cinema changes with what is deemed too much for younger audiences. Elfman composes the music once again, setting the tone to the story, and the whole cast make this world come to life. The movie has a very dark sense of humour, Batman remaining brooding and in the shadows.
It may not be your average Christmas movie but Batman Returns certainly is a Christmas surprise.
Superman 3 (1983) Directed by Richard Lester
Lester returns to the director’s chair and this time there is more emphasis on comedy and slap stick. From the opening credits you can see the difference. In the first two Superman movies, the opening credits have the names of the actors whizzing through space, and the title’s fill the screen – aided by the awesome John Williams score – to let you know you are in for an epic adventure. However, Superman 3’s opening credits make more an opening that doesn’t feel like a Superman movie introduction. but, apart from that, Lester does well, using static shots again in order to capture the charm of the comic books.
Richard Pryor plays Gus Gorman, a character who doesn’t have much comedy to work with, and sadly the jokes fall flat. Maybe because Pryor is known for more adult humour and that is where he works best. Christopher Reeve as Superman & Clark Kent is very confident in the role this time round. He brings the same charm and charisma as Superman and the same comedic timing as Kent. Sadly though he is sidelined in his own movie, as more time is given to Pryor. However, when he is on screen he is a treat to watch, stealing the show.
The movie does have its poor moments, sidelining the main hero and shifting to a more comical tone. However, it is also a lot of fun, even if just to see Reeves return as the hero. Superman 3 is a good time but not a super time.
End of Part 1
Make sure to be on the look out for the next installment, during which we will take a look at Superman 4, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and much much more!