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Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Road to Batman Rises

After the camp mess that was Batman and Robin, Warners didn't know what to do with the Batman franchise - director Joel Schumacher absolutely ruined it and very nearly brought George Clooney's career to an end.

"On Batman Forever, I felt like I was making a movie. The second time, I felt like I was making a kid's toy commercial." Chris O'Donnell,  Robin in both of Schumacher's Batman movies.

In my opinion neither of  the Schumacher Batman movies are any good- the director didn't seem to understand the character and as a result both of his movies are loud, brash and childish and both are overly heavy on homo-erotic symbolism.

"You might also be interested to know that Wil Wheaton is sixth in my list of enemies, right between Joel Schumacher for nearly ruining the Batman franchise, and Billy Sparks, who lived down the street from me and put dog poo on the handles of my bicycle." Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory.

Warners were stung by Batman and Robin, which was considered both a financial and critical failure and it wasn't until Brit director Christopher Nolan came on board that the franchise started to show promise. Nolan wanted to take the character back to basics and using a mix of storylines from Batman: Year One and The Man Who Falls, he gave us a realistic Batman, a character who could actually exist.

Batman Begins was never intended to be a trilogy and Warners weren't expecting great things. There was much controversy, most notably over the casting of Christian Bale - it seemed the fans couldn't get their heads around the fact that they were expected to swallow a Brit in the role.

Pretty soon those selfsame fans were eating their words and Batman Begins was universally acclaimed.

There were several reasons for the success of the movie - the cast were excellent. Gary Oldman is the definitive Jim Gordon, as is Michael Cane as Bruce Wayne's loyal manservant, Alfred. The Gotham City of Batman Begins was less comic book and more noir movie and Christian Bale struck all the right notes as the tortured Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Nolan tweeked Batman's origins for his movie - it was a stroke of genius to have the young Bruce scared of the bat-like character in the opera and forcing his parents to leave the theater which resulted in the murder of his parents.The character's fear of Bats had been established earlier when Bruce fell into a well which was filled with bats and this scene came directly from the Batman comic story, The Man who Falls. This meant that the director was able to explore the character of Batman in a much more satisfying way than even Tim Burton had managed.

The film was a huge success and initially Nolan resisted the requests from Warners to helm a sequel, saying that he would only do it if he had a good idea. That idea became The Dark Knight which pitted Bale's Batman against the Joker - Heath Ledger gave a performance that was even more manic than Jack Nicholson's in Tim Burton's Batman. Until this movie it was unthinkable that anyone could even top Nicholson's Joker but not only did Heath Ledger do this but he did it in spades.

Again Nolan went back to the original Batman comics for his storyline and this time he used elements from the story, The Long Halloween which told the origin story of Two Face. The film was an even greater success than Batman Begins and to date has taken well over $1 billion in revenue worldwide.

The Dark Knight continued the grim realistic approach of the previous movie, and it is because of the success of this film that the Nolan Batman trilogy - as I write there is less than twenty four hours to go before The Dark Knight Rises is released - is talked about with such reverence. These are not silly comic book movies, these are true epics in every sense of the word.

Tonight I'll be going along to the cinema to see the final movie in the trilogy and advance word is that it's going to prove a worthy close on what may be the best series of comic book movies ever made.

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