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The Dark Knight, Diluted

Hollywood has done what generations of supervillains couldn't: defile a decades-old comic book legend

(This review originally appeared in the June 19-25, 1997 Long Island Voice.)

Click for the review of Batman & Robin movie.

By Beth Hannan Rimmels

The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Poison Ivy aren’t the villains who have done the most damage to the big-screen Batman. No, the ones who have done real harm to the 58-year-strong comic book legend are Hollywood screenwriters and directors.

Those who savor Batman as the serious fan’s superhero of choice could say the film series has done more damage to the Dark Knight than the campy ’60s TV show ever did. You knew that the TV episodes were over the top. The movies pretend to have an element of seriousness, yet they totally undermine the core of a great character.

The best screen version of Batman to date remains Batman: The Animated Series (later renamed Batman & Robin: The Animated Series) because it captures the spirit of bob Kane’s creation without turning off non-comic book readers. Want proof? The new film, Batman & Robin, is using the cartoon’s version of Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) rather than the comic book’s.

A friend argues that so long as the films make money, it doesn’t matter if they’re faithful to the original source. Of course, this same person would lynch the producers if a movie about a non-drinking, bookish, faithful family man was billed as a James Bond movie.

So the question all Gotham should be asking is: Why buy something if you’re going to trash? Look at what the Batman movies have wrought:

The movie Batman gets laid way too much. In nearly 60 years, Batman’s only had four, maybe five, real relationships — not counting alternate worlds, dream sequences, etc. — Vicki Vale, Julie Madison, Linda Page and Silver St. Cloud. The maybe is Shondra Kinsolving who Bruce seemed to care for when the Knightfall saga unfolded. By the end, Shondra was left with the mind of a five year old. He’s always been a attracted to Catwoman and had feelings for Talia, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, but that’s it. The playboy angle is supposed to be a scam. Bruce’s reputation as a ladies’ man means that no date is going to admit she was only kissed good night. Leave it to Hollywood to take the facade seriously. So in the movies, our hero gets serious about Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer and Nicole Kidman. The latest film doesn’t help by reviving the character of Julie Madison. It’s a nice tribute to the past, but how the hell does he have time to bed Elle MacPherson?

The comics are more believable. I blame Batman Returns for the downfall of the series. It started the cram-as-many-people/plots-in-as-you-can mess. B&R continues the cramming-in-everything trend. It has to explain the origin of Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane, Batgirl and explain Jason Woodrue, plus have some sort of plot that ties them together. Bane was supposed to be one of Batman’s toughest (and most recent) foes, who actually managed to take out Batman for awhile (check out Denny O’Neill’s Knightfall novel or the trade paperbacks of the comic version), but he had nothing to do with Poison Ivy. I don’t mind B&R claiming that Ivy (the miscast Uma Thurman) created the Venom potion that transformed him, but why add Bane to an already crowded film? The Knightfall plot, even stripped down by Hollywood, would leave enough for a great movie or miniseries. Why give it really short shrift?

Is anyone thinking here? Poison Ivy has always liked plants more than people. So why would someone who will kill to protect the environment team up with someone who can only live in sub-zero temperatures? Worse, B&R explains it as Mr. Freeze is the one man Ivy can’t have. WRONG. Batman is the one man she’s never been able to have. She’s managed to get him under her spell a few times, but never for long, and it drives her crazy. And what is the deal with the costumer/make-up artist’s obsession with eyebrows? Sugar and Spice in Batman Forever had all sorts of stuff attached to their eyebrows. Poison Ivy’s eyebrows are way over the top, and that hair/horn thing for Ivy has got to go. Ivy’s supposed to be the ultimate femme fatale, emphasis on fatale since her kiss is lethal. She’s not supposed to look like a freak.

No shit, Sherlock The "World’s Greatest Detective," otherwise known as the "Dark Knight Detective," has done no sleuthing in any of the films. OK, he figured out a few riddles in Batman Forever, went through a few clippings in Batman and saw through the Penguin’s smooth talk in Batman Returns. So what? It wasn’t like tracking the Unabomber. And does everyone in Gotham know who he is? This is supposed to be one of the greatest mysteries in all of comicdom. People have tried very hard to figure out who Batman is. Yet in every movie someone figures it out or Bruce tells them. Sorry, but that doesn’t work. There are superheroes Batman has worked with for years who don’t know. Commissioner Gordon doesn’t know. Also, Batman’s code against killing is one of two most famous ones in all of comics (the other being Superman). So why did Batman in the first film send the Batmobile to drop a bomb into the Joker’s lair?

The suit fetish Michael Keaton was the best Batman when it came to acting, but they should have delayed production slightly and made him get into shape. If Linda Hamilton can get the body she had in Terminator 2: Judgment Day in three months, Keaton could be whipped into shape. He should have perfect muscle tone rather than letting the suit provide it. Batman is supposed to be a fusion of a mind like Sherlock Holmes with an iron will and the body of an Olympic decathlon athlete (muscles combined with flexibility and endurance). I found it distracting that either Keaton barely moved in the suit or the focus was on individual body parts when he did. It became way too obvious that stuntmen were involved. Not to mention the latex nipples added to the costume for Val Kilmer in Batman Forever. Too much wrong about that to go into here, kids.

Miscast villains Michelle Pfeiffer was good as Catwoman (but if they ever bring Catwoman back, I’d nominate Famke Janssen who played Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye), and the character has had more origins than lives, but being licked back to life by cats? ‘Nuff said. At the rate they’re going, Warner Bros. is going to run out of name villains. So it would be tough — and expensive — to get back DeVito or Pfeiffer. So? At the rate they’re making them, they could cast another hot, short actor in 10 or so years for a return of the Penguin. They can still do it, I guess, by having the penguins at the zoo peck him back to life. Poor Two-Face. Poor Billy. I waited through two movies for Billy Dee William’s Harvey Dent to become Two-Face, then they cast Tommy Lee Jones. Tommy’s a better actor, but I wanted to see Billy stretch. Didn’t matter. The transformation was a cheaply done flashback and 95 percent of Two-Face’s screen time was ranting. Lee and Janet Scott Batchler, the screenwriters for BF have commented that "Batman is really about duality…In Batman’s world, everybody has an alter-ego." So why give short-shrift to the villain that symbolizes duality?

And even Batman’s friends are drawn badly. I love Batgirl. I never thought the comics treated her right — her last big move in the comics was to get shot by the Joker and end up paralyzed. She was reborn as wheelchair-bound cybersleuth Oracle. So I was pleased when the movies decided to revive Batgirl. Finally, a version that won’t treat her like an airhead. Miss Clueless, Alicia Silverstone, isn’t the problem. It’s the writing, stupid. Why did they make her the niece of Alfred the butler? Like the film Wayne’s overactive social life and the film Batman’s willingness to use deadly force, it just doesn’t make sense.

 

Story  1997 The Long Island Voice. Accompanying photographs  1997 Warner Bros. and DC Comics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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