Superheros have always fascinated me – I love stories of the fantastical, of the heroic, of fantasy and adventure, and my first introduction was the Batman TV show of the 70’s – Adam West and Burt Ward in tights, with cartoon clouds of “pow” and “zap” littered across the screen.
As a young teenager I was introduced to the Batman comics and graphic novels. Wonderfully dark, examining the extremes of human emotion, desire and willingness to do good and offer protection to the vulnerable despite being hugely wounded.
Then came the Batman movies – the first (in 1989, directed by Tim Burton) was a pretty good portrayal of the Batman of the comics and graphic novels – especially in comparison to any previous portrayal, and Jack Nicholson’s Joker was brilliant. It was also the first movie I saw Michael Keaton play a non-comedy role – and he did it well. Batman Returns, 3 years later saw Danny Devito’s excellent protrayal of the Penguin, with echoes of the Moses Story – abandonment as a baby, the desire to be freed, accepted and reunited with his people, the plagues (attacks on Gotham) – powerful imagery, in an excellent movie.
Then things went downhill. Joel Shumacher took over from Tim Burton as director, Val Kilmer took on the role of Batman, and Chris O’Donnell was introduced as Robin – three big mistakes for what had been a brilliant series of movies so far. Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones had no chance of redeeming this pile of cinematic rubbish. I didnt think it could get any worse. But it did! Batman Forever – George Clooney makes the biggest mistake of his career in taking over the lead role, and Arnold Schwartzenegger and Uma Thurman should have been shot. The script was awful, the story poor, and the acting dreadful. Along with other Batman fans, I bowed my head in shame and vowed never to watch another Batman movie.
Then along came Batman Begins: Christian Bale as the eponymous hero, and Michael Caine as Alfred. I couldn’t resist, and sat for the first few seconds with my hands over my eyes in the cinema, prepared once more for the worst protrayal of the iconic hero of my childhood. I wasnt merely pleasantly surpised by the story, by Bale’s performance and transfiguration, I was blown away – the best superhero movie in a long time, and by far the best portrayal of Batman to ever reach the silver screen.
In a few weeks time (25 July in the UK) the sequal arrives – The Dark Knight, and the more I see and hear about this movie, the more I look forward to it. Not merely for the hero I admired to be brought to life again by Bale, but also for the last opportunity to see Heath Ledger in action. A young actor tragically no longer with us – a talented actor, with a powerful screen performance in everything he has done. If anyone could outperform Nicholson’s Joker of the 80’s, Ledger could. The trailer can be viewed here. A review of the movie is available at the Comic Book Resources but beware – there will be spoilers!