Batman on 4K: Burton’s Shine, Schumacher’s Show Rust
Warner Bros. has released the first four Batman movies on 4K for the first time (a 4-Film Collection arrives on September 17, 2019), which gave me a long overdue opportunity to revisit the highs and the lows of the late 80s/early 90s series that largely served as the only major comic book franchise in cinemas for a decade. Hard to believe there was such a time, right?
The Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy upped the ante in terms of depth and prestige, which in turn causes many to look back on the earlier films with less respect. But there is plenty to love with those films—well, most of them anyway.
While all of the movies look great on a nice, large 4K television, not all of the films stand the test of time. It should come to no surprise that Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns still pack plenty of punch, while Joel Schumacher’s are very much products of the worst part of the 90’s (and simply representative of poor decision making by the filmmaker and Warner Bros. to take the franchise in the direction they did).
The original Tim Burton Batman does feel like a bit of relic, but there is so much to love here it’s hard not to appreciate it: Jack Nicholson going balls to the wall crazy, Michael Keaton brooding around in the shadows, and of course Tim Burton at the peak of his creativity, back before CGI and color corrupted his brain. This is the kind of weird comic book movie that would never get made these days, and it should be cherished for those reasons.
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman was presumably considered a risk, but after becoming a massive hit, Tim Burton unleashes with an even weirder sequel that is arguably better in every way. Few comic book movies have been able to pull of stories with multiple villains (Spider-Man 3, anyone?), but Burton lands three memorable villains in Batman Returns—Penguin (Danny DeVito at his absolute best), Catwoman (a terrifically smoking performance by Michelle Pfeiffer), and Max Shreck (Christopher Walken, who is often overlooked here but is excellent as well). The one big weakness of Batman Returns is that it pushes Bruce Wayne and Michael Keaton even further to the sidelines; Burton clearly has much more fun with the bad guys than the good ones.
Batman Forever (1995)
While the Schumacher films get a bad rap, Batman Forever, as much as it heads in the wrong direction for the franchise, is still a generally entertaining movie with plenty of creativity. Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones both deliver over-the-top performances that are worth noting, even if they are largely annoying and again are products of their time. Val Kilmer actually makes for a pretty good Bruce Wayne, while Nicole Kidman looks amazing as his highly inappropriate psychiatrist/love interest.
Batman & Robin (1997)
In all honesty, I started watching this and had to turn it off almost immediately as I began suffering flashbacks from its release weekend all those years ago. Schumacher makes so many bad decisions here—taking his color scheme to the extreme, executing upon an absolutely horrible, cheesy screenplay, and of course Bat Nipples—that it would be unfair to prioritize them.
If you do attempt to suffer through Batman & Robin and then watch Nolan Batman Begins a decade later (or, again, Burton’s Batman from less than a decade prior), it serves as such a stark reminder of how much of a disaster it is.