7. The Batman (2022)
The Batman has quickly become one of the most beloved versions of Batman and film, and there is certainly some merit to this incarnation. The cinematography is often spectacular and is assisted by an epic score. Pattinson’s reclusive, almost creepy Bruce is a departure from any Batman we have seen before him. And it is hard not to love how much this dives into the detective side of Batman, which we have so rarely seen despite it being essential to him in the comics.
But besides a three-hour runtime that feels weighty thanks to an odd, slow-burn pace, The Batman is just so derivative of elements of the character we have seen beforehand. The imagery and darkness of the character and setting is ripped straight from Nolan. Its realism occasionally gives the look and feel of the film its own voice, but also makes for an oppressive atmosphere that robs the film of any having any fun or establishing a momentum to its plot.
The themes here are plagiarized from The Dark Knight, as The Riddler questions the morals of respected figures and the place of justice in Gotham in an all too similar fashion to how Joker did it in The Dark Knight. Even the Batman Catwoman dynamic owns much of its identity to Batman Returns and The Dark Knight Rises. Yet another case of the two starting as enemies and then developing a sexual attraction that largely overrides their roles as good guys and bad guys.
The rest of the movie is taken from the great procedural detective thrillers, especially the work of Fincher. But, because it is a Batman movie, the quality of the detective narrative is sacrificed to work around action scenes and the conflict between Batman and The Riddler. The universe of The Batman is filled with potential, but in order for its sequel to rise above, it must carve out its own path instead of relying on the movies of yesteryear.
6. Batman (1966)
The right way to do Batman silly. Batman: The Movie is such a breath of fresh air considering the Batman we have gotten ever since the 21st century. He always has to be badass and dark and brooding. Granted, that vision is likely the superior vision of the character, but sometimes it is nice to see the Silver Age of Comics Batman in the movies. Batman (1966) accomplishes this near perfectly. Like the other lighter Batman movies, it does suffer from a lack of depth. But unlike those, its brisk runtime and refusal to go overboard with the love interest prevent it from feeling sluggish From Batman, running with Looney Tunes sized bombs, to the exploding shark, to the Bat Centrifuge, the movie is unapologetic fun that is also a showcase for all the great Bat-gadgets you miss in more sobering adaptations.
Its style is infectious, made especially awesome by a never-better Bat theme and Batmobile. Minute-to-minute, it is stuffed with jokes and cartoonish moments that some unimaginable in the world of superheroes today. It is a blast of light-hearted Batman from beginning to end which is oh so valuable considering just how monotonous he can be now.
5. Batman (1989)
There has been a plethora of things said concerning Batman. Once the Nolan trilogy was completed, YouTube was flooded with video essays deconstructing this with absolutely no mercy. Vicki Vale is no doubt a major flaw and Bruce takes an unfortunate backseat, but ruthlessly ripping with Bruce sections does not do justice to all the other things the film does well. The production design is immaculate. Burton should get endless credit for bringing the simultaneously gothic and haunting world of the Batman comics to life. From the Batmobile, to the look of the suit, to Joker’s goons, Batman actually looks life a comic book, an oh so rare occurrence that has happened less and less with each passing year.
Jack Nicholson is a scene stealer as Joker, just the right balance of crazy, silly, and psychopathic. Keaton shines under the cowl and somehow overcame barely being able to move to give an imposing, iconic look to the character. The addition of Joker killing Batman’s parents gives this conflict an even more personal ring to it, which is played well against the secondary but nonetheless engaging plot of the mayoral race. And the score. What a blood-pumping, ominous, perfect score by Elfman. Not every piece perfectly fits together here, which is why it ranks lower than the rest, but the parts that work well are just magnificent.
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Talia Al’Ghul twist is horrible. The plot holes are plentiful and distracting. The Dark Knight Rises deserves the critiques thrown at its way but none of its flaws are damning. It is still a cathartic, epic conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy that wraps up the ideas he has been building on for seven years. The Dark Knight Rises and the trilogy as a whole gets its strength from its themes. The battle of chaos and order in Gotham is on full display here, as Bane and his band of mercenaries look to unravel the safety and justice Batman once provided. Bruce is broken, reduced to unsure man he began as when he first joined the League of Shadows, and climbs out of despair to become Gotham’s savior for one last time.
The movie is packed with unbelievable set pieces and riveting fights but also is loaded with exquisite dialogue-centered scenes, with Alfred and Bruce’s conversation over Bruce giving up the mantle being one of the most emotionally evolved scenes in a superhero movie to date. The spectacle of the opening sequence and the Battle of Gotham are unforgettable, but the emotional heart of The Dark Knight Rises is perhaps greater than any other Batman movie. It is one last look at Batman being the Gotham needs that satisfyingly tied up the greatest trilogy in all of superhero canon.
3. Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins vision has to be its strongest asset. It reinvented Batman from being a franchise focused on villains and style to being one about character above all else. Bruce’s characterization could not have been better, starting off as a sad, uncontrolled man who has to train his body and mind to overcome the horror of his past.
This is the definitive Batman origin story. A realistic portrayal that strips Batman of all his tricks and mystery and builds him up into an ethereal figure in the eyes of his foes. Nolan’s camerawork is impeccable. His love for realistic stunts makes the action better than it ever had been with Burton and Schumacher. But Batman Begins feels so foreign to the thrill-a-minute blockbuster. It benefits from the excitement, spectacle, and fast-moving plot of those movies, without doubt. But, above all else, it was the perceptive character study of the hero we did not deserve, but oh so desperately needed.
2. Batman Returns (1992)
And on the other hand, pulp perfection. Batman and two of his greatest foes (plus an inspired turn from Christopher Walken) all goes for each other’s throats in a crayon box nightmare land otherwise known as Gotham city. Sexual innuendo consumes almost half the dialogue. The undertones rage against corporate America. It seems too crazy to work, but it does. The brilliance of Batman Returns is how prominently it displays the villains, while not losing sight of Bruce in the process. There is a true sense of bedlam both in the action scenes and outside of them, which is largely owed to three broken characters always intent on verbally sparring with others.
It is perhaps the only Batman film that fully retains a comic book feel to it without having to lose a sense of character complexity along with it. It is filled with comic book lunacy but can switch to a darker edge on a dime. The DeVito and Pfeiffer provide masterful iterations for their characters. And Bruce’s challenges with love and keeping the faith of the people of Gotham are more than enough than to make him a substantive version of Master Wayne. A blast from beginning to end.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
The undisputed king. A tragic tale of good vs. evil but shot in glorious IMAX, beautifully molded into the genre of a crime epic. It contains about twenty scenes that can be watched over and over for their brilliance. The practicality is arguably unmatched by any other Hollywood action film since. It contains one of, if not the, greatest supporting acting performance of all time. Is there anything else that needs to be said? Are there not endless amounts of proof of its magnificence by the sheer quantity of praise thrown at it? No proof is perhaps greater than sitting down and watching it again.
It is remarkable that as each of the previous films fade, if even a little, over time, The Dark Knight remains pristine. Its “rewatchability” is nothing short of astonishing, and the greatest testament to Nolan’s ability that makes art that lasts. It is a film that remains exhilarating to this day, and its musings on morality and order in a post 9/11 world has obviously resonated with those that have watched it. Perhaps not perfect, but maybe one of the films that have gotten closest to attaining a flawless quality.