Halloween is just a few short nights away. When one thinks of this particular holiday, two figures spring to mind, Jason and Freddy, one buffed up freak in a hockey mask, the other with a thing for striped shirts, claws and fedoras. And hey, those are two fine killers to cuddle up to on this spooky night. Me, I prefer some bats in my belfry. There have been a plethora of Batman films over the past twenty plus years, both live action and animated. Here are five that get my highest recommendation.
Let's kick this sucker off with Tim Burton's version of the dark knight. Hot off the heels of the Dark Knight Returns, and the Killing Joke comic stories that greatly help revitalize the character, this Batman flick was under heavy scrutiny before it even hit the silver screen. This was largely due to the casting of the title character role of Batman/Bruce Wayne to Michael Keaton, a man more well known for his comedic roles. Keaton proved that you can be a funny man, yet still portray a dark, mysterious character and for my money, he's still the best live action Bat. That opening scene where he sends a mugger to the hospital and makes the non-believer need a change of shorts? The Bat-backhand? That stealth hi-bye he gives Jack before he becomes the Joker? Some of the best stuff Keaton has ever done.
As great a performance as Keaton handed in, you could make the argument that he gets upstaged by Jack Nicholson's Joker. The man commits horrible acts that will make you cringe, but will still manage to make you laugh out loud all the while keeping that big, creepy grin on his face. I'm open to numerous incarnations of the Joker and Nicholson gave us one of the best in Batman's 75 year history.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Based off the graphic novel of the same name, the Dark Knight Returns was written and illustrated by famed comic book writer Frank Miller. The story centers around an aged Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to battle the corruption that Gotham City has since fallen into in his ten year absence.
One thing you'll immediately notice about Miller's Batman is that he's big. I don't just mean big in muscle mass. This Batman is one towering figure. Miller's art style helped make this grim tale truly unique and that same artistic touch has been translated quite well into animation. This Batman also on occasion uses a gun. We all know how Bats feels about firearms, but he never uses them to kill, but I can still see where this would rub some fans the wrong way. He's also far more aggressive, cutting thugs with his Baterangs as well as dishing out some truly vicious beatings.
The action is top notch and it's great to see such classic scenes from the comic really spring to live in animated form. Batman's first and second fight with the Mutant Leader is every bit as good as it was in the comic. The final confrontation between Batman and his arch nemesis the Joker makes for a fine finish for one of comic's greatest rivalries. This is the story that first painted Batman and Superman with an antagonistic friendship, which is now a big deal in comics and animation so it's no shortage of awesome to see their final showdown in animated glory.
Originally an animated feature broken up into two separate films, it was later released in a Deluxe Edition, containing both movies, which for me, is the definitive way to experience this movie. There are a few liberties taken but for the most part, this puppy sticks very close to the original comic.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Taking Batman into the future was quite a risk. Even riskier still was placing someone else inside the Batman costume. How could things be anymore shaken up? How about putting a teenager in those tights? And yet, the show creators of Batman Beyond managed to make it work. It helped that it was handled by the same folks Behind Batman: The Animated Series and that Beyond was a continuation of said series.
When Batman Beyond first aired tons of questions were raised. Among those inquiries, where what happened to the Bat Family and of course, what became of comic's greatest villain, the Joker. We found out that Barbra Gordon was the commissioner of Gotham and mentions of past Robins here and there. There was a gang calling themselves the Jokerz in honor of Gotham's greatest terror and his face appeared on an old wanted poster in Shriek's debut episode but other than that, there was not a trace of the clown's laughter in the entire 52 episode series run of Batman Beyond. That's where Return of the Joker comes in.
This movie tells all. How the Joker survived to throw Gotham into chaos decades after his demise, what drove the Bat Faimly apart and the last battle between Batman and the Joker, which as you can guess, was not pretty. Here, the Joker pushes Batman's buttons like he never has before in the DCAU. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone that hasn't seen it, but what the Joker does in this film is just sick, one of the worst things he's ever done in the animation, comics or any other medium. Return of the Joker is yet another reason why he has and always will be a complete monster.
As much screen time as the Joker gets, the new Batman, Terry McGinnis really comes into his own with this film. As he tells Bruce at one point in the film, he's a completely different Batman and man, does he ever prove it with how he tackles the Joker. We also learn why he chooses to carry on as Batman. This movie packs some excellent character development for Terry.
There are two versions of this movie. One edited and one uncut. The edited version is still pretty creepy, but the uncut version is the way to go.
Batman: Under the Red Hood
There have been numerous Robins throughout the years. The first Robin, Dick Grayson was relieved of duty because Batman fired him. The second Robin, Jason Todd, got his Robin rights tossed because, well, the Joker kidnapped him, beat him with a crow bar and then left him to die in an exploding warehouse. Yeah, Jason really did get the crappy end of the stick.
Five years after Jason's death, a mysterious vigilante known as the Red Hood appears with the training of Batman, but without the same moral code. This hoody has no qualms about killing criminals. Spoiler alter, yes, the Red Hood is Batman's former Robin Jason Todd and he's out to clean up the city and get revenge on the Joker for offing him. It doesn't take long to unravel the mystery in this one, but the way it's told, the tale of revenge, a ward going down the wrong path is all handled extremely well here. I haven't read the comic this film as adapted from, but I dug this one so much I watched it over and over again when it originally came out.
The voice work in all of the DC Animated films has always been stellar for the most part. The Joker is voiced by John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) and he delivers quite the chilling Joker laugh. His voice is deep and a bit gruff, but when I saw the trailer for this film years ago, I had no problems with him voicing the clown prince of crime. Nightwing is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, and he provides some great comedic lines to Batman's serious demeanor, who is played excellently by Bruce Greenwood.
Batman: Assault on Arkham
The only flick on this list to be released in 2014. Batman is present but this one really centers around the villains. Amanda Waller recruits Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Frost, Captain Boomberang, King Shark and Black Spider to form the Suicide Squad. The reason? To break into Arkham Assylum and kill the Riddler.
It isn't easy to get people with differences to work together, and that becomes even more difficult when said people are all hardened criminals, a few of them even psychotic. Naturally the friction between the group gets the better of them now and again and instead of fighting against their mutual enemy, they end up turning on each other. Deadshot and Boomerang butt heads on more than one occasion and since Deadshot has a thing with Harley Quinn, this puts him in the Joker's cross hairs. Of course it isn't all conflict. There's some romance between Killer Frost and King Shark and Deadshot, more than anything just wants to be with his daughter.
Being a DC animated feature, the animation is superb with some stunning action scenes. Andrea Romano always pulls together a stellar voice cast and Assault on Arkham is no exception. It's great to have Kevin Conroy voice Batman once again and while Mark Hamill isn't the Joker this time, Troy Baker hands in a magnificent performance.