As you may have heard, legendary movie critic Roger Ebert passed away earlier this week following an 11-year battle with cancer. Ebert’s reviews were some of the most respected in the industry, so to honor him I thought it would be nice to take a look back at his live action Batman movie reviews. From 1989’s Batman to 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Ebert has seen them all.
Director Tim Burton and his special effects team have created a visual place that has some of the same strength as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Ridley Scott’s futuristic Los Angeles in “Blade Runner.” The gloominess of the visuals has a haunting power. Nicholson has one or two of his patented moments of inspiration, although not as many as I would have expected. And the music by Prince, intercut with classics, is effectively joined in the images. The movie’s problem is that no one seemed to have any fun making it, and it’s hard to have much fun watching it. It’s a depressing experience. Is the opposite of comic book “tragic book”?
Batman Returns (2/4)
I give the movie a negative review, and yet I don’t think it’s a bad movie; it’s more of a misguided one, made with great creativity, but denying us what we more or less deserve from a Batman story. Looking back over both films, I think Burton has a vision here and is trying to shape it to the material, but it just won’t fit. No matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don’t go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes. I had a feeling by the end of this film that Batman was beginning to get the idea.
Batman Forever (2.5/4)
I liked the look of the movie and Schumacher’s general irreverence toward the material. But the great Batman movie still remains to be made. Here is the most complex and intriguing of classic comic superheroes, inhabiting the most visually interesting world, but somehow a story hasn’t been found to do him justice. A story – with a beginning, a middle and an end, and a Batman at its center who emerges as more than a collection of costumes and postures. More than ever, after this third movie, I found myself asking, Who was that masked man, anyhow?
Batman & Robin (2/4)
My prescription for the series remains unchanged: scale down. We don’t need to see $2 million on the screen every single minute. Give the foreground to the characters, not the special effects. And ask the hard questions about Bruce Wayne. There is a moment in the film where we learn that the new telescope in the Gotham Observatory can look at any place on Earth. “Just don’t point it at my bedroom,” Bruce Wayne chuckles. What is he chuckling about?
Batman Begins (4/4)
I said this is the Batman movie I’ve been waiting for; more correctly, this is the movie I did not realize I was waiting for, because I didn’t realize that more emphasis on story and character and less emphasis on high-tech action was just what was needed. The movie works dramatically in addition to being an entertainment. There’s something to it.
The Dark Knight (4/4)
In his two Batman movies, Nolan has freed the character to be a canvas for a broader scope of human emotion. For Bruce Wayne is a deeply troubled man, let there be no doubt, and if ever in exile from his heroic role, it would not surprise me what he finds himself capable of doing.
The Dark Knight Rises (3/4)
This is a dark and heavy film; it tests the weight a superhero movie can bear. That Nolan is able to combine civil anarchy, mass destruction and a Batcycle with exercise-ball tires is remarkable. That he does it without using 3D is admirable. That much of it was shot in the 70mm IMAX format allows it to make that giant screen its own. That it concludes the trilogy is inevitable; how much deeper can Nolan dig? It lacks the near-perfection of “The Dark Knight” (2008), it needs more clarity and a better villain, but it’s an honorable finale.