My God, this is beautiful.
This is the first film to really take full advantage of the Batman name. As far as most people know, it is the first Batman movie made. It’s the Adam West cheese-fest! When judging the quality of a story, most often we look for things like strong characterization, well-structured plots, what have you. However, every so often, we find movies that, while technically awful, with hammy acting, poorly structured plots, and bombard the audience with events so ridiculous that they could never transpire in any universe you can imagine, are still incredibly entertaining.
Such is the case with Adam West’s Batman. The plot is simple: Batman and Robin stop four super villains who want to take over the world. It’s a basic villain team-up movie akin to later entries in the Batman film series (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin come to mind). While those movies are seen as disappointing, people look back on this film with fond memories. Why is that?
Simply put: it knows what it is, and never tries to trick anyone into thinking it’s anything else. Later Batman films tried to pull off both the tongue-in-cheek humor of the Adam West era while still trying to emulate the dark tone of the Tim Burton films. The problem is you can’t mix the two. This film never tries to implement anything really dark. Whenever it draws through any subject matter that might be in the least bit disturbing, it plays it for dry humor. It’s smooth, uninterrupted comedy gold.
On a technical level, it is awful. The plot is cliched and silly, the acting unconvincing and terrible, without any real hints of characterization or growth throughout the whole film. There is no trace of effort to make a well-written, nuanced film. Still, you should know what you’re getting yourself into when, in the first five minutes of the film, Batman flies past a building full of bikini-clad women in order to catch a disappearing yacht as a shark filled with mines flies up at them, only to be stopped with a can of Shark repellent.
I personally love Adam West’s Batman. He is perhaps one of the great actors to play Batman, and certainly one of the most memorable–if not the most memorable. No one has played the Caped Crusader quite like him. He rarely cracks a smile, even when delivering the silliest of lines imaginable. Burt Ward as Robin is fun, but he mostly bounces off of West’s antics. Even the other villains don’t compare to how awesome this character is.
Of all the villains, Catwoman was the only one I could take seriously. She cracks the least amount of jokes, actually develops a relationship with Batman–though how Batman doesn’t get suspicious when his squeeze starts purring is anyone’s guess–and even tries to hurt Batman on an emotional level. If anything, the Joker seems to me like the most laid back of the characters, actually telling the Riddler to cool off with the riddles, to stick to the plan, etc. Come to think of it, while the other three villains all get time to shine, the Joker mostly functions as the muscle of the group. When the Joker is the most muted and dull of all the villains in your movie, you know you exist in a world that no longer exists in the world of logic.
Perhaps that’s the beauty of this film. It’s the complete opposite of every single Batman film around. Instead of brooding darkness, you got hilarity. Instead of disturbed, twisted minds, you get goofy one-dimensional characters who never fail to leave you smirking at how goofy the whole world they occupy is. Despite being a technically bad film, it’s damn entertaining.
That’s the review in short, but keep reading if you want my full thoughts.
Nowadays, film serials are less common–if they even exist at all–but back in the 30’s to 50’s, these things were shown in pieces before a major film. It can be compared to the shorts they sometimes show before Pixar movies nowadays, only they all had a continuous plot, like a television series. Some of the more famous ones were Buck Rogers, Zorro, or the Lone Ranger. That sort of stuff.
So Batman had a film serial.
Honestly, even after watching all five hours of it, I can’t really think of much to talk about. Maybe that was because I was also messaging people on Facebook and texting while it was playing in a corner of my screen, or maybe it was because this is perhaps the most generic, boring, dull Batman film I have ever seen.
It’s hard to even defend this serial’s existence. Aside from being the first Batman film, there is nothing memorable about it. The film is about Batman and Robin as they track down a criminal, save the world, whatever. Also, there police hate him and want to take him in. This is as basic of a plot as you can get, but that’d be okay if it’s done well. Which it isn’t.
The first issue is Batman himself. At the time, perhaps he was threatening. However, you can’t intimidate a modern audience while you sitting with your hands folded in a cave with rubber bats flapping around your head while the Boy Wonder runs over as if he just came out of another film set. Even then, I find it hard that anyone took this character seriously, even then. He isn’t goofy like Adam West. He reminds me more of George Clooney’s take on the character in that they both try to be suave and do the most with the script they’re given, but it’s very hard to make a character credible when he calls the commissioner on a pay phone to tell them they delivered fresh crooks.
Oh, that reminds me. The commissioner isn’t Gordon. It’s some other guy who wants to get Batman behind bars because it’s the law. Maybe. We’re clearly supposed to side with Batman, and the commissioner isn’t given a real reason to hate Batman. In the 89 film, Batman was a mystery to the police. They thought he might be a threat, or worse than the Joker. Once they realized he was a hero, they began to side with him, treating him like a hero. In Batman Begins, they attacked Batman because the police were corrupt, and Batman was opposing them. Oh, and he also ran over a bunch of their cars in a tank.
The police are a bunch of buffoons who don’t accomplish anything anyway. They barely notice that there’s a terrorist living outside their town, planning on doing evil stuff to Gotham. To be fair, early Batman comics didn’t have a lot of the major villains like the comics today do. Sure, the Joker existed, but he wasn’t Batman’s nemesis like he is today. Catwoman was around, but, again, not a major presence. Dr. Hugo Strange was perhaps Batman’s main enemy in that era, the closest to being his nemesis.
…so instead of using a good villain, they go for the racist stereotype.
Dr. Daka, the most Caucasian Asian you’ll ever meet, is a terrorist working through lesser criminals to undo American democracy, and take it into the Japanese Empire. Maybe. This is seen as evil not because he might kill millions of people or the inevitable economic chaos that’ll come about from a sudden upheaval in government. No, it’s because it’s “not American.” I like to consider myself patriotic, and I understand this serial was made in war time, but this feels almost a little juvenile in how it focuses on how evil Japan is because it’s not America. Not that we were in a war with them or anything like that. Just…oi vey.
Really, though, what it boils down to is that nothing in this film feels like it needs to be a Batman story. There is no Batmobile. The only characters who are taken from the comics are Robin and Alfred, both of whom are overly simplified to the point of absurdity. Batman is suave, but feels more like James Bond than the Dark Knight. The character’s appearance, name, and background could be changed, and no one would notice. At the same time, it isn’t offensively bad either. The racism in the film is grating, but you need to take the film in context to look over that. It’s wartime propaganda, one that doesn’t understand that the real threat of a foreign nation at war with us isn’t that they’re different, but rather that said foreign nation wants to kill us.
This is unremarkable as a film serial, but especially unremarkable as a Batman movie.
I am going to watch every Batman movie ever made before the Dark Knight Rises comes out.
This might sound like nothing special. What’s the big deal? You’re gonna watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight before the third one comes out. Big deal.
No, you misunderstand. I’m going beyond that.
Oh, you’re gonna watch the older films too? Oh, so what? Tim Burton and Schumacher’s films are famous.
Adam West’s cheesy film? Ah, no big deal. What’s so special about—
No. I mean EVERY one worth noting.
In total, I intend on blogging about the following films in the coming week in order:
1) Batman (1943 serial)
2) Batman and Robin (1963)
3) Batman (‘89)
4) Batman Returns
5) Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
6) Batman Forever
7) Batman and Robin (‘97)
9) Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
10) Batman Begins
11) Batman: Gotham Knights
12) The Dark Knight
13) Batman: Under the Red Hood
14) The Dark Knight Rises
I’m omitting a few of the animated films just because watching more than 14 films in a little more than a week is a little absurd. I intend on watching every one of these, and reviewing them, then, at the end, recapping on what I thought of them.
You might be wondering why I’d want to blog all the Batman films? After all, I’m a writer who hasn’t updated his blog in a good ten days or so. What right do I have being a movie critic? Why would I blog on a bunch of silly movies about a guy who dresses up as a bat? What does this have to do with my journey to being published?
A lot more than you’d realize.
When I was younger, I loved comics. I still do, but I was completely obsessed with them between third and fifth grade. I credit Stan Lee and Chris Claremont as two writers who helped inspire me to be a writer in the first place, and, in later years, Alan Moore would help inspire the novel series I’m trying to publish! Even now, I wonder if, once I’m published, I might send my resume to Marvel Comics or DC to try my hand at writing comics. I’d probably be rejected or laughed off, but it’s still something I’d one day like to do.
My favorite hero in particular was Spider-Man, and X-Men was probably second, but Batman was a close contender for third. I was fascinated by his complex psyche, his relationship to his alter ego, how he adopted people into a pseudo family, how they bounced off one another, and–who am I kidding? I loved him for the villains and all of their sick psyches. As I grew up, the points I just mentioned made me appreciate the character even more, but I always did love the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery. I watched all of the movies growing up. There was even a time Batman and Robin impressed me, though that time lasted all of two minutes after the credits rolled.
I feel that, as a writer, one needs to reflect on what they enjoyed in order to bring enjoyment to others. If we want to write something compelling, we have to understand what compelled us as readers. So, for the next week, I’ll be diligently rewatching the aforementioned films, post my thoughts on them in an orderly manner, then, after watching the Dark Knight Rises, reflect on what I just experienced. I’ll compare who was the best Batman, who was the worst, what films I enjoyed and didn’t, what villains left an impact and which ones didn’t, what style is the best, etc. Some of the things I say will surprise you, some might not. For anyone going into writing or who are already writing, I think my perspective on the series might intrigue you. Hopefully.
Wish me the best of luck.
– Anthony Gramuglia, a hopeless fanboy who thinks he can write