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Batman ('89) vs Batman Begins ('06)
Art vs Reality

Popcorn Article by Jonathan Soleymani
November 18, 2005

This past Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in Los Angeles, a small theatre screened BOTH Batman Begins and Batman ('89), back to back as a double feature. Although I had seen Batman Begins multiple times on the big screen, I hadn't seen Batman on the big screen since its original release. So, this was quite a treat. Now, what's interesting, is the night and day difference between the films, mainly because of the choices the director and actors took.

Now, before I go into my analysis of the two films, I want to make it VERY clear that I've loved both movies, and think that they are both masterpieces…but for very different reasons. The original is perfect for the times, and the new one, very much fits the world today.

Bruce Wayne vs. Bruce Wayne – Batman vs. Batman
Although Christian Bale and Michael Keaton are physically very different, it's more the way each portrayed the character that made a huge difference. First of all, Keaton played the Bruce Wayne character as the man, while Batman was a persona that he adopts. On the other hand, Bale plays Batman as the person he really is, while Bruce Wayne is the mask – something MUCH closer to how the comics now depict the Batman/Bruce Wayne relationship. Pay attention to what Rachel Dawes says at the end of the film, that his REAL face “is the one that criminals now fear.”

Also, Keaton plays Wayne as an almost fun, teddy bear type person, especially in the beginning. Take a look at the scene with him, Vicki Vale and Alfred in the kitchen. As an almost “nice guy,” he's not playing the Bruce Wayne character…that's WHO HE IS. On the other hand, when Bale is playing the character, is playing just that…a character. Take a look at the scene in the restaurant with the two European women… Wayne is obviously “playing” the character for the sake of keeping his REAL identity a secret. Yes, I know how confusing that sounds.

Another unfortunate point is that in Batman Begins, Batman never becomes the famous, intelligent DETECTIVE that he is supposed to be. He is a living human weapon, which he is supposed to be, but never shows the intelligence that is SO important in the comic books. In fact, he drops out of school – wasn't he supposed to learn criminology, chemistry, etc.? To be honest, this was the only real issue I have with an almost flawless film. However, in the Burton film, Batman figures out Joker's plan, realizes the patterns for the toxins, and foils the crime. His skills as a famous detective are used, and he's shown to be intelligent.

One thing that was made a HUGE point in Begins was the fact that Batman does not kill. Period. He even fires the Batwing's rockets and machine guns at the Joker – missing completely (something I've never understood).

Chris Nolan vs. Tim Burton
What's interesting about the two takes on Gotham City , which many believe to be a character in itself, is that they are SO different. Burton 's world is very fantastic – a living comic book. From camera angles to coloring, watching the 1989 Batman is like watching a beautiful painting for two hours. Very beautiful, very unrealistic. Burton created a completely new world for Gotham City to reside in – something he's done so amazingly in all of his films, from Edward Scissorhands to Corpse Bride.

However, when looking at Chris Nolan's Gotham City, although its still a fantasy (and very much made to be an American, modern-day Blade Runner), very much feels like a city that can exist in the world we live in today. Complete with skyscrapers, wealthy areas, daylight, and slums. This parallels the world which American's now live in, post 9-11. We are FORCED to see how vulnerable we are as people, how the world is a VERY real place. People can be tortured, die…and American's aren't always looked at as the good guys.

Another interesting point between the two films is that Begins really has a sense of emotion. Building the characters from the ground up, really gave us the ability to care and attach to them. When you see Mr. and Mrs. Wayne brutally murdered in front of their son, you feel the sadness. In Wayne Manor, Bruce tells Rachel that “this man killed my parents. I cannot let that pass. And I need you to understand that.” I've seen the movie 7 times, and every time, I tear up when I see that. When Rachel slaps Bruce in the car, and says “your father would be ashamed”, you really understand and can relate to the characters.

That's something you don't see in the Burton films. It's more of a beautiful, almost hollow, representation of these characters. Psychologically very impact-full, from Bruce Wayne's very odd behavior (sleeping upside down like a bat), to the Joker's psychotic, although funny, behavior, that's the focus of the film.

Heroines – Vicki Vale vs. Rachel Dawes
The sign of the times. What WAS Vicki Vale's point in being in Batman, other than being the “Damsel in Distress” and love interest? Other than being the one that Batman has to continually save from the Joker, she doesn't do a whole lot. Granted, Kim Basinger is amazingly gorgeous in the movie and plays a very good “normal” to Bruce Wayne's scarred psyche.

On the other hand, Katie Holmes' Rachel Dawes plays a pivotal role in connecting Bruce Wayne and Batman, being there as Bruce essentially dies (when his parents are killed), and seeing the end result – The Dark Knight. She's also a District Attorney and carries a mean Tazer gun. She doesn't take crap from anyone (including Bruce) and does her best to do her part in saving the world. Interesting how times change. Similar to how the Bond women changed over the years, so have women's roles in the Batman films.

Villains – The Scarecrow vs. The Joker
Jack Nicholson – the man will always be known as The Joker. No question about that, regardless of who plays The Joker in future incarnations (films, animated, etc.). What's interesting about his take on The Joker is that it's VERY fun to watch. You want to watch him kill and maim. It's fun and it's funny. Jack is very charismatic.

On the other hand, take a look at Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow/Crane. From the moment you see him on screen, you hate him. You despise him. You know he's evil.

Of course, the Scarecrow and Joker are very different characters, but Joker is supposed to be psychotic, not funny. Actually, the only person who's supposed to think he's funny is himself. That's what makes him psychotic and such a great adversary to Batman.

So, my advice to Warner Bros and Chris Nolan as they plan the next Batman film: Make the Joker the most vile, evil, psychotic creature ever created. They created a great Batman because he turned fear back onto the ones who pray on the fearful. If Batman makes criminals afraid, than we should all be afraid of the Joker.

At the end of Batman '89, the Joker, who had killed Wayne 's parents, is dead. He's done. Batman has essentially avenged his parent's death.

However, in Begins, he never has that ability because Chill has been killed by someone else. AND, everything his family tried to achieve in cleaning up the city, is lost. The Narrows are now overrun, Arkham inmates have run wild, the Scarecrow is still out there, and the city is still rotting from the insdie. Now he's needed more than ever. It's not over – and he can truly now BEGIN.

Gadgets vs. Tools (Where DOES he get those wonderful toys?)
What's new about Batman Begins is that the “toys”, so to speak, are tools. From the beginning you see the grapple-gun and harness, the batarang, the suit, even the batmobile. They have reasons for being there – which goes along with the idea that Nolan created a Batman to be in the real world.

In Burton 's film, the toys are just that: TOYS. They are used, but could have easily have been dismissed as TOYS – Not tools. And, have no basis in reality. The car – too flashy for a “real world” film. Don't get me wrong, the Burton Batmobile is actually my favorite ever designed, BUT, it doesn't make sense in the feel of the Nolan film. That's how you can really trace the tone of the films… the car.

  • Batman and Batman Returns – Very beautiful, sleek and black. And movable piece of artwork
  • Batman Forever – Flashy, bizarre, and very “comic book like”
  • Batman and Robin – Just ridiculous. A one seater convertible.
  • Batman Begins – A tank. The badass, “real world” car of a frightening creature of the night.

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