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'Batman' Won the Battle. Have We Lost the War?

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire June 23, 2014 at 1:27PM

The success of Tim Burton's "Batman" meant acceptance for serious comic books. Too bad "serious" turned out to be so narrowly defined.
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Batman

It's a moment I'll never forget. I was crowded into a movie theater, watching an early screening of Tim Burton's "Batman," with an audience who, like me, had bought their tickets through a local comic book store. (RIP, Norwalk, Conn.'s Dream Factory). I was a Marvel fan, more devoted to the X-Men than Batman, although I'd dutifully devoured "The Dark Knight Returns" like everyone else, but I was nervous and thrilled anyway: Would Hollywood finally get comics right? If it did, would there (finally) be an end to newspaper articles titled "Comics: Not (Just) Ford Kids Anymore," with their inevitable "Boom! Pow!" ledes? Most importantly, had the movie industry heard our cries, amplified through untold articles worrying about whether Michael Keaton could fill out the Batsuit?

And then came the moment when the Batwing broke through the clouds and hung, just for an instant, in front of the full moon, forming a perfect version of the iconic Bat-Signal. The crowd—well, "erupted" is too small a world. They went nuts. Hollywood, it seemed, finally got it. They got Us.

The 25th anniversary of "Batman's" release has been greeted by the now de rigueur onslaught of retrospective pieces, but this Silver Jubilee is more ambivalent than most. The world in which "Batman" won is not quite as we imagined it. What seemed like a victory for "serious" comics turned out to be an extremely circumscribed one. We could, as it turned out, have plenty of variations on the grim 'n' gritty superhero movie, but "Love & Rockets," or even the canny whimsy of Grant Morrison's "Animal Man"? Thanks but no thanks. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' "Watchment," "Dark Knight's" cousin in "Not for kids anymore"-dom, did finally reach the screen, but it took two decades of development and, well, we all remember how that turned out.

The problem, as I've written before, isn't that there are too many comic-book movies, but that they feel too much the same: the X-Men franchise is not "300," but they're much closer to each other than either is to, say, Charles Burns' "Black Hole." One of the great advantages of comics is that you can draw anything you want: A giant spaceship costs no more than a room full of people talking. But while comics can go in any direction, Hollywood remains stubbornly only interested in one.

Here's a look at some of the less-than-celebratory takes on "Batman's" 25th.

Scott Mendelson, Forbes

To say that the film made a monumental impact on the industry is a glorious understatement. It is a strange thing to argue that your all-time favorite film is responsible for many of the worst trends plaguing cinemas today, but that contradiction is at the heart of its legacy. It set all-time box office records and changed how would-be blockbuster films made their money. It ushered in a new kind of blockbuster and a new way of making them. Some of what we love, and much of what we protest, in today’s Hollywood can be chalked up to the success of Tim Burton’s "Batman." "Batman" was the first modern Hollywood blockbuster, in all ways great and horrible.

Anghus Houvaras, Flickering Myth

What I find most fascinating about Batman 25 years later is how its influence has surpassed the film itself. Every subsequent superhero film has borrowed from "Batman." "Batman" impacted the way movies are made as well as the way movies are marketed and distributed. It redefined the culture of comic book adaptations and big budget summer movies. We live in a time where comic book films are commonplace and a staple of the cinematic calendar. Every single one owes a debt to "Batman."


Jason Bailey, Flavorwire

"Batman’s "ubiquitous marketing and deafening hype had made it more than a mere movie — it was an event, something that was less about your desire than your obligation, as a movie-going American, to participate. There’s a movie there, one with virtues (Elfman’s music, Keaton’s quiet intensity, Anton Furst’s brilliant production design) and flaws (Burton’s uneven tone, the spotty script, too much Nicholson). But the movie didn’t matter; what mattered was how it was packaged. And, sadly, that’s the lesson that seems to have stuck, a quarter-century later.


Graeme McMillan, Wired

The superhero movies of today were born of Burton’s desire to make superheroes gritty and “realistic,” and Warners’ desire to make Batman as mainstream and profitable as possible. Compare the self-conscious camp of Christopher Reeves’Superman movies to the self-conscious sincerity of "Man of Steel," and ask yourself whether we could’ve gotten there without Burton’s adherence to the idea that Batman be taken seriously.But rather than being resolved before the movie was released, the argument played out on screen. The result was something much more contentious than today’s superhero movies—which, having no need to validate superheroes as a worthy genre, by now seem almost smug. 



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