The Caped Crusader Returns

I have no idea where to begin with this post. I was tempted to start with the first film, Batman Begins which I saw with Pav at the Vue in Reading way back on Thursday 16th June 2005. (The beauty of having and at times maintaining a blog means I can jump back in time with perfect twenty twenty vision). However, before I get to that, I think I should really go back to my love affair or lack thereof, in Batman on the silver screen. We start therefore, not a mere seven years ago, but over two decades. Let me take you back to Christmas Day 1991. This was when the original Batman movie by Tim Burton made it’s Network Television (what we now all call terrestrial) premiere – so much so that the Beeb even amended their Christmas logo for such a milestone event. I recall playing around with my Christmas present which was a remote control Ferrari F340 in the early evening but stopping to watch the film. It was Christmas Day, one of the few days of the year we could stay up late and watch a film which we were perhaps a little young for. I was looking forward to seeing the film because cinema trips were relative special treats back then, even with Wycombe Six a five minute walk from our house. My Mum was rather over protective, thinking that scenes with the Joker would give us nightmares but my Dad wanted us to see something of a traditional superhero movie that had been missing for some time. My Dad had been the first to introduce us to Reeve as Superman (both first films were released a few years before I was born). These two titans of DC Comics were the reason I became fascinated with superheroes. My love for the genre developed and grew over the coming years. I recall watching the film in wonder with my younger sisters and was taken into this dark seedy world of Gotham. Michael Keaton was perfectly cast as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. He is perhaps still the best Bruce Wayne on film due in part to his unique talent to play the eccentric orphaned billionaire constantly on the edge! I enjoyed the movie, as any eleven year old boy would. I did not know that a sequel would be released the following year. I have to confess that I was not a big cinema visitor back then. I saw Batman Returns, many years later on terrestrial television once again. I did not really enjoy the movie at the time, it was perhaps too dark and gloomy and as a moody teenager, bursting with hormones, a guy dressed up as a Bat just did not cut it for me anymore. My best friend at the time, Andrew Todd mentioned the transformation scene for Catwoman, with the graffiti on the wall – Hello There, Hell Here. It took me a while to work out what he was referring to (only making sense once I watched the movie shortly thereafter.)

Batman Forever was released in 1995 and at the time I was more interested in the soundtrack than the actual movie. Although I must confess that Nicole Kidman was a particular draw itself. Seal’s Kiss From A Rose is still perhaps one of my favourite romantic songs of all time, so much so that I can recall vividly a uni friend playing it on the guitar and singing along at our halls in Leicester, five years after the films release. The fact we are still talking about the soundtrack and not the movie itself, should speak volumes. On paper Val Kilmer seemed like a great choice for Batman, particularly as Keaton had removed himself from the casting decision (turning down a $15 million pay cheque as a consequence), since Burton would only have a Executive Producer role, with Joel Schumacher taking over directing reins. It was the beginning of the end but we just did not know it. Sure Batman Forever was fun, as a comic book movie but Batman had lost his edge and at times it felt a little cheesy. (Worse was to come in the follow up, two years later). However it was the villains that were perhaps the greatest disappointment and even they overshadowed Batman to a certain degree. Jim Carey was perfectly cast as The Riddler and had a ball but Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face was wrong, the character just did not work for me. Billy Dee Williams should have been given the chance to reprise his role from Batman Returns. I believe in being radical with your casting, why can Harvey Dent not be played by a African American actor? I am just waiting for the moment that James Bond is cast in such a way.

Fast forward to late June 1997, and I was in my period of two weeks work experience (not sure if this still happens when you are towards the end of Year 10 at secondary school). My Dad had arranged for me to work at a computer media duplication office just outside Uxbridge, but he had also arranged a day for me at our local paper – The Bucks Free Press. He had spoken to the editor Karen Hoy and arranged for me to spend a day there, to witness the hustle and bustle of a busy newspaper office. I was invited along with the two other work experience boys (one of whom was actually from my school) to a press screening of Batman & Robin at the UCI cinema. We saw the movie in an empty cinema on I believe a Wednesday afternoon, two days before the official nationwide release. I was rather disappointed with the film but felt George Clooney had tried his best to be a caricature Batman for a family orientated film designed to sell toys. I wrote a quick review on the Apple Mac once we were back in the office and sent this over to the main reporter and my review was published in the local free paper The Star. (Although it no longer circulates to Cressex where my parents live in High Wycombe I believe it is still published every Friday). My review was probably quite average and non-offensive for a fifteen year old. My Mum kept the paper and still has a copy, perhaps I should scan a copy and upload to my blog. I would be interested to read what I had written all those years ago.

Warner Brothers had been keen for a long time to reboot the franchise, particularly after the critics heavily panned the fourth film. If they were going to spend the money, they had to back the right director and team. The vision for the character and tone of the film had to perfect. The studio, well aware that a bad movie could cast off one of their vital comic book franchises into the abyss. Let alone consider it would be good money thrown down the tube after bad. Success meanwhile could feed a whole knew franchise with multiple movies and the ability to sell a whole range of merchandise around the super hero. Everything was at stake, could Christopher Nolan deliver? Having re-watched Batman Begins on Sunday night I have a greater appreciation of the first film of the trilogy. Developing a character from scratch is perhaps the most difficult task but Nolan delivered and surpassed expectations. Rather than re-hash my initial review from seven years ago, I will leave you to read that post should you find the time or inclination. I really need to get on with the rest of my review, which has not even touched on The Dark Knight Rises and I have already hit over one thousand words.

the dark knight

The anticipation for the first sequel was high, extremely high. The sudden death of star Heath Ledger just added to the intense atmosphere. Pav went to see the movie with Barry on Thursday 24th July in Oxford but I waited twenty four hours to catch the same movie at the same theatre in probably the same auditorium. As the queues had been so big, our friend Clive had sneaked into the toilets and then quickly jumped the queue to save us some seats while I queued with a friend. The movie was amazing, I never thought Batman would ever appear on the silver screen and be portrayed so true the comic books but with a realism you could believe in without the whole thing turning into a camp pantomime. The Joker was an incredible foe and the theme of chaos wrecked havoc in Gotham. The film is so good that it could have been split in two, with part one before Harvey Dent takes on the persona of Two-Face. Part Two with him hell bent on revenge. The lasting image for me, will forever be Batman rushing from the final scene, in between cargo crates racing from Gotham’s Finest. When will we see The Dark Knight again?

The build up to the final chapter in the trilogy began for me, when the first teaser poster was released. This was over a year before the movie would be released in cinemas. Some five months later, I watched the prologue at the BFI IMAX in Southbank before Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Anticipation for the movie could not be higher, even if I could barely make out the Bane dialogue. I wanted to see the film at the IMAX on opening night (Friday 20th July). This was a big ask, but I knew when tickets would be released I would login as soon as I got to the office at 7:30am and not have any problems surely. I was to be proved so wrong. The BFI decided to roll out a brand new booking system for the biggest movie of the year (if not the decade). They released tickets at 2am (which is hardly useful if you work a day job like most people). I tried over the course of the morning and then gave up, e-mailing my brother-in-law to let him know of my failure. I took out some of my frustrations on Twitter The plan had been to book four tickets (Michelle, Steve, Magda and myself) for Friday evening. I was keen to the see the movie as soon as possible and knew somebody would ruin the story for me, if I saw it later. In fact, I believe I won an exceptional battle in avoiding the third trailer all together. I heard that it gave away too many plot points, so therefore avoided it like the plaque. Not an easy task in the modern era, with constant internet access and mobile phones that can stream a YouTube video within seconds. I believed that not knowing so much about the film, would make the concluding part of the trilogy a much more enjoyable experience. I also have not been to the cinema since The Avengers way back in late April. The was a subconscious decision as there was little that I wanted to watch at the cinema but our weekends themselves have been too busy for a cinema trip and our usual Tuesday night SuperSaver night at Empire has been replaced by the weekly food shopping trip.

On Steve’s suggestion, I decided to book tickets at Westfield Vue in Hammersmith for the opening night on one of their Xtreme screens. Michelle and I had been here to watch Clash Of The Titans and Iron Man 2 back in 2010 (in both cases in 3D, if my memory serves) and had been impressed with both the picture and sound. This was not IMAX and I am not trying to make up for not securing tickets at the biggest screen in the country but this was a fair substitute considering my limited alternatives. It allowed us all to catch the film on opening night, which for me was the most important thing. Magda could not make the viewing as she was working a late shift, so Steve’s friend Ali, came along instead. The anticipation could not be higher and I had been looking forward to 4:30pm on Friday. The moment I would walk out my office and make the trip into London to meet up with Steve and Michelle for some food before we headed to the cinema for 8pm. I had booked tickets as soon as they had become available on the Vue website and secured seats perfectly in the middle. We were all set.

The Dark Knight Rises

Rather than ruin the film for those yet to see it, let me just give a very quick summary. Simply the best film of the year. Perfectly put together with a great story, tying up of all the lose ends (which some trilogies fail to do) but beforehand taking us on a thrilling ride through the winter streets of Gotham City. While this may sound rather biased (as I have just seen the movie a few hours ago) it has automatically become my favourite of the trilogy even though The Dark Knight has a awesome story. Here we see Batman in pain, something that he has never truly had to content with in the previous two movies. I would like to go and see the movie again at IMAX at some point over the summer. Never before (for a Western film) have I heard people clap and cheer as the credits appear on the screen. Of course this is common practice on the subcontinent at end of a three hour plus Bollywood spectacular. I do not believe there will be a super hero movie put together as well as this. This is not to say I will stop watching the genre, because this is far from pure perfection. There are holes and some negative aspects but overall, if you consider each film a chapter, the three movies work so well as a story arc. I am trying my best to not give too much away, as I too would hate to have this film ruined for me. I liked the notion of not knowing that much walking into the cinema but with my expectations set into the stratosphere would it live up to all the hype? It did and then some more. I could not fault the direction, the vision, the effort put into bringing such an icon character to the screen but after so many failed and pitiful attempts, actually doing The Caped Crusader justice. My only hope now is that Warner Brothers are content with the Nolan trilogy and decide not to revisit this character for many years to come (a minimum of a decade if not longer). Why would we need to be re-told the story again? If we are to come back to Gotham, perhaps we return to life after Batman… surely there will be another masked man willing to become the symbol of justice for the city.

I must end with a funny story. You know the company you are with are enjoying the film, when at every awe inspiring moment, they knock their knee into yours. I am so glad I got to see this movie on release night but also that I went to see it with one of the biggest Batman fans I know – my brother-in-law – Steve!

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