1997 was a conflicting year for me. On one hand, six-year-old me was enjoying the high life, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, playing Nintendo 64 and finally learning to wipe my own butt (just kidding, I still haven’t learned). On the other, however, I was being taught an agonizing lesson in disappointment and how even the greatest heroes can fall from grace and bring shame upon themselves and their fandoms. That disappointment came in the form of Batman & Robin, a film so bad that a f***ing six-year-old noticed.
Let that sink in.
How, though, did Batman & Robin go so terribly wrong? Were the direction of Joel Schumacher and the script by Akiva Goldsman to blame? Could the fault be placed on the terrible performances of each esteemed hero or villain in the film? WAS IT THE BAT NIPPLES? If you answered “yes” to any or all of those questions, pat yourself on the back because those things are definitely big factors in regard to the film’s suckage.
According to actors in the film, not even the experience of making the infamous Batman flick was worthwhile, with Chris O’Donnell (Robin) suggesting that he felt like he was making “a kid’s toy commercial,” and John Glover (Dr. Jason Woodrue) explaining that director Schumacher would sit on a crane with a megaphone before each take and yell, “Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon.”
It seems that nothing about the production of Batman & Robin, except for the Grammy-winning song by The Smashing Pumpkins that was featured on the soundtrack, went the way anyone had hoped. Critics panned the film, it under-performed at the box office, and all plans for a sequel were immediately dismissed.
Fast forward to 2005. Long gone were the days of the high life. The Nintendo 64 had been replaced with the PlayStation 2, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had been traded for grilled cheeses (I could cook now!), and not knowing how to wipe my own butt had been replaced by, well, nothing at all. This is a real problem, guys.
Something that proved to be quite the opposite of a problem, though, was the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to revitalize the hero on the big screen, one of which was a no-go pitch by Joss Whedon, Warner Bros. hired Nolan to direct a darker take on Batman from a script by himself and David S. Goyer. The film told the origin story of young Bruce Wayne, from the death of his parents as a boy to his training with the League of Shadows, and saw Wayne accept his role as a hero and save Gotham for the first time.
Widely considered to be one of the greatest Batman movies ever made, Batman Begins received widespread critical acclaim and was plentiful at the box office, earning the studio a profit greater than $220 million even with fans of the Bat hesitant to give the hero a chance. Millions turned to billions, however, when 2008 saw the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel- a film that’s often regarded as the greatest superhero film of all time:
The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight picked up not long after the events of Batman Begins, introducing the Joker to audiences and utilizing him perfectly throughout the film. Where The Dark Knight sets itself apart from other films in the superhero genre, however, is in its execution of what it means to be a “superhero” film. Part of the mastery of Christopher Nolan is that, first and foremost, The Dark Knight is a thrilling crime drama- albeit with comic book characters. Nolan approached the source material in a realistic way we’d not seen in previous live-action iterations of Batman, thus giving audiences their first prestigious superhero flick.
Secondly, what sets The Dark Knight apart from other comic book films are the compelling performances- particularly by Heath Ledger as the Joker, for which he was posthumously awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Ledger’s performance is haunting, mad, and entirely unforgettable, which adds to the ever-prevalent dark tone set by Nolan.
The film received acclaim from critics worldwide, earning a 94% approval rating from review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, and grossed more than a billion dollars at the box office. Batman was back and he was bigger than ever.
The Caped Crusader returned in 2012 for the final film of Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, earning MORE money at the box office than even its predecessor, even though the reviews weren’t quite as glowing. With a script and story that were inspired by A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Rises is the most thematically heavy live-action Batman adaptation- and though the film divides audiences to this day, it remains (for better and worse) the most ambitious solo-Batman film to date (and far better than any film featuring the hero since its release).
After Schumacher’s disaster of a film, revitalizing Batman on the big screen seemed like an impossible task to succeed at, especially in regard to how risky it was for studios to put faith in the project. Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight trilogy made Batman bankable again, giving audiences two great (and one perfect) superhero films and proving once and for all that you should never bet against the Bat.
From Bat-nipples to box-office billions, The Dark Knight trilogy was the hero Batman deserved.