A new set of six movie posters have been hung in ComicReaders Downtown and if you’re a fan of Batman I’d suggest you come in for a look before they rotate out because on the walls are three very different types of films about the Caped Crusader.
The best place to view this particular set is smack dab in the middle of the store, in the aisle created by the kid-friendly graphic novels and the over-sized manga. From that spot you can view all six posters easily with a simple swivel of your head.
Facing west, you’ll see three posters for Batman Begins, the first in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. I remember getting very excited when I heard Christopher Nolan was directing and had a hand in writing Batman Begins. This was the man responsible for Memento, a film that had opened my eyes to a new way of telling a story in film. I knew if someone could bring the dark to the Dark Knight it would be him. Looking at the three posters you’ll notice how the colors used and the images depicted match the tone of the film itself.
Now turn your head south and you’ll see two posters in stark contrast with those of Batman Begins. First up is Batman Forever.
Tim Burton left the franchise after Batman Returns. Joel Schumacher stepped into the director’s chair and Val Kilmer slid into the cape and cowl. Jim Carrey is pulling a face as Riddler. Behind that maniacal visage is Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face in a suit made of garish animal prints. He looks more devilish then devil. You see that poster and you know the gothic feel established by Tim Burton has been tossed out the window.
But even the vibrancy of Batman Forever pales when set alongside the poster for Batman and Robin, the Batman movie that killed the franchise. (George Clooney apologized for the film; director Schumacher blamed studio interference; and Warner Bros. torpedoed the planned fifth film which would have featured Scarecrow and Harley Quinn as villains.)
When Batman Forever was in theatres in 1995 I was a year out of high school. I thought the tonal shift was a blend of what I liked in Burton’s Batman flicks and what I fondly remembered from the 1960s Batman television show (for which I have much love) and the lighter tone and brighter colors of old comics. Jim Carrey was fresh from Ace Ventura and The Mask. I wanted to see his zaniness. Tommy Lee Jones was, for me, one of the coolest dudes in cinema, with scene stealing roles in The Fugitive, Blown Away, and Natural Born Killers. I wanted to see him spit and snarl and toss his scarred coin.
But there was no part of me that wanted anything to do with Batman and Robin. Arnold Swarzenegger’s last good movie was True Lies in 1994. Last Action Hero, Junior, Eraser, Jingle All the Way removed Arnold from my list of movie heroes. So when he showed up on posters and commercials as Mr. Freeze I knew this was something I did not want to watch. Salt in the wounds was that Alicia Silverstone was Batgirl. She did not strike me as tough enough to play the part. Even Uma Thurman in tights couldn’t coax me into giving up the money I’d earned selling smokes and bread on the backshift at a convenience store.
The final poster in the set is for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, an animated feature initially intended for a direct-to-video release but ultimately ushered into theatres.
The year was 1993. Batman: The Animated Series was one year into the four year run that would have many claim it as one of the best animated television shows ever produced and certainly the best animated Batman series ever made. This is the series that, for Batman fans, got everything right. It is also the series that introduced Harley Quinn and Detective Montoya. (Both would later be written into Batman comics.) And it gave us Mark Hamill as the voice of The Joker.
1993 was one year after Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, which had done exceptionally well at the box office. There was without a doubt a heighted interest in Batman thanks to the Burton films and the animated series. It only made sense that Mask of the Phantasm would hit theatres, complete with a McDonald’s tie-in—fantastically rendered sculpted glass mugs.
I was in the theatre with my buddy Jeff (and probably our girlfriends). We were both fans of the animated series and had high hopes when the lights dimmed. Then the opening credits came on with Shirley Walker’s score and the computer generated images of Gotham’s skyline and a sweat broke out on my brow and my heart started beating faster. This was going to be awesome.
And it was.
For me, Mask of the Phantasm was the best Batman movie I had ever seen. It managed to replace Tim Burton’s Batman. It was everything the animated series got right but on a bigger scale. It also borrowed from Frank Miller’s Year One (which I had only recently discovered thanks to Jeff). It would remain, for me, the definitive Batman feature film until Christopher Nolan came along.