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Movie Opinion: The Michael Keaton Batman Trilogy - Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), The Flash (2023)

The Michael Keaton Batman Trilogy on DVD.
The Michael Keaton Batman Trilogy on DVD.

Despite its questionable CGI, troubled star, and the turmoil surrounding the DCEU's future when it was released, 2023's, The Flash does give us a new, and probably final, installment in Michael Keaton's run as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

With that in mind, this holiday season, I had a real itch to spend a day binge watching what is now The Michael Keaton, Batman Trilogy

To give you some context, I own every Batman movie (except Pattinson's The Batman) on DVD, and every DCEU movie up to The Flash. The ones I don't own are only missing because I haven't gotten around to buying them, and they're likely still available on a streaming service I'm subscribed to.

I've had Keaton's first two Batman movies in my collection for the best part of two decades but I can count on one hand how many times I've watched each. The last time was more than a decade ago. 

Before I watched them recently, if you'd have asked me which movie Billy Dee Williams appeared in as Harvey Dent, my first answer would've likely been Batman Returns. Not just because I'd forgotten it was the first film but also because, in an interview, Billy said he was hoping to reprise his role and come back as Two Face - so my memory just assumes he was in Batman Returns because Two Face appears in the next Batman movie, Batman Forever, played by Tommy Lee Jones.

In contrast, I've watched The Flash more times this year than any other superhero film I own (and I have almost the entire MCU on DVD too). It is my favorite Superhero movie. It's fun, has a fairly solid, almost self contained story, has my preferred Flash, my two favorite Batmen, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, in it, and deals with my three favorite subject matters, superheroes, science fiction, and time travel.

My intention here is not to review the three films. I've already reviewed The Flash and I don't think anyone needs my review of Batman and Batman Returns at this point. I just wanted to express a few thoughts on each film and how the first two hold up against the third, modern era film.

Batman (1989)

Batman and the Joker, Batman (1989)
Batman (1989)
It's fortunate that Tim Burton chose to stylistically set his Batman in an undisclosed time period that kind of looks like post war nineteen fifties America but not really. Somehow it keeps the movie from feeling dated, even though all of Joker's goons are wearing nicely pressed, pin striped suits and hats while on the job.

As such the movie holds up. It does a good job of establishing Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne/Batman, with all his wonderful toys, and we get the now familiar, Danny Elfman, Batman theme music.

I still like it, though its pacing is slower than I remember it, and Billy Dee Williams is in it a lot more than I remember.

Over the years you kind of remember this movie fondly for specific scenes and quotes that get replayed over and over whenever the film is referenced, and particularly for Jack Nicolson's Joker (which I do like).

Batman Returns (1992)

Cat Woman and Batman, Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Returns (1992)
I've always struggled with Batman Returns. On the one hand it's an equally good Batman movie on par with the first. On the other, I don't like how Tim Burton took the Penguin's origin story quite so literally (as a baby raised by penguins in the sewers). 

I could almost forgive it but then we get that awful Penguin death sequence with actual penguins performing some kind of funeral ritual, that adds nothing to anything really. I think I would much rather have seen the Penguin go to jail (or, I guess, Arkham) to be honest.

Other than that it's a fun movie. I wouldn't say it was particularly darker than the first, just more gothic, and more Tim Burton-y. A lot of the exterior shots of various buildings and the Penguin's Zoo hideout remind me of Tim's The Nightmare Before Christmas that he was probably working on at the time but wouldn't release until 1993.

Regardless, this film also benefits from the non specific time period, and is mostly associated with  Michelle Pfeiffer's Cat Woman. Again, it's a film remembered for specific scenes and quotes more than anything.

The Flash (2023)

Batman fights Nam-Ek, The Flash (2023)
The Flash (2023)
As already stated, I love this film. I don't care about the questionable CGI in the Chrono bowl (you don't know, maybe a Chrono bowl looks like that, you've never seen one!),  or the weird baby CGI. The real crime there is they spent far too much money to make a 'baby shower' joke. And yes, even when Barry's head looks clearly CGI-ed onto his body, or that weird running style (honestly, why couldn't they have just made his running look cool instead of weird?).

Putting all that to one side, Michael Keaton's Batman gets an upgrade and is far more impressive here than he ever was in the two previous movies combined.

There's not one single fight sequence in his first two films that you can say is the best fight scene you've ever seen. Not even when his films were released. 

By contrast, this time around you get a Michael Keaton Batman that goes one on one,  without armor or Kryptonite, with the biggest Kryptonian. You know it's futile but it's cooler than anything Ben's Batman did in Batman Vs Superman's iconic armor suited fight.

You also get the coolest version of Michael's Bat Wing in a more real world environment, which at one point, Batman uses it to take down two Kryptonian ships in one go.

On a smaller scale, Bruce explaining how time travel works is the most thought provoking part of the movie, since it's a kind of new take on time travel (at least for me anyway).

Then he's definitely the MVP of the Super girl jail break with action to rival Ben's warehouse fight in BvS... honorable mention to Super girl here who has one of the best superhero fights in this sequence of any superhero movie ever (in my opinion).

For me The Flash is the most rewatchable of the three movies. It's modern style, special effects, visual effects, stunt work, real world environments, and genuinely more exciting action sequences, sets it apart from the previous two films that never went further than shooting on a studio backlot or sound stage.

The real icing on the cake is getting to see modern film making applied to the first 'serious', big screen Batman. Yes, he is serious, even if the films don't seem that way now. Michael's Bruce and Batman is thoughtful, reflective, calculating (literally sometimes), and get the job done kind of people. He doesn't light up a room with his jokes or charisma.

The best being, that he does not look out of place or even feel like he's too old to be Batman. While I could watch a whole new movie of Michael Keaton's Batman, it's unlikely to happen. I'm grateful we at least got a significant amount of him in The Flash that is the coolest showing of the character yet.

The movie definitely did not get his Batman wrong.

Comments

  1. Great article! Like you, I was stoked when I heard Keaton was returning (I saw Batman and Batman Returns in cinemas, and I've owned them since they were available to buy - on VHS, and now on DVD). When The Flash came out I saw it pretty quickly, and bought the Blu-ray in its first week of release.

    I've always preferred Batman Returns over Batman (Returns ties with The Dark Knight and The Batman for my favourite Batman movies). The Flash was epic. Miller was fantastic in both roles, Keaton absolutely rocked, and Sasha Calle did great with what she was given. Seeing Keaton in action again was a dream. The guy had lost a step. I liked that his fighting style was more 'comic booky' than his earlier films would allow (plus it makes sense that he would have evolved as a fighter over the years). I've seen people say that The Flash can't really count as the third part of a Keaton trilogy as,
    1. It's a Flash film. Well, it's actually a Flash AND a Batman film.
    2. The Flash didn't build on any themes from Keaton's first two films, to create an overall narrative(!). Yeah, I don't recall Batman Returns exactly building on Batman either. Vicki Vale didn't return and was dispensed with in a couple of lines; Joker obviously didn't return; Alfred was exactly the same (bless him), and Commissioner Gordon had even less to do than in the first one!

    As far as I'm concerned, this was absolutely the long-awaited third part of Keaton's trilogy, and I'm so pleased we got it. If the stars align and we ever get a Keaton Batman Beyond, fantastic. If not, at least we have this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *The guy HADN'T lost a step.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Graham for taking the time to leave your thoughts.

      There are plenty of arguments against The Flash being part of a Keaton Trilogy, not least, it wasn't written or directed by Tim Burton. Although Tim wasn't really making a continuing story arc with his films, including the third one he pitched but didn't make. Other than the reference to Vicki Vale in Returns there's no real carry forward of any story in his Batman films.

      From my point of view, it's a part of a trilogy if you want it to be. There's a clear progression from Batman Returns to The Flash with a story arc that his Batman was no longer needed.

      I didn't mention it in my article but, if you wanted to, you could use Batman the Animated Series as a substitute for the time between Returns and the Flash.

      Kevin Conroy's Batman and his world take a lot of inspiration from the Burton films in their look and style (same non specific but somewhat 1950's-ish time period). I just didn't mention it because many fans feel Conroy's Batman is iconic to the point where many thought he should get a shot at playing live action Batman too. I'm not as invested in his Batman because I prefer live action to animated versions (and I recently rewatched that entire series).

      But yes, I'm also pleased that Keaton got to come back, and not just as a cameo but in very much a supporting role. It may have been called 'The Flash' but a lot of it was a team up movie.

      I'm not particularly interested in Keaton in a Batman Beyond movie. I haven't seen it but from what I understand you'd see more of Keaton as Bruce Wayne than you would Batman. I like his Batman and would rather see a new Batman story. The Flash demonstrated he could totally do it without seeming like he's too old to be Batman.

      Delete
    3. Hi David
      Funnily enough I rewatched the whole of BTAS just a short while ago (fantastic show). Yes, the Burton influence on the show is obvious (even down to Shirley Walker's music!). The problem for me with seeing it as the 'lost years' between Batman Returns and The Flash is the Joker. I can't see how he can still be around after having been killed off in Burton''s first film. Conroy and Hamill were superb of course (as was the sadly recently departed Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn - she had me in absolute stitches). It's true that Batman Beyond wouldn't really have Bruce in the suit (for that reason if they ever made it with Clooney if Keaton wasn't available I'd be okay with it! 😂). I absolutely agree though that Keaton could still carry a movie as an older, suited-up Batman!

      Delete

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