EW reviews four new ''Batman'' releases -- We give grades to the Dark Knight's stack of new DVD releases

EW reviews four new ”Batman” releases

To Robin or not to Robin? That seems to be the central question when putting Batman on the silver screen. Well, judging by the slew of Caped Crusader titles being released this week, the answer is clear: The Boy Wonder is not so wonderful.

Young Dick Grayson is noticeably absent in all the best films, and in his commentary for 1989’s Batman, director Tim Burton bluntly explains why: ”It’s hard to come up with a psychological profile for a guy wearing a little red outfit with green booties.” The centerpiece of Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997, Burton’s film presented a bold new vision of the masked avenger, one which did away with the Bam! Pow! Thwack! title cards and instead — in Burton’s words — set about ”exploring the dark recesses of the mind.” Batman and Batman Returns changed the way comic-book movies were made, and the bonus features do not shy away from tackling some of the more controversial aspects, such as Alfred admitting Vicki Vale into the Batcave (”I haven’t been able to go to a convention since,” says Burton of the immense fan disapproval). Sean Young also discusses being forced out of the first film by injury and then unsuccessfully campaigning — in costume, no less — to play Catwoman in the second, and Burton reveals that he didn’t quit after Returns — he wasn’t asked back.

Joel Schumacher took over with Batman Forever, and by the time he mopped up with the insanely over-the-top Batman & Robin, the franchise was drowning in a big bubbling pool of Velveeta. Still, this just might be the must-see movie in the eight-disc package, if only for Schumacher’s super-candid commentary track. In what basically amounts to an anatomy of a disaster, Schumacher takes ”full responsibility” for what he says was an attempt to make the film ”lighter” and more ”kid-friendly,” even mentioning all the cross-promotions and concessions to toy manufacturers that ultimately doomed the film. (At one point, he actually flat-out apologizes for the entire movie!)

No apologies necessary for Batman Begins, with Christopher Nolan getting back to Burton’s darker, deeper vision. It delves so deep into the hero’s origins that, if anything, the movie loses some steam once Christian Bale actually dons the cape and cowl. Purists will delight in the two-disc packaging, which includes not only a 72-page book but also an interactive comic/ menu leading to loads of extras (Bale initially put on too much weight and crew members called the star ”Fatman”) and hidden delights (some nifty stunt tests).

For a somewhat surreal take on the Bob Kane comic, check out Batman: The Complete 1943 Movie Serial Collection, which gathers all 15 installments of the low-budget serial. A clear product of World War II fervor, the films feature a Japanese villain named Dr. Daka (played by the Irish J. Carrol Naish), who promises to use his ray gun and zombies to ”destroy the democratic forces of evil in the United States to make way for the new order.” There are also references to internment camps and how our ”wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs.” Racism or Robin? We blame both. Anthology: A- Begins: A- Serial: C-

Batman Begins
  • Movie
  • 137 minutes