For all the many elements in the trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice that excel in creating intrigue and interest, there are also a few that have elicited some unintended responses. In particular, Ben Affleck’s Bat-battle suit that he deploys in his titular brawl against Henry Cavil’s Man of Steel – those glowing eyes could be enough to derail the film’s ultra-serious vibe and drive it squarely into the cartoon realm.
It got us thinking that this has actually been something of a pattern with the Batman films, since the very beginning of the franchise’s modern roots, with 1989’s Batman – otherwise serious and well-meaning productions have a rather consistent number of absolutely silly moments strewn throughout them. (And that, of course, is not to mention the two Joel Schumacher Bat-movies that manage to reverse this trend, which consist of thoroughly asinine stories that somehow manage to land one or two somewhat serious or otherwise respectable moments.) There are 14 specifics that we managed to nail down, and going through them might help audiences better accept the potential absurdities, small or great, that may be lying in wait in director Zack Synder’s upcoming team-up.
Let’s head through our list of the 14 Most Ridiculous Moments in Batman Movies chronologically, starting with the very beginning, 26 years ago.
Batman (1989): The Prince soundtrack
There are so many elements that director Tim Burton instituted that have withstood the test of time, all the way through to next year’s Batman v. Superman: the look, design, and handling of the Batsuit and the Batmobile, the atmosphere of Gotham City, and the more detailed, arguably more realistic take on the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery (even if the actors selected for those roles played them to the hilt).
With all that said, however, there is one particular item that not only instantly sticks out like a sore thumb, but which forever dates what could have been a timeless story: the inclusion of Prince songs, quite loudly and quite often.
The idea, of course, wasn’t Burton’s – Warner Bros. saw a chance to tie one of its biggest movie franchises with one of its biggest musical artists, and it couldn’t resist the synergistic urge – but the effect the singer’s presence has on the movie is to make it feel at times like a musical, with entire sequences devoted to the very period-specific music. Chief among these is Joker (Jack Nicholson) and crew defacing the various pieces of artwork in the Gotham City Art Museum while dancing to “Partyman,” replete with Nicholson gleefully engaging in a wide repertoire of eccentric dance moves.
Batman: Batman Really is a Bat
Just how crazy is the Dark Knight?
It’s not enough that Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) invites intrepid reporter Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) back to his mansion for a little hanky-panky – he also has to sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and strap himself to some sort of apparatus and hang upside down, rocking back and forth in an effort, apparently, to comfort himself. The scene was an oddity back then, and now, nearly three decades later, it stands out even more.
What was its purpose – to show how psychologically damaged Bruce is? That he’s going through some kind of withdrawal since his lady-friend is preventing him from prowling the streets at night? That he’s secretly a performance artist at heart and is happy to have a private audience at last?
Batman Returns (1992): The Duckmobile
Batman Returns is a deliciously surreal production, thoroughly blending the lines between a traditional Bat-adventure and Burton’s own gothic aesthetic (which is why, to this day, it is easily the most divisive Batman). That the Penguin (Danny DeVito) is made to be the head of the Red Triangle Circus Gang is no surprise, then, considering that his trademark multi-purpose umbrellas fit right into the colorful, wacky spirit of the circus entourage.
Still, seeing the Penguin’s signature “Duckmobile” (called the “Duck Tank” by many, including toy manufacturers) makes viewers do a double-take, as it seems to jeopardize that rather precarious balance between absurdity and realism. It’s an unquestionably silly occurrence, and one that is, sadly (and inexplicably), further immortalized by the duck tank’s portrayal on the Batskiboat’s radar screen.
Batman Returns: Catwoman’s Nine Lives
Taking the whole “cat” part of the Catwoman persona way too literally, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) acts as if she actually has nine lives – and, even more incredulously, so does the movie. From falling off of buildings to being electrocuted and shot… repeatedly… at close range (with no blood, of course), Catwoman keeps on ticking like some kind of deranged Terminator, emerging with her ninth and final life at the very end of the movie, poised to jump off into her own spin-off film (which never happened, the Halle Berry-starring Catwoman notwithstanding).
The icing on the feline cake? Her first death – when corrupt businessman Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) throws her out the window of a skyscraper – actually would have been her final one had it not been for a whole swarm of alley cats that come pouring out of the woodwork and jumpstart her heart by using static electricity (transmitted by constantly moving over her and, strangely enough, gnawing on her fingers).
Batman Forever (1995): Bat Booty Call
Let’s just come out and say it upfront: for all its nostalgic appeal, Batman Forever is a mess of a movie. Hardly any elements work in the film in and of themselves, let alone together as a complete and holistic entity, making some 90% of it absurd to one degree or another.
Still, there are some elements that are more asinine than others, and the worst is probably Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), Batman’s (Val Kilmer) love interest, who actually comes across more as a Bat-stalker: she uses the Bat-signal as a “beeper,” in the Dark Knight’s own (terrible) words, then proceeds to disrobe, attempting to get under his cape. Later on in the movie, Bruce decides that maybe having a lady friend wouldn’t be a bad decision after all, and enters her bedroom in full Bat regalia, apparently ready to consummate the relationship (and reveal his secret identity in the process).
Batman Forever: Riding Brain Waves
Forget organized crime, corrupt businessmen, or legendary guilds of assassins – Batman Forever’s premise focuses on a device that can beam television signals directly into an individual’s brain and, in the process, extract his intelligence and turn him into a brain-washed zombie. It might have played more as science-fiction than cheesy comedy if it weren’t for the brightly-colored, wisecracking villains that deployed it: the film’s very campy interpretations of Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey).
Compounding the situation is Bruce Wayne’s inexplicable actions regarding the doohickey. When at a party celebrating inventor Edward Nygma’s success with the device, he secretly uses it on himself, even though the highly valuable nature of his secret identity would probably make such a move prohibitive.
Batman Forever: Jim Carrey
The most egregious part of Batman Forever, however, is Jim Carrey’s performance as The Riddler, the film’s central villain. The comedian’s performance makes even the broad portrayals of Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer from the previous installment look subdued and nuanced; he plays Edward Nygma as maniacally as he did the Mask just the year before – or Ace Ventura, or Dumb and Dumber’s Lloyd Christmas or, for that matter, nearly any of his other roles. It often feels like Batman is battling Jim Carrey, rather than The Riddler, destroying any possibility that the viewer might immerse him or herself in the story.
Of course, the situation isn’t helped by director Joel Schumacher, who was expressly hired by Warner Bros. to make the production as commercially viable as possible. His creative decisions include the placement of Riddler at the center of a musical interlude (“Bad Days” by The Flaming Lips) and giving the character neon-pink hair. But the real kicker here? The fourth-wall breaking bit where Riddler, having invaded the Batcave, pretends to be a professional pitcher, tossing his bombs about, replete with baseball music.
Batman & Robin (1997): Every Single Minute of It
Batman & Robin is, without question, the epitome of unchecked commercialism: an unholy storm of a youth-targeted studio directives, shortened production schedules, and merchandise tie-ins. Though it should be stated that even without such a cavalcade of executive demands, it would have been doomed to abysmal failure by its core creative team.
Silver Batsuits (with those infamous nipples), Godzilla-sized statues littering the Gotham landscape, dragster Batmobiles, hoverboard-wielding Batman and Robin, the Bat-credit card (“never leave the cave without it!”), and, of course, the absurd performances of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy – it’s a nonstop parade of awful that makes it nearly impossible to find an element that isn’t ludicrous.
Batman Begins (2005): Cardboard Cut-Out Characters
Director Chris Nolan attempted to institute a gritty sense of reality with his rebooted Batman trilogy and, for the most part, the attempt worked. The only downside to such a “hyper-realistic” approach, however, is that the heightened realism makes the artificial elements of the film stand out all the more.
Case in point: the character of Rachel Dawes is nothing short of a walking, talking cardboard cutout, a cliché that doesn’t engage in dialogue so much as spit out stilted, clumsy monologues on the Meaning of Life. Of course, it doesn’t help that the original actress, Katie Holmes, gave a flat, lifeless performance, but the material she was saddled with would have been a burden to any performer – more exposition than emotion, more awkward speechifying than emotional engagement.
But the artificiality of Batman Begins’s characterizations isn’t contained to just Rachel; Dr. Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache) is another great example of a stereotype rather than the three-dimensional characters that this story should have delivered. Much like Ms. Dawes, every line of dialogue the character issues is some type of fortune cookie-wisdom, delivered without any hint of emotion – especially when, after being shot in an alley by Joe Chill, the character stoically tells Bruce to not be scared instead of bleeding and gasping and grimacing as he’s about to die.
Batman Begins: The Bat-Voice
Actor Christian Bale took it upon himself to reinvent the character of Batman just as much as his director for their new series of movies, and the brunt of his work pays off in spades in the finished product: a resonant, dynamic Bruce Wayne, struggling with justice and redemption and finding his way in the world. It’s not only the first – and, so far, only – time in the Bat-film franchise that audiences care about Bruce more than Batman, it’s also the first time that they ever even stop to consider Bruce as a character in and of himself.
If only his take on the Caped Crusader were as successful. Though the actor mostly goes with the precedent that Michael Keaton established 16 years earlier, there was one key area where he decided to make his own mark: the voice. Rather than the subdued, raspy, menacing voice that all previous actors utilized, Bale instead opts for a booming growl that never once hits the mark and always pushes the ultra-serious approach of the movie(s) right back into the campy arena that Joel Schumacher so hilariously perfected.
The Dark Knight (2008): The Joker’s Insanely Convoluted Plan
Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker is sublime, offering a gold standard for a villain in a superhero film that may, perhaps, never be bested, let alone reached. Even better, most of the larger filmmaking dimensions surrounding the character – his lighting, musical themes, cinematography – all build off of one another to create a truly lasting cinematic legacy.
Except for the story, that is. On the face of it, the Joker’s plans to steal the mob’s money, engage in a never-ending battle of wits with Batman, and break Gotham City’s faith in humanity are certainly ambitious, but they’re also implausible. From kidnapping reporters to staging elaborate assassination attempts to planting bombs in hospitals, the Joker does it all with a level of skill – and an amount of money, resources, and time – that rivals any evil organization that James Bond has contended with over the past 50 years.
His plans might actually require the clairvoyance and manipulation of a Dark Lord of the Sith, using the Force. Just seeing the man and his motley crew of gangsters running around, setting up the next mouse trap, could easily be a film in and of itself.
The Dark Knight: Two-Face’s Face
When District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is severely injured by the Joker, half of his face is almost completely burned off. Given Christopher Nolan’s interest in realism, the wound is nothing short of ghastly – both his eyeball and nearly the entire left side of his jaw are exposed, surrounded by copious a amount of blackened skin. The wound is so bad, in fact, that when he takes a gulp of liquor, it splashes right through the gaping hole in his mouth and down onto his equally-charred suit.
And while this creates a nice counterpoint to the cartoony, buffoonish depiction of the character seen in Batman Forever, it still leaves something of a realistic question: just how can Harvey Two-Face even be conscious, let alone walking around and flipping coins to get his vengeance? A person with injuries that extensive would be on so many medications, he wouldn’t be able to function anywhere near to the degree seen in the film – and if he weren’t on meds, he’d be blacked out from the sheer pain of it all.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Bruce’s Injuries
Speaking of injuries too grievous to overcome – such a physical impossibility lies at the very center of Nolan’s trilogy-ender, The Dark Knight Rises. Bruce Wayne, already having sustained too many injuries since last we saw him (even though he wasn’t worn the cape and cowl in that eight-year period), goes to battle against the villainous Bane (Tom Hardy), who easily bests him and then, as the painful cherry on top, breaks the Caped Crusader’s back over his knee.
Despite being paralyzed from the waist down, Bruce vows to never give up, and ends up healing his broken back by (a) having an erstwhile doctor punch his vertebra back in place, (b) hanging from the ceiling for months, and (c) the sheer force of his indomitable will. In no time at all, he’s not only back on his feet, but in better shape than ever before!
The Dark Knight Rises: Talia al Ghul
It’s not enough that the Joker had a ridiculously byzantine plan in The Dark Knight. For his trilogy’s climax, Nolan wanted his new villain to go out with a bang – literally.
In Dark Knight Rises’s big twist (spoilers ahead!), it’s revealed that Bane is just a front man, with Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard) being the real power sitting on the League of Shadows’ throne. Her plan was to direct Gotham’s utter destruction, thereby realizing her late father’s goal. In the meantime, she has gotten so close to Bruce Wayne that she serves on the board of directors of his company and also became romantically involved with him. All told, it’s a two-year plan, filled with an insane amount of patience, manipulation and dedication, as she’s willing to sacrifice her own life – along with those of Bane and all her League followers – just to ensure that Gotham crumbles.
Now that’s dedication – and some serious ridiculousness.
Did we miss a ridiculous moment that mars an otherwise sound Batman installment? Do you disagree with the examples we cite? Be sure to make your opinion known in the comments below.