Greetings! Now that the Dark Knight Rises is in theaters and Nolan's series is officially complete, many have been asking which is a better series: Burton's or Nolan's. Here I have 13 categories based on how the movies were to the comics. I also have a category for music that will be saved for a tiebreaker (if needed). I know that many of you have yet to see the Dark Knight Rises so I will not include spoilers on that. (Note: My favorite Batman series is Burton's so if you disagree with anything let me know in the comments.)
Round 1: Batman
Keaton’s Batman is imposing, brooding and intimidating. The first time we see him, he dangles a thief over the edge of a roof, snarling that he’s not going to kill him. But then he pulls the thief face to face. Even though he said he wasn’t about to kill him, it sure as heck seemed like he was going to do it. His movements might be stiff and his voice might be a little silly, but Keaton simply embodied the role perfectly. You got a sense that this man is angry and he’s going to use that anger to help the people of Gotham.
There is one problem, because Bruce Wayne’s parents are coldly murdered in front of him, which would traumatize him for life and lie the foundations for everything that happens in his life after that point, so he becomes Batman to prevent something like that from ever happening to anyone else. If he chooses to kill someone, he is no better than his parents’ killer, but in Batman, he does kill, twice.
Michael Keaton’s Batman voice might have been silly, but the voice Christian Bale uses in The Dark Knight Trilogy is just flat out ridiculous. Bale spends his entire time as Batman shouting all of his dialogue. Like the scene where he is trying to track down The Joker by interrogating Salvatore Maroni. “WHERE IS HE?!?”, he bellows, followed up by “HE MUST HAVE FRIENDS!!!!”. After shouting a line like that, the believability of Bale as Batman slips away. There's even a scene where he's trying to calm Harvey and he speaks like that. However, Bale is fine in every other area. He is commanding, forceful, and (voice aside) intimidating. He has presence at all times, and not because he’s standing there in a mask and Kevlar armour.
Winner: Michael Keaton In truth, Keaton’s Batman is iconic and stands out, whereas Bale’s is just there. Its neither great, nor is it terrible (voice aside…). Until someone can come along and top it, Michael Keaton is the definitive Batman.
Round 2: Bruce Wayne
Batman's take on the Billionaire Playboy came across as very naive and shy, and in one scene just downright goofy when, in trying to draw the Joker, he grabs a fire poker and shouts "LET’S GET NUTS!" at him. Not something that I believe Bruce would say because in order to sell the idea that Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman, Wayne needs to be the man Gotham expects of him: a disinterested, carefree socialite and Keaton's Wayne was too quiet, too shy and too insular.
Christian Bale’s take in The Dark Knight, however, delivered that. It's exactly how I picture Bruce before the movies: suave and arrogant, maintaining both an air of entitlement and indifference to the world around him. At least, that is how he presents himself. In reality, Bale’s Bruce Wayne is constantly conflicted between his quest for justice and his desire to no longer have to be Batman. He spends the majority of the movie emphasizing the importance of Harvey Dent in Gotham, seeing him as a way out of the world he has created for himself. He also uses his public persona, and what’s expected by him by the tabloids and general public, to his advantage. During a party he hosts for Dent at his Penthouse, he swans in late with some random beauty on his arm, and later swans off into a "panic room" when the Joker arrives so he can change into Batman. It comes as no surprise to anyone at the party. That is exactly the kind of thing Wayne needs to do in order to detract attention away from the idea that he might be Batman.
Winner: Christian Bale Whereas Keaton’s Wayne is simply shy and coy, and often reclusive, Bale’s is a cocky, self indulgent and outgoing aristocrat. For me, he’s just far more believable as a billionaire playboy.
Round 3: The Joker
Jack Nicholson embodies a pretty direct, nearly perfect comic adaptation. This Joker comes complete with an arsenal of whimsical and deadly weapons: acid-squirting flower, electric hand buzzer, prop guns, breakaway hands, poison gas, wind-up teeth and more. A great touch and trademark of the character is leaving his victims with creepy smiles on their faces, creepy imagery matched only by Joker's own twisted grin. Directly adapted from comics. In one scene in the film, Bruce makes a point of saying that the Joker has an affinity for art, science and chemistry as well. Tim Burton's Batman decided to address Joker's origin, and while falling in a vat of chemicals and being permanently scarred is directly drawn from some comic versions, Burton does imply that it is Joker who killed Batman's parents and even kills him off at the end of the film which misses the mark with the relationship between these two rivals and is not in comics.
Nolan's Joker is played much more menacing and scary. His backstory is never explained and his motivations aren't ever completely clear. This makes him much more mysterious and creepy. It also closely ties to the concept when the character was created: "his crimes make sense to him and him alone." The biggest changes are Joker's grungy hair, and scarred smile (which came into comics later). Instead of skin burned white, the Joker's pale look is due to makeup smeared on his face. This is certainly disturbing imagery, but Heath comes closest to looking like his comic counterpart when wearing the trademark purple suit. Nolan's Joker terrorizes Gotham City in a way larger than anyone could imagine, and almost breaks Batman's will to the point of hopelessness. He doesn't have much by way of gags, but he still plays sick mind games with people, including the pencil trick, the phone bomb, most notably, the vandalized playing cards he leaves as clues. The biggest impact he leaves is killing love interest Rachel Dawes. This is about as close to “Death in the Family” as Nolan gets and is certainly effective to Bruce's life.
Winner: Draw This is really hard, but as awesome as Ledger was, Nicholson's Joker cackles and laughs maniacally and constantly which is the defining characteristic of the character on the page. Aside from weighing significantly more than the man (Joker is usually depicted as very thin and lean), Jack Nicholson is basically perfect. Heath Ledger's is more frightening, but Jack Nicholson's is more ACCURATE as the Clown Prince of Crime. BUT because of the death of Heath Ledger and how cool he played the role was I will call this one a tie.
Round 4: Love Interests
Kim Basinger & Michelle PfeifferBatman had Gotham’s reporter extraordinaire as its love interest and Kim Basinger was the actress brought in to step into her expensive shoes. Basinger plays the role exactly as its meant to be: sharp, feisty and flirty when she needs to be in order to get a story. She does, however, have the unfortunate role as damsel in distress frequently throughout the film. In at least three seperate occasions Vale is at the mercy of The Joker, and in every single scene like that all she does is stand there looking scared. Catwoman was a natural progression for the sequel, as she and Vicky have a lot in common, and she is the most famous of all Batman's loves. Burton does lose points for starting Ms Kyle as a nerdy secretary that is “resurrected” from the dead by nibbling cats.
Katie Holmes / Maggie Gylenhall & Anne Hathaway
Chemistry is practically nonexistent between Gylenhall and Christian Bale. These are supposed to be two people that grew up together that have always loved each other deep down but have never really been able to get together. In Batman Begins, you get that from Katie Holmes. You can almost feel the sexual tension radiating out of them. But in Dark Knight, it just seems awkward and, at times, flat. And at no point did I get the sense that she loved Bruce Wayne, or even had the smallest of feelings for him, and that really makes the character pointless. Anne Hathaway, however was an awesome Catwoman but I wont say much more about that.
Winner: Kim Basinger & Michelle Pfeiffer I'm not a big fan of inventing characters for adaptations that already have plenty to choose from. I'm even less a fan of recasting the same character, and breaking consistency. Points easily go to Tim Burton for sticking with women from the comics. Still, TDKR was the first time Nolan drew from the page for his own version of Selena Kyle and she was a really good interpretation of the character.
Round 5: Alfred
I never really felt that Alfred was a real partner in Batman’s crusade. He was always there on hand with advice and assistance, but besides telling Bruce Wayne that Commissioner Gordon had to leave his party early and should look into why, handing his employer files when asked, and for some inexplicable reason allowing a practical stranger into the Batcave, Alfred doesn’t really do anything. Its more or less a literal interpretation of him as a butler. And while Gough’s infectiously charming version is always a joy to watch, it never really struck me as the real deal. But he did provide good companionship and sage advice when Bruce needed it the most. He tells a warm fatherly story after dinner in "Batman", and provides ample warning towards the end of the film. However he also brings Vicky Vale to the Batcave, so that's a fail.
In The Dark Knight Trilogy, Alfred has warmth, spirit, humour and most of all, love. He goes to great lengths to protect his employer, be it trying to remind him that he is only a man and therefore has limitations just like everyone else, arranging alibis or willing him to keep going when he’s at his lowest point, at one point burning a letter revealing the true feelings of Rachael Dawes, the woman Bruce always loved, rather than let him find out the truth. As the films progress we see Alfred in many ways act as a father figure to Bruce rather than a hired helper, and in many ways Alfred is exactly that. He is the only constant in Bruce’s world, has been there for every high and low and has never questioned or attempted to walk away from what is quite frankly a crazy plan.
Winner: Michael Caine Michael Cane's has the insurmountable task of a character that is surprisingly hard to portray. Whereas Michael Gough was sort of “just the butler”, Michael Cane's is more capable- He plays the surrogate, father, but also seems ready to roll up his sleeves for the sake of whatever physical odd jobs may be needed . Be it mechanic or medic, Cane's Alfred seems more the Renaissance man required to serve Bruce AND Batman's needs, all the while never forgetting his place as an employee of Mr. Wayne.
Round 6: Jim Gordon
Hingle’s Commissioner Gordon comes across as ineffective, greedy (just watch him gambling at Wayne Manor if you don’t agree with me) and almost lax in his duties. Despite the threat posed by the Joker killing dozens of people, Gordon’s main concern is the 200 year celebration of Gotham party. There’s a maniac on the loose killing people via seemingly random chemical attacks using everyday household products and he’s worried about a party.
The Dark Knight’s Gordon is a much more hands on interpretation, He frequently liaises and plans with Batman and isn’t afraid to get caught right in the thick of it, at one point faking death in order to trap The Joker. He truly cares about the safety of Gotham and goes above and beyond his abilities, despite being aware that almost everyone he works with is corrupt in some way.
In The Dark Knight he steps up as one of the best supporting performances in a superhero movie ever. Gordon doesn't need Batman because he sucks, he needs Batman because he can't do it alone.
He even hunts down Batman for the safety of his city and so that they will believe in Harvey Dent because Batman is the "Hero that we deserve but not the one we need right now. Something like that having to hunt down a man that you now is innocent really shows that you care for your city.
Winner: Gary Oldman While I can forgive the fact that the Gordon of Batman has yet to establish a bond with Batman, you simply don’t get the feeling that he really cares about Gotham beyond the fact that he has to. He bumbles his was through scenes as light relief and doesn’t really serve much purpose to the story. As such, Gary Oldman’s take is the superior, for me at least.
Round 7: Gotham City
In Batman, Gotham is dark and brooding, a constant Gothic presence, with elements of Noir and Neoclassical. Quite simply, it’s the Gotham you see in all the books. All of the dark and sinister textures and undercurrents are there in Tim Burton’s interpretation. In Returns he took stylization even further with monolithic spires looming everywhere in the city. Burton's movies kind of have an on-set/in-studio feel, but also has a sense that it once was stronghold for industrial and economical growth.
The Gotham of TDK, doesn’t have that feel to it. It's bright, it's clean, it's just like every other major American city. There is no sense that this city is a criminal hotspot. I understand that Christopher Nolan is trying to ground his films in realism, but so long as you are doing a film about a man dressing up as a bat, you simply cannot have true realism. However the Gotham of Batman Begins does show it in the same vein as Burton’s.
Winner: Tim Burton Nolan's real world setting is considered the single greatest aspect of his contribution to Batman. But it is also his handicap. Tim Burton has established a world in which ANY Bat-villain could theoretically exist. Considering Batman has the greatest rogues gallery in comics, this is basically the most important selling point at all for me when it comes to this franchise. I hate to think I couldn't see Mr. Freeze or Clayface in Nolan's-verse because “they just couldn't work.” As a Batman fan, those are never words you want to hear when you go to see these movies.
Round 8: Weapons and Gadgets
Batma has a pretty cool assortment, even though the gadgets and are kept to a minimum. Batman opens with Batman snaring goons with the bola. The films also shows gas pellets, a zipline, the iconic Grappling Gun. The iconic Batmobile is here, and towards the end we even see the Batwing. The Batwing serves no actual purpose but my word does it look great. In Returns the remote-controlled Batarang debuts
We had EMP charges, explosive gel, a Batman costume with some kind of taser style security in case anyone tires to unmask him, a sonar system built into the cowl, a gigantic tank like vehicle that then discharges parts to form a perfectly functional bike, the grapnel, mini-batarangs, and even a tracer in his boot heel that summons bats for assistance. It's in The Dark Knight were they go crazy. A hand cannon that shoots sticky bombs, his gauntlets now fire projectiles, a cool “sky-hook” scene in Honk Kong, and arm braces that can rip through vans.
Winner: Christopher Nolan Nolan goes the extra mile with Batman tech. Here he uses his ear microphone to monitor radios and calls throughout the city, a miniaturized drill for obtaining crime-scene samples, a device to measure radioactivity, other forensics tools, and sonar vision, which plays a key role in the final act. Though Burtons movies were made a while ago so they did not have most of this tech.
Round 9: Costume
Tim Burton's version basically follows the comics, with the yellow chest symbol, bright utility belt, and pronounced pointed ears. But fundamentally, it was pretty radical. The suit was conceptualized as full body armor. If not for this Batman, might still be running around in grey/black spandex and to this day I strongly believe that it was one of the greatest decisions for this character. It was even adapted into certain comics after the movie came out. However while the cape was revealed to be memory cloth in Batman Begins I don't think it served an accual purpose here except to make him look cool.
Nolan went more functional, and they found a way for Bats to move better. Kevlar was a stroke of genius, and making everything from the memory fabric to the gauntlets, technical and realistic, it goes a long way to making me believe Batman could actually exist. However, like I said before this may not have happened had Tim Burton not made it armor first. This batman also crouches like in the comics, mimicking the gargoyles he blends in with atop Gotham. Nolan's greatest contribution will obviously be the ability to move his head in The Dark Knight.
Winner: Tim Burton Since the beginning, superheroes were envisioned wearing tights. From the Superman movies, to the many failed live-action attempts at Marvel characters like Spiderman in the 70s, Tim Burton's Batman is the first time a superhero costume didn't look cheap, and every Bat-film following, even Nolan, owes something to what Burton's team did with the suit.
Round 10: Origin
In Batman, the scene is presented using a flashback, with a dark, dream-like quality. The slo-mo is effective in provoking an ominous atmosphere of looming tragedy. Two big problems, though... First, there's a second goon who flees meaning he is a witness. Second, the film implies it was The Joker himself as Jack Napier, who killed Batman's parents! Personally I like that I think it adds more depth to the rivalry between these two characters but it doesn't fit with the ages of the characters in the comics and it was totally created for this movie (though it was adapted in Batman: TAS).
In Batman Begins, the event is presented as a fully fleshed out scene still technically a flashback but this time the scene has actual dialogue from The parents which helps us to connect a bit more with the characters. Changing their night out from the cinema to a theater show is a minor deviation, but I was bothered a bit more by Thomas Wayne saying the line "Don't be afraid" after getting shot and not just dying straight away. It works for the whole film, but it's still sort of weird.
Winner: Christopher Nolan Not just because of the parent's death, but Batman Begins is a full-fledged origin movie, which none of the batman flicks explored in detail. Origins includes Bruce Wayne's globetrotting and training his mind and body.
Round 11: Batmobile
Tim Burton's batmobile is a masterpiece. What else is there to say? The first Batman movie used a BM6 model, a dragster with a jet engine, complete with hydraulic telescoping ramp for fast reverses. It's outfitted with machine guns, grenades, armor panels, side grapnels, and can even breakaway into 'missile' transport for narrow escapes. Also Batman can stop it using a remote and his voice. Not sure if it only responds to his voice but still pretty cool. It's the definitive and iconic Batmobile.
Chris Nolan's “Tumbler” is a modified HMMWV, designed completely for functionality. It may not be easy on the eyes, but it's a stronger, muscle-based car designed for pulling, and can maneuver better than the old Batmobiles, especially making huge jumps. It's defining characteristics are mounted rockets, and stealth capability. It's even described in one scene as "A black... Tank!". It's able to fly over rooftops and comes with targeting systems. "I have gotta get me one of those"
Winner: Tim Burton The closest in the comics to the Tumbler is might be the Hummer Batman drove during the “No Man's Land” run or the Bat-tank. But as I before Burton's is the definitive and iconic Batmobile. Plain and simple his car leaves the better impression of the two.
Round 12: Batcave
Tim Burton featured the cave in both his films. He's got the computer, the car turntable, and even a variety of secret passages to access it. Keaton's Bruce spends a decent amount of time in the Batcave, but it could stand to be a little more high tech- even for 1989 instead of a whole bunch of TVs showing the same thing.
The closest we get to a good Batcave is in Batman Begins and TDKR. In Begins we see how young Bruce finds it, and later, how he decides to use it but it's only in one scene in TDKR. And unfortunately, there is no Batcave at all in The Dark Knight. Because Wayne Manor is under reconstruction, Bruce uses a makeshift empty space near his penthouse. He still uses it as if it were the cave- crime lab and forensics tools are used to great effect. For the narrative the empty space is fine, but missing The Batcave in a Bat-movie is a shame and, there are no actual bats at all in TDK.
Winner: Tim Burton Bruce's vaults of suits started to give way to requisite dress up scenes in many superhero films that followed, and in Batman Returns the cave sees pivotal use in helping to unravel The Penguin's plot.
Round 13: Crime Bosses
Batman featured Carl Grissom, played by Jack Palance. He is pretty standard fare, and narratively, is framework for which to model the Joker's origin around. Joker does end up eliminating other various bosses in the city, and even seedy cops like Lt. Ekhart, but organized crime isn't Batman's main concern here. Batman Returns introduced the evil tycoon Max Shrek. Played by Christopher Walken, this character is such a main antagonist to the story, he is essentially a 3rd villain. However, neither one of these guys came from the comics like Sal Maroni so that's a minus.
Batman Begins has crime boss Carmine Falcone, who is responsible for almost all the crime in Gotham. It is clear that Batman has to deal with villains outside of the main rogues. The Dark Knight delivers even deeper, with new boss Maroni who was adapted from the comics.
Winner: Christopher Nolan Nolan's movies are built around the criminal element. His films have the underworld weaved perfectly into both Ra's Al Ghul's, The Joker's and Bane's plots. Reaching more, there are threats within Wayne Enterprises as well. Extortionists and blackmails go further to say Gotham corruption comes from the top as well as the bottom.
Let's count the results
Round 1: Burton
Round 2: Nolan
Round 3: Both
Round 4: Burton
Round 5: Nolan
Round 6: Nolan
Round 7: Burton
Round 8: Nolan
Round 9: Burton
Round 10: Nolan
Round 11: Burton
Round 12: Burton
Round 13: Nolan
With my results coming to 7/7 I'll have to settle it with a tiebreaker. As I said before the tiebreaker will be music.
Round 14: Music
Danny Elfman’s main theme for Burton's Batman movies is simply a perfect adaptation of the Batman franchise in musical form. The majority of the score neatly underpins the corresponding scenes, despite being occasionally over the top, it may be one of the best scores ever. It leaps out at you and demands focus, instantly drawing you in. When you hear the opening moments of the main theme of this movie, you know exactly who and what it is, and that is something often overlooked in movies.
That is by no means to say Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight doesn’t stand up well against it. I am a big fan of Zimmer’s soundtracks and with TDK he created a fantastically dark and brooding musical journey through out the film, the score in place actually making you far tenser during the dramatic and hostile moments. But while it is great for the majority, there is no defining characteristic or iconic piece that stands out to me. Yes there are recurring themes and motifs but it’s not something that you take with you and remember long after seeing the movie, whereas with Elfman’s score it does stay with you.
Winner: Danny Elfman
Elfman's score let's you know instantly that it is Batman but with Zimmer' score you don't really get that feeling. Elfman's is iconic however Zimmer's is more like something you could hear from many other blockbusters.
So there you have it. I've compared 14 categories and the Tim Burton series (in my own opinion) is a better series of comic book movies. If you disagree with anything let me know in the comments.