As the two heavyweights of DC Cinema are seemingly destined to converge in the slightly anxiously awaited Batman vs Superman clash, it seemed a good idea to look back over the DC-based movies that have graced our screens over the years. Apart from the mostly successful Nolan trilogy, the twenty-first century has been dominated by the rise of the Marvel movie franchise. But this was not always the case. The twentieth century was in fact almost completely dominated by DC’s caped duo, whom gave us some of the greatest of comic book memories.
Starting all the way back in 1966 with the unsung satire of Batman the Movie , the DC universe has given us quite a selection of weird and wonderful heroes, from Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing to the gun-toting Jonah Hex . As with my Marvel post, I have picked a handful of my favourites to reminisce over, as well as choosing some films from DC’s generous collection of poor flicks. These disastrous instalments have the power to single-handedly stall the development of a comic book hero and turn them into a poisoned chalice overnight. You may spot one or two of these franchise-killers below, which remind us all that every hero takes a wrong turn now and again:
The Best: The Dark Knight (2008)
Rotten rating: 94%
Directed by Chistopher Nolan / Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Could it be said that The Dark Knight’s popularity is completely reliant on the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the infamous villain The Joker? Or would Nolan’s vivid style and almost trailer-like plot speed have been enough to make this arguably the most loved out of all of Nolan’s films? I guess we can never know. But one thing is for sure, despite Batman Begins being an excellent origin story with great characters, it was The Dark Knight that really gave audiences what they craved, and launched the popularity of both Nolan and the whole rekindled Batman franchise.
Even The Dark Knight’s frustrating coincidences and plot holes (a problem taken too far in the Dark Knight Rises ), gave the movie a distinctively comic character, which was as unpredictable as it was exciting. The film oozes such a clinical style that it easily allows the fascinating array of characters on display to shine through and dominate the film. But let’s be honest, it was Ledger’s Joker that stopped everyone in their tracks and created a truly memorable moment in comic-book cinema.
The Worst: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Rotten rating: 9%
Directed by Sidney J. Furie / Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman and Mark Pillow
This film had the unerring ability to look older than the original film, despite being nearly a decade newer. Even Gene Hackman, whom defined the role of Lex Luthor, struggled to cope with a lazy script and an unconvincing motive. This ridiculous goal is to defeat Superman by creating a villain with equal strength and power…Nuclear Man! Unfortunately, this transparent anti-war message never made it out of the screen. Instead, we are treated to an uncomfortable Mark Pillow, in a horrible gold outfit, frowning and pacing around trying to look threatening. Which all leads to the question: why would Lex Luthor, the self-proclaimed greatest criminal mind of the twentieth century, be stupid enough to create a villain who is completely reliant on solar power?
The movie is so tragically bad, the special effects so poorly executed and the acting performances so lacklustre, that it made 1983’s Superman III look much better than first thought. At least Pryor’s wit and enthusiasm gave the film a heart beat, and it stuck to its guns of favouring fast-paced humour over science fiction. But Quest for Peace displayed a complete lack of respect for the most revered of comic-book heroes, and leaves an unforgivably bitter taste in the mouth with every watch.
The Best: Watchmen (2009)
Rotten rating: 64%
Directed by Zack Snyder / Starring Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode and Patrick Wilson
Do not let the fairly modest rating fool you, Watchmen is expertly crafted, acted and the imagery and style is unforgettable. Fans of the comic will also find the layering and character depth very appealing in its adherence to lore and literature. Unfortunately, those used to the quick firing nature of The Dark Knight and company, will find it a slight chore to sit through, and it borders on the anti-climatic. Admittedly, it does lack the action and succinctness needed to make it a comic-cook great, but as an adaptation, it succeeds where others have failed.
It goes without saying that the heroes themselves tell their own story, and the blurred lines between good and evil are epitomised in the violent comedian. Dr Manhattan and his loss of human nature is also one of the more fascinating plot-lines in the movie, and we only get a tantalising glimpse of his potential as a comic-book hero. But Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach is by far my favourite character, with his metaphoric, menacing mask and skewed morals. His gravelly and slightly witty narration also tells a gripping detective story so well, that it ties the film together.
The Worst: Batman and Robin (1997)
Rotten rating: 12%
Directed by Joel Schumacher / Starring George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chris O’Donnell and Uma Thurman
If Joel Schumacher intended this film to be ridiculous, camp, pun-ridden, uncomfortable and almost impossible to watch, then mission accomplished. It could almost be understandable for someone to make a vague connection between the original series and its tongue in cheek humour with this disaster, if it wasn’t for the heap of cheap characters and shoddy script overloading the screen.
The film was so bad, it discredited the Batman franchise leaving it crippled for years. Clooney himself admitted that the movie did not work and on screen, he constantly looks as if he would like the earth to swallow him up. Even Schwarzenegger, who gives his all as Mr Freeze, cannot bring to life a laughable villain, who would look more at home in a Disney movie. I cannot help but feel that in some way we all owe Schumacher some gratitude, as he showed the world how not to make a comic-book movie, and perhaps we are all better for it.
The Best: Superman II (1981)
Rotten rating: 89%
Directed by Richard Lester and Richard Donner / Starring Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman
Why do I prefer this sequel to the original and epic landmark film, which had set such a high standard for comic book films for years to come? In a word, Zod. Terence Stamp completely steals the show and gave the man of steel his first real challenge in the defence of his foster planet. Lester and Donner’s film also kept the original casting and Gene Hackman is both fascinating and hilarious as he attempts to lever himself in-between the fuelling kryptonians.
The attack of the three criminals on earth comes at such a crucial time in the movie. Just as Superman has abandoned his powers, and gotten his ass handed to him in a fight, Zod appears on television and declares rule over the earth. This becomes the moment that our hero realises that he can never stop being Superman. Although not perfect by any means, Superman II is still one of those comic-book movies that has everything you want and more.
The Worst: Catwoman (2004)
Rotten rating: 9%
Directed by Jean-Christophe ‘Pitof’ Comar / Starring Halle Berry, Sharon Stone and Benjamin Bratt
After a seven year wait for another DC-themed movie since the disastrous Batman and Robin , it seemed like a fresh and dynamic start was needed to spark a new era. Unfortunately, it would be another year before the huge relief that was Nolan’ s brilliant origin story. In the meantime, Jean Christophe Comar would unwisely attempt to retell the tale of the infamous comic book feline, and use up all nine lives in the process.
Apart from the leather outfit, which is by far the best thing about the film, there is very little to fall in love with. Berry does her best to disguise the awkwardly sexualised moments of direction and Sharon Stone makes an empty villain despite being a fairly intriguing antagonist in the plot. Catwoman proves that if you are going to make the brave move of treading familiar ground, then you had better get it puurrrfect. Sorry.
The Best: Batman (1989)
Rotten rating: 71%
Directed by Tim Burton / Starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger
There has never been a comic-book identity so well imprinted in cinema history than Tim Burton’s vision of a dark, yet somehow colourful Gotham City. The haunting soundtrack just accentuates the brooding vision and Keaton’s quiet and intelligent performance is only outshone by Nicholson as the joker. It is full of excellent character-based dialogue that etches classic lines straight from screen to movie lore. It also catapulted the Dark Knight’s journey to become the most frequently revisited DC hero in movie history.
Some will consider Batman Returns to be better and understandably so. Keaton is even better as Batman and the introduction and integration of so many characters simultaneously actually works for once. But for me the original film quite literally stamped a mark for both Burton and the caped crusader, and had all kids my age gathering in small groups in the corner of the playground swapping Batman stickers for the next twelve months.
The Worst: Green Lantern (2011)
Rotten rating: 26%
Directed by Martin Campbell / Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Peter Sarsgaard
Ok, so Green Lantern is not the worst film in the world, and I was very close to putting 1984’s Supergirl in this spot. But whereas Helen Slater’s super-sister is just a poor film throughout, Ryan Reynolds and company get fairly close to making it work. There is just no time spent on developing any of the characters and it turns flat, noisy and repetitive quicker than you can say Parallax.
Personally, I find a wasted opportunity like this much more disheartening than an all-round terrible film, as it is such a shame. Especially since Reynolds is clearly having a lot of fun, and the action is enjoyable when it gets it right. Above all, it is sad to see a film with such potential and fan base, turn into another example of a hero falling at the first hurdle. That is until a decent Justice League assemble, at which point I think Reynolds will have enough to rise again as the Green Lantern.