Mr. Ebert’s reviews were syndicated in my small hometown paper, and I read them religiously when I was a kid. Of course, when the internet became the primary means to access film reviews – and pretty much everything else – I followed Mr. Ebert on over to the world wide web.
And of course, I never missed an episode of “Siskel and Ebert!”
Part of my love for movies is due to Mr. Ebert, so I’d thought the best honor I could give him would be to post all seven of his (live-action) Batman movie reviews here on BOF. So, you’ll find links to each below listed from #8 to #1 based on how he ranked ‘em.
(For the full reviews of all seven Bat-Flicks, visit ROGEREBERT.COM. And yes, I put BATMAN RETURNS last on purpose. I think Mr. Ebert would've wanted it that way. *wink*) Now, I'll let Mr. Ebert speak...
"Thank you. Forty-six years ago on April 3, 1967, I became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of you have read my reviews and columns and even written to me since that time. Others were introduced to my film criticism through the television show, my books, the website, the film festival, or the Ebert Club and newsletter. However you came to know me, I'm glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for.
So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."
- Roger Ebert, April 2, 2013
BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM
JETT SAYS: When I first put this list together, I couldn't find a print review by Mr. Ebert of BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM. But I eventually found Siskel & Ebert's review of the film on video that was featured on their show c.1995. Based on their reactions, I figure that this one would rank ahead of the four Burton/Schumacher films, and just below Chris Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy." On with the live-action films...
#7 BATMAN RETURNS (2 Stars)
"I give the movie a negative review, and yet I don't think it's a bad movie; it's more of a misguided one, made with great creativity, but denying us what we more or less deserve from a Batman story. Looking back over both films, I think Burton has a vision here and is trying to shape it to the material, but it just won't fit. No matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don't go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes. I had a feeling by the end of this film that Batman was beginning to get the idea."
#6 BATMAN AND ROBIN (2 Stars)
"My prescription for the series remains unchanged: scale down. We don't need to see $2 million on the screen every single minute. Give the foreground to the characters, not the special effects. And ask the hard questions about Bruce Wayne. There is a moment in the film where we learn that the new telescope in the Gotham Observatory can look at any place on Earth. 'Just don't point it at my bedroom,' Bruce Wayne chuckles. What is he chuckling about?"
#5 BATMAN (2 Stars)
"Nicholson's Joker is really the most important character in the movie - in impact and screen time - and Keaton's Batman and Bruce Wayne characters are so monosyllabic and impenetrable that we have to remind ourselves to cheer for them. Kim Basinger strides in as Vicky Vale, a famous photographer assigned to the Gotham City crime wave, but although she and Wayne carry on a courtship and Batman rescues her from certain death more than once, there's no chemistry and little eroticism. The strangest scene in the movie may be the one where Vicky is brought into the Batcave by Alfred, the faithful valet, and realizes for the first time that Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person. How does she react? She doesn't react. The movie forgets to allow her to be astonished.
Remembering the movie, I find that the visuals remain strong in my mind, but I have trouble caring about what happened in front of them. I remember an astonishing special effects shot that travels up, up to the penthouse of a towering, ugly skyscraper, and I remember the armor slamming shut on the Batmobile as if it were a hightech armadillo. I remember The Joker grinning beneath a hideous giant balloon as he dispenses free cash in his own travesty of the Macy's parade, and I remember a really vile scene in which he defaces art masterpieces in the local museum before Batman crashes in through the skylight.
But did I care about the relationship between these two caricatures? Did either one have the depth of even a comic book character? Not really."
#4 BATMAN FOREVER (2.5 Stars)
"Val Kilmer is a completely acceptable substitute for Michael Keaton in the title role, but in all three of the movies, Batman remains shadowy and undefined. The movies exist for their villains, who this time both seem to be playing the same note; the Riddler and Two-Face alternate in overacting, until the pace grows wearying. There is no rhythm to the movie, no ebb and flow; it's all flat-out spectacle.
Is the movie better entertainment? Well, it's great bubble gum for the eyes. And younger children will be able to process it more easily (some kids were led bawling from "Batman Returns," where the PG-13 rating was a joke).
I liked the look of the movie and Schumacher's general irreverence toward the material. But the great Batman movie still remains to be made. Here is the most complex and intriguing of classic comic superheroes, inhabiting the most visually interesting world, but somehow a story hasn't been found to do him justice. A story - with a beginning, a middle and an end, and a Batman at its center who emerges as more than a collection of costumes and postures. More than ever, after this third movie, I found myself asking, Who was that masked man, anyhow?"
#3 THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (3 Stars)
"This is a dark and heavy film; it tests the weight a superhero movie can bear. That Nolan is able to combine civil anarchy, mass destruction and a Batcycle with exercise-ball tires is remarkable. That he does it without using 3D is admirable. That much of it was shot in the 70mm IMAX format allows it to make that giant screen its own. That it concludes the trilogy is inevitable; how much deeper can Nolan dig? It lacks the near-perfection of THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), it needs more clarity and a better villain, but it's an honorable finale."
#2 BATMAN BEGINS (4 Stars)
"I said this is the Batman movie I've been waiting for; more correctly, this is the movie I did not realize I was waiting for, because I didn't realize that more emphasis on story and character and less emphasis on high-tech action was just what was needed. The movie works dramatically in addition to being an entertainment. There's something to it."
#1 THE DARK KNIGHT (4 Stars)
"'Batman'' isn’t a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It creates characters we come to care about. That’s because of the performances, because of the direction, because of the writing, and because of the superlative technical quality of the entire production.
THE DARK KNIGHT is not a simplistic tale of good and evil. Batman is good, yes, The Joker is evil, yes. But Batman poses a more complex puzzle than usual: The citizens of Gotham City are in an uproar, calling him a vigilante and blaming him for the deaths of policemen and others. And the Joker is more than a villain. He’s a Mephistopheles whose actions are fiendishly designed to pose moral dilemmas for his enemies.
In his two Batman movies, Nolan has freed the character to be a canvas for a broader scope of human emotion. For Bruce Wayne is a deeply troubled man, let there be no doubt, and if ever in exile from his heroic role, it would not surprise me what he finds himself capable of doing."