The History & Future of Batman's Villains on Film, Part 1 (of 2) Author: Rick Shew (Follow @SHEWRICK)
Date: November 14, 2015
One of the main reasons Batman is my all-time favorite comic book character (and a top 5 fictional character, period) is his elaborate and decadent Rouges Gallery. In short, the Batman Universe is inhabited by the most sinister, empirical bad-asses in comic book history.
Is there a more iconic image than the man dressed as a giant bat going up against a psychotic clown? Not for me. But it’s not just The Joker; Batman’s Rouge Gallery is a twisted menagerie of warped, but compelling adversaries: Two-Face, The Penguin, Ra’s Al Ghul, Killer Croc, Bane, and a host of others. Many have been portrayed on screen, already, while many others have not. But the question is have these characters been portrayed at a satisfactory level to the fans who grew up reading about them LONG before we saw them in the cinema? And where will they go from here?
The 1960’s television series was beautiful pop-culture and the villains were (and still are) a ton of fun to watch.
Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN, however, is where I would like to begin my review of the rogue and villainous retinue. Jack Nicholson’s turn as The Joker really set the stage for serious actors taking the portrayal of a Batman villain seriously. I loved his performance! Was it 100% loyal to the comics? No, it wasn’t; but I don’t care. When larger than life characters need to actually come to life on the big screen, filmmakers should take a little artistic liberty; they almost have to. The core aspects of the The Joker was there, and it was wicked fun to watch!
With 1992’s BATMAN RETURNS, Burton gave us his version of The Penguin, Max Shreck (yes, an original character and not a “Batman Villain” from the comics) and Catwoman. Aside from my general disdain for this movie, I did love Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance. She was sexy, stylish and purrrr-fectly feline in her every move. Chris Walken’s Shreck was classic Walken and got the job done. Then there was The Penguin. What a bloody mess! Yes, I did say I love director’s artistic liberty, but to make him an actual “Penguin Man from the Sewer”, was AWFUL.
BATMAN FOREVER, despite its flaws, did have some shining moments; but not really with the villains director Joel Schumacher gave us. Jim Carrey’s Riddler was nothing more than a cash cow ACE VENTURA redux in green tights. Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face took a very complex character and reduced him to cartoony rubbish. The very last scene Jones as Two Face is in, however, is beautiful. I wish we had more of THAT in the movie, because Tommy Lee Jones is a great actor and definitely could’ve pulled it off!
Then, alas, came 1997’s BATMAN & ROBIN.
Is this film even worth mentioning? Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane.
No, it’s not worth mentioning, so let’s move on!
Then came Christopher Nolan and Batman villain greatness.
There’s a complain that Mr. Nolan did not “honor” the villains appropriately. Ra’s Al Ghul was not, literally, immortal. Bane wasn’t a steroid-junkie standing nine feet tall. The Scarecrow didn’t look like Ray Bolger in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Two Face shouldn’t have died. And, Catwoman didn’t carry a whip dammit!
However, due to the beauty of the writing and the performances, Nolan and company had us all believing that these characters could actually be real.
Yes, a crazy clown running around wreaking havoc in a major American city, or a psychotic psychiatrist wearing a scarecrow mask and poisoning folks with his mind altering drug isn’t realistic. But you know what? Team Nolan made us all think it was.
So with this new “DC Extended Universe” – especially with the Batman villains featured in David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD – what’s next for Batman’s cinematic rogues gallery?
That question will be addressed in PART 2! - Rick Shew
Rick Shew is a lifelong Batman fanatic.
His love for Batman traces back to the ripe age of 5 when he became obsessed with the 1960’s TV show and later a diehard Batman bomic book reader (THE KILLING JOKE remains his all time favorite).
As an actor, Rick has appeared in numerous films, local & national commercials and over a dozen theatrical productions. However, his favorite gig of all time was playing Superman, alongside Batman, Batgirl, The Green Lantern & Wonder Woman in the "DC Comics Live" show at Six Flags San Antonio, TX.
Although Rick attended The University of North Texas, he is a diehard Texas Longhorns football fan. He is a HUGE fan of THE Dallas Cowboys as well (#DezCaughtIt).
Other likes include cooking, reading and hosting his left leaning political page LeftShewPolitics.
Rick resides in Dallas with his 3 beautiful women (his wife and their 2 daughters), his kitty cat and his dog, Cooper.
Even though Rick has a full-time job with a hospitality/software company based out of San Francisco, he also helped conceptualize a bar in Dallas (where he also sits as a financial investor), NICKEL AND RYE. So, when in Dallas, please come have a bite and a drink!