This one kind of answers itself, doesn’t it? Well, maybe we won’t all agree, but I imagine the ranking here will probably follow a general consensus.
I guess we should mention Leslie H. Martinson in here somewhere, since we included Batman: The Movie (1966) in our 30 Days of Batman series. However, his resume consists almost entirely of television shows, including directing episodes from such classic series as The Roy Rogers Show, Maverick, Batman, The Green Hornet, Mission: Impossible, The Brady Bunch, Mannix, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Barnaby Jones, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Dallas, Eight is Enough, CHiPs, Fantasy Island, and Diff’rent Strokes, to name several. His film credits include Missile X: The Neutron Bomb Incident (1978) and PT 109 (1963), among a few other films that I must admit to never having heard of. So while his contribution to television seems outstanding, it’s a little like comparing apples to oranges when up against the likes of Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolan.
Take a look at my assessment on the best and worst directors in the Batman series after the jump…
To say Joel Schumacher is the “worst” of the three sounds a lot harsher than I mean it to sound. He has directed his share of good films, including St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), The Lost Boys (1987), Falling Down (my personal favorite of his; 1993), The Client (1994), A Time to Kill (1996), Tigerland (2000) and Veronica Guerin (2003). It is ironic that his two biggest duds might just be the focal point of this series: Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997). Sure, he has other flops like The Phantom of the Opera (a guilty pleasure of mine, though I’ve only seen it once; 2004) and The Number 23 (2007), but I’d rather sit through either of those films than the aforementioned Batman sequels. As I mentioned in my Batman Forever post, Schumacher’s choice to go back to the neon look of the comic book series of the 40s and 50s was a bit over the top. And while Warner Brothers was pushing for a more family-friendly change to the franchise (perhaps to increase not only the box office but the merchandise sales as well), it was still Schumacher’s responsibility to deliver a bit above the mess those two films resulted in. Between the over-stylized sets, under-developed characters, and getting just about the career worst performances from most of his actors, it is not a surprise that the series ended with Schumacher’s films before being rebooted eight years later.
Tim Burton is one of those directors whose style just isn’t for everyone. His idiosyncratic approach is considered brilliant by some, while others feel it is excessive. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle with Burton, but feel he is at his best when he compromises his quirky vision with something more balanced and linear, such as Big Fish (2003) or Ed Wood (1994). That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate his dark and visionary direction when it lines up with the appropriate subject matter, which is exactly what he did with films like Beetlejuice (1988) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). This leads us to why he was the perfect director to resurrect Batman from the grave. Unlike Schumacher’s comic book style approach that followed, Burton introduced us to a much darker world for the brooding superhero known as The Dark Knight. His two Batman films (Batman – 1989 and Batman Returns - 1992) are arguably the most influential comic book films of all time, and introduce us to a much more gothic looking Gotham City than seen in the previous Batman show/film, as well as an even more macabre setting in the follow-up film. And while Burton’s contributions to the series were a bit on the dark side, they still seem almost whimsical when compared to what Christopher Nolan manufactured.
Now how am I supposed to be fair and balanced on the topic of “Best and Worst Batman Directors” when one of them just so happens to be one of the filmmakers I most adore? Christopher Nolan has made a couple of my very favorite movies ever in the considerably short amount of time he has been around. With only seven feature films to his name (The Dark Knight Rises being his eighth), his resume already includes such fantastic films as Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), The Prestige (2006), and my personal favorite, Inception (2010). Of course, he has also delivered the two (and soon to be three, perhaps) greatest comic book films of all time: Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). As an incredibly cerebral director, Nolan gives a noirish style to everything he touches. So, like Burton before him, Nolan was the perfect director to get Batman back on track with the reboot. After all, Batman is a detective first and foremost, and the unconventional and ominous style Nolan uses seems to fit like a glove with the caped crusader. Nolan also handles his actors exceptionally well, and many have given their finest performances in his films. Nominated for three Oscars thus far (Producer and Writer - Inception; Writer – Memento), the Academy has somehow failed to recognize his abilities behind the camera, regardless of having been nominated by the Directors Guild of America three times. His time will certainly come though, considering this brilliant auteur turns a crisp, young 42 years old at the end of the month. There is still plenty to come from Christopher Nolan, and I, for one, cannot wait.
Tags: batman, Christopher Nolan, Joel Schumacher, The Dark Knight, the dark knight rises, Tim Burton