Home / Movies / Weekend Movie Brawls #6: Batman Films v. Superman Films

Weekend Movie Brawls #6: Batman Films v. Superman Films

Hello and Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to Weekend Movie Brawls!

Here, we take an in-depth look at films with similar themes or stories and we pit them against each other in a competition based on their merits. For example, it can be two animated films of the same type, two films which take place during a certain time period, two films with similar plots or an original film versus its remake.

The reason we make this a weekend thing is because when else might you have the time and energy to relax and see something you haven’t seen before?

To close out July, we’re going to have the battle to end all battles…it’s Batman v. Superman in a 6-film, no-holds-barred contest!

In this corner…the first three Batmen film…

1) BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)

THE PLOT

The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), The Joker (Cesar Romero), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), and The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) have found a way to take over the world by vaporizing members of the United Nations! But Batman (the late Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) are on the case in this 1966 cult classic. DIrected by Leslie H. Martinson.

2) BATMAN (1989)

THE PLOT

Over 20 years later, director Tim Burton gave us the darker, grittier Dark Knight we became accustomed to seeing in the comics of the time. Batman became the legend Gotham was famous for: a supernatural entity that roamed the city’s rooftops and punished criminals. Here, we see Batman (Michael Keaton) take on his greatest adversary: The Joker (Jack Nicholson). Directed by Tim Burton.

3) BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

THE PLOT

After director Joel Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman laid waste to the franchise, Batman was re-booted once again in 2005. Christian Bale took over the role as we finally got the story of Batman’s origins and witness his initial struggles and first major battle against the corruption of Gotham’s officials and the gangsters who pay them off. Directed by Christopher Nolan

…and their opponenets…

1) SUPERMAN (1978)

THE PLOT

Superman’s (Christopher Reeve) origins are covered here, from his birth on Krypton to his childhood with the Kent family in Kansas to his eventual journey and arrival to Metropolis as “Clark Kent”, and not a moment too soon: Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is plotting the destruction of part of the United States so that he can claim what’s left for his own. Directed by Richard Donner.

2) SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

THE PLOT

Sharing continuity with the Superman films of the late 70’s and early 80’s, Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth after an extremely long absence to find that, while some things have changed quite a bit, other things have stayed the same: Lois (Kate Bosworth) is married with a child and Lex (Kevin Spacey), free from prison, has decided to wreak havoc on Earth so that he can have a piece of it for himself. Directed by Bryan Singer.

3) MAN OF STEEL (2013)

THE PLOT

In an attempt to compete with Marvel, Warner Brothers scrapped anything else having to do with “Superman Returns” or the Christopher Reeve-led franchise and not only re-launched Superman but an entire “universe” of DC Comic characters. With “Man of Steel”, we get everything we got in the original Superman on steroids, not only chronicling the life of Superman (Henry Cavill), but his mother and father’s struggles on Krypton but Kal-El’s struggle to find his place in the world. Directed by Zack Snyder

SCORING

The scoring in Weekend Movie Brawls is simple. There are five categories: music, casting, writing, production (which includes design, costumes, make-up, etc), and direction. Each of these will be awarded a letter grade, from A to F. As in school, each of these letter grades has a number associated to it. An “A” is worth 4 points, “B” is 3 points, “C” is 2 points, “D” is 1 point and “F” is worth nothing. At the end, the final score will be average total of each of the 5 categories. For instance, if the score at the end of a round is “20”, this will be divided by five, the number of categories, for a final score of “4”.

Seeing how this is a tag team effort this week, each score will simply be added up. The side with the biggest score wins. Plain and simple.

The final scoring will not be revealed until the end of the contest.

In the event of a tie at the end of a brawl, the winner will be decided via a playoff round at a later date.

And, as always, THERE MIGHT BE SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen these films, get out of here while you still can.

If you’re still game for this, read on!

MUSIC

Oscar® nominated composer John Williams conducts a suite from his score for “The Book Thief” during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ “The Oscar Concert” on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at Royce Hall in Los Angeles. The Oscars® will be presented on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre® in Hollywood, CA and televised live by the ABC Television Network.

BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)

Nelson Riddle did the music for the film as he would do for the series. It’s incidental music with a groovy edge. Neil Hefti did the original “Batman” theme song we’d hear on the show. Riddle’s score sounds less like Batman and more like a spy show in the 60’s, with big band-esque jazzy cues, sleazy sax licks, and swinging melodies. I’d give this sucker a lower grade but I can’t. It’s simply a product of its time which perfectly matches the campy tone of the film and the effort behind it is more than obvious.

BATMAN (1989)

Danny Elfman conducts the score for this film…and it’s phenomenal, perfectly matching the darker mood of Tim Burton’s “Dark Knight” version of the character seen in the later comics. It’s big and bold, playing to the Joker’s hideously jovial outlook on life and death and provides Batman with music that suits him perfectly: mysterious and heroic. It’s gorgeous.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

All Hans Zimmer had to do was reinvent the wheel. He doesn’t QUITE knock it out of the park. It’s different than what Elfman put together — and, really, it needed to be. Zimmer goes electronic and plays it safe, tapping into what he did for Jerry Bruckheimer on “The Rock” with big, heavy drums and synthesizer with percussive orchestral hits. It’s not as gothic and outlandish as Elfman’s score, it’s just more heroic. Still, it’s a great listen.

SUPERMAN (1978)

John Williams’ score for Superman is iconic. The heroic opening horns of the main theme and the lead-up to the main overall theme STILL give me chills and it doesn’t end there. The later cues as he saves Lois from the helicopter, the epic theme as he’s about to leave Kansas for good and his fight against Luthor’s plot at the end are so insanely good, it transcends the character and lifts you up in the most inspiring manner possible. It’s bright and heroic, which plays in perfect juxtaposition with Danny Elfman’s darker, but no less heroic, “Batman” score.

SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

Composer John Ottman had the unenviable task of doing what John Williams did. He does a fine job imitating John Williams’ famous opening theme but the rest of the score is missing the epic edge Williams unleashed on moviegoers all those years ago. Ottman puts some ethereal elements into his score and some of it works, but most of it is a fairly unmemorable action score.

MAN OF STEEL (2013)

Once again, Hans Zimmer took the helm for “Man of Steel” — and gives us a score that is beautiful and epic in all the right places. Yes, he goes electronic and that’s evident during the scenes where Jor-El attempts to save his son from the destruction of Krypton in the opening scenes as well as the segment where Superman learns how to fly. It’s NOT John Williams, but it’s definitely more original and memorable than what Ottman did seven years prior. The score is worth it alone for the track “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?”, which ran during the film’s second trailer. It’s just as inspiring as John Williams’ original Superman Theme, giving me goosebumps each time I hear it. The rest of the score suits the action. It’s heavy and loud, but still a good listen.

CASTING

Jack Nicholson as “The Joker” in 1989’s “Batman”.

BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)

Say what you will: the principles in this movie are well-casted. Adam West and Burt Ward play Batman and Robin with conviction while Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, Lee Meriwether, and Caesar Romero have a hell of a time playing The Riddler, The Penguin, Catwoman, and The Joker, respectively. They fit within the early comic book models beautifully.

BATMAN (1989)

Jack Nicholson plays “The Joker”…and he’s brilliant. Playing the darker version with the same over-the-top and sadistic manner we see in the comics, he’s the best part of the film, almost overshadowing just about everyone else. Burton casts Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne…and he’s fine, but he doesn’t quite completely fit the role simply because he doesn’t really look the part of the famous billionaire playboy that Bruce Wayne is. Kim Basinger rounds out the cast as Vicky Vale and she’s here solely as a love interest for Wayne. She’s wussy and uninteresting and blah. Pat Hingle plays Commissioner Gordon and this works even though he’s more of the ’66 Batman type while Robert Wuhl is also here, for some reason, as Vale’s partner, Alexander Knox. Michael Gough makes for a perfect Alfred. It’s decent casting.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

The film’s casting is impeccable. Christian Bale takes over as Batman/Bruce Wayne and he’s brilliant, not only pulling off the part of Batman as a dark, mean protector of the streets of Gotham but, also, the character of Bruce Wayne, which is is HUGE considering that the first portion of the film is about Wayne’s life before he took up the mantle of The Batman. As Wayne, he’s handsome, debonair, and perfectly cocky. The best Batman there has ever been (including the films Ben Affleck was in). I say that with no shame. And that’s not all. The film has Cillian Murphy playing Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow, Michael Caine as Alfred, Liam Neeson as R’as al Ghul, Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone and Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. Katie Holmes is the weak point in the cast and was thankfully replaced by Maggie Gyllenhall in the sequel to the film. Holmes plays Rachel Dawes as a squeaky, one-note Assistant D.A. who, once again, serves as a love interest for Bruce Wayne who clearly doesn’t have time for that sorta thing. The cast also has Morgan Freeman and the late Rutger Hauer just in case you didn’t think that was enough and both are fantastic.

SUPERMAN (1978)

The late Christopher Reeve plays Superman/Clark Kent and I think it’s safe to say that every single actor who played the role after that was modeled after him. He looks the part and is completely confident in the role. When he’s Kent, the transformation to wimpy, mild-mannered dweeb is uncanny. Gene Hackman does a fine job as Lex Luthor despite the fact that he’s inexplicably paired with two bumbling sidekicks in Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for producers to cast an imposing bald due to play Luthor, but here we are. The late Margot Kidder plays Lois Lane who is tough as nails, just like her comic book ocunterpart, but melts like butter whenever she sees Superman. Marlon Brando, who is in the film for about five minutes, somehow got top billing over everyone else in the movie.

SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

Brandon Routh plays Superman/Kent here. He looks and sounds like Reeve and you can tell that’s what they were going for. He just doesn’t quite fit the part completely and, at times, looks like an 18-year-old wearing Superman’s costume. Kate Bosworth is Lois Lane and…no. Gone is the tough-as-nails Lois we saw in the film, replaced by a soft-spoken mother type. Kevin Spacey steals the show as Lex Luthor, ditching the campy characteristics of Hackman’s take and embracing the darker, more sinister, arrogant side of the Luthor in the comics. It also helps that he’s bald and remains so throughout the film.

MAN OF STEEL (2013)

Henry Cavill is Superman here. We don’t see him as Clark Kent until the very end of the film but in the seconds we do see him as Kent, it works beautifully. Cavill plays Superman as a bit of a tortured soul. He’s an alien on Earth and despite growing up with wholesome values taught to him by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner & Diane Lane), he still suffers through childhood because he can’t control his powers and feels the need to do good things for people, despite the complete lack of appreciation and acceptance at first. It’s a beautiful characterization, one which reminds me of the “Birthright” stories in the comics. No Lex this time around. Zod is the main villain played with angry ferocity by the great Michael Shannon, who plays Zod with pure evil running through his veins. He makes you HATE Zod with every fiber of your being. Amy Adams is Lois Lane here and, thankfully, some of the toughness returns to the character. It’s nice to see this side of Lois again. Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer play Superman’s Kryptonian parents Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van and they’re also outstanding in the brief time they’re given.

WRITING

David S. Goyer (left) and Christopher Nolan (right) of “Batman Begins”.

BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)

Pure junk from Lorenzo Semple, Jr. Yes, I know we gave high marks to the casting and the music, but this is definitely a weak point. It’s a plot about Batman and Robin trying to stop the main villains from turning members of the United Nations to dust in order to throw the world into chaos. It’s beyond silly.

BATMAN (1989)

Writers Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren have a dozen writing credits between the two of them. The script for “Batman” isn’t the greatest thing ever read. The plot and tone could be construed as campy — but it’s campy in a dark way. After Batman’s legend grows, The Joker attempts to tamper with Gotham’s toiletries, mixing in deadly chemicals with toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoos and soaps in the city. When Batman cracks it, The Joker becomes annoyed with him and starts to play head games with him which leads to a deadly tit-for-tat between the two. It’s entertaining, to say the least and it’s great to see the final confrontation between the hero and the villain if only The Joker wasn’t the only thing driving the film.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

This is the epic Batman script Hollywood didn’t know they were looking for. David S, Goyer is one of those writers who is ALWAYS on the cusp of greatness. He wrote all three “Blade” films (the first two are great) and then he’ll turn around do something like “The Crow: City of Angels” and you look at him like, “really?” He has an assist here from director Chris Nolan and the two write a beautiful story about the life of a young Bruce Wayne as he grows up to see his family murdered in front of him in an alley in Gotham City, which drives him to become Gotham’s savior. The film is reminiscent of Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One” without the stylish dialogue — though the film doesn’t really need that and goes for an all-out spectacle. It has some great lines and set pieces and moments where you’re cheering. This is the best of three scripts.

SUPERMAN

The script features the epic origins of Clark Kent and his arrival in Metropolis doing good for the people of the city. That part is great. But Lex Luthor’s plot of utilizing ICBM’s to trigger an apocalyptic earthquake on the San Andreas Fault is ridiculous as it sounds, even for Lex Luthor, but that’s what we get here. That isn’t even the worst part of it. The main problem with this is the lame solution (Superman literally reverses time by making the planet spin backwards) which is so outrageously stupid and also negates the point Luthor attempts to prove: that, even with all his powers, Superman is fallible and imperfect. It could have used a darker ending but it’s clear the filmmakers didn’t want viewers leaving with severe depression. Still, it’s mostly entertaining.

SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

Superman goes off to “find out if Krypton really exploded and died”. That’s the expository set-up for the film, literally spewed on the screen to fill us in on what’s happened since we saw Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, just in case you forgot about that film. Strike one. Luthor’s plot is to use radioactive shards of Kryptonite to grow some sort of island where he can thrive. This makes no sense whatsoever. Strike two. Superman basically gives Lois a kid and leaves, like a deadbeat dad. Strike three. Everything else seen is in homage to the first film. Superman actually repeats the line about airline safety to Lois after he comes back and lands her plane. I have zero idea what Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris were thinking when they wrote this garbage but Bryan Singer thought they’d be perfect since they wrote for him on X-Men 2, so…

MAN OF STEEL (2013)

The script for Man of Steel plays everything straight. Not a lot of camp to be had and, sometimes, there’s a lack of fun and a feeling that this is all mechanical. David Goyer (who wrote “Batman Begins”) wrote this and it’s not bad. It’s definitely the most solid of the three Superman scripts here. Superman is humanized and the story is well-told. There aren’t many memorable lines to be had but definitely some memorable moment.s

PRODUCTION

BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)

It’s a beautiful production, full of colorful, intricate sets and villains to match. The fight scenes are still a riot to this day with “BAM!” and “SOCK!” splashed on the screen whenever Batman and Robin’s fists and feet make contact with henchmen and different villains. It’s just a fun time, all told, as campy as it is.

BATMAN (1989)

This is a hell of a production. Burton takes the big, bright Gotham we see in 1966 and re-makes it into the gothic hellscape we know from the comics with aged, weather-beaten stone seen on old City Halls and churches. There are towers and gargoyles and trash and steam that spew forth. It’s all shot in color, but the city has elements of noir to match the darker tone of the later comics. The costume design sees Batman in a version of his older grey suit, this time covered in all black with yellow tinge  added to his belt and chest logo. The Joker’s costume design is the color Gotham is missing with deep purples, blues and greens. The film is a big, epic production with a nice script and great music. Nicely done.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

The movie (and the second film in the series) was filmed in Chicago, so the wide, distant shots of the city don’t feel as gothic as they should, but this is made up for by soundstage production and CGI elements, plus a brownish-yellow color pallet. Regardless, it’s the overall package and “Batman Begins” is a near-perfect film with an epic script, great characters, excellent music and breathtaking moments.

SUPERMAN (1978)

The entire film screams “EPIC” from the music to the cinematography. Despite a script that gets silly toward the end, 1978’s “Superman” is a journey for the viewer and delivers a hero everyone can get behind. If I had my way, I’d take the plot of “Superman II” and make that the first film, but nobody’s perfect.

SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

The movie goes for the gusto with the same epic feeling the 1978 original would strive for. Unfortunately, “Superman Returns”, for all its pageantry and attempts at greatness, feels like a cheap imitation of the Reeve films. Yes, there are exciting moments like the plane rescue near the beginning and Superman flying around like a madman trying to stop the destruction of Metropolis at the hands of Luthor is great…but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s just updated. Plus, the plot makes no sense and neither do some of the smaller plot points (Superman was able to fly around and save everyone with shards of Kryptonite still in him; Superman is able to lift a Kryptonite island into space despite the fact that it’s LITERALLY MADE OF EXPOSED KRYPTONITE; WHY is Superman seeing if Krypton still exists if it blew up already?! WHY???) and the actors are so-so, with the exception of Kevin Spacey.

MAN OF STEEL (2013)

It’s epic. What else can I say. From the moments on Krypton to the scenes of a young Clark Kent as he grows up and establishes his legend, to the first moment he takes flight, to the moment where he proves his worth by defending Earth from Zod and his minions. Just about everything here is beautifully executed — even if gets dark and gritty and loud and into Michael Bay territory with the sheer number and level of explosions we witness. The thing is…if you’ve ever read an epic Superman comic book where the Earth needs saving (“Doomsday”, for instance), then there’s nothing to complain about. Things occasionally get wrecked. It’s not the version of Superman we’re used to but I love the fact that he’s an alien who just wants to be accepted. It’s a great proudction.

DIRECTION

BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)

It’s basically a long version of the TV show, directed by Leslie H. Martinson, who does what he can with great actors reading an awful script. It’s the same style we’d see in the TV show and it has some style but it’s not great. More for nostalgia than anything else.

BATMAN (1989)

Tim Burton’s direction is always going to be interesting. His dark, gothic style is perfectly suited for the Caped Crusader and his style and choice cinematography is outstanding. Everything looks great.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

Chris Nolan can seemingly do no wrong. He brings us a Batman picture which not only met the bar set by Tim Burton, it raised it. Nolan’s style and penchant for almost sterile realism works beautifully on this film and it helps that he has the script and cast to match. With this film, Nolan brought Batman back to life after Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman nearly destroyed it.

SUPERMAN (1978)

Richard Donner does a fantastic job of directing a film which, aside from “Lethal Weapon”, I don’t think he ever topped when it came to that cinematic epic most directors hope to make. He makes you believe Superman can fly and brings a pop culture icon to life.

SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

Bryan Singer directed “The Usual Suspects” and a few of the “X-Men” films and he was great at that first one and the first two X-Men movies. To say that “Superman Returns” was a massive disappointment is an understatement. It barely made back its baffling sky-high budget and ensured that a sequel would be too risky for the studio unless changes were made. Singer’s direction isn’t horrible, it’s just not great. He’s better in the dark, exploring the psyches of flawed heroes rather than making this overbudget nonsense. None of this feels like him and there’s no style to it.

MAN OF STEEL

Let me preface this: I hate Zack Snyder with the heat of a million suns. He directed a slick, caffeinated remake of the classic “Dawn of the Dead”, went on to direct “300” which, while pretty to look at, was a mess of a film, shot mostly in slow-motion which made the whole movie feel like you were underwater with the actors. He followed that with the unwatchable “Watchmen”, one of the few films I EVER wanted to walk out of and the god-awful CGI children’s film “Legends of the Guardian” about owls fighting for supremacy. Yep. You heard me. Then he did “Sucker Punch”, a misogynist fantasy about women who try to forget about rape and other dehumanizing acts by imagining that they’re battling dragons and robots and crap while that’s going on. There are people who defend this movie rabidly. There’s a guy on IMDB who actually titled his review (and I quote), “Just like Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut'”. No. No, it isn’t at all “like” “Eyes Wide Shut”. They’re not even in the same league or ballpark or UNIVERSE. When he was selected to direct “Man of Steel”…I finally gave him a shot…and this is my favorite Snyder film. Right before he shit all over all that goodwill by producing the awful “Batman v. Superman” and the equally awful “Justice League”. Here, Snyder does an outstanding job, applying his gritty style and slow-motion to a film which really needs it. “Man of Steel” is an epic, but it also wrings emotion from the audience, exhausting them with a lengthy final battle between Superman and Zod before Superman learns one of the hardest lessons of his life in killing Zod in order to stop him. It’s the ending the original “Superman” didn’t have the guts to push on its audience. It’s gutsy in that Superman isn’t supposed to kill — yet it works because it’s the moment where he finally learns what it is to be human and make decisions that aren’t desirable.

THE WINNER

SCORING

MusicCastingWritingProductionDirectionTotals
Batman ’663413213
Batman ’894334418
Batman ’053444419
Supes ’784433418
Supes ’06221229
Supes ’133434418
Batman50
Superman45

POST-GAME THOUGHTS

It was a big battle between two of the biggest comic book icons the world has ever known. Each side had their underdog, each side had their film that hit for average, and each side had its power hitter. In the end, the Batman films triumph over Superman as “Superman Returns” ultimately became the Superman films’ Kryptonite while the charm of 1966’s “Batman” proved to be the best of the two underdogs.

NEXT WEEK: It’s a hot, sticky summer…perfect time to see “Gone in 60 Seconds” do battle with…the original “Gone in Sixty Seconds”…

About Matt Perri

Matt Perri
Matt Perri is one of those literary Ronin you’ve never heard of until he shows up and tells you he’s a literary Ronin. He’s a native Californian, a film buff, old school gamer geek, and a sports/entertainment fan. A lifelong Giants, 49ers and Sharks fan, he also covers the world of pro-wrestling, writing recaps for WWE Monday Night RAW and Total Divas at Scott’s Blog of Doom. You can follow the guy on Twitter via @PerriTheSmark as well as here at The Workprint and his own blog, We Hate Your Gimmick.

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