Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's reviews of Batman movies
Roger Ebert: "From out of the comic books and into the movies, the Caped Crusader opens his newest adventure in Batman."
Gene Siskel: "The eagerly awaited Batman, although it's not perfect, is the first 1989 summer spectacular that I've really enjoyed. I think that has to do with it not being a sequel. There's some true originality in the films art design, sound and performances. As it's been reported, this is a darker Batman, not at all like the campy '60s TV show. Jack Nicholson stars as criminal Jack Napier. He's out to rob a chemical factory with police and Batman, Michael Keaton, in pursuit. Jack Napier turns into the twisted character of the Joker after Batman throws him into a vat of chemicals, scaring his face, thus natural enemies are born. Out of uniform Batman is, of course, millionaire Bruce Wayne, who draws the attention of photographer Vicki Vale, played by Kim Basinger. She's tipsy at the end of their first date. The three main players are brought together when the Joker tries to disfigure Vicki Vale with acid as part of his crime wave. The film plays down Batman's paraphernalia, save for the last act - a confrontation between Batman and Joker in the street and sky above Gotham City. The Batwing plane looks like a little model there, so does the Batmobile in some shots. Director Tim Burton obviously wanted to recall the original comic book look, as well as tell a more adult kind of story and that adult approach is what I found so refreshing about this Batman movie. We have so many films these days that are being made for the teenage audience, films that look like overblown TV shows. Here's a motion picture with all adult stars, troubled characters and a dark look. It's a shame that that approach has to be considered a risk these days, but I'm certainly glad the approach was taken. I enjoyed this Batman."
Roger Ebert: "You said you enjoyed it more than any of the other entertainment motion pictures of the summer of 1989. I certainly didn't think it was as much fun as the Indiana Jones film."
Gene Siskel: "More fun for me. I felt I'd been through that Indiana Jones one before."
Roger Ebert: "As I looked at Batman, the thing that struck me most of all was the art direction. Gotham City in this movie is one of the most original places in the movies. It was very well done. It reminded me of places like Metropolis in the movie by Fritz Lang, or the futuristic Las Angeles in the movie Blade Runner by Ridley Scott. So I thought that the art direction was sensational. I thought the special effects were good. I thought those buildings looked like they went up a mile and a half up into the sky. I thought the dark film noir look of the film was very nice. But I didn't care about anything that happened in the movie. I never really found that these characters became people that I could get involved with. I felt that Nicholson as the Joker went on way too long, he was on too often, he was doing the same thing over and over. I found the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale didn't work at all. In fact, when she's in the Batcave and she see's for the first time that Bruce Wayne is in fact Batman, do you remember what her reaction was? She had no reaction. They left the reaction out of the film. They didn't even care to show that she was surprised."
Gene Siskel: "No, she knew. And I think there are indications throughout the motion picture that these people know who they are in other lives, in other alter egos."
Roger Ebert: "Well, in all these Batman movies the superhero wears a mask that covers the top half of his face, it's like RoboCop. Well, anyone can see that it's Micheal Keaton. But the whole deal in the movie is your not suppose to notice that until the person takes off the mask and you say 'Oh my god. It's Bruce Wayne.' So she didn't know."
Gene Siskel: "That isn't the whole business of the motion picture. I thought the Bruce Wayne character was a fascinating guy. Rather than playing this as just a strong man, I thought it was interesting to show this guy as sort of conflicted about it."
Roger Ebert: "Well, that's a modern touch that I wasn't surprised by. It's not only a dark film, a film noir, but also there's a great deal of hostility and anger in this film. There's a great deal of bad feeling in it. And it's not a film for children. It's not for kids. It's an extremely, extremely disturbing film."
Gene Siskel: "Aren't you glad to be disturbed?"
Roger Ebert: "I would have been glad to be disturbed by a film that made me care. That was able to not only use it's special effects, but encompass and surpass the special effects with a story, because the one thing Spielberg knows in his special effect pictures is you've got to have strong characters and a strong story or the special effects simply become something nice to look at."
Gene Siskel: "I felt I had entered a complete world. A psychological world and a visual world. I bought it. I think the ending runs on too long. That's a problem in the third act that a lot of action pictures have."
Roger Ebert: "Well, I admire the look of the motion picture. We just don't agree on whether the film works or not."
Gene Siskel: "A split vote on Batman. We both agree that the special effects, art direction and sound of the film are special. I enjoyed the dark approach to the adult characters, too. But Roger didn't care enough about them. I think you're off on Batman. I think you had a better time. You know it's a smarter movie."
Roger Ebert: "If your so good at telling me I had a better time then what I felt and how I thought then I don't know why it's necessary for me to be on this show."
Gene Siskel: "I've thought about that, too."
Roger Ebert: "Because obviously I'm wrong about my opinions and you know exactly what I really think. I'm telling you this: One of the things the movies can give us is a thing or a place or a experience we haven't had before, and I got that out of Batman."
Gene Siskel: "Okay."
Roger Ebert: "I loved the look of Gotham City. I'm just telling you the drama wasn't equal to the production."
Gene Siskel: "I think the look of the film is stronger, but the story is good enough. Loved it. Loved the mood of it. I felt it was great that a whole bunch of young people who went to see this expecting a cartoon kind of motion picture got to see a real director, Tim Burton. I liked it."
Roger Ebert: "I gave it a thumbs down, marginally. I thought the art direction was fabulous. The movie really looks good. I felt the Batman character was under written. That Michael Keaton, who's one of the best actors around, was not given that much to do. The character came off kind of flat, and the story was disappointing, including the shoot out at the end where the Joker is shooting at the Batplane."
Gene Siskel: "You would tell people not to see the motion picture?"
Roger Ebert: "I would tell people, 'look, this movie is so great looking, you should see it, but you will probably be disappointed with it."
Gene Siskel: "Then why did you give it a thumbs down on our show?"
Roger Ebert: "Because our criteria is 'do I approve of the movie or not in totem.' I go to a lot of movies that I give a thumbs down to. Micheal Keaton is a very good actor. He should have gotten an Academy Award nomination for that movie Clean and Sober that he did. I thought that the character Batman itself didn't give him enough to do. What happened was, after Nicholson got there, they rewrote his part, they enlarged it. It was suppose to be a supporting part, he actually had a bigger role in the movie than Batman did, and that took over and detracted from Batman and because of that, that's why the movie didn't work as well as it should have."
Gene Siskel: "I think that Tim Burton obviously cut the film more for the laughs with Joker, but I think Keaton was just fine. How much do they have to tell us about Batman?"
Roger Ebert: "A key scene from Batman, one of the most popular movies among grade school kids, and what you saw there was young Bruce Wayne's parents being mugged and murdered by street criminals while the little boy looked on. These days you have to have a pretty thick skin to be a kid with the movies. Not very long ago in this country, kids went to the neighborhood library to check out books. These days they go to the neighborhood video store to check out movies. The books kids checked out wouldn't have surprised anybody, in those years ago. they were exciting, romantic and filled with a sense of wonder. The movies the kids are looking at like Batman are exciting too, but with a big difference. They contain a dark and depressing vision of the world. a world of violence and despair. What is it with kids today? Why are they attracted to the stories that would have scared and depressed children from earlier, gentler, more innocent generations. Sure, kids still watch the kinds of movies that are traditionally thought of as children's films like The Little Mermaid, but their favor these days are films like Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Kids use to be scared that something bad might happen to Lassie, now Batman involves kids parents being brutally mugged and killed. The hero in the old days fought for true, justice and the American way. Now the popular heroes want revenge. The most popular movies to kids nowadays feature a hero who wants revenge in films like Batman and RoboCop. What I want to know is what are the kids thinking today when they see a dark world where parents are mugged and murdered and the bad guys live in big houses and the safest place is down in a cave and the sewers like those Turtles."
Gene Siskel: "I don't know that children are attracted to it. I don't know that they have much of a choice. I think that whats happened is this hard edged stuff has just knocked out the sweet stuff, and kids are getting this because this is what is really offered and sold hard, very hard to them, and so they want to see it because that's whats there to see. I have two children of my own, young kids, and it bothers me. I see a real threat here. I also see sort of a poisoning of what the movie theater can be. I know when their older they can handle action stuff but at this stage, at the tender age, 7 and under, I want them to embrace something a little more life affirming. It's very, very hard to find it."
Roger Ebert: "There should always be something fun in the movies, not something that scares you and makes you cry. Even in films like Disney's The Rescuers Down Under, I was at that screening, I heard you're daughter crying during that one scene. I thought, 'Gee, this is suppose to be entertaining for kids.' Another thing they do with some of the action pictures and on children's television they really push the toy produces that are tied in with them so the kids feel like their missing the boat unless they have a RoboCop toy and yet at the same time the movie is R rated, it's not really made for kids."
Gene Siskel: "I can tell you from first hand experience. You take you're child to a movie these day and you've got one hand ready to cover their eyes and that's to bad."
Roger Ebert: "It's to bad. Here are our suggestions of quality family movies available on home video. Our antidote to these dark times for family oriented movies."
Gene Siskel: "My pick for a family oriented movie is Crusoe. A little seen, more socially conscious version of the classic story featuring Aidan Quinn as a ship wrecked solo. The movie was directed by Caleb Deschanel, who's film the Black Stallion is another classic nature motion picture. The unique spin on this production is that Robinson Crusoe is is not presented as some kind of a rascal adventurer, but rather as a slave trader who comes to embrace Africans only after he begins living among them."
Roger Ebert: "Crusoe is a real good film, and like the Black Stallion, it shows this world of the sea and the beach and the jungle as a vast and wondrous universe, instead of just some backlot set of some sort. We're really convinced that he's out there in the middle of this somewhere."
Gene Siskel: "And that's why this Caleb Deschanel has to be considered a real hero for parents, because he's making quality family films in a way that other people are simply not doing."
Roger Ebert: "Caleb Deschanel makes films for children that adults can like. My choice for a family movie worth seeing is The Bear. A film that may seem like a strange selection in a way because it opens with a bear cub experiencing the death of it's mother, and that might look like another example the theme I was complaining about. That kids favorite movies like Batman make the heroes into orphans. The Bear is a different kind of family movie, a film that accepts the realities of life but also contains lessons to be learned and a vision to be absorbed. A vision of the life of a wild animal bear cub growing up in the mountains far from man. It took more than a year to film The Bear on those natural locations because every scene had to be pieced together from dozens of different shots. It's not easy to turn bears into movie actors, but the result is a magnificent adventure. Not a sugar coated animal fable but a movie that respects it's subject and it's audience encourages kids to ask some tough questions afterwards. A lot of children's movies are like fast food. You can hardly remember them after you've been there and their not terrifically good for ya. The Bear encourages it's viewers to really think."
Gene Siskel: "The Bear is a good movie I would say for older children over the age of 8."
Gene Siskel: "Micheal Keaton is back as the Dark Knight pursuing two very different villains in Batman Returns."
Roger Ebert: "Batman Returns is another excursion into the dark and murky world of Gotham City, where a bizarre band of characters enact their twisted destinies. This sequel once again stars Micheal Keaton in the title role, and once again Batman is more of an enigma than a leading man. Little effort is made to get behind his elaborate facade, although he's back with as many high-tech gadgets as ever. What's new this time are some fresh characters, including a romantic interest of sorts for Batman - Michelle Pfeiffer plays Catwoman. Also new is Danny DeVito as the Penguin - a grotty little man who was abandoned by his parents, raised in the sewers and now wants revenge on society. But the real villain this time is tycoon Max Schreck, played by Christopher Walken, a power-hungry manipulator who wants to drain Gotham of it's energy. Batman Returns was once again directed by Tim Burton, who's credits also include Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. Burton is one of the most interesting stylists at work in the movies today. His movies are always terrific to look at. Batman Returns is constantly fascinating as a visual experience. But it's sort of hard to care about this movie. The storyline is confusing, the characters are only sketchly developed, and it's impossible to get in involved in the fantastical story. I always felt I was watching from the outside. There are some strange contractions here, Batman Returns is not a successful movie, but it is, visually at least, an inspired one."
Gene Siskel: "I think there are elements to get involved in within the story. I did and I enjoyed the motion picture. I enjoyed the Penguin and the Catwoman characters. I think Michelle Pfeiffer is a good comedian and does good light comedy when we see her as the office work who's going to be turned into Catwoman after she's abused. Then Danny DeVito I thought was actually pretty threatening and sad as this former little baby, this ill formed baby who was abandoned. This is what Tim Burton does - he gives us characters, including Batman himself, who all have this private pain that they then work out publicly."
Roger Ebert: "Yeah, but the thing is with Catwoman and the Penguin is that they emerge, they develop as characters, we get their back-story, and then they don't go anywhere. There is no engine pulling this train. There is no story to really get us from the beginning of this movie to the end. Instead what you have are set pieces, set design, character design, costume design, even personality design, but no story."
Gene Siskel: "The problem in the motion picture is the Max Schreck character. Frankly he isn't particularly interesting and his story and what he wants to do, and how the other characters fit in, that isn't fleshed out. But the point is that in seeing this story, I saw this as a personal story rather than an action story."
Roger Ebert: "Yeah, but the thing is that maybe if the Penguin character or the Schreck character had been given some kind of agenda, because the problem is that you have the two most interesting characters basically just standing around as participants in somebody else's story."
Gene Siskel: "There's no need for Max Schreck, Christopher Walken, in this motion picture at all."
Roger Ebert: "And I'll say once again that Burton makes great looking pictures."
Gene Siskel: "A split vote on Batman Returns. Roger liked the look of the picture better than the story. I enjoyed the tortured characters of the Penguin and Catwoman."
Gene Siskel: "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a Batman animated feature that is terrific. I enjoyed it more than the current Batman Forever that's playing in theaters and I kind of liked that motion picture. This film, however, is really smart and beautifully drawn and intricately plotted. Obviously Batman lends himself to animation and just take a look at the art deco influenced drawing style, the classic cartoon drawing style, as we find Batman caught up in a web of love and violence and guilt. Somebody dressed up in a cape is killing mobsters. It's not Batman, but his name is now being sullied as the killer. There's more, including the Joker, who quiet frankly, was better when Jack Nicholson played him in the first movie, or Cesar Romero in the cartoony show on TV. I don't like this Joker's voice. But it's the drawing style that really distinguishes Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. You can really loose yourself in all of these great images as Batman fights against the Phantasm, his deadly imitator. If I were forced to rank all of the Batman movies, I'd rank this animated one just under the first live-action Batman from Tim Burton. I wish Warner Brothers would produce more animated features from this same production team. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was big time entertainment. I really liked it."
Roger Ebert: "I think that the day is coming, and it's also happening with the Disney motion pictures, when adults are realizing that animation is not limited to an entertainment form for children. That animation can do some things that live-action can't do. For example, the sets in the city of this movie are seen more clearly than they are in the live-action movies where it's kind of murky. The exaggeration of the effects and of the camera angles can be stretched in perspective can be played with in a way that isn't available in the real world. Also here, it's interesting that they really did have a story. More of a story than the movies. The characters have feelings and motivations and you get involved in it."
Gene Siskel: "I got completely involved in it and also it's tight. It's 77 minutes long and every image counts. Their spending more money in animation maybe per minute than they are in some live-action, and there very economically done."
Roger Ebert: "So if you saw Batman Forever and you still want to see some more Batman, try renting this."
Re: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's reviews of Batman movies
Gene Siskel: "Val Kilmer replaces Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight in Batman Forever battling Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones in the third adventure in the series."
Roger Ebert: "Batman Forever is part of the enormously successful series of films that attempt to cross a comic book superhero with the shadows and mystery of film noir. The Batman is Val Kilmer who finds he's very attractive to Doctor Chase Meridian, an abnormal psychologist played by Nicole Kidman. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Gotham City two villains lay their plans. Two-Face, a former DA gone wrong, is played by Tommy Lee Jones. And the Riddler is Jim Carrey looking a lot like his character in The Mask here. He explains his plans to drain the city of it's collective IQ, straight into his own brain. The original comic books were about Batman and Robin, but the first two movies had no Robin. This one does. An orphaned acrobat played by Chris O'Donnell, who's taken in by a well-meaning Bruce Wayne, and soon discovers that his host has a secret life as Batman. Meanwhile, the budding attraction between the sexy Doctor Meridian and Batman continues to grow, maybe because she's attracted to his costume. Batman Forever is a great looking movie and it's entertaining, but somehow this series keeps on missing boat. Batman is the most fascinating and mysterious of all the comic book superheroes. Batman's about more than simply action and special effects and colorful villains. Batman Forever is basically just a very good looking comic book movie. I think Batman deserves more and better."
Gene Siskel: "I have been having a strange reaction to this motion picture. I liked it while I was watching it and as soon as it was over, it didn't mean anything to me and as the days have gone on it's meant even less. I'm recommending the motion picture because I can't deny that while I was watching it I thought the dialogue was very funny, I thought that Jim Carrey was funny. Sometimes he goes over the top but that's Jim Carrey. Also, I thought Nicole Kidman's scene were really appealing and they do hint at the fetishistic side of Batman. There is a little bit of that going on there. So I'm sort of caught in the middle, but I liked it while I was watching it. The way that they juggle the five characters is pretty impressive because their all given enough screen time except maybe Tommy Lee Jones."
Roger Ebert: "One thing that happened, maybe because Jim Carrey is so hot right now, the Riddler kind of takes over the picture and maybe even has as much screen time as Batman himself. I cannot quiet recommend this movie, and yet I do think it's better than the previous one, Batman Returns. It's kind of in that middle area and it doesn't really have any resonance."
Gene Siskel: "A lot of good scenes but no substance. A split vote on Batman Forever. I liked it more than Roger. Good characters I think but in a forgettable story."
Roger Ebert: "George Clooney takes over as Batman and Robin, played by Chris O'Donnell, joins him in combating Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mister Freeze in Batman & Robin."
Gene Siskel: "Boy was I shocked by Batman & Robin. It's so over produced and every scene is so action filled that the movie does all of the thinking and emoting for us and you just sit there looking at dazzling effects but you still feel bored. Add to that an unending parade of leering double entendre jokes centered on the male antimony, and you have an extravagant, often tasteless bore. I saw plenty of walk outs at a public screening I attended. In the opening action scene Batman and Robin first encounter Mister Freeze in the Gotham Museum of Natural History and he's trying to steal a giant diamond. Batman has another adversary in this film. A loathsome creature known as Poison Ivy played by a langurs Uma Thurman. Part of the byplay between Batman and Robin involves jealousy. The action sequences are over stuffed, their burdened by wall to wall music. The joking is all below the belt. George Clooney is a bore in his role. Boring is the last word I would have expected to have used so often in describing a Batman movie."
Roger Ebert: "I didn't like Batman & Robin, either. Although I guess I liked it a little more than you did. I would give it 2 stars. It is true that the action sequences are so busy, that you can't get involved in them. As for Clooney as Batman, I realized this time that it doesn't matter who plays Batman. I think they cast him according to the chin, which is all you can see when he has the costume on. There's no real interest in the Batman and Robin characters. It's all always the villains. These villains are not really up there with Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito and Tommy Lee Jones. There are so many questions about Batman and Robin that would be interesting to answer if the movie had any serious interest in it's characters."
Gene Siskel: "Tim Burton is another level of filmmaker than Joel Shumacher. Tim Burton puts a psychological approach in his filmmaking that is at least interesting. I liked the other motion pictures. Here with Batman & Robin there is nothing. There's no human element. When the butler is the one thing you respond to emotionally because he may die, that's a sad commentary."
Roger Ebert: "Alfred's niece comes from England, Alicia Silverstone, without a British accent and is kind of a disappointment as Batgirl."
Gene Siskel:"Yes, she sure is a disappointment!"
Roger Ebert: "I did like Uma Thurman, though, as Poison Ivy. Two thumbs down for Batman & Robin, which despite it's special effects and visual pyrotechnics, tells a flat footed story."
Roger Ebert: "Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is an animated made-for-video spin-off of the animated television series. It has an energy and pacing that makes it compare very well with the top heavy live-action Batman films. This one involves Mister Freeze, the man who's health requires him to live a refrigerated lifestyle, but this time he doesn't want to conquer the world, he only wants to save his beloved wife. She has an illness that has no cure and he's keeping her cryogenically frozen until medical science finds a way to revive her. But then her capsule is broken open and he desperately needs an organ transplant to preserve her. A transplant that can come from only one person - Barbara Gordon of Gotham City, also known as Batgirl. The freedom of animation allows the film to create Batman's film noir universe with a lot of style and atmosphere. And for once Robin comes across as a fully realized character, not simply an awkward sidekick."
Unfortunately Gene Siskel was in the hospital after his surgery to remove the cancerous brain tumor at the time in 1998, so he didn't participle in this Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero review. Gene Siskel passed from complications after another surgery on February 20th, 1999. He was 53. Roger Ebert had surgery to remove cancer in his salivary gland in 2003. Roger Ebert had another surgery in 2006 to remove cancer in his jaw by removing his jaw and his voice box, needing a prosthetic jaw, leaving him unable to speak, eat and leaving his mouth hanging open. Roger Ebert passed from a painful hip fracture that made it difficult for him to walk and was revealed to be cancerous on April 4th, 2013. He was 70.
Links to the televised Batman reviews:
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