Remember those articles in Cult Movies magazine that tried to establish a seamless continuity for all the Universal horror movies? Of course you do. With so many film versions of Batman, and with so many of them different from each other, I wondered if there was any way to view them all not as separate interpretations of Batman, but as one single series, with each film as a chapter, part of the larger whole. Then, it dawned on me. The movies can have a single continuity, but only when watched in the right order.
I’m not stupid. Of course I know that these films were never meant to be seen this way, and that actors, directors, producers, etc. have changed from movie to movie. This is a just-for-fun, a “what if.”
So, if all the Batman movies are one story, here’s the right order to watch them in:
Batman Begins. Because this is where he begins. Der.
Batman (1989). This one opens with Batman still at the early part of his crimfighting career, as he’s in “ubran legend” status in Gotham. We get to see the origin of the Joker, foreshadowed by the image of a playing card, just as we saw at the end of Begins. The Joker appears to die at the end, but since when has a little thing like death stopped a comic book villain? Also, Bruce split with Rachel at the end of Begins, and we won’t see her again until The Dark Knight, so there’s room for a fling with Vicki Vale in this movie. Also, the movie briefly establishes Harvey Dent as district attorney, leading into the next chapter.
The Dark Knight. The Joker is back, with no explanation, so it’s easy to extrapolate that he survived the end of the ’89 movie. It’s left unexplained where he came from, so we can easily assume his origin in the ’89 movie carries right over to this one. The Joker’s methodology is similar as well. He starts by taking over the mob, and then, once in power, he uses those resources to unleash his personal brand of chaos onto the city.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Dark Knight ends with Batman retreating into the shadows, a fugitive. This one begins with him in a similar state, as he’s framed for murder and the general public sees him as someone to be feared. A past love of Bruce’s figures prominently in the plot, but there are enough years skipped in Batman Begins that there’s plenty of room for a lost romance or two. The Joker shows up again, still alive, and it’s made clear that he and Batman have a history.
Batman Forever. By this point, Batman has been crimefighting for some time, and its positive effects on the city are starting to show. Criminals have devolved from organized mobsters to face-painted street thugs who fight with oversized glowsticks. The dark, oppressive architecture of Gotham is being replaced by a brighter, neon-lit look across the whole city. Wait… Two-Face is back? It’s possible he might have survived the fall at the end of The Dark Knight, and has been in Arkham until now. A news report in Forever shows a different origin for Two-Face, but, really, who can trust the media these days?
Batman the Movie (1966). Batman is at the top of his game, so much that now he’s “fully deputized” by Commissioner Gordon. The Batcopter is stored at a public airport, and he flies it around during the day as police salute him. The Joker and the Riddler are here, still alive as we last saw them. Amid all the brightness in the film, there’s a moment of sadness as things don’t end well between Bruce and Catwoman, something we’ll see more of. Also note how Robin’s concern about not invading Batman’s privacy mirrors a similar concern expressed to Batman back in The Dark Knight.
Batman and Robin. Again, here we see Batman at the top of his game. The city has become accustomed to Batman’s presence, and people are assured that he’s always there to save them. While driving the Batmobile, he speaks to Gordon via videoconferencing, and Gordon has gotten so used to this stuff that he uses the word “supervillain” casually. Batman has a support system of Robin and Batgirl now in place, so that street crime is reduced to naught but weirdo illegal motorcycle races. Batman is so well established that he’s even making public appearances for charity, not unlike the press confrences we just saw him do in the 1966 film. Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy notwithstanding, he’s more or less cleaned up Gotham.
Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero. At the end of Batman and Robin, Batman promises to cure Nora, Mr. Freeze’s wife. That promise is not mentioned in this film, yet the fact that it’s gone unfulfilled explains Freeze’s return to crime. This movie mostly puts the emphasis not on Batman but on Batgirl and Robin. Problematically, Batman and Robin introduced Batgirl as Alfred’s niece, but in this movie she’s Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. Could Gordon and Alfred be long-lost brothers? Nah, too far-fetched. I think we can speculate that after Alfred got sick in Batman and Robin, that Gordon took Barbara in as his ward, like Bruce did with Robin. Moving on, Batgirl previously said she planned to leave for South America, and she and Robin are awfully flirty with each other, so we can surmise they both left for South America together after this, which is why we don’t see them again.
Batman Returns. After riding high on all of his successes, this is when the tide once again turns against Batman. Alone again, Bruce has nothing to do with himself except sit inside stately Wayne Manor and brood, until the Batsignal calls him to action. The Penguin frames Batman for several crimes and declares Batman to be a freak, eschewing Bruce Wayne’s status as “Gotham’s number one son.” This sets the stage for economic disparity to be a key theme in the next chapter. That brings us to Catwoman, probably the most troublesome character in this continuity. Batman meets her in this movie, but had already met her in the last one, and will meet her again in the next. The only way to explain this is with the “wipe the droid’s memory” excuse. Each time she uses one of her nine (or more) lives, Catwoman’s memory gets scrambled. In this one, we see how she becomes Catwoman, but not how she got all her athletic/whip-crackin’ skills. This can be explained in that she already had them, just not the memory of them. This can also explain how she shows up in our next movie with no memory of this one. The movie’s ending is bleak, so much that we can interpret the title as Batman returning not to action, but returning to the darkness. It’s personal tragedy that drives him back into the shadows, into hiding, which is where we’ll find him in…
The Dark Knight Rises. Catwoman is back, so we’ll have to assume her memory got jumbled again after her defeat in Returns, and of course Bruce isn’t going to reveal his secret identity to her upon meeting her a third time after what happened before. I think it’s safe to say that the Bane in this movie is not the same person as the plant-monster Bane we met in Batman and Robin. We can go ahead and call that one a coincidence, or maybe one is copycatting the other.
Finally, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker comes last on the list, what with it taking place in the distant future and all.
There we have it. Eleven Batman movies with PERFECT continuity, right?
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