Under the stewardship of three very different directors - Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolan - the Batman of the big screen has had undergone vastly different guises. Some are beguiling, some are baffling - and some have nipples on them.
Today, we start with a look back at Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns.
Despite the caped crusader's big screen debut taking place 23 years earlier in the 1966 adaptation of the garishly camp television show, the Batman dynasty properly kicked off here, along with, arguably, the modern superhero film as we know it.
While Richard Donner's brilliant Superman came over a decade earlier, Batman's portrayal of a darker, more tormented superhero is much closer in structure to the dozens of comic book films that have dominated blockbusters over the past decade. Equally influential was the film's incredibly aggressive marketing campaign, which made the Bat-logo ubiquitous during the summer of 1989 and led to enormous box office takings.
The film itself however fails to stand up - the script is lifeless, with a story it's hard to invest in, and there's a confused sense about the whole film. Hardly surprising, seeing as during production the oddball Gothic instincts of Burton would consistently run up against the strictly commercially-minded attitude of producer Jon Peters and screenwriter Sam Hamm's desire to remain faithful to the source material. Chuck in Jack Nicholson's legendarily OTT performance as the Joker and a bizarrely inappropriate Prince soundtrack, and it's no wonder the film often feels like a directionless mess.
Despite this, there are still things to enjoy here - Anton Furst's production design is remarkable, Danny Elfman's instantly recognisable score is one of his best, and there are some undeniably iconic sequences, not least the Joker/Jack Napier's post-surgery mirror smashing. Michael Keaton also proves a surprisingly good choice for the title role - he's excellent as Bruce Wayne, the eccentric billionaire alter-ego, and while he is somewhat less effective as Batman that's largely down to Burton, who seems far less interested in the titular character than he does in his showier, freakier nemesis.
Far from a classic, then, and badly dated, but the Batman series was to see much better - and much worse - to come.
Batman Returns (1992)
While the Joker dominated Batman, Batman Returns seems even less interested in his hero than ever before - he barely appears on screen for the film's opening hour, as Burton introduces viewers to a newer, even weirder rogues gallery than before. Just as well, then, that all three are brilliant creations bolstered by some iconic performances.
There's Christopher Walken on typically good form as the odious, shock-haired businessman Max Shreck; Danny DeVito utterly committing to the repulsive Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin; and Michelle Pfieffer superbly portraying Selina Kyle as she transforms from put-upon dormouse to the vampish and deadly Catwoman.
The block-busting success of Batman meant that Burton had much freer reign creatively than in the first film, and it shows - this is a film of freaks, animals, monsters, and misfits. It often feels less of a Tim Burton take on the Batman universe than it does a Batman film that takes place in the Burton universe.
Despite this,the film's greatest asset over its predecessor is probably its script, which is much cleverer and wittier thanks to screenwriter Daniel Waters. He brings some much-needed snappy dialogue to proceedings, and mixes elements of sexual politics and corporate satire alongside the now-familiar blend of fantasy and film noir.
Batman Returns achieved notoriety at the time for its adult content in what was essentially a children's film, with some of the most luridly grotesque content of any of the Batman films. Despite this, with its outrageous costumes and one-liners it's a film as deeply rooted in camp as the '60s version, only replacing the 'Ka-pows!' with splashy gore and grue.
It's by no means perfect - Burton cannot direct action to save his life - and as a Batman film it fails to fulfil some of the most basic criteria for long-term fans. It's still a highly entertaining watch in its own right, and of the pre-Nolan Batman films it remains easily the most rewarding to revisit.
Check back in tomorrow (July 17) as we look back at Joel Schumacher's two entries into the Batman franchise, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.
Watch the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises below: