The Dark Knight Rises is here at last and viewers have had the chance to observe a clash between two titans, Gotham‘s hero: The Dark Knight, and Gotham’s reckoning: Bane. Nolan‘s latest forray into the indelible Batman universe was highly anticipated for many reasons, with one of the biggest being Batman finally facing a foe in a live-action movie who is at least as physically imposing as himself. So, in honor of this historic moment your humble servants here at Filmophilia would to launch a retrospective on Batman the fighter and chronicle his greatest slug-outs throughout his long history on the big and small screen. This is Top Five: Batman Battles, and as you might expect, spoilers are ahead!
5. Batman vs. Owlman – Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
Crisis on Two Earths is a sublime offering from the cool cats at Warner Brother’s Animation and features our favorite heroes coming into contact with their evil doppelgängers in a parallel universe. With its focus on a team of heavy-hitters like Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, you wouldn’t think that the most incredible action scene would feature the only non-meta-human member of the group: Batman. In this shocking sequence (which is the film’s zenith point from an action perspective) Batman faces off against Owlman (voiced with blood-chilling menace by James Woods) over the fate of the entire cosmos.
Owlman (who is Batman+nihilism+far superior suit and arsenal) matches the Caped Crusader’s technique and uses his far superior strength and speed to give Batman a brutal and ignominious beating. Still, this being Batman, our hero finds a way to win – one which showcases his will in the face of oblivion and highlights once more how he is the ultimate badass.
4. Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul – Batman Begins (2005)
Although somewhat marred by its close-quarters setting and frantic editing, the final altercation between Bale’s enraged Caped Crusader and Neeson’s dogmatic zealot, Ra’s Al Ghul, remains a bruising, intense battle of wills that plays out through a barrage of barely visible punches and kicks. While certainly overblown in its presentation (the two combatants face off on a runaway train containing an apocalyptic doomsday device, for Pete’s sake) the climactic duel of Nolan’s first Batman picture succeeds primarily because the scene offers a great visualization of the film’s core thematic conflict: Justice VS. Vengeance.
3. Batman vs. The Joker – The Dark Knight (2008)
In this sequence, The Joker’s jarring unpredictability gives him the ability to withstand a physical altercation with Gotham’s defender. After Batman arrives to interrupt one of The Joker’s insane tirades and comments how, in fact, The Joker is going to love him, we get a thrilling sequence where the Joker’s truly psychotic pathology is depicted through his physicality. The Joker not only tosses out his own surprising gadgets (the shoe-knife) but shows a complete disregard for all forms of human life by throwing not only Rachel Dawes out the window but his own men directly into Batman’s armored fists.
2. Batman vs. The Joker – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
There is a number of satisfying punch-ups in this lushly animated, thematically complex classic - with the most vicious and inventive coming near the end of the film. Here, Batman faces off not against the Phantasm, but his arch-nemesis, The Joker (brilliantly voiced by Luke Skywalker). Their battle takes place in a model cityscape, which seems to turn these normal-sized combatants into hulking behemoths. It is visceral, shockingly violent (especially since this is a film which was supposedly marketed for children) and outlines both The Joker’s psychopathic frenzy and Batman’s iron-like and indomitable will.
1. Bruce Wayne vs. Prison Thugs – Batman Begins (2005)
The Batman prison fight serves as one of the introductory sequences in the film that launched Nolan’s franchise and also set the tone for everything else that followed. Bale, his eyes blazing, face covered in grime and an illustrious beard, coolly states to his massive prison abuser that he is, in fact, “…not the devil,” but “…practice,” before proceeding to beat the holy hell out of him and five others. This immediately established that the trauma inflicted by the infamous Schumacher, Clooney and O’Donnell triumvirate was long gone. From there, Nolan’s gritty aesthetic takes center stage – in all of its limb-snapping, mud-caked, and rageful-Wayne glory. It is simply a terrific opening sequence and a great Batman (or, in this case, Bruce Wayne) fight scene which helped launch an iconic trilogy.
What is your favorite Batman fight scene in television or film? Let us know in the comments!