It seems like such a simple question. Which is the best Batmobile? To which you would reply, ‘Well how many can there be?’ Five, ten, maybe twenty, tops. Try two hundred.
Clearly the question needs some boundary conditions. This article is about the best filmed version of the Batmobile. Discount all the comics and all the cartoons (though I do find the one from the Animated Series quite fetching) there’s simply not enough time, patience or space to deliberate the merits of every single Batmobile.
With only the celluloid incarnations to choose from, the field is narrowed substantially. We begin with a Ford concept car. The original 1966 TV incarnation of Batman, starring Adam West as the eponymous hero, chose as his wheels a modified Lincoln Futura, a failed concept designed by Ford and manufactured by Ghia in Italy, entirely by hand. As you would expect from a car designed in the mid-50s sporting a horrifically conspicuous black and red colour scheme, this is a Batmobile that even Burt Ward could drive. In fact, viewed front-on, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Dame Barbara Cartland. Styling issues aside, the most famous features of the car other than the household phone incorporated into the dashboard were the deployable parachutes enabling speedy 180s, or ‘bat-turns’, or ‘bat-complete loss of rear axle turns’. Ignoring the definite possibility of catastrophic structural failure due to this ridiculous braking system, the car suffered a number of meltdowns during filming, including overheating and dead batteries. It could also be outrun by a pram.
Better to execute a bat-turn in the Batmobile featured in Tim Burton’s 1989 film. Setting a tone recently rekindled by Christopher Nolan’s Tumbler version of the car, Burton went for a mixture of practicality and style. This Batmobile executed a turn by having a built-in jack capable of lifting the car and turning it 180 degrees. Okay, so you had to stop to do it, but you still had your rear bat-bumper at the end of it. Other innovations included the incorporation of the entire design around the idea that a jet engine would require a jet intake at the front of the car, hence the iconic snub-nosed design. Though even Burton could not resist dipping into the realms of fantasy, with the car’s ability to cover itself completely with what is described by one uber-geek as ‘ceramic fractal armor’ panels. You could almost believe it, until Michael Keaton whispers the word ‘shields’ into his bat-remote and the whole car wraps itself in an impregnable cocoon of body armour.
When you first got central locking, did you say shields and unlock the car? I did.
Cool at the time, but the stop-motion effects have not held up too well. Still, this is the only Batmobile capable of dropping high yield explosives out of the centre of its wheel caps, and for that it should get bonus points. Points also for being one of only two Batmobiles (the other being the Tumbler) to endure for more than a single film. In Batman Returns, it sports the nifty feature of being able to jettison half its body weight and turn into the ‘Batmissile‘, allowing it to squeeze between the narrow streets of Gotham. Batman must have felt super-clever until he got back to his cave and realised a tramp was probably sleeping in his fender.
Now we enter the dark times of Batmobile design, referred to by fans as the Schumacher period. Not Michael, but Joel. Beginning with Batman Forever, and ending one film later with Batman & Robin, Schumacher turned the Batmobile into what can only be described as a gay bar on wheels. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Batman Forever iteration of the car and then, if you can bear it, move on to the version featured in what is by unanimous agreement the worst Batman film and, let’s not leave the bush unbeaten, one of the worst films ever made.
Batman and Robin – watch the trailer at your peril.
There is something truly hideous about these cars. The Batman Forever version looks like a gothic sandal filled with bath gel, and the single fin down the centre of the car gives one the impression of a mohawk. The Batman & Robin car is even worse, a hideous combination of chrome and ghoulishly oversized fins. H.R. Giger, designer for the film Alien, drew up plans of a concept car that, due to time constraints, could not be used. Says it all really. The only redeeming feature of either of these cars was the Batmobile’s ability to raise itself off the ground, shoot out a grappling hook and drive up the side of a skyscraper during Batman Forever. Which is excellent until you consider the possibility of there being a balcony in the way.
Better to go the Batman Begins route, which is to start on the roofs and keep driving through things instead of on or around them. This Batmobile also features in The Dark Knight, and is unique among filmed versions of the car in that, a few effects shots aside, it can do most of what is seen on screen. By that, I mean high speed pursuits in a vehicle that weighs two tonnes and manoeuvres like a tank which is still capable of 0-60 in under six seconds. It is also the only Batmobile never to be referred to as the ‘Batmobile’, going by the moniker of the Tumbler. It retains the remote controlled capabilities of the original Burton movie, but apart from that it relies mostly on speed and a couple of rocket launchers on the front to do the brunt of the work. It does, however, have one cool trick. When fatally damaged in The Dark Knight by a rocket blast from the Joker, the Tumblee turns into the ‘Batpod’, a machine-gun sporting motorbike which Batman uses for the rest of the film.
The Batpod. Unserious Bat thing for a very serious Batfilm.
All well and good, but which is the best? Ruling out the TV series car on the grounds of taste and the Schumacher cars on the grounds of decency, it’s almost a dead heat between Burton’s 1989 Batmobile and Nolan’s 2008 Batmobile. Separated by nearly two decades, they both hold true to the notion of Batman’s car being an exceptional piece of mechanical engineering as opposed to a magical one. In the final analysis, the Tumbler wins out, because it can jump and go where the Burton Batmobile cannot. And when your contemporaries can swings from rooftops and fly into space, you better be sure you can jump high.
Author's Google+ Page
And the winner? The Tumbler!