Batman (1989)

It’s Batman Day!
In honor of my favorite superhero ever, I’m doing a nostalgic review of Tim Burton’s Batman.  I clearly remember seeing the film in theaters at nine years old and wearing out my VHS copy in the years following its release.  The ten year old me could quote the whole film for you.
But how does it hold up now?
Batman still holds up today as one of the finest comic book movies to grace the big screen.   From its amazing art direction to performances both nuanced and over the top, the film is a joy to watch.
Before Batman, the most familiar version of the character was the campy Adam West led television series.  With the bright colors, use of comic book balloons filled with “Bams!” and silly story lines, Batman was made into a children’s character.
Tim Burton and his art directors wisely went in a very different direction.  They gave Batman a dark, 1950s film noir world to haunt.  It was a darkly fantastic and otherworldly place right out of a comic book.  But yet it was grounded in a bit of reality.  I was amazed at the look of the film then and I still love it now.  It became such a part of the Batman character that the animated series pretty much took the same look.  It also allowed Burton to put his own touch on the character.
In hindsight, Burton was the perfect choice to direct a Batman film.  The director had been known for making films about misfits, outcasts and weirdos with Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice.  Batman was always a weirdo among superheroes.  A man who dressed like a bat to avenge his parents death?  Batman clearly had issues.  Who better to make a serious film about this “weirdo” than Tim Burton?
And essentially this was the reason the film worked.  Michael Keaton’s Batman and Jack Nicholson’s Joker were basically two weirdos facing off against each other.  Nicholson’s performance as the Joker was rightfully hailed as one of best portrayals of the infamous villain.  He was fun to watch while also being very scary at times.  There isn’t a lot I can add to the accolades that Nicholson deservedly received.  Simply put, it was great.
Michael Keaton was a controversial choice at the time.  I remember that I was surprised by the casting as little boy.  But in the end, Keaton was an awesome choice.  He created my favorite on-screen version of Batman, mostly for the way he played the two sides of the character.
Keaton played Bruce Wayne as a reclusive yet oddly charming man.  This wasn’t the billionaire play boy that Wayne was in the comics or TV series.  He was clearly damaged by the death of his parents and the line between Wayne and Batman was a subtle one.  You could always tell that they were separate parts of the same man:  Wayne was the clearly psychologically scarred man that no one took too much notice off and Batman was the dark avenger that fought a war against the type of criminals who killed his parents.  It was an underrated performance that should be give as many accolades as Nicholson’s Joker.
Making the Joker the murderer of Bruce Wayne’s parents still starts arguments among Batman fans.  It was an interesting way to link these arch enemies in a more personal way.  The two have often been portrayed as two sides of the same coin in some way.  Both were damaged in the past, but each took a different path after:  Batman wanted justice while the Joker wanted mayhem.  It’s not the relationship that Nolan tried to create in The Dark Knight (Agent of Chaos vs the Agent of Order, etc…hmmm…I’m sensing another blog post, heh heh), but it was an cool wrinkle to add to the dynamic.  Most importantly, Burton and the writers took a chance and filmmakers should be applauded when they do so.
That said, Batman was not a perfect movie.  Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale was basically a damsel in distress, starting an unfortunate pattern of lacking female leads in Batman films.   One of the first questions one sees on the Internet Movie Database is how often Basinger’s character screams.  Alexander Knox, played by Robert Wuhl, was an unwelcome dose of comic relief.  The main villain is called The Joker.  Why did the film need a wise cracking reporter?
Without Tim Burton’s Batman films, we would never have had Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy or even Zack Snyder’s version of Batman.  Burton took the chance to take the darkness of the character onto the big screen when no one had done it before.  He brought in actual actors to portray truly interesting characters.  This is a comic book movie that every fan should see.
Score: 9 out of 10