Batman (1989) Movie Review

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I know, I know.  “The Summer Of Batman” is technically in hibernation, and I haven’t finished everything yet…But who cares?  Batman is an all year ’round kind of guy, since he works at night, and if you live in the northern hemisphere, the period between October and March is as Batmanny in real life as it gets.  Especially when you consider Batman stories on Halloween (Arkham Knight and The Long Halloween trilogy) and Christmas (Noel, Arkham Origins, Batman Returns, and Christmas With The Joker).  So, here we are, ready to talk about what could be best described as…an influential film.  This is Tim Burton’s Batman.

Tim Burton’s Batman focuses primarily on 2 characters.  On 1 side we have Batman/Bruce Wayne (played by Michael Keaton), and much of the film shows a typical day or week for him, as well as who he is.  We see what he does at night as Batman, and also what he does when he’s not wearing a costume.  At the same time, we have The Joker in the other corner, a gangster named Jack Napier, who is a made man, but not the boss.  When his boss Carl Grissom (played by Jack Palance) finds out that his wife (Jerry Hall) is having an affair with Jack, he sets up a job that was guaranteed to backfire, and hopefully kill Jack in the process.  This leads to Jack being chased by Police (and Batman) until he falls into a big pile of toxic goo (A reference to The Killing Joke).  Jack survives, but is left greatly disfigured, to the point that his plastic surgeon couldn’t make him normal again, but he could…at least give him a big smile.  That night, The Joker was born (due to Jack’s obsessive fiddling with a pack of cards and how the goo somehow gave his skin the appearance of Clown Make-up), and he makes himself the new boss upon visiting Grissom again.  What brings Batman and Joker together outside of Batman being at the scene of Joker’s accident?  Well, making and preventing crime is 1, but it goes much deeper than that…It’s a love triangle – Batman and Joker fancy the same woman, a Reporter named Vicki Vale (Kim Bassinger).  Sounds like a legit reason.

I’m going to guess that for this film, Tim Burton probably decided to take the 1960s Batman TV show and mix it up with his gothophile tendencies.  Reason?  Tim Burton didn’t read the comics, doesn’t read comics, and probably got a lot of his influences from Bob Kane (Creator Of Batman) who would often visit the set (even though Tim not reading comics is a Kevin Smith quote, and yet Tim Burton’s quoted saying how much he loves Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke…which to be fair, could be read entirely on a plane from Belfast to Paris).  In the process, we’re given something that meets halfway for both Comic fans and the general public.  Comic fans are left happier that Batman is finally being presented in a more serious, gothic and darker tone, similar to what the comics were like in the ’80s ( Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, Killing Joke and A Death In The Family), as before this, if guys told girls on a first date that they like Batman, they’re instantly providing images of Adam West doing the Bat Dance (nothing wrong there, it has its place).  It’s 1 thing saying it today, but not in the 1980s.  At the same time, the general public are given a taste of what they had been missing of Batman through the comics in the 1980s.  We’re not given a comic story, but we’re are given an easy-to-digest script that bridges the gap.

Now onto the building blocks:

Despite being very basic and hollywood-ey in its story, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson hit the ball out of the park in this film.  Keaton is excellent as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and considering he played Beetlejuice only a year before, this was nearly as big a surprise as Heath Ledger playing The Joker in The Dark Knight.  He plays Bruce Wayne as being a bit insane.  He’s a man who is more comfortable running around dressed like a giant bat, than he is a Billionaire Playboy Entrepreneur/Industrialist.  The Joker is also insane. Jack Nicholson was excellent, and did very well showing off the comedic and theatrical side of the character that was portrayed more in the comics. I’m also assuming that there is a bit of Tim Burton in The Joker as well by showing the character as an artist, while also having knowledge in chemistry (Joker gas!).  Anything about the other actors?  Well, Kim Bassinger as Vicki Vale is as good as anybody in the role they’re given, and with those lines (in other words, any pretty blonde who could act could do this role).  Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth is also phenomenal, as he presents himself as a rather quirky older gentleman (Hard to choose between Michael Gough and Michael Caine in this instance). However I thought Robert Wuhl as Alexander Knox was quite over-the-top and annoying.  It even came across as bad acting at certain points, but at the same time it’s possible that the character is meant to be that annoying – perhaps a parody of the paparazzi?  Believe it or not, this film also featured the ex-pro wrestler known as Zeus, who eventually made an appearance in The Dark Knight on the Prison Boat.

The Story, like I said before, is very basic, but this doesn’t mean it’s bad. The movie was light-hearted in places, and didn’t mind.  It also has some nice humorous moments here and there between Wayne and Vicky Vale (Though their relationship is only a little more developed than Romeo and Juliet…which isn’t much).  Also it shows how The Joker could gain influence of gangs, by being a high-ranking gangster already (rather than a lowly gangster who learned a lot, and then made a grand entrance out of nowhere).  It’s also 1 of few pieces of Batman material to feature any hard cuss words…ever.

The Music: Danny Elfman’s theme music is legendary.  The main theme in this film is by far 1 of the most recognisable and iconic superhero themes ever, and added both a seriousness and excitement to what you were about to watch, and perfect for the Gothic Noir side of Batman (Compared to Surfer Batman in the ’60s, MMA Ninja Batman in the 2000s and Brooding Martyr Batman in the 2010s).  It was so good that Danny Elfman also did the theme for Batman: The Animated Series, which is very similar, but just as noir and awesome….The downside to this music though…is Prince…Prince’s presence really dated this movie.  He may be a fine musician, but you can tell that his contribution was more to sell the film than help it…At the same time, it does provide a dated but fun quality in the art gallery scene.

The Art Direction was phenomenal, and to this day, deserves its recognition.  The presentation of Gotham is clearly in a built set.  The special effects consist of early green screen effects, toy model Gotham/vehicles, animation, sets to give depth perspective, and some well chosen lighting.  It was also one of the first CGI films to depict a comic book.  Unfortunately, as technology got better (VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray), the special effects began to show their age, and the set began to look like small people in a dollhouse.  But this doesn’t take away from the fact that Burton’s version of Gotham was very stylised and full of personality.  It also features the best looking bat suit ever (despite being unable to turn his head).

With this all in mind, there are also going to be a challenge of 2 different perspectives; 1 being the context of the times, and the other being how it holds up today, considering the acceptance that comics have received over the last 15 years. While Batman comics became darker in the 1980s, this was the darkest presentation of Batman to be presented to a much wider audience.

Would I recommend Tim Burton’s Batman?  Yes.  The movie is flawed on numerous levels, and is far from being the most in-depth or subversive Batman story out there…but at the same time, it’s still great fun.  It’s quite a silly film, but I keep in mind it was the first step in the right direction…until Tim stopped making Batman movies…and then we had to wait 8 years for Christopher Nolan to give it a go because Joel Schumacher, or more specifically, the higher-ups in Warner Bros, ruined it for a while.

Special Effects: ***1/4 (much higher at the time, looks a lot less impressive as VHS went to DVD and then to Blu-Ray quality)

Art style: ***** (Still 1 of the best artistic directions for a superhero movie ever, even though Gotham looks more like a set than ever before)

Acting: ****1/4 (Robert Wuhl brought it down from ****3/4)

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ***1/4 (Very simple when compared to later Batman movies)

Music: ***3/4 (blame Prince for not making it 5-stars)

Cinematography: ****3/4

Overall: ****


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