(1989, Tim Burton)
“Where does he get all those wonderful toys?”
No, this is not a review of either of Christopher Nolan’s excellent Batman movies. Batman Begins is inexplicably not in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and The Dark Knight was released after the edition I’m working from came out. [Note: when I originally wrote this post, it was before getting the updated edition – a review of The Dark Knight came much later] No, this is Tim Burton’s 1989 version of the Dark Knight’s story.
The basics of Batman you should already know. Millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne secretly lives a double life as the mysterious vigilante superhero Batman, a persona he created to right the wrongs in revenge for the death of his parents as a child. Got that? Good. So, the plot of Burton’s movie. Gotham City is struggling with a crime problem, and Police Commissioner Gordon is looking for ways to bring down the crime lord Grissom. During a raid on one of his operations, Grissom’s right hand man Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is thrown into a vat of chemicals by a mysterious man taking on the appearance of a bat (that’d be Batman, played by Michael Keaton). Napier emerges later, his skin bleached white, as The Joker, a crazed criminal bent on taking over the city. Meanwhile reporter Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) is trying to figure out the identity of Batman. It’s typical superhero stuff.
It’s a very entertaining movie though. Burton’s dark and twisted cartoony style does great favours to Batman’s world, and in fact does a good job of bridging the gap between the dark Christopher Nolan/Frank Miller iterations and the campy Joel Schumacher/Adam West versions of Batman. Some of the action sequences are over the top and Jack Nicholson plays the Joker as a silly comic book villain, but some of the more serious aspects of the story such as the death of Bruce’s parents and Batman’s terrifying appearance to the criminals of Gotham are handled sensibly.
But sometimes it feels like Burton was having a hard time keeping these two sides of Batman in balance. Some aspects of the plot, especially the relationship between Vicki Vale and Bruce Wayne, just feel awkward, while other aspects, such as The Joker’s plot to poison the city’s chemical supplies, aren’t given the right level of importance. While it’s good we don’t have Joel Schumacher silliness here (there are no Bat Credit Cards, for instance), it’s also disappointing that Burton seems unwilling to explore the darker areas of the Batman mythos. The movie is constantly torn between wanting to be a silly popcorn movie and trying to examine the nature of the character as a tortured soul, and sometimes I found myself wanting it to pick a theme and run with it.
Of course, visually the movie is fantastic, but it is Tim Burton at work here, so that’s to be expected. The designs of Batman, the Batcave and the numerous gadgets are fantastic. And Nicholson looks fantastic as The Joker, even down to the creepy permanent smile. And the effects, while looking a little shaky at times now, are still pretty good.
Overall, Batman is a good movie, but sadly revels too much in the sillier side of the Bat mythos for it to really work as well as the more recent Nolan movies. Batman works at his best when his stories are dark, and unfortunately Burton’s Batman just isn’t quite dark enough, although it is a step in the right direction.
Starring Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough and Jack Palance
Written by Bob Kane (characters), Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren
Produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber
Music by Danny Elfman, songs by Prince
Cinematography by Roger Pratt
Edited by Ray Lovejoy
Favourite Scene: When The Joker receives his botched plastic surgery, and laughs maniacally after seeing his own reflection. It’s chilling and a defining character moment.
Scene That Bugged Me: When Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale confess their love for one another. The romantic subplot is horribly under-developed, and this culmination of all that shows this all too well.
Watch it if: You want to see Gotham’s streets get cleaned up
Avoid it if: You’re a supervillain
Originally posted on Blogspot Sunday 13 November 2011