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Released in 1989
Directed by Tim Burton
TL;DR – The first comic book adaptation that got it right – Tim Burton’s “Batman” starring Michael Keaton nails the comic book world in every way from the gothic architecture to the over the top villains. Jack Nicholson is great as the sinister and wacky Joker and Keaton is excellent as the the lonely billionaire. 9/10
I’m a huge Batman nerd. I have a large book titled “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” that I have read cover-to-cover multiple times since I received it at age 10 or so. I dressed up as Batman for Halloween until I was around age 12. The first time I saw “Batman” was on a grainy VHS tape recorded from network television at a family friend’s house. My mom came to pick me up before it was over I borrowed it and watched it over and over again at home. It made a big impression on me and captured the feel of the DC comic world perfectly.
Let me just say that I really do like the Christopher Nolan films. They’re much more modern in their conveyance of Bruce Wayne as a person filled with rage, who’s bent on revenge and redemption. I think Christian Bale is an excellent Batman.
But the new films are really missing what made both the comics and the movies so great – a sense of fun.
Granted, I don’t think Nolan wanted to have “fun” in his reboots in the first place, but for me some of the goofy gadgets and bad guys are what made the Burton films so great. The Adam West films and TV show had these traits on an entirely different level mind you, and while I ALSO enjoy those movies, they are definitely a product of the 1960s and do, to an extent, capture the feel of the very early Batman comics.
Michael Keaton is probably not who you would think of when someone says “superhero.”
And you would be right, he’s not. He portrays Bruce Wayne in a very human manner. He’s awkward, kind of quiet, even a little spoiled by Alfred, his life-long butler. As the film progresses, you start to see how closed off he is from the rest of the world, his family and friends. He’s lonely, hurt, and angry. Keaton does a very good job in this role, and those crazy eye-brows of his help a lot.
The film shows us the creation of the Joker, who is a criminal that gets dropped in a vat of chemicals which make him crazy and damage his skin, making it appear to be porcelain. The first time he confronts his old mob boss, and other subsequent confrontations with higher ups in his old gang, he’s pretty scary. Nicholson hams it up just the right amount, dancing around after shooting someone’s dead body multiple times, using a hand-buzzer-gag to set someone on fire. It’s pitch-perfect in relation to the comics.
As was typical with any Batman comics, the Joker wants to take over Gotham, he claims he is an artist. His “pieces” range from destroying classic works of art to butchering a beautiful young woman’s face via a botched amateur plastic surgery. He makes commercials that convinces people to buy products that poison them, he throws money in the streets during a parade only to gas the crowds of people. It’s really fantastic, and there’s a lot of ideas and concepts that are executed in this film that you don’t really see any more.
I know I haven’t really talked much abut the story – but what is there to tell? It’s simple. Joker wants to take over the city. Batman wants to stop him. Bruce Wayne meets pretty girl and is conflicted with the risk he takes by being involved with her. Just like the comics.
I don’t really think that Keaton is the best Batman. He does fine, don’t get me wrong – it’s hard not to look great in that suit that was carefully replicated from the comics and then given Burton’s Gothic touch – but he’s much better as Bruce Wayne. There’s a few times where Batman drops his masked persona, and is exposed as an angry vulnerable person and those moments are great, AND you don’t need to hear Keaton talk like he’s yelling through a straw at the bottom of a swamp.
The propping and styling is all very good in this film, the Batmobile looks fantastic and the streets of Gotham are gothic, gritty and appropriately unsafe feeling.
The action is pretty reserved throughout this film, there’s some kicks and punches, some gadgets get tossed around here and there. The drama that’s built by the setup of the bad guys breaking in to the museum or taking over downtown are what this movie is really all about. It feels like a comic book.
Not to say that there isn’t any action or memorable moments -there’s a lot of them. The fight on the rooftop of the cathedral, the appearance of the Batplane, the Joker’s 4-foot long
revolver canon that destroys the Batplane, the escape from the art museum, the parade… it’s all so good.
You owe it to yourself to watch this movie. It’s an interesting piece of film from a bygone era, a comic book movie that focuses on characters rather than 45 minute fight scenes.