Batman (1989)


Sometime in the early 90s a cable channel started rerunning the old Adam West Batman television show. My dad probably put it on, because he was a fan as a kid, and thought my sister and I might like it. Little did he know this would lead to daily viewings, which included my sister and I jumping off the sofa punching the air, shouting “Wham!” “Pow!” “Zoink!” in time with Batman and Robin. I even remember begging my mom to let me finish watching episodes before eating dinner. I loved this show, and thought Batman was the coolest superhero ever.

So it’s a bit odd that I had never watched any of the original Batman movies until a couple years ago. When this one was released I was too young to be aware of the movie (this was before I discovered the tv show), and my parents wouldn’t have let me see it anyway. It probably looked way too dark and scary, especially for a kid whose vision of Batman was this.

I wouldn’t categorize this Batman as campy, à la the tv series, although it does have some very cartoonish aspects. Most of this occurs in the latter half of the movie, when The Joker is introduced. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemisis is great, but a bit goofy. He and his henchmen trashing Gotham’s art museum while blasting Prince from a boom box especially stands out in this regard. The sets are also extremely stylized. In no way does Gotham feel like a real city. It is clearly a movie set. And while the colors are mostly shades of black and gray, big pops of vibrant color add to the overall comic book feel.

Of course, a lot of my opinion on this is shaped by the more recent Christopher Nolan films. Those are extremely dark; any other Batman would seem tame by comparison. I’m sure this movie was deemed too scary for kids at the time, but I would have no problem showing it to a 10 year old now. Even Prince’s sexual crooning over the credits doesn’t wouldn’t deter me.

On the whole, I really enjoy this movie. It’s not the best Batman, but it’s very fun. Michael Keaton is a good Batman, but I’m not crazy about him as Bruce Wayne (more on that later). Nicholson is great as The Joker, as previously mentioned, and Billy Dee Williams rounds out the cast as Harvey Dent. My only criticism is how journalist Vicki Vale is portrayed. She’s very much a damsel in distress, and even after she gets the scoop of a lifetime (one-on-one access to Batman/Bruce Wayne), she walks away from the story. Come on, Vale– even Lois Lane cashes in on knowing Superman while keeping his identity secret.

Rating: B

Get ready to be Batman’d out. This is the first of seven Batman films that I own. We decided early on that this DVD journey would only include feature films that got a theatrical release. If I included all of my animated Batman films, there’d be at least another five. Batman is one of my favourite characters and there are always high expectations when one of his films comes out.

I loved this film growing up. I watched it all of the time. Before this, Batman had only appeared on my tv screens in the campy 60s tv series. Tim Burton’s take on the dark knight is much darker than that tv show. Although, when I watch it now it does seem a little more cartoony than I remember. I think part of that is that now I’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s Batman films from the mid 2000s. At the time, Burton’s films were very dark and gothic, but when compared with Nolan’s recent films they do seem very light hearted.

Michael Keaton stars as Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne. Keaton is a very good Batman, he has a strong jaw line and a naturally deep voice that does the caped crusader justice. He doesn’t really work as Bruce Wayne though. He doesn’t have the playboy looks or charm you’d expect from a millionaire playboy. He’s quite quirky as Wayne and it’s not how the character has been portrayed in other mediums. He does a good job though. When he was originally cast, angry fanboys threatened to riot if Beetlejuice was going to be their Batman of the big screen. Keaton’s performance didn’t warrant that kind of reaction, but there is definitely room for improvement.

Without a doubt, the star of this movie is Jack Nicholson as the Joker. He is clearly enjoying himself playing the clown prince of crime. So much so, that when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker over 15 years later he was not expected to come anywhere near Nicholson’s performance. Nicholson’s Joker is creepy but still quite campy, especially compared to Ledger’s performance, but fits well in the world Burton has created.

Tim Burton does a great job. His gothic style fits really well with the dark character of Batman. There is great music in this film too. The score by Danny Elfman is iconic and the soundtrack by Prince is really catchy.

This was one of the first films to be based on a comic book and do it well. Batman would eventually lead to our summers being dominated by comic book films. Over the years, it has lost some of its lustre, but is still a solid Batman/comic book film.

Rating: B

6 thoughts on “Batman (1989)

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