Classic Film Review: Batman (1989)

Marvel vs. DC:

Batman, 1989

Directed by: Tim Burton

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

 

Once DC realised they’d dried up the Superman well, they turned to his Justice League team mate, Batman, to help revive their fortunes. Batman (DC’s second outing in 1989 after The Return of Swamp Thing, bet you don’t often hear these two films grouped together) stars Michael Keaton (American Assassin) as Bruce Wayne/Batman in a much, much darker version of the Dark Knight than Adam West’s campy film of the 60’s. In this film he’s starting out his crime fighting ways (although he’s already Batman with a costume and equipment by the film’s start) but soon comes up against Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, Terms of Endearment), who soon becomes mixed up with chemicals and becomes The Joker. Armed with a new cynicism and craziness that he never had before (despite being in with criminal gangs), The Joker soon starts poisoning the town’s products in clever ways, before setting his sights on Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), a photographer who also happens to be dating Bruce Wayne.

This isn’t the only time a director has taken Batman’s public view from a campy, colourful hero to a serious, crime-fighting villain, and each time it has paid off tremendously. They got the cast right (despite many people’s earlier anger at Keaton’s hiring), even if they did have to succumb to many demands made by Nicholson (including a share of the box office which made him a very rich man), but ultimately they produced a fantastic film. I liked how subtle they worked in Bruce’s parents dying, and the inclusion of actual detective work was nice (coming from . . . you know, a company called Detective Comics), although I would have liked more of a back-story to why Bruce Wayne is Batman aside from his declaration that he ‘has to do it’ because ‘no one else can’. It was my same slight issue with Superman in that they brushed past so much of what made him become Superman and instead focused on him saving the day. And while it works, both Batman and Superman are very fine films, I find myself not caring as much as I should because I still don’t know why he’s Batman. I also didn’t like how they changed up the history of certain characters (such as giving the Joker the name Jack Napier and having him being the murderer of Bruce’s parents), but I can understand why they did.

The Joker, though, plays his role really well, going from a small-time criminal to leader to psychotic villain, all the while cleverly creating plans to kill and interfering with television stations. He is the ultimate foil to Batman, and manages to do this without being much of a killer himself (in term of fighting, that is), and Batman captures this perfectly.

It’s no surprise, either, to see it nominated for many awards based on its appearance; winning in the Best Art Direction category at the Academy Awards, while being nominated of many other awards in many other organisations. And it showed the world (and watching rival company, Marvel) that superhero films can still be made to be a commercial and critical success. All it takes is fine acting in a thoroughly entertaining film with impressive visuals; three things, among many others, that separate this well-received superhero films from its predecessors of the 80’s.

 

Plot: * * * *               Acting: * * * *           Writing: * * *                        Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ¾

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