Batman was released 28 years ago this June, to mostly positive reviews after a bit of pre-release criticism due to the choice of both director and star. It broke the opening weekend record by grossing $46.3 million and was the first film to earn $100 million in the first ten days.
It still managed to be criticised for being too dark. Batman Begins would come out 16 years later and receive praise for the same thing, showing how tastes have changed over time, from the camp, fun romps of the early serials and movie.
This next month is probably going to be an unofficial ‘Batman Month’ as I make my way through B on the movie watch list. So how does this version of Batman match up to the other versions shown so far?
The story begins with Harvey Dent (played by Billy Dee Williams) and Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) pledging to make Gotham safer. Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) throws a fundraiser, attended by two reporters, Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), among other people. They have recently begun investigating rumours of a ‘bat man’.
Meanwhile, mob boss Grissom (Jack Palance, in a role created for the movie) has set up his so-called friend Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) to get killed at the Axis Chemicals plant, but the plan goes slightly wrong when Gordon and Batman show up. In the chaos, Napier is knocked into a vat of chemicals and is presumed dead, but becomes the Joker, an even more deranged psychopath than he already was, hideously disfigured. He exacts his revenge, then comes up with a plot to terrorise Gotham, while at the same time obsessively trying to woo Vale. When Batman attempts to foil both plots, a furious Joker vows to kill him.
The movie eventually builds to a showdown with the Joker in the city streets and then the famous scene atop the cathedral. **SPOILER ALERT*** Even though they made the decision to kill off the most iconic recurring villain, Batman’s most frustrating foe, after two thirds of a movies worth of time, which wrote him out of the three sequels that followed, this scene remained one of my favourite scenes in a comic book movie for a long time and is still one of the most memorable.
Starting with what is good about the movie, the Batsuit is a marked improvement from the earlier ones, and is actually one of the best ones in my opinion. All black except for the yellow on the bat symbol and belt. Keaton was one of the coolest looking Batmans. The vehicles were also cool. The Batwing looks great, although the special effects of it flying don’t look great nowadays. The Batmobile is one of the best looking ones I think.
Gotham itself is THE best it has ever looked on film. You could debate me on that but it is the only one where critics have described it as an extra character of its own. It oozes detail and has a Gothic feel to it, while being set in a strange era where people dress like 40’s mobsters with Tommy guns but also have 80’s style boomboxes and future technology. It feels unpredictable, and just the type of world a guy like Batman would exist in.
And here is Gotham:
The score by Danny Elfman is perfectly fitting, and if it wasn’t for ill-placed Prince songs, the movie would be perfect sound-wise. Elfman’s score was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition. It has been called one of his best works and it really is that good.
We also get a fantastic Batman in Keaton, who defied all his critics to give one of the best performances of the character. About the only thing he can be criticised about is something he had no control over; his size. To me, he more than makes up for that with screen presence. People also forget that he introduced something that has been copied ever since; Batman’s low growling voice. Keaton, introduced it after realising it was stupid to wear a disguise and then talk in your normal voice, because people would still recognise you.
Nicholson’s Joker is performed at 300% by the star, who goes all out with the craziness. He adds in a bit of snarling menace too and draws on his previous experience playing crazy in film and totally steals the scene whenever he is on screen. His joker also uses deadly pranks to kill people, like in the hand shocker scene.
There is also a strong supporting cast too. Basinger is good as Vicki Vale, and Michael Gough is great as Alfred. Billy Dee Williams and Jack Palance also up the star status with strong performances from what we see of their characters.
Moving onto the bad, it has to be said that this film has divided hardcore fans for a number of reasons, some of which I agree with, some I don’t. One such point is the killing off of Joker. I really think the movie makes a mistake here. Batman is pretty quick to decide joker needs to be killed, which is not comic accurate in the slightest. Batman actually doesn’t care whether bad guys live or die at all in this movie. I’ve never really thought it too much of an issue in the movies whether Batman kills as much as why he kills. The issue I have with this death scene is that Joker is killed for no reason other than revenge. He has actually arguably defeated and spared Batman when he tries to leave.
I am also in the group of people that dislike the whole dance scene Joker puts on to that Prince track. It just feels out of place in this otherwise dark and serious movie. By far the biggest mistake the movie makes is when Alfred loses his mind and allows Vale into the Batcave. Not sure what they were thinking when they wrote that into the movie. This is supposedly one of Batman’s most secret secrets and it’s compromised before the end of the first movie? That, or having Jack Napier kill Bruce’s parents seems to have irked fans the most.
The special effects are still okay on revisiting. The Batwing shots against the night sky look pretty bad, but overall the movie looks great still. The story itself doesn’t really excite as much after the first two thirds. The movie is also more of a Joker movie than a Batman movie at times, which brings me to my next point which is that some of the characters are vastly underused or misrepresented, none more so than James Gordon, who is hardly in it but when he is acts more of a bumbling fool than anything else.
Overall, the 1989 version of Batman, even approaching 30 years old, is still a great watch. It doesn’t ever really reach the heights of totally amazing, but it will certainly hold your interest for its running time due to the performances of its stars rather than the story on offer. And they are great performances. You could argue that the movie is style over substance, but when you have this much style it’s going to entertain. Held up against movies today, it is still well worth a watch.
Movie info from Wikipedia:
|Directed by||Tim Burton|
|Story by||Sam Hamm|
|Music by||Danny Elfman|
|Edited by||Ray Lovejoy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$411.3 million|