"Batman" (1989) Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Superheroes have been around for a long time, appearing in comic books as early as 1938. While superheroes may come and go and fluctuate in popularity, there has always been a select few that have been household names for over six decades. One of those heroes is Bruce Wayne, who dons the Batman outfit to fight crime against Gotham. He has appeared in numerous TV shows and even a feature length movie based off the program starring Adam West, but the movie that made him huge on the silver screen is Tim Burton's 1989 film named after the caped crusader. Starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, this feature length debut for this kind of Batman has great ideas and great character performances, but it doesn't really hold up to the test of time today.
Burton's film is named after the legendary superhero, but it finds itself more concerned with Nicholson's Joker, whose real name is Jack Napier. After falling into a vat of acid and in result, having pronounced facial deformities, he assumes the mantle of the Joker, wreaking havoc on whoever comes near Gotham. It is up to the giant bat to take down Joker once and for all, especially since Napier has dark ties to the murder of Bruce's parents when he was a child.
While Cesar Romero portrayed a more comedic Joker, Nicholson's is downright scary. His Joker is twisted, demented, and sadistic, and Nicholson portrays that perfectly. Every detail about Joker and this iconic look he sported here in this film is perfect to how Nicholson is; we have seen him portray psychopaths in films like "The Shining" before this. I truly think Nicholson was the perfect choice to play the Joker at the time this movie was made.
Keaton, on the other hand, is suave and charming. It is impossible not to like him, and I think he does a fantastic job of playing both Bruce and Batman. He has great chemistry with Kim Basinger, who plays his love interest Vicki Vale. He is just this charismatic character who exists in this world. But, when he puts on the bat suit and becomes the protector of Gotham, he is able to change his entire persona, while still keeping that suave attribute he has as Bruce. I think he gave a fantastic performance as the titular character; I just wish we got way more of him throughout this movie.
Throughout the film, Burton has some great ideas on where he wants the story to go and how he wants the characters to end up, but I don't think they fully translate into a cohesive story. We bounce around a lot, like having the Joker distribute his own line of perfume that kills people to him robbing a gallery and taking Vicki hostage. I understand that Burton is trying to show the chaotic energy of this villain and portray him in the light that he is random in his attacks, but they don't fully line up in a linear fashion.
Compare this to the terrific role Heath Ledger gives as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" about 19 years later. He does terrible things that are completely random to one another, but he does so with a purpose behind each one. Why did he blow up the hospital? To free Harvey Dent and use him as an ally. He didn't blow it up willy-nilly, which it seems like is the root cause for all of the Joker's actions present here.
At the same time, it's just not dark enough. The Batman movies are known for being extremely dark and depressing, and I'm sure this was slightly back in the day when it came out. But, compared to Nolan's films and the newest one by Matt Reeves, this is simply not dark nor scary. The Joker is scary in his own right, but everything else seems like a Disney film compared to the Batman movies we have received after the release of this one. So, in terms of holding up over time and still being a great superhero movie, I don't think it does that. It sure is enjoyable, but not as good as it once was.
This film practically kicked off the wave of Batman films being released; some being generally bad superhero films and some being masterpieces in the genre. To start off, I think Tim Burton did a good enough job introducing Batman to the cinematic landscape of film, and I do think this is a pretty enjoyable film. Sure it has its flaws, but it's definitely better than some of the future entries in this long-running franchise.