So I watched Batman…
Batman is my favourite superhero and this film, its sequel and the animated TV series it inspired are all reason why. Before there were superhero franchises, there was the Batman film franchise. He’s a fascinating character who’s open to multiple levels of interpretation. While certain elements of this film haven’t stood the test of time, overall it remains a classic.
Okay, basic plot: Gotham is a city plagued by corruption and organised crime. After witnessing his parents’ murder as a child, a now adult, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) has pledged to rid its streets of crime and lawlessness. He achieves this through the masked persona of Batman – a duty which leaves Bruce little in the way of a personal life. All this changes when he meets Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) – a photojournalist with a professional interest in Batman and a personal one in Bruce. Standing in the way of a crime-free Gotham is The Joker (Jack Nicholson) – a sociopath whose sole mission it is to destroy Gotham.
It’s interesting to think about the evolution of Batman – from Adam West’s campy, family friendly Caped Crusader to Christian Bale’s ominous and gritty Dark Knight. I feel Michael Keaton’s Batman and Bruce Wayne are the missing links that bridged the two. There’s an obvious brooding, dark side to the character but also goofy, lighthearted side. He has a foot in both worlds and does a fantastic job crafting a unique and memorable Batman. But you can’t have a great Batman without an equally great Bruce Wayne. Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne is definitely my second favourite (with top spot going to Christian Bale’s rendition). I think the fact that Keaton was a comedic actor actually helped his portrayal of Bruce Wayne. Keaton creates this awkward, nervous Bruce Wayne who seems embarrassed by his fortune and fame. It’s an interesting interpretation because in ever iteration of Batman, you always get the sense that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman the actual person behind it; so the concept of Bruce being embarrassed by this role he has to play is fascinating.
Every good hero needs an equally capable villain and Jack Nicholson shines as Gotham’s Prince of Madness, The Joker. My thoughts about Keaton being the missing link in Batman’s evolution are echoed when thinking about what Nicholson’s performance did for The Joker. He’s eccentric and sometimes a little wacky but there’s still that ruthless, sociopathic energy which every Joker needs. I think my only complaint regarding the characters is that I wish I could have seen them share more screentime. Joker is Batman’s foil and seeing the two clash is always a memorable experience.
I truly do love this film but it is held back by its age. The special effects aren’t that special; the fight scenes are forgettable but you can forgive all that because considering when this film was made, it’s actually cutting edge in many respects. Another problem I had with this film is that there isn’t that much Batman in it. There’s a definite focus on Bruce Wayne and his relationship with Vicki. On further examination, this might actually have been a masterstroke because it highlights the quality of the leads and gives less time for us to think how poor the special effects are.
I have to praise Tim Burton for his direction of this film. He infuses the film with his style (especially in this film’s sequel) but he never completely overrides the story and turns this into a Burton-fest. It’s the story of Batman through Burton’s lens but the sense of the character is never lost.
Overall, Batman will forever remain a favourite. I used to watch this endlessly as a child whenever it aired and will likely continue to revisit it when I decide to marathon every Batman movie. It’s a classic 8/10
2 thoughts on “Batman (1989) Review”
You’re so right that what makes Keaton’s Batman, and the whole movie work, is that it toes the line between being a really serious film and a goofy one with aplomb. I will say that I’m now wondering about your feelings on Batman Returns, because that is a complete Burton-fest.
I actually liked Batman Returns more than Batman. I think that the studio was more willing to have Burton have full creative control and it worked really well for the characters of Catwoman and Penguin. I still think Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the best Catwoman ever put to film. Zoe Kravitz gave us the best Selina Kyle, however.