US Release Date: 06-23-1989
Directed by: Tim Burton
- Michael Keaton, as
- Batman / Bruce Wayne
- Jack Nicholson, as
- Joker / Jack Napier
- Kim Basinger, as
- Vicki Vale
- Robert Wuhl, as
- Alexander Knox
- Pat Hingle, as
- Commissioner James Gordon
- Billy Dee Williams, as
- Harvey Dent
- Michael Gough, as
- Alfred Pennyworth
- Jack Palance, as
- Carl Grissom
- Jerry Hall, as
- Alicia Hunt
- Tracey Walter as
- Bob the Goon
Batman gets revenge on Joker for stealing the movie.
Sometimes the experience of going to see a movie is as vivid a memory as the film itself. For me, Batman was the biggest film release since Return of the Jedi. Scott and I saw it at a sold out midnight showing. They were selling Batman merchandise in the lobby. We were in line behind two guys who worked in the neurology department of a hospital. They had one joke, "We get on people's nerves." In the theater we sat next to some guy who kept flirting with a black girl by pointing out Billy Dee Williams every time he came on screen. I even bought the Prince soundtrack.
Although the Nolan/Bale Batman easily eclipsed this one, it still has something to offer.
In the dark Gotham nights, criminals are being harassed by a 6 foot bat. He is the stuff of legend, as no one outside the criminal element has seen him. A reporter and a photo journalist, Vicki Vale, team up to find out who and what it is.
Meanwhile, Jack Napier is a small time crook with big time ambition. He is doing the mob boss's girlfriend and plans on taking over the "business." The mob boss is not stupid and puts a hit on Jack. Batman interrupts the set up and Jack falls into a vat of chemicals, turning his skin white and, for some ridiculous reason, permanently plastering a smile on Jack's face.
Joker soon seeks revenge and takes control of the criminal element of Gotham. Something Nolan would repeat in Dark Knight. Joker is pure evil. He does not want money. He wants revenge of Gotham. He poisons all the health and beauty products. The funniest scene is when they show the newscasters reporting the story with frizzed hair and pimples.
The film's best asset is its humor. As Joker says, "Haven't you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?" My favorite dialogue is when Vale says, "You're insane!" and
Joker replies, "I thought I was a Pisces!" Nicholson gets all the best lines, "Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in, where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press? This town needs an enema!"
Although some lines are memorable because they are creative, others are memorable simply because they are repeated. "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" Plays an important role in the plot but really makes little sense. Another meaningless line that Joker repeats is, "Think about the future."
In that lies the problem with Batman. Joker dominates a film in which he should have been the supporting player. Nicholson received a $6 million salary, and a percentage of the box office gross. It is reported to be as high as $50 million. Notice whose name is billed first on the movie poster. A list of well known action stars were considered for the role of Batman, but producer John Peters and Tim Burton went with Michael Keaton, whom Burton had worked with on Beatlejuice.
Keaton is not a bad actor. His charms though, do not lend to the role. He is average in height, build and looks. He plays the role straight, but dull. Nicholson is meanwhile working over time playing Joker bigger and louder than any other interpretation. He makes Cesar Romero's Joker seem shy.
Burton and Peters must have wanted to get their money's worth from Nicholson as several scenes of his could have easily been cut. The museum painting scene for one. It takes longer for Joker to mess up the museum, than it does for Batman to save Vicki a few moments later, in the film's famous crashing through the skylight scene.
Burton's Batman is an enjoyable watch if you understand it takes place in a different world than Nolan's. In my lifetime, Batman has gone from the campy Adam West to the serious Christian Bale. Michael Keaton is the link between them, having elements of both. All versions can be enjoyed for what they are.
Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger in Tim Burton's Batman.
This movie is a hot mess. The humor that you thought was its best asset, Eric, is the worst thing about it. It kills all the tension and most importantly, isn't even that funny. Some of the plot ideas are quite serious and dark, but the jokes seem like they're aimed at 10 year olds. This was really the first modern superhero movie and apparently the producers were still under the impression that a comic book movie had to be comic.
Michael Keaton isn't the only one who's miscast. Nicholson, despite being over paid and over featured, is a horrible Joker. I thought so the first time I saw this movie 20 years ago and I still think so now. He was too old, too fat and lacked the needed energy. Robin Williams lobbied hard for the part and he should have been given it. His manic energy would have made him perfect for the part. And without Nicholson, the part of the Joker might have been reduced to is proper supporting size.
As for Keaton, he's as dull as a box of rocks and lacks the physical presence and build to even believably play the part. In the first scene he hefts a criminal up in the air and dangles him over the side of a building. Later, he does the same to Jack Napier just before he becomes the Joker. Keaton doesn't look strong enough to do either. Plus, the Batsuit here is so stiff and heavy looking, it appears he can barely move in it. He's like an old knight in full armor. Knock him down and I'm not sure he'd even be strong enough to stand back up. The final battle between Batman and Joker pits mild-mannered Michael Keaton against overweight and overaged Jack Nicholson. Not exactly a battle royale for the ages.
At least Burton manages to make the movie look interesting. He makes the time period ambiguous so that the film could be set anywhere from the 1940s to the 1980s. His Gotham City, with its looming Gothic architecture, has become accepted as the de facto standard for all Batmans.
I used to blame Burton for making such a horrible Batman movie and until Nolan's Dark Knight, I was really worried that a decent Batman movie would never be made in my lifetime (in the same way that I'm convinced there will never be a decent Robin Hood movie made in my lifetime). Now, after reading up on the film, I see that a good portion of the excesses of the film need to be blamed on producer Jon Peters. Whoever of them is to blame, they don't make a good filmmaking combination.
Although I dislike the humor, as long as you're mentioning good lines, Eric, I have to point out that you didn't mention the best Nicholson line. When his girlfriend sees him checking himself out in the mirror, she tells him, "You look fine." To which Jack replies, in that Nicholson voice, "I didn't ask."
Yes, there are some things to enjoy about this movie, just not very many things.
The iconic final shot from Tim Burton's Batman.
I hadn’t watched this movie in many years and was curious to see how it has aged. It’s now quite dated but does retain some charm. Visually it holds up well. Anton Furst created a memorable production design and, along with Peter Young, won the Oscar for Art Direction/Set Decoration. The one image that I always vividly recall is when Batman’s bat-jet flies up to the full moon and creates that iconic bat silhouette.
As for the stars, I agree that Keaton is miscast. As earnest as his performance is he just isn’t superhero material. I disagree, however, with Scott about Nicholson. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older myself, but he didn’t seem too old for the part to me. Like Eric, I thought he played it to the hilt while exhibiting plenty of manic energy. This is one of the very few roles that it’s nearly impossible to overdo.
Jack even manages to stay on beat during the up-tempo Prince songs. Speaking of the soundtrack, as good as it is; it’s like a huge neon sign flashing 1989. (Can it really be 22 years since this movie came out?) But then judging by how young (and natural) Kim Basinger looks it most certainly can be.
Michael Gough is wonderful as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s loyal valet. He brings a touch of sentiment to the movie with lines like, “I have no wish to fill my few remaining years grieving for the loss of old friends. Or their sons.” He would reprise the role in all three 1990’s Batman sequels. His career began in the 1940’s and continued up until his death this past March at the age of 94. The venerable British actor’s last job was voicing the Dodo Bird in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010.
I didn’t remember that Billy Dee Williams played Harvey Dent, later to be known as Two-Face. Of course when the character returned in Batman Forever he was famously portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones.
I had also forgotten some of the campier aspects of Batman. The television news anchors that look completely unkempt and disheveled because they are afraid to use any grooming products is worth a chuckle. The humor didn’t bother me as much as the paper thin plot. But then the superhero genre has never been exactly story driven. It’s all about the final showdown between hero and villain. The finale, in this case, is a bit of a letdown. If I had to sum up Tim Burton’s Batman in one word it would be hokey.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures (1989)