Batman is a 1989 American superhero movie directed by Tim Burton and produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber. Based on characters affiliated to D.C Comics, the plot centers around an eccentric genius billionaire in Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) who dons a bat-themed costume to fight crime orchestrated by the villainous Joker (Jack Nicholson).
Acting and Character performances.
If you ask any Michael Keaton fan out there what they find intriguing about the some of the actor’s role choices, 9 times out of 10 they’ll probably tell you that he likes playing winged creatures; which by the way, has some truth to it considering the Birdman movie, Spiderman Homecoming and most notably Batman. At the time, the latter role was evidently going to be tasking for Keaton since he had made a name for himself playing comedic characters in sitcoms leading up to the film but he nailed it nonetheless.
He was excellent in portraying this larger than life guy who can throw big parties at his manor and get the girl he wants effortlessly while also being Gotham’s undisputed nocturnal hero who fights crime not only with his brawns but also with his brains. His arc in the film was clear and focused from the perspective of both of his personas. On the Bruce side, it was more inclined towards him dealing with the grief of losing his parents the way he did which still lingers but not letting it show and also dealing with the indecisiveness of whether or not he should risk exposing his true identity to the woman he loves.
On the Batman side, his arc was more inclined towards using the pain derived from losing his parents as motivation for fighting the rot in Gotham and also fixing the mistake of letting the Joker plummet into the container of chemicals which essentially made him much more dangerous than he already was. When I walk into a batman movie, these are the kinds of things I want to see happen with the masked character and this film, through Keaton does that to perfection.
Speaking of the mentioned, Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Gotham’s clown prince of crime in this movie is undoubtedly way up there with the likes of Heath Ledger despite the over the top theatricality which I will duly get into in the next stage of my review. He plays one of the many Gotham crime bosses in Jack Napier who during a shoot-out at a chemical plant, accidentally falls into a large container of chemicals which rebirths him into the Joker; a twisted criminal mastermind with little to no regard for human life except his own. Much like the Batman, he also has clear and justifiable motivations however wrong they might be. I got why he’d want to go after his fellow crime bosses who treated him like crap and I got why he’d want to go after Batman who he believes is the reason why he fell into the chemical container. There’s little that can go wrong when you have Nicholson at his prime doing a character like this and that is just a testament of his acting legend.
The Plot, Merits and Demerits.
There was clearly a lot that was riding on this film at the time to flush away audiences’ perception of the caped crusader given how he was represented by Adam West in the 60’s Batman T.V series. I’m not trying to take anything away from Adam West’s iconic performances during his stint but let’s face it; his version of Batman did not entirely stay true to the comics. If you haven’t watched any of the series’ episodes and you think I’m being unfair, just go to YouTube and watch the ‘Shark Repellent’ video to see my point.
As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s not dissimilar to many superhero movies out there. The 1st Act is always about setting up the ideals and personas of the protagonist and antagonist; the 2nd Act is about establishing the main conflict between the latter; the 3rd Act is the climax where something huge happens that changes the anatomy of the plot considerably which in this case is the Joker kidnapping Bruce’s girlfriend and wanting to poison Gotham’s residents; the 4th Act is just the protagonist and antagonists seeking the best ways to end the ongoing conflict and finally; the 5th Act is the end of the conflict which is mostly marked by the death of the antagonist which in this case was the Joker falling off the his Helicopter’s rope ladder. It’s always the same script with this films; I’m not necessarily saying that it’s bad because that’s what our expectations are and have always been as audience members and fans alike.
*The cinematography and production design were great for an 80’s film; they worked hand in hand to great effect to enhance the tone surrounding the world which the main characters are in even though it was very evident that a fair number of aerial shots of Gotham city were computer-generated. *The various themes explored on here from the perspective of both the protagonist and antagonist were used well. On one hand we have the theme of redemption with Batman doing all he can to right the wrongs of the events that unfolded in that chemical plant and one the other hand, we have the theme of vengeance with the Joker doing all he can to hurt Batman both physically, psychologically and emotionally after the chemical plant incident as well. *The score is fantastic; it provided more flesh to the various tones of the narrative during the movie’s runtime.
Tim Burton has always been a very versatile director when you take into account the different types movies he has undertaken over the years. His direction on here though commendable for a film of its time wasn’t entirely acceptable. You’d expect the tone of a Batman film to be consistently serious but this one throws all that out of the window in various instances with campy comedy involving Nicholson’s character; incorporating this element was always going to be a gamble but given the success of his previous movie ‘Beetlejuice’, Burton saw it was worthwhile. Did it work? I don’t think so and I’m quite sure that I’m not the only one.
Additionally, *the pacing is a bit here and there; I thought it was good in the first half hour because it took it’s time to highlight the dynamics of Gotham and the myth of the Batman which was great but going forward, it substantially drags as the movie focuses on unnecessary scenes hence the unclean editing. *This movie is plagued by weak characters; Alexander Knox, Harvey Dent and even Commissioner Gordon just to name but a few had no depth to them. Dent and Gordon more so didn’t have as much prominence as they should have gotten in the story. You could argue that Vicky Vale was yet another weak character but at least she got a bigger bite of the cherry with an interesting subplot involving her and Bruce Wayne. *The movie uses different media platforms within the film to build suspense and enhance tension around Gotham through the Joker instead of just building it the conventional way all through.
The flaws don’t end there. *We also have various things that happen in the movie that make no sense or rather shouldn’t be in the movie in the first place. Why does Batman lift and flap his wings almost every time he makes an appearance or disappearance? Where and how does the Joker instantaneously get the sophisticated gadgets and machinery to wreak havoc in Gotham? Why would Bruce Wayne leave roses on the alley where his parents were murdered instead of next to their tombstones? Why does Batman silhouette the Batplane on the moon when his city is in apparent danger? Why does Batman shoot and fire rockets at Joker and his goons when he’s morally not supposed to? Why was Vicki vale let into the Bat cave by Alfred? Ladies and gentlemen, these are questions that I always ask myself every time I see this movie and I think you’d agree that they are indeed valid questions.
This so happens to be the 3rd time I am watching 1989’s Batman and somehow it always feels like a new experience. Despite its flaws, some of which are so bad they are good, this is just one of my many guilty pleasure motion-pictures alongside Michael Bay’s ‘Armageddon’ film and it holds a special place in my D.C fan-boy heart. I recommend that you watch it again assuming you have watched it before. Come to think of it, of course you have! I mean, it’s been around for 29 years.