Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay By: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Release Date: June 23, 1989
Run Time: 126 minutes
Tim Burton’s “Batman” is kind of an odd film to review. I saw this as a child and really didn’t care for it. I thought it was long and boring and had way too little Batman in it. Now, as a grown man, I can appreciate the slower scenes more. And yet, I still found it a little too long and a little boring and there was still too little Batman in it. Sure, I defiantly appreciate and like it more now than I did when I was six or so (when I first saw it, as well as the last time before watching it to review) but I find it kind of odd that I still have the same issues with it as I did then. What went wrong? What went right? Lets find out.
After the credits we take out first look at Gotham City. The first of my many annoyances actually pops up right here, in the very first frame of the movie: the city looks more cartoonish than it did the the actual cartoon. Yeah that kick-ass Batman cartoon with it’s retro-futuristic art deco noire design looked more real than the Gotham in this movie. But, credit where credit is due: it looks like a lived in city. It looks nasty and crowded and just like the kind of place where Batman and his villains would spawn from.
After taking our first depressing look at Gotham city we focus on a family of three exiting a theater and trying fruitlessly to catch a cab. They decide to cut through an ally way when they are held at gun point. From the roof tops we watch as the robbers flee. And we’re not the only ones. A lone shadowy figure watches then pursues.
The two thieves make their way to the rooftops to count out their loot. One of them mentions how he’s scared as one of their acquaintances was taken down by a giant bat. The other assures him that there is no such thing…right as Batman shows himself. And how does our Hero make his big cinematic entrance? In the silliest way possible, raising his cape to look more “bat like”. Then the two muggers do something surprisingly smart, they shoot him, see him fall and start to run. But curiosity gets the better of them and they turn back. And they are greeted with Batman doing his dumb ass “bat pose” yet again. Batman then kicks one of the muggers through a wooden door and holds the other off the edge of the building.
Here we get a scene I really like (for a change). The mugger is begging Batman not to kill him. And Batman says calmly “I’m not going to kill you. I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell your friends about me”. What I like about this is that this batman knows he’s intimidating. Thus he can act calmly, even smiling once or twice, instead of barking orders like Christian Bale does in “The Dark Knight”. Sure, I like Bales performance (which we’ll get to latter), but this version of Batman really lets his enemy’s fear do most of his work for him, and I like that.
The next important scene (and yes, everything between these two is competently irrelevant), shows us a man named Jack (Jack Nicholson) talking to a woman. We soon learn that Jack is a higher up of a crime family and the woman he is seeing is his bosses…wife, girlfriend, daughter? That’s never really answered. But she is close enough to Jack’s boss to make him pissed that Jack is with her. Jack then goes to a meeting with his boss, were we learn that the cops have found and are investigating a chemical factory that could destroy their operation. Jacks boss tells him to go and get rid of any evidence that could be used against them. But once Jack leaves the boss calls one of his moles in the Police and tells him to deal with Jack.
When then head over to a party held by Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton). We watch some meaningless scenes with a reporter trying to get a story, as well as Bruce flirt with his love interest in the movie, Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) until Alfred (Michael Gough) tells Bruce that Commissioner Gordon had to leave “unexpectedly”, forcing Bruce to leave. And for those who didn’t already know, here we learn that Bruce Wayne is Batman.
Anyways, the police and Batman all show up to the chemical factory. We engage in an overlong and kind of boring fight that ends with Jack falling into a vat of chemicals, then washing up outside the factory. This ultimately leads to the creation of batman arch villain “The Joker”. One thing about this I find kind of funny is that Burton has said he’s never read a comic before, yet this origin is very similar to the one told in Alan Moore’s “Batman: The Killing Joke” which came out the previous year. I don’t know if the screenwriter had meant to use that as inspiration or not, but it was a fun bit of fan service.
The Joker then takes over the crime family he was working for and ends up gaining something of an affection for Vicki Vale. The Joker arranges to meet Vicki at an art museum in what is one of the most know scenes in the movie. He looks through her portfolio, taking an interest mostly in her war zone photography. He offers her to join him, as a lover and to report on his “art” (as he calls it). But before she can really say anything Batman jumps in and saves her. And we go into yet another boring fight scene. The Joker’s men chase Batman through the streets in a semi-entertaining car chase, but all the fun is sucked out of the scene when you notice that the Joker’s men keep firing their guns into the air. Not only is it stupid, but it also sucks all the tension out of the scene. The goons are just to stupid to really pose a threat to Batman. There is one interesting bit when a guy with two swords shows up, but that part ends too soon and is also edited in a way to were it was kind of hard to keep up with.
Batman ends up saving Vicki Vale and brings her to the batcave. The Joker had poisoned several products in Gotham city, killing hundreds of people but no one knows exactly what it was that was killing them. But of course, Batman was able to figure out what it was, and gave the information to Vicki so that she could release it to the press.
And then…nothing really happens until the last act of the movie. Batman chases the joker up a church bell tower, saves Vicki yet again, then ends up kill the Joker (as well as one of his henchmen).
You know the expression “greater than the sum of it’s parts”, right? Well, this is kind of the exact opposite of that. None of the scenes in the movie are really bad by them self. In fact, nearly every scene tells us something about the character that should make this way more interesting that it is. For example, there is a scene where Vicki and Bruce have a date in his house. They are eating at this uncomfortably large table and end up leaving because they both found it kind of silly. This shows us that most of the trappings of being rich really don’t mean much for Bruce Wayne. The nice house, the cars, all of that really don’t mean much for him. In is a very nice scene. And yet, when watching it all I wanted was for it to be over so we could get back to moving the plot along.
The only real excretion to that is the fight scenes. Due to how heavy and hard to maneuver in the costume was, the fight scenes all really suffer. It’s also kind of funny to watch Keaton look up, as he couldn’t move his neck and thus had to arch his entire back in order to do it. The Bat suit did look cool, but it wasn’t worth the poor fight scenes. And then there is Vicki. She is literally everything Lois Lane was not.
When Lois got caught in something she always made the effort to get out of the situation. Vicki on the other hand was nothing more than a damsel in distress. This is also kind of annoying when you take into account that she had just gotten back from taking was zone pictures. She should have been use to being in a high risk environment. She should have been use to taking rises and getting out of bad situations. Her role really pissed me off.
So that’s what I have to say about Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman. Join me tomorrow as I take a look at Superman 2.