Batman 1989

Posted: June 23, 2014 in Movie
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The 1980’s was a good year to be a fan of the bat. The Dark Knight Returns, Long Halloween, and Year One all happened that decade in comics, and in 1989 Batman left his mark on the big screen as well.

Twenty five years later, to the exact day if the Internet Movie Database is correct, of course I’m talking about the Tim Burton directed movie Batman starring Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson as The Joker. I remember the first time I saw this film, it was a family pizza night in 1990, and we had invited my grandparents over to watch it with us because my grandfather liked Batman, so much so as he was the one to tell me there was no Robin in the movie because he had died in the comics recently. Thinking back, there might have been some wires crossed and maybe he thought Dick Grayson had died, not Jason Todd, but still, that was way more information than anyone had given me about current comics before, so I’ll give him a pass.

Being the seven-year old I was then I hadn’t seen or read many adventures of The Dark Knight, but the few episodes of Adam West as Batman I had seen I thought were enjoyable. My kid self thought the movie might be similar, or have some of the same tropes the show had. Even up to that night I first saw Batman, I had seen very little of anything about the movie, and by a small margin, knew it existed. Maybe I saw the Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in full costume, that’s about it.

I remember enjoying the first time I saw the ’89 Batman movie. The rubber Batman costume looked better than the tights of the past, and now it looked more like comic book Batman. The Batmobile didn’t look like a modified version of a car Bruce Wayne had, it was a whole new design made for this new Batman. The Joker make-up was better than Caesar Romero’s, but I think what I didn’t like about the old make-up was Cesar Romero never shaved and it was literally white paint over a mustache, which I always thought looked foolish. It was a definite more serious approach than the almost satirical approach done in the 1960’s.

Now that I’m older and watched the movie multiple times over the years, my enthusiasm has gone down a bit. I do still like the movie as a whole, it is not exactly a Batman origin, that’s there in a flashback. I don’t like how they define an origin to The Joker, if he is there as an antagonist, in anything Batman, Joker can just show up, no need for unnecessary back story.

Michael Keaton does a fine job as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. There’s one scene in particular, when Bruce Wayne meets The Joker for the first time in Vicky Vale’s apartment. Bruce Wayne gets a little out of character into crazy territory and utters the line “You want to get nuts, c’mon let’s get nuts.” other than that, he’s a solid Dark Knight.

Jack Nicholson is up and down. He eats the scenery out of every scene, which is all well and good. There are a few moments where if you took the make-up off, it would just be a scene with Jack Nicholson and not the character Joker.

The rest of the cast is alright. Commissioner Gordon is forgettable, Robert Wuhl as the reporter in Gotham trying to make heads or tails of this Bat-Man phenomena is ok, as unneeded as it is. Kim Basinger as Vicky Vale never really does a good job. She gets moved along because of the plot. Jack Palance as criminal boss Carl Grissom, who double crosses Jack Napier is, well Jack Palance. Billy dee Williams as Harvey dent is great, and so underutilized, I don’t think I’m the only one who would have liked to have seen the alternate universe third movie where Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were still attached and Williams gets to play a major role as Two-Face, but I guess that was never meant to be.

Gotham City seen in the movie looks like it could be set in about four square city blocks. Either the theater, city hall, or a chemical plant is in every outdoor scene seemingly, and looks like you could even see all of them if the camera spun around to let you see the whole city.

All that being said, there are cases in which Batman which seem out-of-place.

The morning after Bruce and Vicky have a date, Bruce is hanging upside down on a contraption sleeping. I know it’s to show you that he’s taking his bat-persona too seriously, but it is a little ridiculous, especially to do that after a date with a woman he supposed to find attractive, and is still there not more than twenty feet away, in his bed still sleeping.

Alfred, for as good as he is in this movie leads Vicky Vale right into the batcave. It’s like she showed up at Wayne Manor, asked to see Bruce and Alfred just nodded and took her through whatever maze it takes to get to the batcave. Right to a more bewildered than angry Bruce at a giant bat-computer. To be fair Bruce had a conversation with Alfred about telling Vicky, but never told Alfred one way or the other, Alfred just assumed Bruce had told her. Which could have turned out real bad if Miss Vale decided to not like Bruce.

Near the end when Batman is flying his Batplane and captures the deadly Joker-toxin filled balloons, he just releases them filled with deadly Joker poison into the night. What happens when those eventually land somewhere? Not to mention Batman in a showdown with the Joker on the ground, and Batman still in his plane opens fire onto a Gotham street, which a moment ago had a crowd of people running around grabbing cash before the Joker started releasing Joker venom. Not only is Batman firing a gun like that out of character, but the fact Joker took pulled a hilariously long-barreled pistol and took down Batman, in one shot is at least a little eye brow raising.

None of these observances are new in the two and a half decades since the movie came out, and honestly they don’t even bother me any more than anything the 1960’s television Batman did. They are just weird inconsistencies with the vision I have of Batman is in my head. And in the end that’s okay, because that’s where new ideas come from.

All in all, I’d say give the movie a watch, it did more good for Batman as a whole than the negatives that are in there.

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