When Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered in a street robbery it sets young Bruce Wayne on a path to fight crime as the vigilante Batman. In 1989 Tim Burton and Michael Keaton delivered a Batman movie that had not been seen before in theaters.
Before Tim Burton and Michael Keaton brought their version of Batman to life up on the big screen in 1989 most fans were only familiar with the Adam West and Burt Ward campiness of the 1960’s. Burton as a director was best known for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, while Keaton as an actor was mainly known for his comedic roles.
Tim Burton who has a very unique style was able to create a very distinctive Gotham with plenty of noir and towering structures of unique skyscrapers. The streets of Gotham are shadowy and the citizens who fill the streets are fearful of the city they live in and call home. 1978’s Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve is clean and in a lot of ways, uplifting. Burton however brought a darker, grim, more unsettling look to Gotham that is about as far from the look and camp of Adam West’s Gotham.
“Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
The movie is entitled “Batman”, but it’s hard to argue against this movie in many ways feeling more like a Joker movie. Wait, what? Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker was flamboyant, but never felt like it was so ridiculous that it was to over the top. We get plenty of laughs and frantic giggling from Jack, and the Joker’s refusal to take Batman, as a serious threat was defiantly an interesting take with the character. This Joker has an agenda of murder and an eye for a reporter.
There was a reason why Jack Nicholson had top billing in a Batman movie, one it was the only way he would accept the role, but two the studio felt fans would take this version of Batman a little more serious if Jack had top billing over Keaton.
“Now you wanna get nuts? Come on! Let’s get nuts.”
When Michael Keaton was first announced as Batman the Internet did not exist, but that didn’t stop upset fans at the time from beginning an angry letter writing campaign to Warner Brothers. It seems fans getting upset over who plays Batman hasn’t changed from Ben Affleck to the latest Robert Pattinson, who knew. Since 1989’s Batman, several actors have dawned the mantle of the Bat, but what makes Keaton’s Bruce Wayne / Batman unique?
It’s true Keaton may not have measured up in stature physically to play Batman, but it was his intensity, his comedic talents he brought to the roll that allowed an audience to believe especially during the scene in Vicki Vale’s apartment when the Joker shows up and Bruce Wayne acts almost as nuts as the Joker himself. It’s in that scene where you see how Bruce Wayne’s anger could drive him to dress up as a bat, beat up criminals and all in the name of justice.
“I made you, you made me first.”
For decades in the comics the Joker has always been Batman’s greatest villain and in Burton’s vision both Batman and the Joker were destine for one another. Nicholson’s Joker is a homicidal gangster who when younger was responsible for shooting and killing Bruce’s parents. Bruce Wayne, who is so obsessed with being a vigilante, can’t even mingle among his guest at a party that Wayne himself is hosting at Wayne Manor. His parents being murdered still haunt and drive him even as an adult. By Batman accidentally dropping Napier into that vat of chemicals it sets off a chain of events that would bring Bruce to his parent’s killer.
“It can be truly said, that I have a bat in my belfry. Shall we dance?”
The final battle a top of Gotham Cathedral might be the best part of the entire film. The Joker uttering the line, that might be my favorite of the movie, “It can be truly said, that I have a bat in my belfry” as Batman, finally reaches the top of the Cathedral. Was it a necessary line? Probably not, but who cares, it came from the Joker. I wouldn’t expect anything less.
What makes the final encounter so good or at least adds to it is the music of Danny Elfman. On the sound track its entitled “Waltz To The Death”. While Batman fights off probably one of the better, stronger of the Joker’s goons, The Joker is dancing with Vicki in the background. It’s a scene I can watch over and over never get tired of.
Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?
The scene in which the Joker with his boom-box and gang of goons invade an art museum after gassing the majority of its patrons showed just how wonderful Nicholson was as the Joker. Defacing paintings to Prince’s “Partyman” and then trying to be serious or as serious as he could get and still be believable when he meets Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale for the first time, wooing her and criticizing her work all at the same time.
When Batman crashes through the skylight to rescue Vicki Vale, he does so in a way I’ve always enjoyed. Batman lands, grabs a hold of Vicki and with out a word holds up his gadget, shoots out an arrow with a line attached that lift them both up and slide there way out of the museum.
Of course you can’t have a Batman movie with out Batman having some way of getting around and what better way then to do so in one very cool vehicle or better known as the Batmobile. The one used for this movie is with out a doubt one of the more iconic Batmobile’s created. Granted the Batmobile has undergone several incarnations as the franchise continued, but not even Christian Bale’s Tumblr (as bad ass as it might be) will ever look as cool.
I did like the look of the “Bat Jet” and I did enjoy seeing it fly around Gotham, it did look cool for 1989, but I do have a criticism with it at the same time. A billionaire like Bruce Wayne goes to the trouble of spending that amount of money to build his own jet and when he uses its weapons to try and kill the Joker after Batman took his balloons he couldn’t hit the side of a barn if he had tried. Yet all the Joker has to do is take out his old fashion six-shooter, extend the barrel to a ridiculous length and he’s able to cripple Batman’s jet? I maybe nitpicking, but I’ve always had issues with that particular scene, even if it’s just a comic book movie.
“Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in where a man dressed up as a bat is eating all my press?!”
It’s been thirty years since Burton, Nicholson and Keaton gave us the first proper Batman movie. I loved it when I saw it in theaters and I still love the movie to this day. If I were able to make one change concerning Batman it would be to not kill the Joker at the end. Did killing him work? Sure, but I would have been just as okay if he would have been taken alive and put in Arkham Asylum.
Tim Burton’s Batman couldn’t of happen, I don’t think, with out the success of the first two Superman movies. (let’s not talk about 3 and 4) Batman (1989) did manage to spawn three sequels however with Batman Returns in 1992, Batman Forever in 1995 and Batman and Robin in 1997.
Batman Returns is good, but it’s by no means on par with the first one and even though I can tolerate Batman Forever, Batman and Robin is just pure garbage in my book.
With comic book movies having tremendous success and dominating the box office in recent years with Marvel’s MCU, Warner Brothers DCEU and Fox’s X-Men, Tim Burton’s Batman movie would most likely still fall in my top 20 comic book movies of all time, but I’ve never taken the time to compile that list. Perhaps I will in the near future.
Is it still the best Batman movie ever made? No, of course not. That would have to go to Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” The special effects are obviously not what they are today, but that aside Burton’s Batman is still worth being in any movie collection, especially if you’re a fan of Batman in general.
Batman was released to theaters on June 23, 1989. It would finish 1989 with 411.3 millon dollars world wide and was the number two movie overall, only Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade would go on to earn more.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance
Having witnessed his parents’ brutal murder as a child, millionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) fights crime in Gotham City disguised as Batman, a costumed hero who strikes fear into the hearts of villains. But when a deformed madman who calls himself “The Joker” (Jack Nicholson) seizes control of Gotham’s criminal underworld, Batman must face his most ruthless nemesis ever while protecting both his identity and his love interest, reporter Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger).
Categories: Movie Anniversaries
Great stuff! I remember seeing this in the theater when it released in 1989. The Batman/Joker excitement was through the roof. So much fun.