Certificate: 15
Running time: 126 mins
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger
Genre: Comic book, Action, Adventure
Country: USA

Eventually all good things come to an end.  After it’s third season Batman starring Adam West would leave the Caped Crusader out in the cold, 20th Century Fox’s interests in all things Gotham seemingly gone.  It would be twenty years later, when the rights passed to Warner Bros, that director Tim Burton would cause controversy in his casting of Gotham’s saviour.  Adam West would be furious that he was not considered “first refusal” for the role, the rest of the world would be wondering why he  would choose Beatlejuice to don the cowl in the heavily Weimar influenced reinterpretation.

Burton’s vision was one of moving forward, Michael Keaton would step into the tailored suits of Bruce Wayne and Batman alike, Kim Basinger was brought on as love interest Vicki Vale, Michael Gough would not only own the role of Alfred but also begin a long working relationship with the director, Jack Palance would be the mob boss, we’d have an African American Harvey Dent in Billy Dee Williams (one of Burton’s most frustratingly undeveloped master strokes) and the Studios worries that the film would be too dark to make money was calmed with the casting of Academy Award Winning grinner Jack Nicholson as The Joker.

Burton’s take on the Batman legend was one that was as revolutionary (cinematically) as it was divisive.  Having stated that he wasn’t a big knower/lover of the comic books he was able to come at the narrative fresh, free of preference or history and delivered a film that stated “This is a Tim Burton film” more than “This is a Batman film”.  His love of Weimar cinema is present throughout his oeuvre, whether it’s the The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari inspired Police station of Sleepy Hollow, the use of shadows in this film ala Nosferatu or the outright use of an Expressionist icons name for Christopher Walken’s character in Batman Returns, his creative preferences are here for all to see and they are indeed a wholly welcome change as cinema strives to take the source material, the literature seriously.  Roger Pratt’s (The Fisher King, Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire) cinematography is one of a psychological realism over the physical, a look that strives to make ordinary the extraordinary.  It’s clear in his body of work that he is truly masterful at this.  For the first time, since Lowery, there’s the promise of a hero that could well exist with enough resources.  This is sadly, only a promise (which I’ll come to shortly).  Danny Elfman’s score is truly amazing.  Like the excellently named Nelson Riddle before him Elfman has crafted a theme that will define the generational understanding of “who the Bat-Man is”.  It is a score that will exist, in one form or another, across the Burton/Schumacher era and beyond, continuing to exist in Batman: The Animated Series long after the time of death has been called on whatever Batman 5 would have been before Batman Begins came along.

The design of the Batmobile and the Batwing were, at the time, phenomenal.  The Batmobile would take it’s first step towards the impenetrable tank of Frank Miller’s graphic novels and ultimately Nolan’s Tumbler while the Batwing, though looking fantastic and paying off with the fans with the creation of the Bat signal against the moon can be downed by a handgun…really?  Holy cheap manufacturing Batman!

Michael Keaton (as Batman/Bruce Wayne) is an incredibly comfortable fit.  Like West before him he is not physically powerful, though he doesn’t need to be - his suit is his protection.  He’s a fantastic piece of casting and one they will struggle with replacing for some time when he departs Gotham post Batman Returns.  He is, however, all too easy in the role of Bruce Wayne.  He’s charismatic, likeable, funny…if a little awkward and painfully without any motive to dress as a bat and stalk the streets of the city in which his parents bleed to death.  He seems well adjusted, ok with it and frustratingly little different to the Martinson era.  Jack Nicholson is, of course, Jack Nicholson.  His Joker is dark but dark in outlook alone and he’s not, as you would hope, twistedly funny.  He has a handful of truly genius moments but the reworking of the origin story to make Joker (aka Jack Napier) the killer of Thomas & Martha Wayne is needless and seems to exist within the film to give Joker an origin story and foreground him as “The Star”.  It is the Joker’s film, Batman has no origin and seemingly no second gear.  Basinger gives a solid performance as Vicki Vale and her love story with Bruce is required to give him something else to do outside of the cowl (though her discovery of his identity is not!).

Burton’s Batman is one of two different faces (fittingly enough), Burton’s sensibilities gave the Batman legend the dark brooding respectability that it had been lacking since the 1940’s.  It’s adult and psychologically realistic yet at the same time for something that looks so much more evolved it is frustratingly stunted and unchanged.  Batman has zero complexity, motivation or origin and is sadly the weakest character in his own film.

Movie Bar HEROES! featuring a foursome of fantastic yet forgotten Superheroes including The Champions of Justice and 3 Supermen Against Godfather can be booked by clicking [here].


Gabriel said...

When I was a kid, i loved this movie. I wasn't even born when the first 2 Superman movies came out, so, for me, this was thee super-hero movie. Today though, i just can't seem to forgive Burton's disregard of the comics. Like you wrote, there some very good elements in the movie, but overall the bad elements weigh more.

John Baxter said...

Completely know what you mean. It's interesting how our tastes evolve with time and encounters.

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