Released in the summer of 1989 amidst a hysteria of anticipation, Batman marked the first successful attempt at launching the Caped Crusader to the silver screen. Giving the reins to then still relatively unproven Tim Burton turned out to be a masterstroke. His offbeat casting choice of Michael Keaton for the title role was criticized at the time, but over the years Keaton’s portrayal stands out amongst the men that followed him. Nicholson is the show here, setting up the common theme in these early Batman films, the villains have all the fun. His maniacal laughter is spot-on for the loose cannon known as ‘The Joker’.
State of the art special visual effects and an OSCAR winning production design by Anton Furst are convincing enough to make the viewer feel that this version of Gotham City is real and lived in. However these visual touches are only to distract audiences from realizing what a lame script writers Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren have concocted. A few nice moments dot the film, a satirical angle against consumerism and an awesome opening sequence, to name a few. But over-all the story is too convoluted to really care about any of these characters past the surface. If you think I’m being too critical, watch Nolan’s versions and see the difference between caricature and character.
Despite the weakness in the writing and the bland love story between Keaton and miscast Kim Basinger, the film really shines in the sequences of confrontation between Batman and his arch-nemesis. Looking back now, you realize how little movement Keaton (& stunt comp.) were able to achieve in the lumbering Batsuit. A problem that would still hinder actors donning the cowl to this day. A bombastic score by Burton regular Danny Elfman should be credited for a memorable theme and setting the tone sonically for what Burton and his technicians were achieving visually. A worthy entry into the superhero genre and light-years away from the ‘soft’ Superman films of the early 1980’s. An absolute blockbuster that broke opening weekend records at the time of its release.
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger