Classic Review – Batman (1989)


by Armando Vanegas

Even watching Tim Burton’s Batman now, it still sets the stage for a spectacle and you can see the kind of skill Tim Burton can put into a movie. Right from the beginning, this seems like this could be something big and to be fair, it’s not like there was a lot of superhero movies coming out at the time. Thankfully, it does live up to what a big screen blockbuster should and can be. Granted, some of the effects and the sets are a bit fake looking thanks to the great powers of HD but there’s still a very fun experience to be had here. There’s a lot of money being shown on the screen with the sets, which do a great job at presenting this world. I remember rewatching this a few years ago and I was not particularly blown away by it but there’s something about this recent watch that made me appreciate it more. The thing is that it’s not the kind of movie we see anymore especially from the perspective of a comic book movie. It’s kind of endearing that this was made solely just to tell a story and to entertain but it’s just that. I don’t have to watch 12 more movies to lead up to a franchise just to witness a satisfying end for this movie. Not that that’s bad but I’m in school right now and as a result, I’m not always in the mood for that kind of movie. Anyway, this movie is just called Batman and that’s pretty much what it’s about. I saw Batman do what Batman needed to do and I’m all the more appreciative for that.

Michael Keaton stars as billionaire Bruce Wayne, who seems to be hiding a big secret as he moonlights as the caped crusader known as the Batman. I think the first few times I’ve seen this, I never gave him credit for how good he was in this. It’s interesting to know he’s now this serious prestige actor but I remember and I liked him even before Birdman at the risk of sounding like a hipster. He was great in stuff like Night Shift and The Dream Team and Mr. Mom. That’s my favorite kind of Keaton and apparently, a lot of people also couldn’t picture him because of that so basically, it’s like how people react to casting news today. I always liked a lot of the incarnations of Wayne I’ve seen not being a comic book reader person. Even with the rich person stuff, Keaton had enough material to work with to make for an interesting character to relate to there and I can see why even in this movie, the Bruce’s parents getting killed in the alley scene is so much of a thing. It’s literally this character losing his innocence (yes, it’s probably been talked about on many many discussions about Batman and I’m probably not the first to do so calm down, I’m aware) and it’s interesting seeing someone cope with such a loss when they still haven’t fully formed as a person. Keaton may not be the most flamboyant compared to some of the other performances I’ve seen of his he’s very effective at being reserved for most of the movie. Although, I did love seeing a little bit of classic Keaton appear when he confronts the Joker in Vicki Vale’s apartment. I vastly underrated him in my mind last time I saw this but he’s really giving a strong performance here. It’s the kind of role where he’s not calling for attention so it can go by the wayside but it’s a smart approach for this kind of role. It also allows for the movie to cater to Jack Nicholson and to be fair, this is prime Jack Nicholson and he was probably one of the biggest stars at the time as well the biggest in this movie so it’s understandable why he takes up a lot of the movie. Plus, he’s so fun to watch as he seems to get the kind of movie that he’s in. It’s fitting for the tone and there is some darkness to balance it out with his character. The Joker in general has always been a compelling character to watch. I’m not an expert on this but I like him in this movie and he makes for an interesting antagonist to play off of especially since he’s responsible for who Bruce has become. It’s also messed up in that even if Batman beats him, the Joker still went out of his way to change him and make him go to levels that Bruce himself never would’ve gone and will never forget. But this is 1989 and this is still a big Hollywood movie so it doesn’t get all existential like I make it sound but that’s pretty much what makes him entertaining, right? Here, the Joker’s whole motivation feels more in line like your typical 80’s action movie villain than the more gritty and dark adaptation of the character that we’ve become so used to in recent years. It’s too bad we don’t get villains as entertaining too often in these comic book movies as Nicholson’s Joker these days. Honestly, Nicholson is just playing himself but that’s pretty much a large part of acting in the first place. He’s funny and intimidating all at the same time. He’s always entertaining from beginning to end. Even some of the corniest jokes work because he is so committed to it. My mom even told me that she preferred his performance to Ledger just she’s been taken by him as an actor forever. I was more taken with Ledger’s version of the character but this is still successful in its own way. It’s definitely broader but it’s broad in the right ways thanks to a consistent tone all throughout with help from Tim Burton.

The rest of the cast fare okay. Kim Basinger is fine as Vicki Vale even if it’s just as a stock love interest and soon to be damsel in distress. Although her character does give the excuse to explore Bruce’s closed off demeanor even if you know the story. It also gives Keaton some strong material to work with and helps with the more detached aspects of his role. Robert Wuhl is fun offering cheesy one-liners as another reporter and a colleague of Vicki’s. Prince also makes a memorable turn on the soundtrack. I honestly never considered myself a Prince fan but he had some really good songs, especially in the 80’s. The Prince songs used here are really catchy but also so of its time in a good way. It just makes the movie even more a surreal experience than it already is. It just shows how well he and Burton’s weirdness mesh together.

Burton’s direction is really strong. It has a distinctive flavor despite it being tried and true material if you know the Batman story like you probably the know the Adam and Eve story as it seem to be for a lot of comic book fans. Look, even if you’re a person, you have an idea of who and what Batman is. You just wanted to have fun and thankfully, it does that. The music by Danny Elfman is always a treat and with him, Keaton, and Burton, I was hoping for Beetlejuice to show up at some point. Also, the action’s okay enough to sit through. Really, the main thing that makes this worth watching is Jack Nicholson’s insane performance. He helps to give this a lot of energy and adds some uniqueness to it to make it an enjoyable watch.

4 out of 5 hairpieces

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