Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? I always ask that of all my prey. I just... like the sound of it.
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, KIm Basinger, Robert Whul, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Palance, William Hootkins and Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth.
Everyone has a story to tell. Some stories are familiar and at times, deserve an intimate respectable interpretation in various mediums. What is the story? Batman. Who is the teller? Tim Burton. What can you expect? The second wave of an immortal hero that will outlive us all. And it starts here. Gotham. A dark world. For the rookie, it looks like your average city. Think of it as the dark side to New York city. Let that image simmer in your brain for a good while. The 1960's are dead one and for all. The campiness style of filmmaking is buried deep in Arkham and a darker story takes place. The hero of the night actually takes place in the late evening with a villain who's more quirky than dark but his actions are darker than quirkier.
Batman was never my first movie of the title character. That right belongs to Mask of Phantasm. If memory serves, Burton's hit movie can be put as the third Batman film I had the honor of watching, and in VHS. First movie I saw in theaters was Batman and Robin. I'll dive into that later. We start off with Gotham, a busy cesspool city at the brink of an economic fall, as crime has risen to uncontrollable rates, people seem to be leaving than coming. We open with a family of three, lost in the city entering a dark alleyway. For the dedicated fan, one would expect this could be the origin commencement of Bruce Wayne to later become the caped crusader. Sadly, not even close. Just your average people getting mugged for pocket change. We cut to a birds eye scene shot of a dark figure looking down and moving away. You know him best as Batman. He makes his intro, striking fear into the hearts of the common thieves. We are told he is new to Gotham, for he doesn't lock the criminals in jail, more like warns them to spread the word that he lives and is very much real. Another Year One element.
This Batman movie was supposed to be an origin tale, but felt like it followed the same concepts as the first Superman movie. Originally, Joe Dante (Gremlins) was set to direct before Burton was considered. The idea for the movie was conceived by Michael Uslan who bought the film rights for Batman in 1979. He wanted a definitive dark version of batman. When Burton was given the chance to direct Batman after Pee Wee's Adventure, he was unhappy with the script. Saying it has the same "jokey tone as Superman" was a turn off, and the script was rewritten into the film we have seen. Batman plays as a narrative with flashbacks than an origin drama.
What never worked for this movie are minimum, but dreadful. I know he's Joker, but what in the world does Prince have to do with anything Batman? It's impossible for me to forget that festival float scene thanks to that purple colored song; dreadful. Some of the editing doesn't match the speed of the aesthetics, like Jack Napier aiming the gun at Gordon and taking a sweet amount of time before pulling the trigger, giving Michael Keaton a chance to intercept. There is a lack of suspense for the genre and the character type. For a villain wanting to cause mass hysteria in Gotham, a little gut wrenching moments would have been best. Finally, what was the point of shooting all those missiles at Joker if you were going to miss? Can you actually scare off a lunatic like that man? And really? One bullet out of an exaggerated over compensating hand revolver took down the Batwing? Good lord.
For 1989, I'm still impressed with how they worked the budget to create Gotham City and Batman's gadgets. We can thank Bob Ringwood and Tony Dunsterville for designing the costumes of both batman and Joker. The yellow crest shadowed by the symbol of the bat will forever be unforgettable. It is a brand image basically, that can be seen on more merchandise than any other that came after; easily recognizable. The Batcave it not at all impressive anymore. Much exposure to reimagined and redefined versions of it have buried this element too. Yes, I appreciate all the hard work put into it, but times have changed enough to turn it into a museum artifact, like Borders. I've always been surprised why movies like this or older in their age of filmmaking never thought to stretch the computer screen to show advanced technological achievement. Never the less, the famous Batmobile more than makes up for it. It is still deemed the most popular vehicle in the history of Batman. Considered the fastest and stylish, I still own the hot wheel size toy.
The make crew really didn't need much to work with. Sure, now with how Burton thinks and his track record, all you really need is a bucket of white paint for all the actors. But Nicholson wears it proudly. Joker. The man of the hour. Batman's greatest foe, arguably. No other villain has pushed the Dark Knight further to the breaking point as this psychopath has been able to do over the years. He's crucial to Bruce Wayne's story than normally conceived. He's the man behind the trigger; the man responsible for the birth of the Knight. A reason why this movie depends on flashback to complement Keaton's character. Bruce Wayne is always somewhat depressed, lost, alone. He becomes Batman to bring peace and eliminate the virus that is Gotham's criminal world. A powerful force.
Conroy said it best: "And with that power, we can create a world where no 8-year old kid, will ever lose his parents, because of some punk with a gun."
Batman is fresh to his alter ego. He only wants to instill fear that can last for generations. His cure deems zero involvement for the price of love. Vicky Vale seems to be the one to penetrate the troubled soul of the young billionaire. He wants a life; desperately wants to heal his wounds. Unfortunately, the mission is never over, and the armor will never be stripped. This is the dark setting Burton pursued. Batman is indeed more than just a man. But to be more, he has to abandon all that makes him a man. He makes a choice no average individual can ever grasp.
Performances included, the cast does a fine job. Keaton is good, but not great. The credit goes to Jack Nicholson. He overshadows the lead character ten times. You keep hearing that Ledger was the best Joker. Can you really compare the two? Are you comparing actors or characters? To critic, Ledger will be the winner. But what do I think? It all comes down to a matter of dates and available source material. I'd like to pursue this comparison in another, more appropriate setting. The last great character of this 4 movie franchise would have to be Michael Gough.He will forever be the best Alfred Pennyworth. The butler has always been behind Bruce Wayne in his endeavors since the death of his parents.
Cinematically, the movie has some elements that don't hold up to today's audience, but the hard work is still there. The Batwing scene may have been short lived, but who ever said scale models were dead? They do more now today as much as they did in the past; CGI doesn't always provide the solution. The last most important credit will be given to Danny Elfman. he composed a score that has been used for 16 years in both Burton movies, the animated series and much more. He may only have a good five movie sores under his belt, but this one shines above the rest. The final two minutes are an example. The signal in the dark sky. The camera panning to the highest building in Gotham. We see a Dark Figure looking at his calling, and down to his city. I still get goosebumps.
Overall, Burton's biggest movie of late 80's to the early 90's. Dark and exciting with an unforgettable soundtrack and iconic performance in part by Sir. Nicholson.
Written by: Bawnian©-Dexeus.