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Film Review: Batman (1989)
In 1989, Tim Burton released, Batman, based on the character created by Bob Kane and used in comic books published by DC Comics. Starring Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall, Tracey Walter, and Lee Wallace, the film grossed $411.3 million at the box office. The highest grossing film based on a DC comic book until 2008 and the 66th highest grossing film in North America, it was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Musical or Comedy), the Saturn Awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Make-Up, Best Costume Design, Best Fantasy Film, the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the BAFTA Awards for Production Design, Visual Effects, Costume Design, Makeup, Sound, and Actor. It won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction.
Regarded as a legend by the criminal underworld and a myth by the police force, Batman fights crime in Gotham and comes head to head with The Joker who has taken control over a criminal empire.
A film that revolutionized home video and made superhero films profitable, Batman is a good film, bringing a darker concept of the hero to audiences, who last saw Batman as Adam West. At least, that’s what it was like for people who didn’t read comics, seeing as comic books were growing darker and darker with titles like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Crisis on Infinite Earths. Burton gave Gotham a gothic look stylistically and architecturally that fit really well with the character and turned the character into the brooding antihero that had been seen in the comics at that time, which have a striking contrast to Adam West’s puns and bright depiction of Gotham.
But it’s not just the look and feel of the film that makes it good. Keaton is perfect as Bruce Wayne, making him seem like the last possible choice to be Batman. He gives realism to Wayne as a socially awkward socialite in the first scene that doesn’t have him in the Batsuit by showing him as eccentrically fumbling around. Even going so far as to not knowing who Bruce Wayne is. However, his low-key introduction shows that Wayne would rather keep a low profile and slip into the background. Keaton’s own style of looking like the perfect person to just blend into the background and maintain an air inconspicuousness really helped make this film’s Wayne come to life.
At the same time, Nicholson also was practically perfect as The Joker. The way he carries his voice and draws out his dialogue even before he becomes The Joker demonstrates Jack Napier’s unstable enjoyment of the criminal life. He’s first seen calling Gotham a place where decent people shouldn’t live and mentioning that if Harvey Dent could touch the mob, he’d already have been brutally killed. The same scene also shows his desire to take over and his arrogant focusing on his looks, the scarring of which is possibly what drives him to start laughing maniacally when he sees his reconstructed face.
Aside from the acting, the way the film portrays The Joker in and of itself is really good, showing that he thinks that society should accept anything as long as it’s funny while crime and wrongdoing and the question of what’s done results in suffering or irritation is irrelevant. The end result is a lunatic terrorizing just to see if he can and to see what happens, such as electrocuting someone just to make a bad pun and talk to the corpse. The thing about this incarnation of The Joker is that he doesn’t exactly have a plan in mind or an end result to what he does. He just wants to sit at the top of a criminal empire, see how much he can get away with, kill who he wants and have a good laugh while doing it. With all the versions of The Joker out there, Nicholson’s isn’t the buffoonish clown, nor is he the embodiment of anarchy and chaos. Rather, he embodies the “crime” aspect to the moniker “Crown Prince of Crime” and is the psychotic gangster.
However, while the film is a good film, it’s not great in terms of being a Batman film. Namely because Burton has Batman kill people, raking up quite the body count, such as tossing a henchman down a staircase and blowing up the chemical factory which probably had a lot of people in it, and even going so far as to tell The Joker that he’s going to kill him. It’s possible that Burton might have been trying to take the character back to his roots, where Batman actually used a gun and killed villains in Golden Age comics. However, the problem was that, as stated earlier, audiences who didn’t read comics last left Batman with Adam West, who even fought in a silly manner, while audiences who did read comics knew that Batman hadn’t killed since the inception of the Silver Age in the mid-1950s.