This is widely regarded as the best of the old school Batman movies, and whilst it is pretty good, I’m here to dispel that myth and take Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ down from its pedestal. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this film every time I watch it, and for a superhero film made in the late 1980s, it’s pretty darn good. But I’m under the impression that many Bat-fans adore this film, and I’m not sure why.
Batman stories are best explained by talking about their villains, and in this instance, it’s the best of them all – The Joker. When Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is sent plunging into a vat of some kind of acidic chemical, he is forever mutated and takes up the guise of The Joker to wreak havoc on Gotham City. One thing I think this film does really well, is that it throws us straight in to a Gotham City where Batman already exists, and only briefly covers Bruce Wayne’s tragic backstory later on in the film.
Michael Keaton dons the cowl and cape here, and I have to say he’s one of the best Batman/Bruce Wayne combos there is (probably third behind Bale and Batfleck). As Bruce, he’s witty, charismatic and just the right amount of arrogant. As Batman, he suffers from a pretty cheap-looking Batsuit and dated visual effects, but he certainly has his ass-kicking moments. It’s a real shame that Keaton only had the two outings as Batman (the second being ‘Batman Returns’), not least because we had to suffer through Val Kilmer and George Clooney’s efforts. Opposite Keaton, the brilliant Jack Nicholson nails his execution of The Joker, bringing such menace and classic villainy to the role, as well as perfecting the laugh that comes hand in hand with the clown prince of crime.
So, this all sounds pretty good so far, right? But that’s all it is – pretty good. There’s no doubting this film is WAY better than ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman & Robin’, but then again, most films are. Personally though, I enjoyed ‘Batman Returns’ the most out of the four Batman movies on offer in the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, I just think ‘Batman’ is a little bland, for want of a better word. Everything kinda feels like a half-measure; it’s dark, but not too dark; our hero kicks ass, but not too much; our villain is evil, but not too evil. Whereas, ‘Batman Returns’ showcases all the dark pageantry and fantastical elements that typify Tim Burton’s work, making it so much more enjoyable and interesting to watch. Plus, ‘Batman Returns’ has so much more craziness and violence – I mean, Penguin bites a guy’s nose off!
Maybe it’s just me looking back with a saturated and spoilt view of superhero movies, now that we’ve had The Dark Knight trilogy, the MCU and the start of the DCEU. Like I said, for 1989, this is a pretty good effort at a superhero flick. But there’s nothing special about ‘Batman’, and I feel like it’s down to nostalgia and a cult status to keep this film going. It’s worth watching though for sure, and it’s enjoyable enough; especially if you watch it back-to-back with ‘Batman Returns’.
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson