Batman [retro review]

“You want to get nuts? Come on! Let’s get nuts!”

The Scoop: 1989 PG-13, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger

Summary Capsule: A man dressed as a bat fights an artistic maniac dressed as a clown, while everyone involved broods.

Kyle’s Rating: Devoid of heat vision or mutants, it’s still the superhero movie all others are measured by.

Kyle’s Review: I wrote my initial review of both Batman and Batman Returns while on vacation. When I got home to transcribe my scribbled notes, I noticed that between both reviews I used the word “awesome” about 117 times. I broke out the thesaurus to spice things out a bit, but the intent remains the same. Both films are incredible. Focusing on Batman for the moment, let me say that in terms of “classic greatness” this first installment wins. In a perfect world, there would just be one long 3.5 hour Batman spectacular, but I guess I don’t mind getting up to put in the original and then the sequel. I guess I just need one of those multiple DVD players. Where do I get those wonderful toys?

When I first saw Tim Burton’s Batman, I was only a teeny tiny kid, terrified to be in the urban southside Chicago theater we were in. The movie was awesome, yes, but it was also very weird and unlike 99% of the movies I had seen before. It was kind of like Aliens, but not. Crazy! Talking percentages, I also think I only caught about 75% of the film’s dark undertones. It was a moody tale, with enough action and sweet bat-vehicles to blow my little mind, so I was happy, and I knew that as I got older and did awful things, I would learn the dark knowledge that would help me understand just what was really going on here.

Now I’m grown up, and I’ve become dark and twisted myself. So now pretty much everything Bat makes sense. Batman was always my top superhero (all about shadows and a cape, baby!) so I would have loved a two-hour movie about the making of a Batman action figure. ‘Course, I’m much happier with Batman. It’s quirky, it’s twisted, and I’m able to see all the crazy levels it’s got. I can enjoy it as just a great superhero movie, or I can watch it as a psychological study of very damaged individuals. Ah, the glory of rewatchability!

Everything about Batman is fabulous. The sets are gothic and indicate that Gotham City is definitely not a place you’d want to visit, let alone live. The script is witty and more than adequate, considering some of the superhero dreck polluting the rental shelves. The supporting cast is also ab-fab. Robert Wuhl is best taken in small doses, and he functions well here as the minor heroic presence. Michael Gough is a pitch perfect Alfred; no wonder they wanted him for all the sequels. Kim Basinger is a very appealing Vicki Vale, totally hot and a strong heroine. Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Palance: everybody works just great. It isn’t just ludicrousness imported straight from the comic books: it’s actual drama. Good work, everyone!

But the main event is Bruce Wayne/Batman (Michael Keaton) versus Jack Napier/Joker (Jack Nicholson), put on by the mad genius that is Burton. Oh, yeah, plot: Bruce Wayne was changed by childhood violence, and grew up to become Batman. In his initial campaign to protect Gotham City, coinciding with head henchman Jack Napier being doublecrossed and dropped in a vat of chemicals, his nemesis the Joker is created. Now it’s Batman versus the Joker for the lives of every Gotham citizen, and Batman is going to need a lot of toys and brooding to win. Oh yea! By the end, origins are revealed, and we all find out Vicki weighs a little more than 108 pounds.

Burton is great for a moody gothic superhero tale. Batman is the perfect superhero for such an interpretation. Nicholson, who got top billing and apparently billions and billions of dollars, is insanely incredible as the Joker. I mean, he’s like insanity incarnate, and I love it. But it’s important not to let Nicholson overshadow Keaton, because he is just as incredible, if not more so. The Joker is mega-charismatic and a snappy dresser, so he naturally and unnaturally stands out. Bruce Wayne is inward and solitary, though Keaton gives him plenty of manic energy when he needs to (“Let’s get nuts!”). He also has a dark sense of humor, and you always get that he’s pretty happy about beating up criminals. Wouldn’t you be? Nicholson entertains, Keaton is totally believable and heroic, and Burton is obviously a visionary genius. I’m Batman!

Nancy’s Rating: Batman is to awesome as Olive Garden is delicious. That analogy doesn’t make a WHOLE lot of sense, but I’m very hungry.

Nancy’s Review: It’s high time I explained to you guys why Batman is cooler than you. Don’t be offended; he’s cooler than me too. I can’t even contemplate how anyone could challenge him in the ranks of cool. So, I constantly bring up the ‘Who-Would-Win’ argument involving Batman vs. Spider-Man. And it’s tough to have friends after this argument, for Spidey is a mighty popular character. I don’t know why I constructed this huge antagonism between the two in my head.

I mean, in theory, I like Spider-Man. He’s a good guy. He’s this little nerd boy journalist who gets bit by a radioactive spider and falls in love with a redhead. I love that! However, Batman is this dark avenger, this superhero for people who don’t love brightly colored costumes, the epitome of badassity as he swoops across Gotham City like it ain’t no thing. And for some reason, these two can’t be friends in my book. Alot of casual movie-goers in whom I debate with don’t see my reasoning. Why can’t I rent a double feature of Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins? they wonder. Why must I choose between two respectable characters? The answer is basically because I think Batman is so cool that I can’t even handle it, and I have to have someone to compare him to, someone who is lesser than, for me to be able to even begin to understand his coolness. And with everyone loving the little spider nerd boy, well, he’s the easiest one to accuse.

I know I’m a little bit insane.

But Spider-Man aside, this film/Batman Returns is what cemented my love of the Caped Crusader. I originally adored the sixties series for humorous/ironic value. “Haha! Kapow! Yeah, get him Batman! Kablamo!” …I got a huge kick out of it. And the comic books were dark and dangerous, but I was not an avid enough comic book reader to declare an obsession based on them. So I needed the movie. First of all, I needed something to come along, slap me in the face with awesomeness and say “HEY! This Batman stuff! It’s not just kablamo and kapow-y, you stupid fool! This is SERIOUS!”. I was a foolish Batman fan, and man am I ashamed of that. Secondly, I needed a favorite movie. I just didn’t have one that I could honestly say that I loved. I would say things like Rocky Horror Picture Show or Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life but I just felt dirty. I felt like these were cop-out answers, movies I really liked alot but didn’t love, couldn’t obsess over, couldn’t watch every single day of my life until I passed out from overabundance to groovy filmmaking. And earlier, when I looked up ‘groovy film-making’ in the dictionary, all I saw was The Joker smashing a piece of art to the tune of Prince. So there’s that. And lastly…I just needed Batman because he rules. But why?? Why does he rock my world so much all day every day?

So, I’m taking a step back and looking at things right now. What do I love about Batman? You and I, avid mutant reader, are gonna figure out what draws me in about Bruce Wayne. Why do I relate more to his tale? Not to bring up the silly spider again, but you would think that out of all the super heroes out there, I would relate to the little nerdboy Spider-Man instead of the totally badass, mysterious, dark, dangerous man of the bat. I think many factors contribute, but the basic need I feel to emulate Catwoman in every aspect of my life definitely plays a part. The concept of Catwoman is originally what suckered me in and made me think Batman was cooler than all the rest. After I got over the shock of the coolness of Catwoman, I could better appreciate what was great about Batman. Also, the fact that he never smiles and I am envious of that. I have no doubt in my mind I would giggle at The Joker’s jokes. His sullen demeanor is not so much something I’m jealous of, but something I know I could never pull off, which is why it is interesting to me.

I think the fact that the Batman villains are the most complex and interesting of any villains in any other super heroes lives (excluding X-Men, but teams of super heroes don’t count. Wolverine can’t stand on his own — Batman can). The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler, The Penguin… I find them all fascinating. Some of them I am forced to be further intrigued via comic book, for the later movies ruined The Riddler and Mr. Freeze for me. I had to do research to learn their little complexities and quirks. I especially like the concept of Mr. Freeze. He’s cold and he kills other people with cold, and yet… it’s all because he’s in love! He’s a lover! His heart is warm, but he shoots of ice of death!I love that! The Joker is my favorite villian, and yet probably the least complex. This guy is just genuinely f-ed up.

Well, without any further deliberation about why I love Batman the concept, let’s get into why I love this superbly well-crafted movie. I’m glad that we are introduced to Batman in the most generic and simple way possible, and I still think it’s one of the coolest character introductions I’ve ever witnessed. What sends chills up your spine more so then the quietly intense declaration of “I’m Batman”? Even if you don’t know who Batman is or what he stands for, the delivery of that line is intense enough to make bad guys cry, poop and run. Out of all the Batmans I have witnessed in my life, I would say Michael Keaton is the best, which is again a surprise. Well, I mean he’s obviously more badass then George Clooney… George Clooney is a lazy little pretty boy with a dapper face, yes, but no integrity or inner conflict within. Michael Keaton is a bit of a funnyman and a bit of a nerd, but even with those two characteristics embedded into my head as Michael Keaton’s shtick, I really think he is the best one. More so then Christian Bale, even. I found this new actor portraying my hero as this vigilante entity, dark and intense and amazing but with less soul and less real-guy qualities. Michael (I’m on a first name basis, I just decided) found a way to intertwine intensity AND real guy ness! I believed in him! I believed that such a character could exist, saving us while still being IN-CRED-IB-LY cool, and still being a human being.

Tim Burton is a subject in which I have very mixed feelings about. I don’t respect him, but I kinda respect his word, and by kinda respect his work, I mean I love most of it very much but I feel like he’s just catering to a big demographic that doesn’t appreciate the finer details and concepts behind it, they just like it because it’s dark and twisted. I wish he would make a sincerely happy, non-gothicy-style movie that people could watch and say “Wow. That’s a really cool thing that he’s doing. And I’m not compelled to shop at Hot Topic at all. Weird.” Despite all that, I still think it would be really cool if he did Harry Potter. Batman is a tale that already had the dark touch intertwined into the story line, so Tim Burton’s direction is an obvious choice. He constructed an excellent visual. I think what really made this movie amazing was the characters, but he gave them a nice setting to play in. I especially like his use of color. Speaking of color… purple.

With that, I am going to go into The Joker. Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. My favorite character in any movie, probably ever. First of all, I love Jack Nicholson. I think he is one of the finest, yet the craziest and most unique actors in cinematic history. I think he is sexy. I think he is funny. I think he is a dapper ladies man and an escaped raving lunatic. I think he owns this character. He delivers each line with laughter and this devious look in his eye. He’s loveable and yet indisputably evil. He loves purple and Prince. He’s hilarious! He’s great! He’s the Batman villain who evokes the least amount of sympathy, and yet he is undoubtedly the most loveable. And also, probably the creepiest. I mean, what is eerier than that deadly smile, and the rage in the eyes? What’s stranger then that manipulative hold on the minds of Gotham City, convincing them he is on their side, roping them in and killing them? What’s creepier then him destroying his lady love, turning her into his own personal art project? And, to put it frankly, what is cooler than his emergence as ‘The Joker’? “…I’m alot happier!”

So this movie is one of my favorites for so many reasons. I love the deep psychological levels and I like the darker elements that you don’t understand when your a child seeing a superhero movie, but what I just like is it’s got that overall cool element that you can’t really pinpoint, but you love it. It’s. Just. Cool. And if I’m not in the mood for the deeper levels, I can immediately shut off my brain and appreciate the fine setting and fun action. Four stars. Should be viewed weekly. By everyone.

That glass? Contains pure liquid LSD. Enjoy!

Intermission

  • Set designer Anton Furst deliberately mixed clashing architectural styles to make Gotham City the ugliest and bleakest metropolis imaginable.
  • The Axis Chemical Plant set is actually a leftover set from the movie Aliens.
  • Kim Basinger is only a few inches shorter than Michael Keaton. To make Keaton appear taller, she wears flat heels or is in stocking feet in all the scenes in which they are standing next to each other.
  • In the Globe office, a reporter hands Knox a drawing of a bat dressed like a man, poking fun at his belief in Batman. The drawing is signed “Bob Kane,” the co-creator of Batman.
  • Billy Dee Williams specifically took the role of Harvey Dent in anticipation of portraying Two-Face in a future movie. Instead, Tommy Lee Jones was cast as the dualistic villain in Batman Forever.
  • Jack Nicholson received a percentage of the film’s gross, and due to its massive box office took home around $60 million. As of 2003, it was still the single-movie record for actor’s salary.
  • This was the first film to ever get a “12” rating in Great Britain. The rating was created to prevent young children from seeing the film. It has been in place ever since.

Groovy Quotes

Mugger: Don’t kill me, man – don’t kill me!
Batman: I’m not going to kill you. I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell all your friends about me.
Mugger: What are you?
Batman: I’m Batman.

Joker: I have given a name to my pain, and it is Batman.

Joker: Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Joker: I’ve been dead once already; it’s very liberating. You might think of it as… therapy.

Vicki Vale: You’re insane!
Joker: I thought I was a Pisces!

Joker: Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil by the pale moonlight?

Vicki Vale: I just gotta know, are we going to try to love each other?
Batman: I’d like to. But he’s out there right now, and I’ve gotta go to work.

Joker: Now comes the part where I relieve you, the little people, of the burden of your failed and useless lives. But remember, as my plastic surgeon always said: if you gotta go, go with a smile.

Bruce Wayne: Let me tell you about this guy I know. Jack. Bad seed. Mean. Hurt people.
Joker: I like him already.

Bruce Wayne: Y’see, my life is really com-PLEX.

Joker: Hello, Vinny. It’s your Uncle Bingo. Time to pay the check!

Jack Napier: Decent people shouldn’t live here; they’d be happier someplace else.

Joker: Where does he get those wonderful toys?

Joker: Never rub another man’s rhubarb.

Vicki Vale: Well, face it. You’re not exactly normal, are you?
Batman: This isn’t exactly a normal world, is it?

Joker: My balloons. Those are my balloons. He stole my balloons! Why didn’t anyone tell me he had one of those… things? Bob, gun.

Joker: What kind of a world is this where a man dressed as a bat gets ALL MY PUBLICITY? This town needs an enema!

Joker: “Winged freak terrorizes”? Wait’ll they get a load of ME!

Joker: I now do what other people only dream. I make art until someone dies. See? I am the world’s first fully functioning homicidal artist.

Rotelli: What’s with that stupid grin?
Joker: Life’s been good to me.

Joker: Gentlemen! Let’s broaden our minds. Lawrence?

Joker: And Bob… remember… you… are my number one… guy!

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16 Comments

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