After the success of the Batman television series that aired in 1966 starring Adam West in the titular role, studios eventually came to the decision that it was time to bring Batman to the big screen again, and there was a need to make the film and the world of Batman dark again, after the ’66 series was a very light, educational but pretty much silly version of the ‘Dark Knight’ and his villains. This adaptation became a household name across the world and had become the most famous adaptation of the character, with people now dubbing Adam West as the ‘Bright Knight’ in regards to how fun and colorful the series was.
Finally, twenty three years later in 1989, a new, darker and much more serious Batman adaptation was released in cinemas across the world, from the brilliant mind of Tim Burton. There was one issue with this choice of director however, as Tim Burton has stated that he does not read comics, and finds them detestable for their layouts and unclear formats, claiming that they are confusing to read because it is often unclear which panels and dialogue bubbles are in which order. However, one graphic novel/comic he has read, just so happens to be one of the most famous and well respected stories of all time, known as ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’, which really comes across in the film.
From the Joker origin story of falling into a vat of acid whilst fighting Batman, to Jokers costume and portrayal by the brilliant actor Jack Nicholson, who brings one of DC’s greatest villains to life in the most menacing of ways, with his creepy signature smile and comedic approach to the most sadistic of scenarios such as murder…did I mention this film has straight up murdering in it, and not just from the Joker? More on that later though.
Jack Nicholson is well know for being a brilliant actor, and he has become an iconic portrayal of Joker with many fans debating whether his or Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the character in 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight’ takes the top spot for “Best Joker Portrayal”. His classic purple jacket and suit are taken straight from the pages of the Killing Joke comic and his strange, wonderful, psychotic and over the top performance of the character makes him one of the most faithful adaptations of the clown prince of crime, even though many question whether the Joker needs an origin story or not, this film and Nicholson’s portrayal provides a great adaptation of one that we can all agree work well for the character.
Over the years, Michael Keaton has become famous for his portrayal of Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne, but before this film, he was best known for comedic roles such as Beetlejuice (1988), The Squeeze (1987) and Mr. Mum (1983), so even before the widespread social media complaints of today, there was much speculation and concern among fans about how an actor like Keaton could play the Dark Knight, much like there has been in recent years every time a new Batman film is in production and the actor is revealed, such as Ben Affleck in 2016 and most recently Robert Pattinson who is due to portray the role in film due for release in 2020.
However, over the 30 years since it’s release, with a sequel involving Keaton reprising the his role, many have claimed that Michael Keaton is their favourite portrayal of the character and some even say that he is the definitive portrayal of Batman to this day. The film is without a doubt a classic and has been seen by millions of people across the globe, both comic book fans and those who haven’t read comics alike, because it stands as a classic film from the time for it’s huge success as a film in the industry.
The casting was superb, with the beautiful Kim Basinger portraying Vicki Vale and the charming Billy Dee Williams portraying Harvey Dent, who sadly we never got chance to see turn into the villainous alter ego Two-Face that we know from the comics, but Billy Dee Williams did get the chance to voice the character of Two-Face in 2017’s ‘The Lego Batman Movie’.
The effects for the time, including a mixture of practical and animated effects, still hold up, for the most part, to this day. The story is entertaining, and although it is dark, it is still watchable by almost all ages. Some may consider it a family film, especially when compared to it’s sequel which took on an even darker and more gruesome appearance with the like of Danny DeVito’s portrayal of Penguin, which lead to many complaints form cinemagoers with yound children and the companies that wanted to make the licensed toys such as McDonalds. I will review that in the Batman Returns review however.
My main issue with this film nowadays, is that whilst many fans of comics and Batman claim to love it, there are a few faults which proves the point that Tim Burton doesn’t read comics, and wanted to create his own version, which nowadays most people complain about in these types of films.
In 2016 ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ was released, and one issue many people had with Ben Afflecks portrayal of Batman, that I read everywhere at the time, was that Batman kills and this was against the comic version of Batman’s morals and number one rule, and so people hated on Ben Affleck and Zack Snyder for it. A lot of these same fans, claim to prefer Tim Burtons film over the modern adaptations, but I think a lot of them seem to forget, or refuse to acknowledge, that in the 1989 Batman film, Batman sends his Batmobile into Axis Chemicals, with the intention to kill the Joker, by having bombs drop from the wheels of the Batmobile, blowing up the building and killing half a dozen goons that were stood near the car at the time, not to mention however many goons remained inside the building at the time of the explosion and after all that, the Joker survived because he escaped via helicopter before the bombs were dropped. Not to mention, in the finale, he stops the Joker from escaping by grappling him to a gargoyle, probably knowing full well that it will cause the him to fall to his death, and even though I understand his concern for Vicki Vale and himself at the time, Batman shows no remorse for murdering the Joker whatsoever, which today, get complained about in modern portrayals but for the classic film it’s almost celebrated.
Is it because we know Tim Burton doesn’t read comics, so he gets a free pass for not being accurate? Or is it simply because we don’t want to spoil the idea that this film really is a classic among the older Batman fans of today. Those who grew up with this film, or simply saw it at a younger age in general, like many of our childhood films and television shows, do not want this film to be spoiled by these types of mistakes being pointed out, so we simply remember it as we wish and convince others to do the same.
I myself have no quarrel with this film or its portrayal of Batman, as I always love a good story with a darker Batman that’s pushed across the line of his idea of Justice. It just makes me wonder what really makes fans happy these days, when they argue one point for the modern film but support that same point in the classic film.
Either way, this film is absolutely superb, giving us some of the most classical Batman quotes and tropes such as Jokers line “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”, and of course the iconic “I’m Batman” quote which was popularized from this film. It also gave us some iconic imagery such as the Batplane against the moon, which remains one of my favourite shots in the film of all time, even though I believe Batman’s action for doing so was completely uneccessary.
Not to mention the incredible score and theme by composer Danny Elfman, which was used on the Batman Animated Series and in the Lego Batman videogames. Danny Elfman is known for a lot fo the Tim Burton film scores nowadays, both live action and animated, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Beetlejuice (1988).
This film also gave us one of the most iconic Batmobiles, which are always celebrated along with the character in film, television and comics, because it takes on a character of it’s own. This design was sleek and intimidating to match Keatons portrayal of Batman, and to help it blend into the world of Tim Burtons Gotham.
The film gets a 9/10 from me because it is a film I will always want to watch and can never say no to watching.