Saturday, May 4, 2013

#992. Batman (1989)

Directed By: Tim Burton

Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

Trivia: Robin Williams was considered for the role of The Joker; he would later be considered for The Riddler as well

Batman was all the rage in the summer of 1989, breaking box-office records - it was the first motion picture to cross the $100 million mark in its first 10 days - on its way to a worldwide gross of $414 million. But while many comic-book fans were undoubtedly lining up to see their favorite superhero on the big screen, the movie’s villain ultimately proved just as strong a draw.

Gotham City is abuzz with tales of a masked vigilante known as the Batman, who appears out of nowhere to foil criminals before disappearing just as quickly into the shadows. The identity of this caped crusader remains a mystery to all but two people: billionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) and his butler (and longtime friend) Alfred (Michael Gough). 

You see, Bruce Wayne is Batman. His obsession with justice started years earlier when, as a boy, he witnessed the murder of his parents. Now, Wayne devotes his life to fighting crime, and relies on an assortment of gadgets and gizmos to assist him whenever his enigmatic alter-ego is on the prowl.

On the other side of the coin is Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), a gangster and the right-hand man of Carl Grissom (Jack Palance), the organized crime boss of Gotham City. But Jack is not happy playing second fiddle to the aging Grissom, and Grissom knows it. So, to rid himself of his ambitious cohort, Grissom sends Jack on an errand that will likely spell his doom. 

But when Batman surprises him, Jack instead falls into a vat of toxic waste, altering his appearance (giving him green hair and bleached skin) and warping his mind. Now known as The Joker, Jack initiates a crime spree the likes of which the city has never seen before. 

Will Gotham’s self-appointed guardian bring an end to the Joker’s reign of terror, or has Batman finally met his match?

Directed by Tim Burton, Batman is a dark film. The city of Gotham, with its dimly-lit streets and gothic architecture, is a grim metropolis, a haven for criminals and a town where decent folk live in fear. In short, it’s the perfect place for the elusive Batman, a hero to some, a dangerous vigilante to others. In the film’s opening sequence, Batman surprises a couple of street thugs who have just robbed a family at gunpoint (the shot of Batman descending behind them is one of the movie’s most impressive images). When the dust settles, our hero has knocked one of the two out cold, and instructed the other to “tell all your friends about me”. 

As played by Keaton, Batman is an enigma, a puzzle many are trying to piece together, including reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and photojournalist Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger). Vale will get closer to the truth than she realizes when, after crashing a party, she strikes up a romance with Bruce Wayne. Yet through much of Batman, the movie’s title character remains a mystery.

The villain, on the other hand, is an open book, a criminal with a mean streak who, after his toxic bath, only gets meaner. Nicholson is at his anarchistic best as The Joker, tossing off puns one minute and dangerously out of control the next. Shortly after his accident, Jack confronts Grissom, during which we see both sides of The Joker’s personality; accusing his former boss of setting him up, he shoots Grissom in cold blood, then continues to fire as if he were aiming at targets in a carnival game, laughing all the while. 

Along with getting all the best lines (when Vicky Vale asks The Joker what he wants, he replies “My face on the one-dollar bill”), Nicholson steals the spotlight whenever he’s on-screen, delivering a performance that, while certainly outrageous, brings with it an energy that is simply too compelling to ignore.

The series would continue the trend of casting superstars as Batman’s adversaries; in the 1992 sequel Batman Returns, Burton ups the ante by giving us two baddies for the price of one: the Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfieffer). Yet while some of the sequels were entertaining (aside from Batman Returns, I have to confess that 1995’s Batman Forever is a guilty pleasure), none would match the power or intensity of the original, which gave us both a hero and villain we wouldn’t soon forget.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Hi @Jamie_Dodger_here.
I love the first Tim Burton Batman film. I've got some good memory's of watching this at the cinema and the fact my then Youngest little brother got in despite it being under the brand new 12 certificate at the time.To this day Michael Keaton is my favourite of all that have played Batman. He has the right amount of Bruce and Batman going for me and he under plays the role so well I think it's a shame we never got to see him in Batman Forever. Did you know Bill Murray had been rumoured to be cast in the role at the timeI've always thought Jack Nicholson's Joker was OK but I think the man ruins it himself by just being far too... not sure what the word is to be honest. I don't like how Nicholson's name was billed before Keaton's ether. In fact this film might of been a bit better if it had not had his ego all over it.The Bat suit is fantastic and this also is my favourite of the costumes that have been designed from the original films. Although I find it amusing to read some people wanted to use a Nike product placement on it. Maybe the famous tick could of gone in the middle of the bat symbol?Danny Elfman's theme is still a top five movie tune for me to this day. And I'll openly admit to loving the Prince soundtrack.Great film.