Batman 1989 Retrospective

As far as I am concerned it has been 10 years since the last good live action film with Batman was released in theaters. Another day, I will go into a little more detail about the missed opportunity that was The Dark Knight Rises, but today I bring you, one of my favorite films of all time, Batman, from director Tim Burton. Batman was the what brought the Dark Knight into the mainstream. Batman also came out in a much more simple time when movies just had to be entertainment and didn’t need a stupid message. Although the titular hero is my favorite interpretation of the character, it’s his villainous counterpart that really elevates and drives the film.

Nothing to me is as quintessential of a summer film as Batman, from 1989. What a year to be a child: Back to the Future 2, License to Kill, The Last Crusade, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and UHF. Batman, from a story perspective, is as simple as it gets. Bad guy sets out to do bad thing, a good guy has to stop him. Simplicity is often underrated, as we learned from Hannibal Lector. It’s the line that separates Batman from the Nolan films. The Nolan films are deeper on a dramatic level, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better. But it drives a big enough wedge between the 2 properties for the fans of Batman to appreciate each one on its own merits. Batman focuses more on Batman as the dark knight and a defender of Gotham, whereas Nolan focuses on Bruce Wayne and his struggle/obsession with being Batman. For me, Batman as a creature of the night (no pun intended) works better as a piece of entertainment. Here is our hero, here is our villain, here is the setting, the plot and a tight resolution. All along the way, magnificent set pieces and music.

I love Adam West Batman, but it is a conflict of creation. Frank Miller is responsible for recreation of Batman as the Dark Knight, and this is the film that introduced audiences to a more mature and dark version of the titular hero. Our introduction to Gotham City is that of 1980s New York City. The night life is equal parts cosmopolitan and economic hopelessness; like how Gotham should be. In the first 5 minutes of the movie we see a hooker and a vagrant thug. It is all we need to know, and the movie establishes it in the very first scene. Gotham city is dirty and dangerous. The dirty and dangerous of Gotham City is a fairy tale version of dirty/dangerous, though, with Roman statues and gothic architecture. It’s not what any city would actually look like, but the grandiose urban landscape makes for a larger than life environment for Batman and his rogue’s gallery to blossom.

I don’t care if you don’t like this opinion, but I am going to say this, Jack Nicholson is a better Joker than Heath Ledger. Come at me, bro. I bench 350, fight me IRL. This is one of my favorite, if not my all time favorite on screen villains. I think each adaptation needs to be treated as its own interpretation/universe, but when I think the Joker, I think Batman 89. He actually feels like a character that would describe himself as the clown prince of crime. The Joker should tell jokes, and “you wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you?” is one of the funniest subtle moments in any movie I’ve ever seen. The Joker is a homicidal maniac that wants to poison Gotham just for attention. He demands the spotlight and feels the need to compete with Batman for it. Batman works in the shadows and fights crime selflessly, whereas the Joker is flamboyant. It’s a perfect yin and yang dynamic: crime fighter in the dark, lawbreaker in the light. I do love animated Joker, but I feel like almost all the influence on TAS Joker came from Jack Nicholson. He feels menacing, but he’s so likable, because the performance is perfect. It is hilarious.

Once upon a time, movies were made for entertainment, and that didn’t mean stupid, take out your brain, entertainment. Batman is a movie that tells the story of Gotham City, and it does so in a lean and mean manner. None of that exposition garbage, none of those boring emotions; straight up ass kicking goodness. It is a visual marvel, and the beauty comes from the ugly that is presented in Gotham. Where it falls, slightly, short in story, it more than makes up for in an on screen villain, with an unparalleled performance that elevates the camp to a maniacal level to balance the dark and light aspects of the picture that is painted. I still think Batman holds up as one of the strongest summer films, action films, and comic book films of all time, and it truly feels like the end of an era, where the camp and zaniness of the 80s began to wear off, and Hollywood started to embrace the grit. Oh, and in case you were wondering what I thought of this interpretation of Batman, Michael Keaton is my favorite Batman.

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