Thursday, February 6, 2020

Movie Review: Batman (1989)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, Jack Nicholson as Joker
Cons: Romance, Batman needed more development
The Bottom Line:
Batman on big screen
Dated effects and action
But still entertains

“Can Somebody Tell Me What Kind of a World We Live in Where a Man Dressed Up as a Bat Gets All of My Press?”

I never watched Tim Burton’s Batman movies.  Granted, I didn’t watch many movies growing up, but even as an adult, I never wanted to go back and watch them.  (I’ve seen the final two sequels these spawned.)  I’d heard they were dark, and, considering my reaction to some of the darker DC Comics movies, that was enough to make me stir clear.  When I saw that TBS was showing them back in December, I decided it was time, and I recorded them all.  Now that I’ve seen Batman, I found that I enjoyed it overall.

This movie doesn’t waste much time with backstory.  Instead, it throws us right into a scene of Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) as his nightly alter ego, Batman.  He’s begun to fight crime as Batman, but he is just a rumor.  The public doesn’t believe he is real, but criminals are beginning to become afraid.  While Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) and new DA Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) deny his existence, reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) is on the trail of the story.  When award winning photo journalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) comes to town, she joins Alexander’s attempts to learn the truth about Batman.

However, things are about to get even more dangerous.  Mobster Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is only mid-level in his organization, if that, but a bath in chemicals turns him into The Joker, and he has plans for Gotham City.  As Bruce and Vicki become close, will Joker’s reign of terror come between them?

The first thing I noticed about this film is how dated it is.  No, I’m not talking about content, although the music, hair, and costumes do show their age a little.  I’m talking about staging and effects.  Even the action sequences feel a bit dated.  Then again, the movie is over 30 years old, so it isn’t that surprising when you stop and think about it.  And, it adds a bit of charm to the proceedings, as long as you know to expect it.

As to the tone, it is certainly darker than the campy 1960’s Batman TV show, but it isn’t nearly as dark as the Batman or DC movies we’ve gotten in the last 15 years.  The PG-13 rating is right, but if you enjoyed recent films, this one won’t be an issue for you at all.

We get quite a bit of backstory on The Joker here, but not quite as much on Batman.  Yes, his backstory eventually comes into play, but it isn’t as heavy as in most recent comic book movies, which feel they need to give us an origin story for each character.  I really appreciated that since I already knew the story.  Joker’s backstory does slow things down a bit early on, but it also helps us understand some of his actions once he’s transformed.

Jack Nicholson is fantastic as Joker.  He’s clearly the star of the film and clearly have a blast hamming it up.  No, he never goes over the top, but his performance is the star of the film, and he gets all the best lines.  I must say I actually found Michael Keaton a little forgettable as Batman.  I know it’s his story, but the script doesn’t give him as much to do, so it is probably the script’s fault more than his.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I was rolling my eyes at the cliché his relationship with Vicki Vale turned into.  Seriously, the romance is the worst part of the film.

Being a superhero movie, you expect effects and action.  As I mentioned earlier, they are a little dated by today’s standards, but most of them hold up well.  The climax certainly had me on the edge of my seat, which means I was buying into the story.

The biggest surprise to me was Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent.  Obviously, they recast the character later in this run of movies.  I’m a bit disappointed since I’d like to know what he would have done with the character in the later movies.

I guess, for me, I wanted a bit more development for Batman here, and felt the movie focused more on Joker.  I’m looking forward to moving on in the franchise.  If you haven’t seen Batman and you enjoy superhero movies, definitely give this one a watch.

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