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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Classic Movie Review - Batman 1989


Batman - 9/10

The eighties were a great time, you may have seen me write that before. It was around 1986 that the comics world exploded. Frank Miller, fresh off of his run on Daredevil and having created one of the most interesting takes on a comic character prior to that in Ronin, delivered to us the equivalent of an atomic bomb when he created Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Taking Bruce Wayne/Batman and moving him forward in time, 40 or so years into the future and showing us Bruce Waynes last act and mission as Batman.
We read as Batman came to terms with Harvey Dent, who, in the comic, had reconstructive surgery to return him to normal, but it was already too late. Too many years as Two-Face had permanently scarred him. Dent couldn't come to terms with his new look, always seeing himself as the scarred horror that he was. As the Joker showed his true colors in front of a national audience and finally when Batman confronted the Joker, which is probably one of the best-written scenes, between Batman and Joker ever written. Frank Miller took Batman to the next level with this mini-series and it's the one comic that everyone refers to when talk of a Batman movie being made is announced.

Well, this and the other seminal voice of Batman, The Killing Joke. Between 1986 and 1988, five comics did more for Batman than the entire previous run in its 30-year history at that point. The Killing Joke did for the Joker, what The Dark Knight Returns did for Batman. It redefined a character that desperately needed to be rewritten and shown as the sadistic murderer that he was. The idea that a comic could take a bad guy, even though we already knew about a lot about him, and give a fresh take on what makes the Joker tick.

It was around this time that Batman, the movie was announced. Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Kim Basinger were top billed. The world, of course, gave their opinions on the whole thing. Considering that this was before the internet, the only voices heard were at the conventions, private conversations and in the "trade" magazines like Cinefantastique and others similar to it. There were a lot of people scratching their heads. Mr. Mom? That guy from Gung-Ho and Nightshift? What kind of joke was this? Then it was announced that Tim Burton would be directing the movie and there was a collective gasp and people being angry with the Beetlejuice guy, thinking that this movie was going to be a campy, 1960's take on Batman.
Boy were we surprised.

Michael Keaton gave us a Bruce Wayne that wasn't campy, wasn't breaking the fourth wall and smirking at the camera and was convincing in the Batman suit. Jack Nicholson as the Joker was over-the-top crazy, but he was able to reign it in so as not to be stupidly annoying, or farcical. The only downside, at least in my opinion, was Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale. She seemed to just go through the motions and was there as arm candy for Keaton, more than she was there to be in the movie. It felt like she wasn't committed to the role and that other actresses could have done a better job.

The rumor surrounding the movie was that Tim Burton loved the look of The Killing Joke so much, he adapted the story for the big screen and what we got was the 1989 Batman movie. Huge gothic sets, a good script (written by Warren Skaaren) and a good mix of action and character development.

Burton was able to balance the movie equally between Keaton and Nicholson and give the fans what they wanted, no matter the technological hurdles they had to jump. There was little to no real CGI available, everything had to be done with miniatures and smoke and mirrors. It was a major effort and it paid off. Burton's unique take on the characters was a necessary step to keep the characters rooted in their comics origins and to make them believable. If you look at other superhero movies between 1980 and 2000, with Batman being in the middle, there are only a handful of these movies that were good, with Superman being the only other movie that could rival Batman at the time.

If this movie isn't in your library, run, don't walk to the nearest store that sells DVD's or Amazon or whatever your choice of movie rental/sales stores you visit and pick this up. It's worth every penny to watch Tim Burton's creative masterpiece, over and over.

Batman (1989)
PG-13 | 2h 6min | Action, Adventure | 23 June 1989 (USA)

The Dark Knight of Gotham City begins his war on crime with his first major enemy being the clownishly homicidal Joker.
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Bob Kane (Batman characters), Sam Hamm (story)
Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

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