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Batman (1989)

PG-13 126 minutes

Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

 · Jack Nicholson
 · Michael Keaton
 · Kim Basinger

Review by Thom Stricklin

A child of the eighties, Batman was one of the first films I remember watching, next to Masters of the Universe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and my video collection of the Star Wars trilogy. I don't doubt it was one of the key reasons I gained an interest in comic books and the superhero genre. Now, nearly fifteen years have passed, along with three progressively more disappointing sequels. More than that, as I have matured and expanded my knowledge of the character, I recognize a number of Batman's greatest strengths that were totally forgotten in the adaptation to film. Does the winged freak still terrorize my imagination as he did when I was a child?




As with most of Tim Burton's work, Batman contains an abundance of style and a lack of substance. The characters are fairly well-developed, but some of the more intriguing aspects of their comic-book counterparts--Batman's psychological needs for justice and vengeance, as well as Joker's extreme pyschosis--have been watered down or left out entirely to keep with the film's gritty-yet-fun mood. Other characters, such as Commisioner Gordon, have been pushed back to less-than-supporting roles to keep things simple. However, despite whatever lack of substance there is in Batman, there is certainly no weakness to its great style. Burton delivers a dark & captivating Gotham City, surreal and almost timeless in its eclectic blend of architecture, wardrobe, transportation and other props.

The two lead actors deliver enjoyable performances. Michael Keaton, whose casting had fans worried before the film's release, gave what may be the best performance of the film: both tough, brooding, and menacing as Batman, and clever yet mildly neurotic as Bruce Wayne. Of course, he faces serious competition from Jack Nicholson, whose Jack Napier/Joker performance is quite possibly the highlight of his already tremendous career. Kim Basinger, unfortunately, does not add much to the film aside from some high-pitched screams.




Viewers are sure to be entertained by Batman's great action, which is both fun and well-choreographed, such as Bats' battle to climb the bell tower, as well as the playful showdown between Joker and the Batwing. Additionally, they will be intrigued by the mystery behind Batman and the dark shadows of Bruce Wayne's past.

They may be just as entertained, however, by Nicholson's nutty performance. Even in his most menacing scenes, Joker is such a loon and a character, it's hard not to chuckle.

As with Superman, one of the most memorable parts of this film is its score, this time delivered by Danny Elfman. The Batman theme, much like the film itself, is a blend of darkness, suspense, and triumph.



Superman may have been among the first attempts to bring a superhero to screen, but Batman was perhaps the first truly serious attempt. Tim Burton took great care in building the world of Gotham City from the ground up, without a single element of camp. It's unfortunate the Bat-sequels were not taken as seriously. For what it's worth, however, Batman is still a film one can pop in the DVD player and thoroughly enjoy. And unlike Superman, the adventure of these crusader seem neither dated nor silly.

526 Words Published: 13 December 2002

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