Batman

Batman (1989)
Directed by Tim Burton

What could be more pointless than watching Batman in 2003? Reviewing it! Or better yet, reading a review of it. So we both lose, but you more than me.

Having recently gotten back into reading Batman comics (which I may have to give up … there's like 300 new Batman related comics a month, and it's just becoming too obvious when I am reading them in the middle of work meetings, seeing as I'm supposed to be leading these meetings), I decided to revisit Tim Burton's film to see how it holds up. Bear in mind I was 17 when it came out, and it was a huge deal – the hype brewed for months; you couldn't escape "Batdance" on the radio; it was "bigger than Jesus Christ," according to Batman publicist Jon Lennon. I went to see it on its night of release, the midnight showing of course. The place was packed. The popcorn was fucking fantastic.

And the movie rocked. Of course, with each subsequent sequel it became painfully apparent how shitty these films really were, and so Batman became something not to go back to; something to leave in the 80s along with hilariously dated fads like The Cube and GRID.

So looking at it for what it is now, Batman kinda sucks. There is much about it that is good, but more about it that is not. Jack Nicholson is by far the main reason to watch the film, as he gives one of the most deliriously self-indulgent performances ever captured – which is actually perfect for the character he's playing. There could have been no better choice for the Joker, truly. He captures all the insanity, rage, hilarity, intentional cartoonishness, and loose cannon scariness of the Joker without seeming like he's just hamming it up (like the villains throughout the rest of the franchise). Sure, it's over the top, but that's totally what it should be. Nicholson is way out on a limb, and it works. Plus, it's funny on so many levels to see Jack Nicholson dancing to the music of Prince.

The rest of the cast is quite a bit more specious. Michael Keaton was an interesting choice, and he actually does pull off the two sides of the character pretty well, but honestly, he's way too scrawny to be Batman. Look at Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns and see how bulky this guy was. I mean, regardless of your favorite depiction of Batman, the reality is, this guy is supposedly up all night every night fighting crime, you know, leaping off buildings and stuff. Michael Keaton? He was a snowman in Jack Frost, by my troth.

Kim Basinger is actually quite good in her role as Vicki Vale, who really didn't need to be in this film at all. I hate when movies have a female lead, and the whole climax centers around the villain taking her to the top of a tower somewhere and threatening her. It's a waste of her talent and a waste of time that could otherwise have been spent on character development. Robert Wuhl is typically irritating, and with more than a decade's distance, makes me look with wonder on the people that were considered commercially viable in various eras. One decade's George Segal is another's Robert Wuhl, as my great-grandmother used to say.

I had forgotten that Lando Calrissian was cast as Harvey Dent in this movie. Billy Dee doesn't get much to do here, and I am mainly curious to know whether they intended to develop his character in the sequels. He's an interesting choice, since the original character is white, and quite a good choice when you think about the potential to have him turn into Two Face (Dent's villainous alter-ego). But nothing came of that, and he seems kinda random here. Also, the guy they got for Commissioner Gordon is just all wrong. I hate to sound like a sneering comics nerd ("worst episode ever"), but they could have put a little more effort into finding a more appropriate guy to play such an essential character. But then, this is not the comics Batman, it's the Hollywood Batman, and the details are all fucked up. It's a wonder that purists didn't outright hate the film; they were probably just glad for their nerdy passion to be suddenly in vogue, if only for a brief time. Actually, looking at Pat Hingle's entry in the IMDB, it seems that he continued as Gordon in the later films as well. Well, that goes to show how misguided the whole series has been.

Burton's direction is sloppy and unmannered here (and I say that as a huge fan of several of his movies), his kitchen sink approach helping to render the film chaotic and amateurish. The story is overly simple and glosses over and/or changes way too much of the Batman mythos to be effective to a fan. Prince's music is good but incongruous, and on the whole the movie is just a big soupy mess, albeit one with plenty to recommend it regardless. I can't say I will ever watch this again, but I guess I am glad I gave it another look so as not to be one of those people who clings to a particular movie being great because it was so fun to see as a teenager. Now if only I could shake this damn GRID. (Laughter, applause.)

Review by Katarina Prozac