Nov 7, 2014

[Movies] Batman (1989)

My Friday movie reviews are always an interesting opportunity to revisit old favorites or to actually spend some time re-examining older movies from a different perspective. And now I think I'm going to dive into the older Batman movies, save for the 1966 Adam West one - I don't think I'm prepared to go back that far.

Instead we'll start with the 1989 Batman movie - perhaps the first major comic book movie franchise to have a decent amount of success given the number of sequels it spawned. And while not all of them were necessarily of the same quality, they certainly made an impact on a generation of comic book fans.

I'll always consider this first Batman movie to be the start of the modern major superhero movie franchises. As much as there were various one-shot films and the old Superman movies, nothing quite captured the market quite like the Batman movies. It also marked an effort to address such movies in a more serious manner as opposed to making them overly campy and cartoonish in nature.

Synopsis: Batman is a 1989 superhero movie directed by Tim Burton  with a screenplay by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren. It was also the first movie to earn $100 million in its first ten days of release.

Gotham City's big bicentennial celebrations are drawing near and Gotham City Major Borg (Lee Wallace) orders District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and Police Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle) to do everything in their power to reduce crime leading up to the celebrations. At the same time, we meet reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and photojournalist Vicky Vale (Kim Bassinger) leading an investigation into the reports of a mysterious vigilante known as the Batman.

But the Batman (Michael Keaton) is more than just an urban legend - he's very much real and dedicated to trying to stop crime in Gotham. And he eventually finds himself in the middle of an arranged mob hit by boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) against his second-in-command Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson). Batman has a brief struggle with Napier at an Axis Chemicals plant but Napier is accidentally knocked into a vat of chemicals. And while initially believed dead, Napier survives and becomes the mad criminal, The Joker.

A lot has been written about how Tim Burton drew some inspiration from some of the darker takes on Batman stories at the time including The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns. And thus we truly did get a much darker Gotham City, further twisted by Burton's particular aesthetic sensibilities that could be described as somewhat gothic with a fair amount of whimsy. And given I was rather young at the time when we first watched this movie, I had to admit that Gotham City was a pretty scary place indeed. And that seemed fitting given how Gotham is often portrayed in the comic books.

For many people, Michael Keaton will always be Batman, and that's not an unfair assessment. He was pretty strong in the role and his rather imposing portrayal of the caped crusader was an interesting mix of acting ability and restricted movement due to the heavy rubber suit that comprised his costume. Despite the heavy costume, he managed to convey a fair amount of emotions through his eyes and pursed lips alone, even if some of the fight scenes seemed a little blocky given Batman's inability to turn his head.

Jack Nicholson naturally redefined the role of the Joker in a way that seemed impossible to to repeat until Heath Ledger played the same character in The Dark Knight in 2008. It was certainly worlds away from the campy Joker we had all seen in the old Adam West TV series and it was once that sent more than a few chills up my spine. I don't think I'll ever fully get over what had been done to some of his minions in the movie, particularly that one girl with the mask.

The movie generated a lot of hype around some of the practical effects related to the movie including the roadster-style Batmobile and Batman's various gadgets. His little grappling hook launcher was pretty distinct and I remember how the toys made sure to copy that gadget pretty well. As a whole, the hype around the set pieces clearly translated into the merchandising and that further pushed the success of this movie. Despite the darker tone of the movie and the scarier depiction of Gotham, every kid wanted to be Batman when the movie came out.

Not all that much can be said about Bassinger as Vicky Vale at the time. She felt like more of a set piece herself - a strange effort to create a Lois Lane counterpart love interest for Batman. She didn't do all that much for the movie, which sort of reflected the role of women in such action-oriented movies of the time. Thus it does feel like quite the waste that not more was done with her character.

The story wasn't too shabby, but certainly took a number of deviations from established Batman lore. No Batman movie would be complete without the flashback to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne and the decision to connect this to Jack Napier, later on the Joker, was a bit of a controversial move at the time. In hindsight, it made sense through from a traditional storytelling perspective as there's always value in creating more ties between characters in order to push the story forward. And in this case, I think it really helped the movie.

On the whole, Batman was a fairly landmark movie in its own right and a lot of the grittier "modern" versions of superheroes that we've seen on screen have a lot to thank this movie for. Plus it also took Tim Burton's already promising career to a whole new level and gave him quite the playground for refining his unique artistic vision. Thus the movie gets a good 4 crazy Joker TV commercials within the movie out of a possible 5.

No comments:

Post a Comment