Property review: Batman (1989)

Photo cour­tesy of IMDB.com

Bat­man

Warner Bros., 1989

Batman’s exploits begin in excel­lent 1989 adventure

When the Tim Burton-directed Caped Crusader’s vehi­cle hit the sil­ver screen, comic book movies were in their infancy. Sure, there was the Dolph Lund­gren ver­sion of The Pun­isher and numer­ous Super­man movies fea­tur­ing the irre­place­able Christo­pher Reeve. But there was no big screen adap­ta­tion of arguably the next-most impor­tant DC hero: Bat­man. Enter the 1989 fea­ture with big-name stars.

Nichol­son. Keaton. Basinger. Those three names were omnipresent then and now. Jack Nichol­son stole the show out­right as the Joker from Michael Keaton’s lead. Once Nichol­son makes his grand entrance as Jack Napier/the Joker, you can’t go back. Being fans of the Joker (and Nichol­son as well; we affec­tion­ately refer to him as “Uncle Jack” because of a shared fam­ily name), GI wholly encour­ages tak­ing this ver­sion of the clown prince of crime as an alto­gether awe­some spin on the malev­o­lent DC supervil­lain. Ear­lier and later takes on the Joker, such as the late Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, were well done, but Nichol­son holds a spe­cial place in our hearts as the first movie ver­sion of the character.

Keaton, despite a well-reported reluc­tance for his cast­ing as Bruce Wayne/Batman, nails the part of the tor­tured playboy-turned-crime fighter. And though the com­par­isons to Chris­t­ian Bale have been brought up, Keaton like Nichol­son is spe­cial because he brought Bat­man to life with a thor­ough look at the inner soul of the man ded­i­cated to aveng­ing crime in Gotham City.

Kim Basinger rounds out the trio of leads and does an admirable job as Vicki Vale. It’s not often that some­one can chew scenery with a man dressed as bat and another man sport­ing green hair, a men­ac­ing grin and face paint. Though we dis­liked the naivete of the char­ac­ter in the begin­ning, Basinger does a good job of lead­ing you to believe in her grad­ual falling for Wayne as the story progresses.

It also doesn’t hurt that the chem­istry between Basinger and Keaton is imme­di­ately pal­pa­ble in their first scene together.

While Bat­man suc­ceeds mostly because of the act­ing chops of its lead­ing trio and sur­round­ing cast, we would be remiss in not giv­ing praise to the cos­tume and set design. The back­ground scenery and look of the movie is what really shines.

With the intro­duc­tion sequence fea­tur­ing Danny Elfman’s iconic score (later impro­vised upon in the equally iconic Bat­man the Ani­mated Series) and Bat­man logo, you’re pulled into the world of Gotham from the begin­ning. It’s gritty and can be darkly humor­ous, much like Bur­ton, but you know it’s right. Bat­man feels appro­pri­ately like Bat­man and the film is a tem­plate from which all comic book films could learn a les­son about qual­ity showmanship.

Bat­man is, quite frankly, one of the best comic book films ever made. GI fell in love with the movie 23 years ago as it played in the­aters and made its way home to VCRs. It’s stood the test time for film — far bet­ter than its later sequels — and stands admirably next to any of the modern-day reboots.

HOW WE GRADE

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Plot: 9.5/10

Like the comics?: 9.5/10

Cast­ing: 9/10

Total: 28/30 or 9.3

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