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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