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What a good year 1989 was, the summer was a full on release of blockbuster films. That year included the third Indiana Jones film, James Bond in Licence to Kill and up till then one of the most hyped films in history was the release of Tim Burton’s version of Batman. The previous incarnation of Batman was Adam West in the sixties TV series and there was no way that the camp and colourful approach could be taken, the style of the art in the Batman comics had seen the Caped Crusader become the Dark Knight thanks to a number of powerful and dark graphic novels that has basically re-invented the hero into more of a vigilante. Coincidentally the film was released as a mark of respect as part of Batman’s 50th anniversary since his creator, Bob Kane, put pencil to paper and invented the character. In all honesty this was going to be a big film from the outset, the bar had been raised by the Superman series and it is was felt that it was the right time to launch a new franchise.
The plot is extremely dark in nature and can be quite ravelled, Batman is in the early stages of his career as a crime fighter and it is unknown where his loyalties lie, and therefore the Gotham City Police Department are unsure and choose to treat him as just another criminal in a corrupt city which makes the job more difficult for Batman to operate and means that his methods have to be more covert in nature. One night he encounters Jack Napier and whilst attempting to apprehend him at a Chemical Plant, Napier falls into a vat of highly toxic chemicals that changes his hair to green and his skin to a pale white colour. When the surgeon unwraps the bandages to reveal the extent of the scarring, Napier breaks down and starts to laugh. The shock has turned him into a madman and created an alter ego called The Joker. Meanwhile reporter Vicky Vale is starting to dig deeper about Bruce Wayne and his back story. The Joker then hatches a plan using every day cosmetics that have been doctored, if they are used in a certain combination then the effects are deadly to the user and slowly Joker takes over the city from the various crime bosses. The Police know what is happening and due to the corruption are powerless to stop The Joker; Batman soon becomes trusted to prevent further carnage to the people of the City.
The lead character in the film is Batman/ Bruce Wayne, and in this version it is played by Michael Keaton. Keaton in my opinion before watching the film would not be an obvious choice
Pictures of Batman (UMD)
I played the right notes....but not necessarily in the right order!
to play the character given the fact that he is an average built guy, with what I would call average appearance. Yet in the Bat costume he tends to take on a completely different persona entirely, his eyes take on a chill that does tend to give Batman a scary edge, and this is played upon by the camera shots when Batman is addressing an issue. Happily my concerns were dealt with and by the end of the film you see Keaton in a totally different light as at the end of the film you realise that his portrayal of Bruce Wayne is charming and funny while his role as Batman is tough and brutal as he isn’t afraid of throwing a punch, in fact you see Batman with blood on his face and in pain which is totally groundbreaking. Keaton as Bruce Wayne has a love interest in the film and she is played by Kim Basinger, it seems all her close ups are done in an obvious soft light and focus to what I can only assume is done to make her look “heavenly”, and this does tend to get annoying after a while. Basinger is a sexy woman anyway and yet even though she has a strong feminine side to her in the film that is shown in a number of scenes, it seems she is the mandatory candidate to become the damsel in distress and even though she has good chemistry with Keaton on-screen the character of Vicky Vale doe tend to be moved towards the sacrificial bargaining chip between the two main parties which I thought was a bit of cop out as the writers were playing to a formula, a formula that I think has some commonality with the first Spiderman film, however that’s another rant! The Batman costume is original in design and yet is faithful to comic book sources and at first appearance looks properly bat-like in appearance which is the way the audience see it and the way it should be. The cowl and costume as a whole works well as does the new and improved Batmobile that still looks good today some 22 years later, in fact this was the one thing that I remembered of the film straight away as this was a new design that looked menacing.
Jack Nicholson plays The Joker on his on terms, end of story.
When watching this you have to blot out the image of the late Heath Ledger as on comparison Ledger wins on all accounts with his portrayal of Batman’s nemesis. Nicholson is so over the top in everything that he steals the scenes from Keaton as well as the whole film, in fact the problem is Nicholson as he dramatically changes the gravity of the film. By this I mean that he seems to get all the meaty lines and all the best scenarios in which to simply let loose as The Joker making Batman a secondary character. Appearance wise The Joker has the green hair and white skin and is every inch meeting expectations until it comes to his weight. In the comic books The Joker is slim and tall, yet Nicholson appears overweight in some of his costumes that don’t do him justice at all. I have to admit that I was 50/50 on his characterisation of The Joker, however watching the film again after some time simply shows him as hamming it up without any cares at all and the film has not aged that well. Interestingly Nicholson signed a deal with Warners that allowed him to get a percentage of the profits on any subsequent films related to Batman, therefore the last two films by Christopher Nolan has meant that Nicholson still receives royalties for films he wasn’t even in! Like I say the problem is Nicholson who even managed to get his name above Michael Keaton on the posters as well. This has been an ongoing issue and something that has affected most of the four Batman films made in the late eighties and early nineties.
Backing up the main cast is screen legend Jack Palance, Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth the trusted Butler and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Billy Dee Williams as an underused Harvey Dent with a cameo appearance by Jerry Hall. Add in some sub-plots that come to fruition by the end of the film and overall this isn’t a bad film at all, but it is a film that does have problems.
There are some major twists in the story as it unfolds and to be honest these are exciting to watch, the problem is that the focus of the script has been made on Nicholson, so I tended to savour the scenes that he wasn’t actually in to get a full feel of the film without any pull towards scene stealing, however the world that Burton has created is off the scale in terms of gothic architecture, crime and grime. Gotham City can only be described as a sleaze pit of a city that is hitting a low, Burton imagining of the locations in the film are dark, damp, crowded and literally rough and the early scenes show this to a tee. In fact the whole film is dark in nature as well, and I know at the cinema that caused a few complaints as the audience were having difficulty seeing the background sets and what was happening on screen, even the scenes set in the daytime have that grey feel to them that gives a level of depression to the audience which fits the story well, but doesn’t necessarily give a good viewing experience at the time. However the issues have been solved for the UMD release and the resolution on the screen of the PSP means that everything is visible to see and given the size of the screen of the console that is quite an achievement, oh and don’t expect any extras as this is UMD and not DVD! I’ve said this before but UMD is perfect for watching a film on the move given the fact that you just sit there with a PSP in hand. Just make sure your PSP is fully charged before leaving as mine ran out in the last third of the film, by the way the film is 126 minutes, PSP’s can only run for 120 minutes after a full charge!
The first half can be considered an origin film of Batman, yet the flashbacks do prove valuable to watch and pay attention as they are a vital turning point in the story unfolding and I thought this was a clever technique to open the film into the present day and tell how we got here through flashbacks, guess it breaks up the segments of the story to tell it in an interesting order rather than a straight timeline. There are a number of scenes that feature a car chase and the use of the Batwing in an aerial attack and these are well done, the story does get bigger as the film unfolds and even though the gadgets are bought in as and when necessary to the plot the octane level is high given the slower than expected start of the film. In fact there is more drama in this than I expected, strong dialogue accompanied by menacing stares that basically re-invented Batman as a new hero, and relegated the Adam West era once and for all given the fact that the soundtrack of the film gives a new theme to Batman that was used in all sequels and also the Animated Adventures as well with the style and flavour of the show.
Overall it isn’t a bad film at all to watch, it entertains and is rated as a 15 certificate as this is the unedited version, the cinematic release was controversially given a brand new specially created rating of 12, and my problem watching this is Jack Nicholson doing the scene stealing from other characters which kind of unbalances the film a little. Keaton wouldn’t come into full bloom as Bruce Wayne/ Batman until the sequel and here you get the idea that his role has been toned down to a level of secondary character, which is a shame as he is the hero of the piece and deserves more than what he actually got, although time has shown to me that after watching this again that Keaton was simply the perfect choice for the part at the time.
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Great film. I like the Batmobile in this movie over the tank like thing we got in the Nolan flicks. I liked Jack as the Joker although I agree that he steals the show when on screen.
Deesrev 01.05.2011 23:37
Another one of your excellent film reviews. I love these escapism movies, Batman and sequels being among my top favourites. Ditto on the 'clever technique' of flashbacks too; Will be back to upgrade VH to an E asap. I’m fairly behind on my E list but promise that I will be back xXx