Film: Batman (1989) BUY IT
The Principals: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Tim Burton (dir)
The Premise: A wealthy Gotham socialite fills his nights with crime-fighting as a frightening, costumed hero called Batman. A mob-tied corporate lackey, after being horribly disfigured in a chemical accident, is inspired by the hero to begin an equally theatrical campaign of terror against the city.
“How about a magic trick?”
We’re right in the second reign of Batman as a cinematic franchise- one which saw the last movie become one of the most successful of all time, and set the stage for an interesting director to have unprecedented clout and resources. Lest we forget though, before The Dark Knight shattered records, Batman shattered records. Completely consuming the summer of 1989, it broke the opening weekend record as well as the “quickest to $100 million” milestone before winning the year (domestically at least) overall. What’s amazing to consider is that even though the development of the film was definitely pre-internet, there was still comic book fan nitpicking and even a letter-campaign aimed at Warner Brothers for the casting of Michael Keaton. Things never change.
Is It Good: Yeah, it holds up. What’s great is how unique it is among the entire Batman franchise in both tone and look. This is by no means a restrained film –the clashing architecture, operatic posing, and ridiculous villain ensure that– and yet it seems positively subdued compared to the lunacy that would follow in each of the sequels (even Burton’s own, which amps things up to 11). This leaves Batman the one film of the original franchise that works as a distinctive, character-filled comic book movie that is also grounded enough to be taken seriously on at least a few levels.
“Come on, I want you to do it, I want you to do it. Come on, hit me. HIT ME!”
Is It Worth A Look: It’s probably worth what is your ninth or tenth look, certainly. This is a comic book classic, and it’s one of the few, even now, to organically integrate an origin story into a first film without overwhelming it. Keaton is a great Batman, a serviceable Bruce Wayne, and an effective adversary to the thunderous force of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. The Prince music, now-retired Elfman theme, rough-around-the-edges suit, and large-scale matte work ground it in that late-80s, early-90s era, but it’s still aged well.
“This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.”