by Jeremy DeFatta
Happy new book day, everyone! I’m taking a break from looking at real people through the lens of Batman for a couple of posts. Instead, I want to lay out some of my notes and thoughts on the 1989 Batman and 1992 Batman Returns films, which I recently reacquired and watched again for the first time in nearly a decade. This week, I’ll look at 1989’s Batman, directed by Tim Burton and starring Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, and Kim Basinger.
For many fans in my generation, this film was our first exposure to the character and world of Batman. I’m pleased to say I don’t feel as negatively toward this movie as I did just a few years ago (for whatever reasons). Some aspects of it have not aged well, but it is not a bad film. I could do with a little less Prince, though.
Here are some of my revised and expanded notes that I took as I re-watched the movie, grouped around a few themes and characters:
The opening shot of Gotham City looks great; it’s awe-inspiring and massive, its precise time period indefinite, which is what Gotham should look like. I like that the film maintains the dirty 1970s/1980s New York look that Gotham had embodied in the comics for awhile, but I also like the 1940s noir feel that some of the sets and costumes have.
This movie contains one of the best-looking versions of Wayne Manor — it actually resembles a castle.
The decision to cast Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent was a great one. I wish Burton and Keaton had stuck around for a third film about Two-Face with Williams reprising his role.
Michael Gough is wonderful as Alfred. He definitely deserved the four-movie deal he eventually ended up with. I really enjoyed the scene where Bruce and Vicki eat in the kitchen with Alfred rather than yell at each other from opposite ends of the manor’s gigantic dining room table.
Jack Nicholson’s performance is still nearly perfect. He is one of a very small number of actors who could have pulled off the slapstick humor and horrifying psychopathy simultaneously as well as he did.
I find the scene where the Joker defaces the paintings and statues in the museum oddly satisfying, and I’m not sure why. Soon after, it is made clear he gets pleasure out of mutilating women’s faces, which complicates the art defacement scene.
Nicholson has some of the best lines in the entire film, including “This town needs an enema!”, “Never rub another man’s rhubarb,” and (of course) “Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
The parade scene with the poisonous balloons is very creepy to me. I think this is because it connects something innocent and childlike to mass murder. The idea of the Joker and Batman creating each other is powerful and works well in the narrative that’s established in this film. See my posts on the Joker for my thoughts on the Jack Napier character.
Kim Basinger’s character — a photojournalist — is famous for her involvement in covering an incident in the fictional nation of Corto Maltese, a reference to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns from just a few years earlier, which may in turn be a reference to a popular character from European comics created in 1967.
Vale is shown having to research the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in her attempt to understand him. I find it odd that the murder in a back alley of two such well-known members of the city can be forgotten so easily, especially by the press.
Burton draws a lot of attention to Kim Basinger taking off her shoes in several scenes. This doesn’t bother me in the least; I simply like to take note when directors show certain proclivities in their work.
I have to say I like Keaton’s versions of both Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne is bumbling and a bit absent-minded, which is an effective cover for his other life. Bruce Wayne should either be clumsy or apathetic in his outward appearance.
I like that the thugs at the beginning of the movie immediately mention that the Batsuit is some sort of high-grade body armor when it deflects their bullets, rather than the horribly unyielding piece of rubber it actually was. I do take issue with how often Batman gets knocked off his feet by bullets in this film, though.
I am genuinely surprised at how often Batman either outright kills people or lets people come to harm in this movie. He obviously kills at least two of the Joker’s henchmen when he bombs the chemical factory the Joker has been using, and he drops another henchman down the bell tower shaft (an extremely long drop, mind you) in the final scene of the movie.
At the beginning of the movie, a couple is accosted and robbed in an alleyway—certainly a reference to Wayne and his parents. He does nothing to help them here, but does go after their assailants. Further, the Joker is both created and dies because Batman does not do enough to try to save him.
That wraps up the majority of my thoughts on the film. I had more, but this seemed a good amount to share. What are your own thoughts on the 1989 Batman film? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @quaintjeremy.
Picks for this week:
Batman Eternal #8
Uncanny Avengers #20
Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #5
Additionally, I strongly recommend seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past. I really enjoyed it and want to talk about it in a future post. Bear in mind that it does not truly follow the comic it is named after, but it does lay the groundwork for brighter days to come in the franchise. This follows X-Men: First Class in terms of quality, so if you enjoyed that (as I did), you should definitely give this one a shot as well.
Thank you all for reading and please come back next week for my thoughts on Batman Returns.