Review: Tim Burton’s Batman

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.

BatmanPoster

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 Aesthetic

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.

Side Characters

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.

The Joker

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.

NicholsonJoker

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?”

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