With The Dark Knight Rises on the way, I’ve decided that a viewing of all the previous Batman films are in order, starting with Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989.
The movie’s enjoyable enough . . . but for some reason I don’t have quite the same nostalgia for this one as I have for all the other films. And, weirdly, that includes Adam West’s Batman.
This review will have SPOILERS. Batman came out over twenty years ago, and it has a ton of sequels. Even if you haven’t seen this film, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to ruin it for you by saying how it ends.
Batman’s something of a crimefighting legend in Gotham, an urban myth that no one really believes in. But he comes into the public eye just as Gotham has a new enemy rising to power, the Joker.
1. Everyone talks about what a dark movie Batman is and how Joel Schumacher ruined the franchise with Batman Forever, but I’m not sure that I entirely agree. Batman and Robin is pretty terrible, I’ll grant you that. And Schumacher certainly had a more neon approach to Gotham than Tim Burton ever did. But I think it’s fair to say that there’s a a certain amount of camp in this movie, and it’s not just Jack Nicholson overacting his little heart out. Jack Palance is also quite over-the-top. I mean, that guy practically hisses out his lines. And there’s just something almost . . . stilted . . . about a lot the fight scenes. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or just a byproduct of the 80’s, but . . . there is something a little bit cartoonish about this movie.
2. I’m not knocking it, though. Batman’s a fun movie. And I enjoy the hell out of Jack Nicholson chewing every bit of scenery he can find. Well, okay. There was one moment that seemed a little excessive, even for Nicholson. But otherwise, I do like his interpretation of the Joker. He has all kinds of awesome lines. And comparing him to Heath Ledger honestly seems like a waste of time. The two portray radically different Jokers. It’s not like you could interchange them. Nicholson’s Joker would make no sense in Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Heath Ledger—while brilliant—would be completely wrong for this Batman.
3. The whole noir setup is fun, even though Burton kind of abandons it in the next movie. There is not much in life that cannot be improved by a stylish fedora.
4. Now, Michael Keaton’s Batman . . .
Unlike virtually everyone else in this movie, Michael Keaton is very understated here—except for in one scene, which . . . boy, we will talk about that scene later. His actual Batman is fine. His voice is infinitely less mockable than Christian Bale’s. And his Bruce Wayne is . . . interesting. Instead of the rich, playboy millionaire cover that Bruce Wayne is often associated with, Michael Keaton instead goes for the . . . rich, odd duck millionaire? You know, he’s kind of quiet and vaguely eccentric. It’s a bit unusual, but I guess it works well enough for this movie.
The weird thing, though, is how much this movie isn’t about Batman. It’s an origin story, kind of—Batman’s fairly new to the superhero biz, and we spend some time finding out about the tragic happenings that led him to become the bat he is today—but it feels like you seldom get his POV on anything. I think we spend more time with Vicki Vale than we do with Bruce Wayne. We certainly spend more time with the Joker. It’s not necessarily a negative, just a bit surprising for a movie titled Batman.
5. The romance between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale is absolute bullshit.
One of the problems in this movie—and so many, many movies—is that I can’t buy this instant love story, like, at all. If you’re going to try and sell a we had one date and now we’re made for each other kind of romance, the actors need to have incredible chemistry. There should be meaningful conversations, great dialogue, superb acting. There really needs to be some sign of actual connection between the two characters.
Let’s look at how these two lovebirds hook up, shall we?
Vicki Vale, a successful photojournalist, comes to Gotham to partner up with Knox and work on a piece about the elusive Batman. She goes to Bruce Wayne’s big party in hopes of talking to Commissioner Gordon. On the way, she runs into Bruce Wayne, only she doesn’t know who he is.
Vicki: “Hey, guy. Do you now which one of these dudes is Bruce Wayne?”
Bruce (thinking): Ha! That’s so funny. I’m the richest man in Gotham, and she doesn’t know who I am. But she really wants to talk to me, and also, she’s incredibly beautiful. Hmmm. Let’s not tell her.
Bruce: “Nope. Sorry, lady.”
Vicki: “Ugh, whatever. Excuse me.”
A few minutes later, Vicki and Knox sneak off where they aren’t allowed to go. Bruce follows them. They start looking around at his art collection and make fun of it. They make fun of Bruce Wayne, too, not realizing that he’s standing, like, six inches behind them.
Bruce (thinking): I’m so inexplicably drawn to judgmental people with long legs. I will announce myself now, and this beautiful woman will feel embarrassed. Then, her embarrassment will transform into ardent passion.
Bruce: “So, yeah. That sculpture’s Japanese. I know cause I’m the one who bought it. Yeah, you heard me. I’m BRUCE WAYNE, motherfucker!”
Bruce has to leave suddenly so he can go save the city for a while. He gives Knox a grant to show he’s both a, generous, and b, so absurdly rich he’ll give anyone a grant as long as it might impress a beautiful woman nearby. Sometime later and offscreen, Vicki calls up Bruce and they decide to go out on a date. The date is also at Wayne Manor. They sit at a table so absurdly long that they have to call out to hear one another.
Vicki: “Your table is rich and stupid, and I’m going to be a bit passive aggressive about it for awhile. Do you really enjoy eating here?”
Bruce: “Yes. Yes, I eat here oft—no. No, actually, that’s not true at all. Let’s go eat in the kitchen with my 73-year-old butler who raised me instead. That will be sexy.”
Vicki: “That sounds SO hot.”
Vicki and Bruce go eat dinner with Alfred, who tells supposedly embarrassing stories. Vicki is either turned on by Alfred’s grandfatherly vibe, Bruce’s sexual charisma, or all the champagne she drinks. She and Completely Sober Bruce have sex.
The morning after:
Vicki: “We should totally do this again sometime! Call me tonight!”
Bruce: “Um. I’m, um, I’m really busy.”
Vicki: “Oh, that’s okay. Tomorrow?”
Bruce: “Yeah, no, that’s not going to work, either. Look—”
Vicki: “This weekend?”
Bruce: “You know, I’m going to be out of town, like, all week . . . ”
Vicki: “Okay, so you’ll call me when you get back, right?”
Bruce: “. . . um . . . fine, okay.”
Two minutes later, Vicki meets up with Alfred as she’s leaving the house.
Vicki: “Well, I’ll see you guys when you get back!”
Alfred: “Get back? We’re not going anywhere.”
Vicki (thinking): He lied to me. That could mean that he sees this as a one night stand, and he’s not interested in going out with me again. OR it could just mean that he’s secretive and mysterious, and I should ignore Knox and my own job to follow Bruce Wayne around and figure out what he’s hiding. Because we really have something special, after all, and you’re not a crazy stalker as long as you’re an attractive blonde woman in a cute beret.
Yeah. If chemistry was in there, I sure missed it.
6. Of course, it’s not only Vicki that’s in luv after their one date. Bruce is secretly in luv too, only he’s more like, I’m in love, LOVE, but I’m also feeling really, like, CONFLICTED about it. Maybe I should listen to Alfred and tell Vicki my secret identity. After all, I’ve known her for a whole day! That completely makes sense!
Honestly. How does Batman even have a secret identity?
7. Well, he doesn’t, not really. Because Alfred takes matters into his own hands and escorts Vicki Vale into the Bat Cave. Apparently, grandfatherly intuition is all it takes to know that this one woman who Bruce Wayne has had ONE date with won’t, I don’t know, WRITE ABOUT THE TRUE IDENTITY OF BATMAN IN HER PAPER!
I love you, Alfred, I really do. I’ve always been fond of Michael Gough’s gentle portrayal of the Mr. Pennyworth, even if I do kind of miss the quiet snark I remember from the cartoons . . . but come on, now. Sure, Alfred’s like family, and he apparently has some super stealthy butler skillz that allow him to get ahold of police reports whenever he wants, but I think the man kind of deserves to be fired now.
8. You know who I do like? Knox.
Knox is just so cheerful, I can’t help but like him. The way he talks about Batman in the beginning in the movie is hilarious. You’ve never heard someone sound so excited about a dude that takes down bad guys and possibly drinks their blood. His delivery cracks me up.
Of course, he has a thing for Vicki Vale too because, you know, she’s tall and beautiful and whatnot, but the moral of this story is decidedly not the average schlub gets the girl. No the traumatized, heroic, and insanely rich guy gets the girl, while the regular dude just has to deal with his colleague’s horrible work ethic and creepy stalkerish behavior. Like, sorry, Knox, I know I cared about your story yesterday, but now I need you to help me discover the tragic secrets of the man I’m having sex with instead of you.
Clearly, I’m not Vicki Vale’s biggest supporter. The sad thing? She might be the second best character in Batman’s revolving-door love life. That’s how badly women are portrayed in these movies. You just wait till I get around to reviewing Batman Forever. Oy.
9. Clearly, the Joker doesn’t think that the women in the Batman universe are worth a damn, either. If you think about it, this whole mess sort of begins with the fact that the Joker is screwing this woman:
This is Alicia, who is Grissom’s . . . wife? Ladyfriend? Whatever, they’re together. Grissom (Jack Palance) is the Joker’s boss, and when he finds out that Joker is sleeping with Alicia, he tries to have his less-than-faithful right-hand-man killed. The funny thing is just how offended the Joker is by this. “For a WOMAN,” he says, so utterly disgusted . . . and, like, I get bros before hos, man, but come on. I know you’ve got a couple of screws loose, but you can’t honestly expect to have sex with the boss’s wife and not face repercussions. (Admittedly, if Carl Grissom had been anyone other than a giant underworld crime lord, it’d be a bit of an overreaction. But since Grissom is a big deal bad guy, please, Joker. Your betrayal is just silly.)
10. Vicki screams a LOT in this movie, but it doesn’t totally bother me because . . . well . . . she’s got a good scream, and some people are just prone to shrieking when things startle them. I get that. But it does irk my inner feminist just a touch that she and Ms. Jerry Hall both faint dead away in this film. Like, really? It’s not a big gripe, but . . . I don’t know. Useless females.
11. It’s probably because I just watched Batman: Year One for the first time where Jim Gordon is a BADASS, but I’ve never noticed until now just how pathetic Gordon is in the first four movies.
I get why having an incompetent police force is a useful tool in a superhero movie, but it’s a little sad just how useless Gordon is, like I’m almost a little surprised he gets name-checked at all. There could be such an interesting dynamic between the masked vigilante and the city of Gotham, but that’s not a storyline that anyone for the first four movies is interested in telling. Not until Nolan do you really get even a taste of that.
Anyway, I suppose it’s a little silly to compare Pat Hingle and Gary Oldman . . . but still, watching this movie has made me more grateful for Mr. Oldman, regardless.
12. Harvey Dent also seems a little random.
Like, they throw him in for a few scenes but just abruptly drop him halfway through the movie. And you know, despite the fact that I’m apparently the only person on the planet who enjoys Tommy Lee Jones’s Two-Face, and despite the fact that I adore Aaron Eckhart’s performance and think that he deserved a lot more acclaim for the role than he actually got . . . does anyone else feel a little cheated that we never got to see Lando Calrissian as Two-Face?
My little geek heart is just a bit sadder now.
13. You know what I’d really like to know? Why the hell doesn’t anyone know what Bruce Wayne looks like? I get that this movie is going more for the reclusive billionaire guy than the usual crown prince of Gotham, but still. You’d think you’d do some research on the dude before you go to his gala. I don’t care if this is before the internet. You people are reporters. Do some investigating. Open a fucking newspaper. I mean, Jesus.
14. Possibly my favorite scene in the whole movie—probably everyone’s favorite scene in the whole movie—is the Museum Scene.
I have a friend who told me that watching this scene always kind of made him wish he could bust out the boom box, run around the museum wily nily, and improve upon some of the art. Then he hastened to assure me that he didn’t really want to ruin priceless works of art, but I assured him I knew what he meant. Museums are supposed to be these quiet places where you contemplate artwork and nod solemnly and keep your hands held firmly behind your back. I think everyone’s inner rebel is just desperate to break through and act like a crazy person in a museum. It just looks like so much fun.
Besides, there is definitely some artwork out there that could be improved by a healthy dose of neon spray paint.
15. Should I worry that the Joker and I have some similar art preferences? I kind of like Francis Bacon too.
16. Worst scene in the movie? The one where Bruce Wayne decides to act like a crazy person for no reason at all.
So, let’s set the scene. Bruce is at Vicki’s apartment, trying to tell her that he’s Batman. It’s not going so well. Before Bruce can properly spit out the words, the doorbell rings, and who should it be but everyone’s favorite Joker? He has a thing for Vicki (because of course he does) and he has come to, I don’t know, woo her, I guess?
Anyway, Bruce—who’s hiding in the other room—picks up a silver plate or something, presumably thinking Yep, this is just as good as Kevlar, and goes out to confront the Joker. And when I say confront the Joker, I mean Bruce throws some weird, quasi-menacing pop psychology at him before going fucking crazy and breaking vases with poker irons and screaming, “Let’s get nuts!”
So, Joker delivers the infamous line, “Ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?” and then promptly shoots Bruce Wayne in the heart. After that, the Joker decides to recite some poetry and leave. Of course, Bruce is not actually dead because the silver tray did stop the bullet, and everything’s all hunky dory because . . . well, because that’s how the screenwriters wrote it, not because Bruce Wayne’s descent into crazytown makes any sense.
We’re not even going to get into the whole “that-plate-would-never-actually-stop-a-bullet-and-I-know-cause-I-saw-it-on-Mythbusters” argument because I figure it’s at least better than trying to use a Bible. But let’s go over Bruce’s plan again. He probably presents himself to the Joker to get attention off of Vicki, right? I guess I can get that. But what’s with the needless shattering of Vicki’s vase and the sudden barring of teeth? Is he trying to come off as non-threatening by acting like a guy trying too hard to seem threatening? Does he want to make sure the Joker doesn’t think he’s Batman? I mean, what?
And even if that’s the case . . . .which still makes no manner of sense at all . . . why does he think this is a good idea? Cause, sure, you got yourself shot. Congratulations, Bruce. Well done. You clearly knew it was going to happen, so tell me . . . what made you sure that he was going to shoot you in the heart? What if he shot you in the head? I bet your little silver plate wouldn’t have helped out with that. Or what if he shot you on the opposite side of the chest, or in the stomach, or even just in the knee? Bet you wouldn’t be feeling quite so clever then, huh?
But hey, let’s be fair, you guessed well. He shot you in just the right spot. Cool beans. So, your plan is to just . . . play dead? How, exactly, does that help Vicki? What’s to stop the Joker from killing her right now while you’re just chilling in the corner? Sure, he leaves the apartment . . . but there was absolutely no way to predict that. And then you just take off before Vicki opens her giant present that easily could have been a bomb? Bruce, I think your planning skills leave something to be desired.
Seriously, this scene annoys me because it’s so clumsy. The only real point in having it—other than letting Michael Keaton off his leash and go berserk for a couple of seconds—is to have Joker say THE LINE so that Bruce can have the big realization that Joker is, in fact, the guy who killed his parents. Now, I don’t mind that the movie changed the backtory. I don’t mind the whole concept of “I made you; you made me first.” (Actually, that’s kind of cool.) I don’t even actually mind the line itself. I just despise the way it’s shoved into this scene, like the writers honestly couldn’t figure out how the lightbulb came over Batman’s head, so they scribbled out this bit in about two minutes without bothering to proofread. It just feels so artificial and stupid.
And it certainly doesn’t help that this is supposed to be something Joker says to all his prey . . . except to anyone else he kills in the movie, like Grissom or Eckhardt or even his loyal henchman Bob.
17. Oh, poor Bob.
Bob the Goon fits in Category One of Henchmen: The Loyal Henchman, the Right-Hand Man. He does everything the Joker asks. He goes along with all of Joker’s harebrained schemes. He even saves the Joker’s ass in the beginning of the film. And how is he repaid? The Joker kills him, just because he’s irritated. And he does it with Bob’s own gun, no less. Bob’s supposed to be his Number One Guy! Sheesh. Good thing Picard didn’t treat his Number One this way in TNG.
18. Oh, I almost forgot my other big problem with this movie. It has something in common with Dreamcatcher.
Yeah, you read that right.
So, Batman is in his Bat Plane, and Joker is standing on the street. Batman uses his targeting system. It locks in on the Joker. Joker doesn’t move, I mean, not even an inch. Batman fires pretty much everything he has and, somehow, he still manages to miss.
So Joker takes out his absurdly long gun and fires one single shot. It crashes Batman’s plane.
And . . . are you fucking kidding me right now? Seriously? Who writes these scenes? Did Batman mysteriously miss the Joker because he didn’t trust himself to feel the Force? If he had turned off his targeting computer, would he have hit the Joker instead? This makes no sense to me at all. I mean, I like the Joker’s ridiculous gun, but would it have been so hard to have him duck behind a car or something, just to make this scene slightly less absurd?
When your scene can be compared to anything in Dreamcatcher . . . that’s a bad sign.
19. Thankfully, this movie has some awesome quotes to make up for scenes like the one just mentioned above. A few of my favorites?
Knox: “You know what they say? They say he can’t be killed. They say he drinks blood.”
Joker: “Decent people shouldn’t live here. They’d be happier someplace else.”
Joker: “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”
Batman: “You weigh a little more than a 108.”
Joker: “My balloons . . . those are my balloons. HE STOLE MY BALLOONS! Why didn’t anyone tell me had one of those . . . things?”
20. Finally, you know what really goes with noir and dark lighting and fedoras? Prince. Nothing says Gotham City like Prince.
If only Batman could have stalked around, brooding, while “When Doves Cry” played in the background. If only.
Enjoyable but the not the end-all, be-all of Batman films.
CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED WITH A BIG, DEAD SMELLY FISH:
Alfred Pennyworth. I know. I thought I was going to say Vicki Vale too. But despite the many problems I have with her, I can’t get over the fact that Alfred just walks her down to the Bat Cave. That is just completely not cool.
Other than the average schlub doesn’t get the beautiful girl? Hm. How about love means never having to say you’re sorry . . . for being a stalker and invading your privacy and doing creepy research on your dead parents?