February 23, 2020

SPECIAL REVISIT OF: BATMAN 1989 Review With Talking Flick Podcast Appearance!

Batman (1989) Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Directed by Tim Burton

“Winged Freak, terrorizes…wait till they get a load of me” Jack Nicholson (Joker/Jack Napier)

In 2021 we are going to get yet another version of Batman (this time pairing director Matt Reeves with former Twilight vampire Robert Pattinson) and before that happens, I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on the first real effort to bring The Dark Knight to movie theaters. Tim Burton’s Batman film walked a crazy fine line, balancing a reasonable budget (35 million?, Zak Synder would have a heart attack!), a crazy producer (legendary nut-job Jon Peters SEE: Superman Lives documentary),  and bloodthirsty comic book fans and their expectations. I don’t know if Burton knew he was going to pull this film off, but its seemingly shot with this brooding quiet confidence that is unusual for such a revered property (Note: the new Star Wars feels like its shot with no confidence at times). Watching it all these years later (maybe the 20thtime I’ve seen it now, maybe more) is a reminder of what can be when the studio steps aside, when writers don’t check Reddit daily, and when you compromise just a little source material so you can write a fun and thrilling film. 

Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice) brings his unique vision to one of the most beloved characters in the history of humankind (move over Jesus! Batman may have got you beat). Burton delivers a satisfying and unique take on The Dark Knight that mostly holds up. Bruce Wayne (a stoic and slightly offbeat Michael Keaton: Spotlight and Spider Man: Homecoming) is a vigilante fighting crime in Gotham, while doing so he unwittingly creates a supervillain when Jack Napier (an absolute classic performance by Jack Nicholson: Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) takes on the persona of Joker after he falls into a chemical vat. Writer Sam Hamm (and others) makes an innovative choice, by exploring the origin of Joker, rather than giving a straight origin of Batman. The gamble pays off as Nicholson’s electric and fun performance (he reportedly earned something between 50 and 90 million for the performance) keeps the film thrilling and on track. Subplots with Vicki Vale and reporter Alex Knox maybe don’t age quite as well but both Kim Basinger and Robert Wuhl shine with what they have to work with. The Academy Award winning Art/Set Direction still looks great and this Gotham (a sort of postmodern pop art Gotham) feels very much comic, while also having a sense of real. Burton and his team give the nerds glimpses of the stuff they are dying to see (batarangs and batwings), but what you don't see sparks the imagination effectively and leaves us wanting more. Danny Elfman’s powerhouse score and Prince’s crazy soundtrack layer the film with a real energy. Sure, Keaton can’t really move around in the Batsuit, but come on, look at that Batmobile! The third act may have small problems, but stay with it, the ending is glorious and fit for the clown prince of crime. I believe even hardcore fans of Nolan's Dark Knight will find this film both memorable and worthy. 

The Nolan trilogy is very good, the Synderverse also has flashes, (No you suck Joel Schumacher!), but for my money Burton’s first go at the flying mouse really hits the bullseye. It is not only my favorite Batman film thus far, but it is also my #1 comic film ever. Comic films have come a long way, both with technology and where they are willing to go, but if you want a masterclass in how to make an intelligent and entertaining comic film, this is where you should begin. Where does he get those wonderful toys indeed…SEE IT! 

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) It truly is the film that certainly all Batman, maybe all comic films should be measured against. Hamm’s Script and Nicholosn’s choice to really have fun and go for it make for a lot funny dialogue and “Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter”? What keeps this film fresh is that even though it helped give birth to the many comic franchises we currently have going today, none of them have ever captured the highly stylized cynical genius that this film puts on the big screen. It is a beautiful rewatch and still worthy of 8.5 on The Shawshank Scale.  


Talking Flick on Anchor  (Batman 1989 Episode)

Talking Flick on iTunes (Batman 1989 Episode)