Superhero Month: "Batman" Review

Photo Credit: Warner Bros

Superhero Month: "Batman" Review

Rating: PG-13 (Intense Dark Sequences of Action Violence, Sexual Content, Some Disturbing Images and Language)
Length: 126 minutes
Release date: June 23, 1989
Directed by: Tim Burton
Genre: Action/Fantasy

Long before Christopher Nolan took on Batman in "The Dark Knight," audiences were captivated by Tim Burton's vision of the legendary comic book hero in "Batman." Burton pulled together an all-star cast by 1989 standards, enlisting Michael Keaton to play Bruce Wayne and Batman and Jack Nicholson to play The Joker. Kim Basinger took on the role of the vivacious Vicky Vale, and a supporting cast with names such as Jack Palance, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, and Billy Dee Williams completed the band of familiar comic book characters.

In this film, the audience meets up with Batman as he struggles to help fight the rampant crime that has taken over Gotham City. Carl Grissom, played by Jack Palance, is the crime boss in town, and he's able to stay in power due to a corrupt police department. Vicky Vale, a tenacious photojournalist, meets with Bruce Wayne and instantly feels an attraction to him while working on a story. The two characters forge an instant romantic connection and spend the night together.

While Bruce Wayne is wooing Vale, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is injured by police during a botched midnight factory raid set up by Carl Grissom. Grissom planned the night's events as a punishment for his subordinate's affair with his wife. Napier receives chemical burns to his face, and a subsequent plastic surgery gone wrong gives audiences their first glimpse of The Joker. As with most comic book villains permanently maimed in an accident, The Joker sets off on a path of revenge and destruction that could have disastrous implications for the residents of Gotham City.

The Joker kills Gotham City's crime boss and unleashes a deadly chemical weapon on the public in the form of a line of facial products that causes users to laugh to death. Batman sees it as his duty to save the people of his city from this new villain, but he also takes time out of his crime-fighting schedule to tell Vicky Vale he wants to be in a relationship with her after The Joker has been dispatched. This scene is possible because Wayne's trusted butler, Alfred, allows Vicki into the Batcave.

Batman seeks out The Joker and destroys the factory producing the evil beauty supplies. He's able to create an antidote to save the public. Unfortunately for Batman, The Joker kidnaps Vicki, forcing Batman's hand. After a climactic tussle The Joker falls to his death, and all is well in Gotham. At least, all is well until the next villain rears his ugly head.

Tim Burton's dark vision was exactly what the Batman franchise needed, especially after the very kitsch 1960s television series. Burton brought back the brooding, complicated man that was able to take on the role of billionaire playboy during the day and vigilante crime fighter at night. The characters were more believable and the costumes were far less garish. Of course, there were no cheesy Adam West dancing sequences either.

Though Michael Keaton played an excellent Batman, Jack Nicholson got much of the limelight for his portrayal of The Joker. His evil take on the classic bad guy made Heath Ledger's version of the same character possible years later. Gone was the cheery and cartoonish Joker of the old TV show. The new Joker was deranged and vengeful, and he made a formidable foe for Batman to take on in this film. Nicholson was even able to make us believe that The Joker, with his wild makeup and maniacal grin, could be somewhat debonair as was evidenced by an iconic scene with The Joker and Vicki Vale.

"Batman" was a huge box office success in 1989. It grossed more than $250 million in the United States alone. The soundtrack, produced and performed almost entirely by Prince, was also a huge success. It started a series of films, with other stars taking on the role of Batman after Michael Keaton bowed out. Val Kilmer and George Clooney would wear the cape and mask, but none of the following films were nearly as successful until the Christopher Nolan era of Batman began.

Tim Burton's "Batman" was not as complex or full of special effects as the Christopher Nolan films, but Burton was able to revive a franchise with an amount of success no one could have predicted. The "Beetlejuice" director gave moviegoers a Batman film that was dark, witty, and wildly entertaining. Though it's rated for some strong content, this is a film that parents can very much enjoy with older children.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5