Saturday, August 11, 2012

Batman (1989)

Batman (1989) Director: Tim Burton Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

After seeing The Dark Knight Rises for my birfday, I felt compelled to go back and watch earlier Batman movies to get a sense for where the franchise has been and how far it has come. I remember the first few Tim Burton Batman movies were a really big deal when they came out. Everybody was talking about Batman, and everybody but me got Batman spin-art shirts at the county fair (though I admit I really wanted one). When your logo is the #1 requested spin-art motif at the Apache County fair in 1989, you know you've hit the big time.

Now that the dust has had a few decades to settle, it seems odd that Michael Keaton was ever Batman. I like Michael Keaton, it's just that he was Johnny Dangerously and Beetlejuice before he ever donned the cape and cowl. Sure, he's a good looking guy with solid acting chops, but he still seems an odd choice. I thought I would be bothered by Michael Keaton when I revisited Batman, but I was surprised to find that I really really like him. The unfortunate thing is that although he's a great Dark Knight, he isn't that great of a Bruce Wayne. I don't know what it is, but he just doesn't pull off the normal half of the role. His Bruce Wayne is a little too deadpan. Aside from that, I have to applaud Tim Burton's choice.

The other thing I was surprised to find that I still loved was the Batmobile. I'm probably the only guy on the planet who wasn't impressed by the new Batmobile in the Christian Bale Batman movies. It's too technological and not Batman enough. Michael Keaton's Batmobile is an all-time great. I actually saw a guy driving a replica of it in downtown Phoenix in 2010. I just started following him because even after a couple decades, it was still one of the coolest cars I had ever seen.

One other thing I loved more than I thought: Jack Nicholson as The Joker. We've all come to consider Heath Ledger to be the official greatest Joker ever, partially because he died and we all feel bad/guilty about it somehow. I'm not saying that Heath Ledger wasn't great. He was amazing, terrifying, and spectacular. Even so, Jack Nicholson was a more than capable Joker. The scene where he calls for the mirror after his reconstructive surgery still gives me chills. As with everything he does, Nicholson goes over the top at points, but he delivers an overall very effective villainous portrayal of The Joker.

All in all I was surprised by how much I loved this movie even after all these years. Sure, I can see the seams in it now. The CGI stands out in a bad way because the technology wasn't that great in 1989. Parts of the movie come off as cheesy, but it's still a great Batman flick. The plot is still captivating, the acting has held up remarkably well, and it just looks and feels like Batman. Of course the Christian Bale Batman movies are darker, edgier, have better effects, and stay pretty serious most of the time (a big plus for me), but don't sleep on the first Tim Burton Batman. I think you'll find it's still fairly potent.

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