Wednesday, July 18, 2012

8 DAYS OF BATMAN COUNTDOWN: #2 - Batman (1989)

"Burton brings back film noir elements to the new Batman, elevating it to a dark, demented opera." - Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid

Hindsight has done a strange thing to Tim Burton's original Batman.  Many more people tend to dismiss it now than they did in 1989.  I am old enough to remember its release, however, and the great anticipation.  It is the first look at Batman as a Dark Knight, a stoic and tortured soul intent on ridding Gotham City of ruthlessness.  The characterizations are no where near the psychological level of Nolan's superior visions, but this is not Nolan's brain we are working with here.  This is Tim Burton, who had a plan with his representation of the hero.  With its Gothic beauty, nihilistic approach, and steep atmospheric presence, I will stick by my choice at number two.  This first Burton Batman still holds up.

The world of Batman is fully realized and never boring to look at, with its endless skyscrapers and panoramic view of a city in decay and crumbling under the weight of corruption.  Awash of any of the color or camp of the 60s television series, this is the first glimpse of Batman in black, silent for the most part and single minded.  Michael Keaton, always maligned in the role, fits Batman better than anyone this side of Christian Bale.  He is given little to do, this is true, but I never disagree with the presence of Keaton in a film, regardless of the subject.

These last two entries in the list also share a common villain, the best and most interesting of Batman's gallery.  Jack Nicholson plays The Joker as an over-the-top loon who, after an accident in a vat of acid leaves him disfigured, plans on poisoning Gotham City with his own brand of chemicals.  Kim Basinger is serviceable as love interest Vicky Vale - much more so than Nicole Kidman in Batman Forever.  Then again, the only truly interesting female character in the Batman pantheon has always been Catwoman.  The romantic leads never develop into anything beyond the surface.

Batman is essentially a collection of action set pieces, all of which are wonderfully choreographed and exciting.  The chase scene beginning at the art museum stands out in the second act, and Batman's showdown with The Joker in the church is a thrilling climax.  Perhaps the psychology of Bruce Wayne is not examined at enough length to satisfy some viewers.  The murder of his parents and the tie in to the story is brief, but I feel it is effective in this universe.  This Batman is not about back story so much as it is about showing us an action spectacle.  We are here to see Batman work.  After all, like The Joker says in frustration, "Where does he get those wonderful toys?"