With Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance
Directed by Tim Burton
Reviewed by JB

"Probably just another wrong number."    I read an opinion piece recently that asserted many young movie goers today don't consider films an art form, but rather just a disposable commodity, to be watched, maybe rented later on down the road, and then forgotten.  Which is probably why Hollywood has rebooted the Spider-Man movie series only a decade after it began. Apparently, the extremely popular SPIDER-MAN from 2002 is already dated and meaningless. After all, it didn't have top-level CGI effects, did it?  Maybe it wasn't dark enough?  Maybe movie viewers today have seen so many movies with a primarily blue and orange color pallet, anything else hurts their eyes?  I don't know.

     What I do  know is that Tim Burton's BATMAN was a huge film in 1989, and is still a kick to watch, even in these times.  It deserves respect (or perhaps blame?) for changing comic book/super hero movies from colorful and fun films like BATMAN: THE MOVIE and SUPERMAN to dark and introspective films, although, being an early Tim Burton film, there are probably more genuinely fun and funny moments in this one film than you'll find in Christopher Nolan's entire trilogy.  

    Burton had just scored hits with the two good, odd and quirky films PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE and BEETLEJUICE, the second of which feature Michael Keaton in a comic tour de force that had catapulted him from a popular actor to a star. Even if BATMAN was obviously slated to be a potential blockbuster, it is still clearly a Tim Burton film, retaining much of the same odd quirkiness as his previous features.  This means that instead of dazzling special effects, we often get the obvious animation and model shots that Burton films were known for.

"Does it look like I'm joking?"    The most popular film in the U.S. in 1989, BATMAN rides along mostly on Burton's sense of style - a small portion of it seemingly based on the 1960s TV series with its slanted camera angles - and on Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Jack Napier, aka The Joker.  As I say in my review of THE DARK KNIGHT, Nicholson's take on The Joker is a little bit of Cesar Romero from the TV series and a whole lot of Jack Nicholson. Nicholson throws himself into the part so whole-heartedly that he overshadows everything else in the film, including the rest of the fine cast which includes such 80s luminaries as Kim Basinger, Billy Dee Williams and Michael Gough.  He is supplied with dozens of great lines, or at least lines made classic by his delivery:

    "Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?" 

    "This town needs an enema!" 

    "And where is the Batman? He's at home - washing his tights!".

    It's the kind of wild, overwhelming performance that Michael Keaton himself had just given in BEETLEJUICE, but Keaton is surprisingly low-key as Bruce Wayne.  Fans had some misgivings about Keaton being cast as Batman, because most of the films he had appeared in up to this point were comedies (NIGHT SHIFT, MR. MOM), and he was primarily considered a movie funnyman.  They needn't have worried.  Keaton's take on the Wayne/Batman character is fine, but it gets lost in the tidal wave Nicholson sets in motion, and it is only after subsequent viewings that Keaton really comes into focus.  Still, from this point on, Keaton would be considered an actor and would go on to do some fine dramatic performances.

    BATMAN was popular enough to inspire three sequels: BATMAN RETURNS (directed by Burton), BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN AND ROBIN (both directed by Joel Shumacher).  As often happens with sequels, the law of diminishing returns kicked in.  BATMAN RETURNS may be the best of the four, while BATMAN FOREVER is more commercial but less interesting.  By the time the awful BATMAN AND ROBIN was released in 1997, the Batman craze had subsided.  It would take Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS in 2005 to get the batball rolling again.  4 - JB

Super Heroes        The Secret Vortex


"He stole my balloons!"


"I feel Tim Burton put a lot of stuff in for the visual appeal without thinking how it would really work."
"That's the speciality on the Burton menu. You want pickles on the side with it?"