Big Screen Batman Review – “Batman (1989)”

Tim Burton’s first outing was successful enough to launch a franchise.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman

Kim Basinger as Vicky Vale

Jack Nicholson as Joker/Jack Napier

Robert Wuhl as Alexander Knox

Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon

Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent

Michael Gough as Alfred

Jack Palance as Grissom

Written by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren.

Directed by Tim Burton

Complete information is available from the IMDB.

Buy from: Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Premise

Batman has already begun waging his war on crime when Jack Napier becomes the Joker and starts to take over Gotham’s crime scene.

High Point

The first sequence in Axis Chemicals, with Napier, his goons, the police, and the Batman really showing his style for the first time.

Low Point

Batman doesn’t need glasses. The “you shouldn’ta turned the gun on that kid, man, you shouldn’ta turned the gun on that kid…” hissy fit is a close runner up.

General Comments About The Adaptation

Before becoming familiar with the comics, I thought this movie was great. Now that I am more familiar with the comics, I see elements that bug me, not because they make a bad movie, but because they make a poor adaptation. Alfred wouldn’t contradict Bruce if he’d said they’d be out of town for a while. Batman wouldn’t sit in the Batcave in jeans and the Bruce Wayne persona. Little things like that bug me when I go back and watch the film today. Still, as a film, it works. (Every time I start to grumble about a adaptation, I remind myself of Blade Runner, which is a fantastic film inspired by an excellent book that have little similarity to each other.)

The Scores

The originality suffers somewhat because it is, after all, an adaptation. Still, Batman has been adapted to film many times before and after this, and I think Burton has come the closest to truly capturing what the character is all about. I give it 3 out of 6.

The effects are generally good. The early “moving gargoyle” effect and the shield deployment and retraction are weak and cartoony, but the rest of the effects are quite good. (There are a lot of other effects, too.) I give it 5 out of 6.

The story is fairly well done. They did a nice job of tying the origins together. I’ve learned to appreciate the focus on one villain now that I’ve seen a few of the sequels. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting from Michael Keaton was pretty good, which is significantly better than I expected from an actor I knew only from Mr. Mom. Jack Nicholson did a simply fantastic job, and earned his Oscar nomination. He nailed the over-the-top villain, and he did it with makeup that didn’t allow him to emote from the bottom half of his face, although he had to emote to the extreme in the top half of his face. That takes talent, and he did it. Kim Basinger did not do a particularly good job, but hers was mainly a supporting role. Alfred Gough, Pat Hingle, and Billy Dee Williams did well in their roles, and tied the background characters together. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response this produced is good, in spite of the irritations I feel from the adaptation choices. It’s a well done movie that still pulls me in, although I’ve seen it many, many times. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production was spectacular. Burton and his team created an entire world for Batman to inhabit, and they did it well. The production design for Gotham is just incredible, and is almost reason enough to watch the movie. Danny Elfman was the perfect choice for the composer, too. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, this is a very good super hero movie, even if it won’t completely satisfy devoted fans of the source material. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, the 1989 version of Batman receives 33 out of 42.

9 replies on “Big Screen Batman Review – “Batman (1989)””

  1. y42 says:

    I love, LOVE that movie
    But my low point is the “Batwing VS Joker” showdown. Man, seriously, use the Force, Bruce!

    • AceCaseOR says:

      Re: I love, LOVE that movie

      But my low point is the “Batwing VS Joker” showdown. Man, seriously, use the Force, Bruce!

      That was iffy, but it made sense to me. After all, it’s a jet, it’s in an urban canyon, and it has intakes. I thought that scene wasn’t too bad. It established the Joker as being both clever, and psychotic. And it’s not quite as bad, in my book, as my Low Point.

  2. AceCaseOR says:

    The one thing that bugged me…

    About this film is they killed off Joker. When I watched the film for the first time, I wasn’t too familiar with the continuity, so The Joker’s death wasn’t too suprising for me. Then I watched “Batman: The Animated Series”, and learned that The Joker is Batman’s big, big, nemesis. And I learned that Batman is firmly set against against killing.

    So, now that I’m older, when I watch the film, I still enjoy it, but The Joker’s death rankles me somewhat. And when you take with it the fact that it set a precident for every successive Batman film killing off at least one villain without Batman necessarily doing anything to try and save him (especially Harvey Dent), and the same thing carrying over to other Superhero films (I’m referring to Spider-Man 2 here).

    It’s just not particularly in genre, and it restricts the screenwriters and directors.

  3. GrimSean says:

    Michael Keaton
    Is actually a fairly good comedic actor, unfortunately the recognition from the Batman role (not to mention several box office bombs – Jack Frost, I’m looking at you) have caused him to stick to more Dramatic/Action films. If you want to see some of his good work, go back to Night Shift, Johnny Dangerously, Beetle Juice and even Multiplicity (#4 is hilarious).

    I’ve always felt that he’s the only actor that even came close to being Batman, but I do have high hopes for Christian Bale.

    • J_W_W says:

      Re: Michael Keaton

      Is actually a fairly good comedic actor, unfortunately the recognition from the Batman role (not to mention several box office bombs – Jack Frost, I’m looking at you) have caused him to stick to more Dramatic/Action films. If you want to see some of his good work, go back to Night Shift, Johnny Dangerously, Beetle Juice and even Multiplicity (#4 is hilarious).

      I’ve always felt that he’s the only actor that even came close to being Batman, but I do have high hopes for Christian Bale.

      The thing that bugs me about the preview for the new movie is that when asked “Who are you?”, Batman gives some lame answer (I can’t even remember what it is). The correct answer to that question is “I’m Batman”. That is also my high point from this movie.

      This movie is one of my all time favorites, I sure hope the new one will be as good.

      • hitch says:

        Re: Michael Keaton

        Is actually a fairly good comedic actor, unfortunately the recognition from the Batman role (not to mention several box office bombs – Jack Frost, I’m looking at you) have caused him to stick to more Dramatic/Action films. If you want to see some of his good work, go back to Night Shift, Johnny Dangerously, Beetle Juice and even Multiplicity (#4 is hilarious).

        I’ve always felt that he’s the only actor that even came close to being Batman, but I do have high hopes for Christian Bale.

        The thing that bugs me about the preview for the new movie is that when asked “Who are you?”, Batman gives some lame answer (I can’t even remember what it is). The correct answer to that question is “I’m Batman”. That is also my high point from this movie.

        This movie is one of my all time favorites, I sure hope the new one will be as good.

        no…the *correct* answer to this question is:

        I am darkness…
        I am vengeance…
        I am the *night*… (knight?)
        I…Am…Batman.

        • J_W_W says:

          Re: Michael Keaton

          Is actually a fairly good comedic actor, unfortunately the recognition from the Batman role (not to mention several box office bombs – Jack Frost, I’m looking at you) have caused him to stick to more Dramatic/Action films. If you want to see some of his good work, go back to Night Shift, Johnny Dangerously, Beetle Juice and even Multiplicity (#4 is hilarious).

          I’ve always felt that he’s the only actor that even came close to being Batman, but I do have high hopes for Christian Bale.

          The thing that bugs me about the preview for the new movie is that when asked “Who are you?”, Batman gives some lame answer (I can’t even remember what it is). The correct answer to that question is “I’m Batman”. That is also my high point from this movie.

          This movie is one of my all time favorites, I sure hope the new one will be as good.

          no…the *correct* answer to this question is:

          I am darkness…
          I am vengeance…
          I am the *night*… (knight?)
          I…Am…Batman.

          Yep, that would work too ;-)

  4. UncleJam says:

    Blech

    While admittedly not as bad as what came after, this movie was crap.

    Jack Nicholson made for a good Joker? Are you people on the pipe, or what? His performance was embarrassing, though a good percentage of that was due to the awful script.

    Keaton’s performance was so dull that I… zzzzzzzz *snort* Huh-wha–? Oh sorry, I must have dozed off just remembering Michael Keaton’s Batmmm…. zzzzzzzz

    The score was the only part of this movie I really enjoyed. It was awesome. Everything else? Sucked.

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