1989; Rated PG-13; 126 Minutes
Michael Keaton: Batman/Bruce Wayne
Jack Nicholson: The Joker/Jack Napier
Kim Basinger: Vicki Vale
Pat Hingle: Commissioner Gordon
Robert Wuhl: Alexander Knox
Produced by Peter
Guber, Chris Kenny, Benjamin Melniker, Jon Peters, Michael
E. Uslan; Directed by Tim Burton; Screenwritten
by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren; based on the "Batman"
comic books by Bob Kane
by DAVID KEYES
moviegoers, most of us often fantasize about living in a
place like Gotham City. The idea is intriguing because the
occupants are more than they seem--men dress as bats, women
masquerade as cats, mutants live in the sewers as penguins,
and (maybe most importantly) monsters are perceived as saints.
It is a world bound by prejudices and crime, and one that
thrives on the suffering of the people who live in it. The
skyscrapers tower above cloud lines, the streets are layered
in shadows, and in the alleys lurk menacing dangers. No
wonder its name is derived from the word "Gothic."
first "Batman" movie (in a series that now contains four
entries) is a success for several reasons, but most of the
credit goes to director Tim Burton's brilliant visual interpretation
of a dark, ominous comic book. Like Alex Proyas, he has
proven to be an artist behind the camera--someone who doesn't
mind if his visual representations are odd, just as long
as people are always paying close attention to them. The
only real problem he faces as a director are one-dimensional
characters, which are sometimes so underwritten and disconnected
from their surroundings that it's as if they know they are
standing on a blue screen, letting the art direction and
special effects take advantage of them. As is the case with
"Beetlejuice," and some of his other early work, "Batman"
is intriguing to look at, but contains very evident shortcomings
as a character study. Because it's one of the better-looking
Burton films, however, these kinds of inadequacies can sometimes
the first film in the nearly-extinct "Batman" franchise
isn't remembered for its look, but for its strong performance
by Jack Nicholson, who exhibits the role of the Joker in
a fascinating manner. The man known as Bruce Wayne (Michael
Keaton) witnesses the death of his mother and father at
a very young age, when a madman opens fire in a dark alley.
This criminal's face is cloaked by shadows, but his voice
is distinctive. After the murders, we hear him speak to
the now-orphaned child ("Tell me kid: have you ever danced
with a devil in the pale moonlight?"). Then there is silence,
and the killer disappears.
movie picks up afterwards in the present day. Wayne is not
only a powerful man now, but a crime fighter, of sorts.
Unknown by those of the city, he dresses up in a bat's suit,
and goes by the legendary name of Batman, the dark knight.
His battle against city crime is routine and standard, until
Jack Napier, a high-profile criminal mastermind, is thrown
into a batch of chemicals at a Gotham plant, and he comes
out as the Joker, a clown-like entity who is determined
to create a name for himself, even if it means exterminating
everyone's favorite crime fighter. It is only a matter of
time, though, until the Caped Crusader's investigations,
with the help of a reporter named Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger),
point out Napier's true identity. He was the man who killed
Bruce's parents all those years ago.
there is any significance in the term "revenge is sweet,"
then "Batman" does not find it. Bruce Wayne, especially
in the comic books, has always been a character with distant
but noticeable emotions, and when he fights the Joker on
screen for the last time, we see the hatred in his eyes,
though he tries to hold all of it back. As to be expected,
the Joker's eventual punishment, which is well-deserved,
does not make up for Wayne's tremendous loss, and in the
end, he continues to suffer. Michael Keaton doesn't frontally
display sentiment, and in this manner, he is devoted to
preserving the Bruce Wayne character as we know it from
the comic books. Such a character is too busy battling crime
of the present than letting the demons of the past haunt
him. Keaton successfully maintains that detail.
why are there so many unimportant players here? Aside from
countless Joker henchmen, we have Robert Wuhl as reporter
Alexander Knox, who is, I fear, only on screen to fill time
in between action segments. The surprise letdown is Kim
Basinger as Vicki Vale, reporter for Gotham's news publication.
On the job, she has no problem handling stories that break
out between Batman and Joker. But the script gives her two
duties that she can't always handle--one as an employee
for this newspaper (which often works), the other as a love
interest to Bruce Wayne (which almost always fails). The
latter task collapses under other plot devices, because
there is not an ounce chemistry between the two. Both are
constantly separated by their work and other engagements.
By the end of the picture, the only decent scene they have
together involves Batman and her swinging on a thin wire
halfway between the ground, and the roof of a tall building.
And to top that off, the shot doesn't even have dialogue.
have difficulty in calling the movie great, but seeing as
how I am warranting a three-and-a-half star rating, I must
admit that it comes close to achieving that title. The only
real problem, as to be expected, is the script's use of
too many underwritten characters. Nicholson does an exemplary
job with his character role, constantly delivering great
lines of dialogue in the most inopportune situations ("If
you have to die, go with a smile on your face"). Meanwhile,
Michael Keaton is faithful to the Bruce Wayne persona, never
once over-stressing the emotions or secrets of his past.
movie is more of a visual achievement than anything else,
though. In attempt to compliment the movie's noirish images
of a vast metropolis, I find myself comparing it to one
of those Julia Child dishes. In both cases, presentation
is the key.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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