Review – Batman (1989)

Batman [1989]

Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall
Director: Tim Burton
Screenwriter: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

Note: This review is independent of a comparison to Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise. I am writing it without Nolan’s films in mind.

As a comic book fan, I have always been interested in big-screen adaptations of our favorite super heros and comic books. Batman is one of the best and most intriguing super heroes, because in a way, he’s the most plausible. He doesn’t have super powers like most other super heroes. He’s simply a billionaire who’s able to construct amazing gadgets to fight crime. The first big-screen adaptation of the caped crusader since the classic Adam West camp-fest was met with huge amounts of praise from numerous people, audiences and critics alike. But I find it very difficult to agree with the consensus.

Many people have already seen this film, because of its popularity. Rather than talk at length about the plot, which really isn’t horrible in and of itself, I’d rather just talk about my main issues with this film: the main protagonist and antagonist.

To begin with, I question whether Tim Burton is the right director for the material. Sure, the film looks great from a stylistic standpoint. Art director is top notch, and the city of Gotham is certainly a unique place through Burton’s eyes. But Burton, as he tends to, sacrifices a human element for set design and eye candy.

Michael Keaton feels at home in Burton’s fantastical sets. That’s not a compliment. He feels unauthentic and fake. I have always questioned this casting decision. To be honest, I’ve always thought Keaton to be perfectly wrong in the role of Bruce Wayne and his dark altar ego.

Then there’s Jack Nicholson. Personally, I think that he does what he’s told: act like Jack with a ton of makeup on. Sure, I appreciate the role. I’ve always liked Jack Nicholson, and there are very few times I’ve disliked him. But was he really right for The Joker? I guess in Burton’s world he is. When things don’t seem real, and the world is caked in a makeup of its own, then this Joker works, so I guess I can accept him in the world Burton has created. But like Batman, he feels fake, unreal, a set piece rather than a cog to move the wheel.

I wanted to like this film. Many people do. It’s hard to dislike a film that’s as popular as Tim Burton’s Batman, but I can’t deny my heart to please the masses. It’s a great looking film with no real satisfaction for anything but the eyes. Where’s the heart? Where’s the soul? I never felt connected to the material. Tim Burton has a flair for art direction. He’s a director of style, and if a film like this could get away on style alone, it would be perfect. But it can’t, so it’s not.

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