Personally, when I think of Batman, I think of Christian Bale. When I think of Batman, I think of Bale’s dark portrayal of the truly suffering caped crusader. I think of his leather suit, his high-tech Batmobile, and that infamous low, crackling voice that Bruce Wayne uses to hide his identity when in the midst of fighting crime. It may just be due to the generation I belong to or maybe it was due to those three films of Christopher Nolan’s masterful trilogy really are cinematic landmarks. Well, either way, I can tell you right now, I don’t think Bale has too much competition.
Directed by Tim Burton—even before he met Johnny Depp—1989’s Batman is a murky and ultra-stylistic production. I was actually very impressed with this film’s production design from the look of Gotham City where it feels like a criminal lurks up every ally to the makeup put on The Joker. The city of Gotham looks grimy and full of dirt, not like the much more slick and modern portrayal of the city in the Nolan films. It was all very convincing, as was Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker, but too bad the masked hero didn’t bring much to the table.
People often tell me that Michael Keaton is “they’re Batman” and the “best Batman”, and I just don’t see it. While Christian Bale brings a quiet dignity to the role of Bruce Wayne and an intense energy to the role of his alter ego, Keaton seemed so stiff in comparison. We first meet Keaton’s character when he dives into battle with some thugs at the beginning of the film, so the first taste we get of him is as The Dark Knight. He drops from the heavens from some unknown ledge and descends onto the two crooks that, just a minute ago, couldn’t stop talking about something they called “The Bat”. Keaton then, expressionless, takes on the two crooks and ends up saving the day and I really just didn’t care. He even gives his signature “I’m Batman” phrase with just enough acting power to skate on by.
One thing I enjoyed about this movie was how much of an enigma Batman was. At the start of the film, no one really knows who he is or what he’s about. Most people just know him by the title of The Bat and not even Batman. It was interesting to hear the murmuring of the crowds and people walking down the crowded streets discussing if his vigilante justice is for “the greater good” after reading the stories about a strange man-bat hybrid. They even believe that he cannot be killed at one point. Crazy how rumors can be stretched so out of proportion like that.
Another impressive aspect of this film was its villain, The Joker, played brilliantly by the great Jack Nicholson. I’m not going to compare him to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the same character in Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” back in 2008 which is one of the greatest performances of all-time, but Nicholson was able to hold his own and make his way into my heart. From his first scene you gained that sense of menace, and this is even before he gained his infamous scars, which later extend his face into a fiendish, hungry grin, as if he’s found his prey to devour that evening. The final moment of his screen presence is the most haunting, his ever grinning face starring up at the stars, if you’ve seen this film, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s too bad that this grand performance often overshadows the hero. “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” I’m proud to say I have.
It’s too bad that we have to go from such a high note to a low one, but as I was watching “Batman”, I became more and more unengaged the further I got into the runtime. The main problem of this movie is that its story is simply just not good. It’s not interesting and it’s definitely not engaging at all, especially due to the fact that its hero is such a bore. This film is the perfect example of the, unfortunately, very common situation that befalls many blockbuster films called style over substance. There is a never ending abundance of strange visuals and dark scenery in this comic-book adaptation, but there isn’t a piece of emotion you can grab on to anywhere to be found. It’s quite the shame.
“Batman” came out in 1989; “Alien” came out in 1979. What I’m getting at is “Alien” is a film that has transcended its date of release, “Batman” is not. When I watch movies, I try to put myself in that time period of its release, especially for older movies. Most of the time, it works, but not this time around. “Batman” is so outdated it’s actually a bit funny at times, like the gunshot sound effects that sound as if they were recorded in the 1940s. So I guess it gets some props for being an unintentional comedy, right?