The theatrical release of Batman celebrates 30 years this year and holds up for being the product of its era with regards to cinematic entertainment.
A brief prologue introduces us to the Wayne family before cutting to present day. Gotham City mayor Borg (Lee Wallace) wants the city to be safer. This task falls upon both District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Pat Hingle). Unbeknownst to them, Gotham has a new vigilante parading around town in the form of Batman (Bruce Wayne). Amid rumors of this Dark Knight, photojournalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) start to investigate his existence.
Corrupt police officers working with the mob bring the rise of Jack Napier aka Joker (Jack Nicholson). In what will be a running theme for so many of these Batman villains, Napier falls into chemicals and goes mad. Ever the playmate, Bruce starts a relationship with Vicki but the whole work thing always manages to get in the way. I won’t really spoil you with the rest because it’s been 30 years.
Once upon a time, this would be the best film depicting the Dark Knight. This is no longer the case after Christopher Nolan’s phenomenal trilogy. It’s funny how this film was coming along as the Superman franchise was shooting itself in the leg. The release of Batman would come two years after Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. History would only repeat itself a decade later with the release of Batman and Robin. I’m kind of partial to that film for reasons that I’ll discuss in my review of the film.
As a director, Tim Burton has a way with directing style on screen. Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is a darker character than Superman. Appropriately, it means a darker film. Superman, this is not. All apologies to those who grew up watching Adam West but Batman is not meant to be campy. What this film does is return the dark roots back to Batman. It’s what Bob Kane and Bill Finger probably imagined when they were creating the character back in the day. We have producer Michael E. Uslan to thank for this even if the film took a while to get into production.
When it comes to the film’s casting, Jack Nicholson is the bigger star. Coming off of Beetlejuice means that Tim Burton and Michael Keaton already have a relationship. Casting an unknown actor is risky but it can pay off. Look at Christopher Reeves! By choosing Michael Keaton, it would kick off a casting controversy. Sound familiar? We are seeing the exact same today with Robert Pattinson being cast in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. I’m just saying: give people the chance! There is nothing wrong with Michael Keaton’s performance.
Where Christopher Nolan would build towards the Joker, Sam Hamm and Warren Skaren’s screenplay opts to make him the first villain. It’s unwise to compare Jack Nicholson’s take to that of Heath Ledger but it’s fair to say that Heath absolutely owns the role. I hate to say it but Nicholson’s take almost seems tame by comparison.
When we talk about the great theme songs, Danny Elfman’s theme song for the film must be somewhere on the list. It’s become so iconic that one cannot think of the character without thinking of the tune. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard would certainly make the score their own in the Christopher Nolan trilogy.
Batman doesn’t only return the character to his roots but would set a benchmark for comic book movies at the time.
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
SCREENWRITERS: Sam Hamm and Warren Skaren
CAST: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, and Jack Palance