Re-Watch: Batman (1989)

Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Based on: Bob Kane‘s and Bill Finger‘s comics character
Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall
Seen on: 8.12.2017

Gotham City is filled with corruption and basically run by crime boss Grissom (Jack Palance). But then a new figure enters the playing field, shifting the power dynamics quite substantially: Batman (Michael Keaton). Photographer Vicky Hale (Kim Basinger) is intrigued by the phenomenon and decides to find out who is behind the mask. Hoping to speak with Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), she attends a charity eventy hosted by Bruce Wayne – not knowing that he is the man she is looking for. Meanwhile Grissom’s right-hand man Jack Napier (Jach Nicholson) is sent on a mission of his own – a mission that is about to change him very much.

It’s been many years that I watched the older Batman movies, and while I love them all, this one was probably the one I remembered least. Re-watching it with a bit of distance made it feel a little disappointing, although there are still many good things about it.

Given that this Batman movie was a return for mainstream audiences not only to Batman, but also to superheroes in general, it comes as no surprise that the film seems a little uncertain about its tone. How seriously can Batman be taken? How comic does a comic adaptation have to be? The film swerves wildly between a grim-dark setting and aesthetic and ridiculous, overblown villains and jokes that don’t really come together in an entirely satisfying way.

Also surprising, given the long Batman break (again, in the mainstream) before this, is the fact that the film deals very little with Batman himself, focusing instead on the villains in the piece. It’s not untypical to have the movie built that way, but since newer superhero films seem rather obsessed with origin stories and building heroes from scratch, it still surprised me.

A problem I definitely didn’t have the last time I watched the film was that Heath Ledger’s Joker kept superimposing itself over Nicholson’s. That’s an incredibly unfair comparison because they weren’t even attempting to play the same character, really, apart from the name. But Ledger’s performance is so monumental that Nicholson doesn’t really stand a chance. And what definitely struck me more (and not in a good way) than the last time I saw the film was the sexist jokes and the lookism regarding Joker’s girlfriend.

But even though these things were disappointing for me now, I still very much liked the film and many things did stand the test of time: the score (not the Prince songs, those were a little strange), the astonishing sets, Michael Keaton as Batman (who I never would have cast myself, but he works very well) and Billy Dee Williams as a black Harvey Dent (too bad that was barely explored). My younger self just built my memory of the film a little too high.

Summarizing: Solid.

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