In time for Chris Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” I want to go back and review the four great Batman films. Tim Burton’s two an Nolan’s first two. So let’s get started. (and yes children, there will be spoilers if you haven’t seen it already.)
I have been a Batman fan my whole life and read the comics, watched the Adam West show, the cartoons. So when I heard in 1988 that the movie was being made, I went nuts. Then seeing the first trailer on tv made me so excited. I was not disappointed and I’m still not. I know is popular to put down the old and hold up the new, but this film along with 1978’s Superman made the comic book film what it has become today. Without Richard Donner and Tim Burton taking the genre seriously, adding character development and dark tone, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and The Spiderman films would either not be made today or they would still be done and looked at as a joke. But now on to the film.
First of all lets talk about Danny Elfman’s music which starts us off. I can’t think of any other credit sequence that got me so pumped to see the movie that followed it. That was due to Elfman’s blistering score. That music starts soft but as if summoned by the Batsignal it raises to a marching kick you in the teeth beat that goes right with the movie itself. It was so good some of it was used for the 1990 animated series that followed the film. No other music goes with the Batman like Elfman’s theme. After the credit sequence we get a skyline view of Gotham city, then a shot of the city with the people bustling around. The sets for the film are awe-inspiring. This really does look like Gotham. I mean Goth is in the name and Burton’s set really does look like a Gothic, yet modernized city. Which is perfect. Burton is a true visual director and IMO no other film shows that more than BATMAN. When Michael Keaton first appears on-screen and says to the crook “I’m Batman” you have to totally believe it. The way he looks in the suit and mask, the look in his eyes, and the sound of his voice all come together. The man completely transforms into the character. The same can be said when he’s Bruce Wayne. Many say that Keaton doesn’t play the Wayne role well, but I disagree. The man who is Batman should be the last guy you would suspect. When Wayne is at the fund-raiser and in front of others, he is sort of aloof, a little quirky, almost clumsy. No one would suspect HIM to be the Dark Knight detective. But when he’s alone or just with Alfred, he is moody, quiet, morose. I know the origin of Batman is brushed through, and told in flashbacks in this movie, but it was done so well I really didn’t mind. Plus Keaton plays the part so well you feel what he is going through without him saying a word. He says much with just a look or expression. Batman is mysterious and shadowy and that was the way he is portrayed in the film. Speaking of Alfred, Michael Gough is a delight as the loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth. He is funny, dignified and feisty. All things Alfred should be. He absolutely IS Alfred. Plus you really feel he loves Bruce as Gough and Keaton have an incredible chemistry. When Alfred tells Bruce “I don’t intend to spend my remaining years grieving the deaths of old friends … or their sons.” he sounds like someone who is truly concerned for a person whom he watched grow up and Keaton’s expression is almost painful. Most of the cast is great, Kim Bassinger is adorable as Vickie Vale. She and Keaton look great together and I really enjoyed the romance between them. Even William Hootkins who plays the fat dirty cop Lt Eckhart who is based on the comic character Harvey Bullock is great. I don’t know anything else he’s ever been in but I remember him well. Jack Palance as the mob boss Carl Grissom is greasy evil, Tracey Walter as Bob the Goon, Joker’s right hand man is cool. He barley has any lines but who doesn’t love Bob the Goon? Of course who can forget the man Jack Nicholson as The Joker? Some have complained that Burton included the Joker’s origin story. I didn’t have a big problem with it. To try to explain why he looked the way he does and why his clown car went off the road was interesting and I thought for the most part Burton did a great job. I too enjoyed Nicholson’s performance. Some say it was too over the top, but it’s not like the Joker in the comics was a calm guy. If you pay attention to the beginning when he is still Jack Napier, he shows instances of an already deranged mind. He just controls it. Like saying he would feed Harvey Dent’s lungs to him, and the look on his face in his argument with Lt. Eckhart. The guy is evil, but controlled evil. It’s only after his boss betrays him and his face is destroyed that the control is gone and he lets loose. Plus some who already had tendencies for madness only needs as Ledger says in the Dark Knight a little push. Nicholson’s Joker was manic, demented, evil and I love to watch him. The few problems I do have with the film are minor. I found Robert Wuhl to be annoying and out of place. Didn’t care for him at all. Pat Hingle was never a good commissioner Gordon either. I felt he was way too old and wimpy. Hingle seemed more like someones kind grandpa than the tough but warm natured Gordon. He just never seemed right. I also find it sad that Billy Dee Williams was never able to finish his role as Harvey Dent/Two Face. He was an odd choice but I thought he did well in the first film and would have loved to seen what he could have done with the role. Plus I am mixed about having the young Joker be the killer of Bruce’s parents. But I guess it was a way to tie the two together, and show a flash back to Batman’s origins. Plus if you imagine that the guy the young Joker is with is Joe Chill (the killer of Bruce’s parents in the comic versions.) it still works. I will be remiss if I don’t mention the Batmobile and Batwing. In my opinion, the Burton Batmobile IS the Batmobile. It is sleek, yet powerful. Big, yet fast. Not to mention the coolest looking car ever. The other versions are either tacky, or silly. Even the Nolan Tumbler, while cool, and can come apart into a motorcycle. It just doesn’t look like a Batmobile. Burton’s is still the best. And yes the Batwing is killer too and there is no more iconic scene than the part when the Batwing flies up in front of the moon and forms the Batemblem. Only in a Burton film. Lastly the climax was epic. Batman steals Joker’s poison balloons with the Batwing, Joker wigs out and shoots Bob, Batman flies down killing the hell out of Jokers guys, (yes Batman kills a few people after he finds out Joker is his parent’s killer. Can you blame him really?) Joker shoots the Batwing down, and it all culminates at the top of the towering Gotham cathedral. Damn! That’s a freaking climax!!!
All in all despite some comic craziness, and a few miscast people, this may still be my favorite Batman film. Most of the performances are great, especially Keaton, Gough, and Nicholson. The look and atmosphere match what and who Batman is. Dark, mysterious, Gothic. The direction and editing are superb, the script is sharp with great story, character and memorable lines. The action is crisp, and the Batmobile is bad ass. This was and still is the perfect Batman film.
It gets a 7 out of 7 stars for one of my favorite films of all time.
BEST LINES FROM THE FILM :
I’m Batman. (Batman) Where does he get those wonderful toys? (the Joker)
Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? (Joker and Batman)
He’s out there … and I gotta go to work. (Bruce Wayne) Wait till they get a loud of me? (Joker)
You’re a vicious bastard Rotellie and uh, I’m glad you’re dead. (Joker after killing a guy)