This is the first in our latest series, where we review a selection of Batman films leading up to the release of the latest Batman video game, Batman: Arkham Knight. If you would like to see the review schedule for which films are coming out and when, please click here.
I remember the first time I watched Tim Burton’s Batman, I quite honestly hated it. At the time, I was admittedly a massive fanboy of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and although I adore them today just as much as I did then, I was blinded by the thought that nothing could match my beloved Batman capers. Although I maintain that those films are better than Batman, that isn’t to say I had a bad time with it.
As I’m sure most of you know, Batman follows Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) as he struggles to balance his life as billionaire and winged vigilante Batman. He faces opposition from The Joker (Jack Nicholson), who has a plan that will leave Gotham City in tatters, but he can’t do it alone. With help from girlfriend Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and loyal butler Alfred (Michael Gough), it is up to Gotham’s hero to save it from purgatory.
The aspect that stands out most about Batman is its design. All of the typical Burton-isms are here, including gothic halls and gargoyles, and the design of Gotham itself is very retro whilst also having futuristic qualities, thus not giving this film a specific time-frame, making it effectively timeless. Alongside this, I loved Batman’s costume, and although clunky and impractical, it remains true to Batman’s comic roots, and I commend Burton for that. The Batmobile itself is also fantastic, and it’s no surprise that elements of it have been used in other Batman media such as Batman: The Animated Series and, much more recently, Batman: Arkham Knight. Unlike some of the other parts of the film, the design is quintessentially Batman.
The script itself is also marvelous, with some highly quotable lines having established themselves firmly into the pop culture history books. Classics such as “You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” and “Where does he get these wonderful toys?” remain as witty and groundbreaking as the day they were written (or so I presume). The script does a good job of communicating a pretty run-of-the-mill story, and although it can’t help the story – thus the film – shine, it does have some massive highlights.
The tone of the film is at times its greatest strength, but at others its greatest weakness. Some moments are tremendously dark and depressing, which had never been communicated on-screen with Batman before, but others are just plain silly and jarring, which makes the film feel unbalanced. One minute, Joker is covered in acid with his skin literally peeling off, and the next he is dancing around to Prince songs. Don’t get me started on those Prince songs.
Performances here are also fantastic, especially Jack Nicholson as the Joker. He’s frequently considered one of the first true method actors, and with a performance like this, it’s hard to argue against it, because he is simply nuts. Nicholson manages to pull off Jack Napier and Joker in one film, and his performance is so convincing that you could even argue that it rivals Heath Ledger’s Joker. Michael Keaton is the other standout performer, and has easily the most layered performance, not just handling Bruce Wayne and Batman, but also tortured Bruce Wayne, public Bruce Wayne, and meltdown Bruce Wayne in Vicki’s apartment. It’s a massive shame that Keaton dropped off the radar, but after such a fantastic performance in Birdman, I’m so glad he’s back. Kim Basinger is far less impressive as Vicki Vale, and hers is a one-dimensional performance: all she seems to do is scream and beckon for saving from the eponymous hero.
How could I review Batman and not talk about the score? Danny Elfman’s legendary soundtrack blasts alongside the opening credits, creating a synthesis of image and audio, resulting in one of my all-time favourite openings, and the score itself is so resilient and legendary that it is used still, particularly in Batman: The Animated Series and the LEGO Batman games.
The biggest problem that faces Batman is its deviation from the comics, occasionally working in its favour, but most of the time dragging it down. Giving the Joker a definitive origin takes away some of the mystique of his character, and that’s what makes the Joker in the comics so special: he has no defined motive or origin, which helps keep his character fresh and interesting throughout. But with Nicholson’s Joker, his motives and origin are spoon-fed to the viewer, and once it’s all clear, his character has nothing left to offer. I also didn’t like that Joker killed Bruce’s parents, but it did introduce some interesting talking points, however far it deviated from comic book lore.
Although it goes quite far away from the comics, Batman had enough style to introduce a darker genre of superhero film, and if it weren’t for this, we may not have comic-book films half as good as The Dark Knight or The Avengers. It falters at points and isn’t always true to the character, but Batman is a good time if you’re looking for some great design and layered performances.
I give Batman 7.2 out of 10.
What do you think of the film? Be sure to leave a comment below, and share this review on your social networks if you enjoyed it! Check back tomorrow for our review of this film’s sequel, Batman Returns, same bat-time, same bat-channel!