While Batman’s most notable modern day portrayal is the one Christopher Nolan brought to life from 2005-2012, it’s Tim Burtons Batman feature from the 80’s that truly brought the character to life. Becoming one of the biggest movies of all-time back in the day, the films 25th anniversary arriving this year makes it a good time to look back on the feature.
This being my first time seeing the feature, one thing that struck me was how little Batman and Bruce Wayne play into the proceedings at the start of the adventure. Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and Alexander (Robert Wuhl), two journalists searching for a scoop on the famous Batman, work as audience surrogates as they navigate who exactly Batman is. When Bruce Wayne finally shows up, it’s simply as a supporting character in a scene involving the two aforementioned journalists. Make no mistake though, a character as iconic as Batman has a major presence constantly in the film.
Batman’s sole scene in the beginning is a fun one, as he corners two crooks on a rooftop and proceeds to pummel and terrify them. The bit does a good job of not only introducing the character, but also reaffirming why he’s so notable in Gotham. He may not be onscreen, but Batman’s presence is the crux of the proceedings, and it’s actually kind of interesting to see a superhero adventure from this vantage point. It helps that the duality between Bruce Wayne and Batman is played up in clever ways, such as a visual cue that has both characters have similar placements (in the background between two people conversing) when they enter their first major on-screen sequences.
Michael Keaton as Batman here is fine, he really doesn’t have a ton of stuff to do in scenes solely focused on him. It might have been better to keep playing up Batman as a mysterious off-screen presence for the entirety of the film, as once scenes centered on Keaton’s Bruce Wayne become a prominent fixture of the movie, things get kinda dull real quick. It doesn’t help that a romance between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale is at the center of most of Bruce’s scenes, and good Lord is that romance half-baked.
In terms of directing, Tim Burton is, as you can imagine, a sharp contrast to the likes of Christopher Nolan. Both directors handle some glorious shots, though Burton is surprisingly lacking in distinctiveness for a director whose career hinges on such a word. Again, it’s not bad, it just doesn’t feel exemplary,though props for a splendidly executed interpretation of the death of Bruce’s parents. That death just so happens to involve The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson. He’s an intimidating character, juxtaposing a colorful costume and playful gadgets with a psychopathic personality. I’d probably be more scared by him though he didn’t vandalize a museum to the tune of a Prince, a bizarrely pointless sequence.
At the end of the day, Batman isn’t a masterpiece. It’s an important movie, especially in the pantheon of superhero cinema, but it’s promising start soon climaxes with a clunky and overlong finale set in a belltower. Still, Nicholson is a hoot to watch, and Burton does conjure up some pretty looking imagery. There’s much better Batman movies you could watch, but it’s still worth a look if only to realize Batman & Robin wasn’t the only Caped Crusader feature before Nolan came along.