Batman (1989) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Batman (1989)

Before 1989’s Batman, all of the movies I have looked at in the 30 Years at the Top series have been hits from their own power.  Granted a lot of them had buzz and good marketing campaigns behind them, but they made their money because people liked what they saw on the screen.  Batman might be the movie that ushered in the type of blockbuster mentality that we are still in to this day.  Where most of the opening weekend’s gross comes not from the movie, but from people wanting to experience what the hype and marketing was about.

In 1989, you could not walk down the street without running into some sort of Batman symbol.  The Bat symbol was on posters, bus shelters, T-shirts, lunchboxes, backpacks, tattoos and more.  The old Adam West TV series became popular in reruns on cable again.  You could play with your Batman toys and go to Taco Bell and get a Batman collector cup.  By the time the movie came out, America and the world had become bat crazy and the movie blew up bigger than any movie before it.

Yes, people did this for the movie.

I am not excluding myself from the frenzy, being 8 years old when the film was released I was at the perfect age for the film.  Batman looked so cool, he punched people a lot and his car was so AWESOME!  While my parents did not take me to see the movie in the theater, but I bugged them enough about wanting to see it they relented and rented it for me as soon as they could. When I (finally) watched it, I found out Batman was cooler than I thought he could be!  He blew stuff up, he jumped off buildings and he even had a PLANE!  I fell in love with the movie and watched it anytime that I could, like many grizzled old men say, kids don’t know anything.

Now, 20 plus years since it was released, I can honestly say it was groundbreaking in its marketing and more importantly it made studio execs start paying attention to comic book characters in a more mature light (even though they were far from getting it right). Also at its time it was the best representation of Batman in any form other than comics, of course the only competition was the Batman TV show and SuperFriends so that is what I would call a hollow victory.    With all this said it doesn’t hold a candle to some later Batman interpretations that were released both on TV and film after this movie.  With fresh eyes, I can see a lot of things wrong with the film.

First, lets get really picky and become The Comic Book Guy and tear apart the movie relating to its source material.

  • Batman for a very long time in the comics has vowed never to take a life.  While he maims, bludgeons and batters people, the amount of times he has had to kill someone can be counted up on 1 hand.  Yet in the movie, the dude is pushing people off roofs, blowing up buildings with tons of people in it and racking up a body count that would impress Rambo in his heyday.  I know the original stories had Batman be a man who had no qualms killing someone, but it is a relic long forgotten.
  • Joker in the movie kills Bruce Wayne’s parents.  In most versions of the story, Joe Chill is the murderer and if not him then some unnamed hoodlum. Only in the movie did Joker have anything to do with the killing of his parents. I understand why they did it from a story standpoint, but I can honestly say, nothing bugs me more in the film.
  • They give Joker a backstory in the film and a true origin.  As evident by many other Batman stories and some later movies knowing nothing about why and how the Joker came to be is much more terrifying.

But I also have trouble with the actual film, whether it was based on anything or not.  For instance:

  • What was the point of Robert Wuhl’s character of Knox? He might have been investigating Batman when no one else was, but if you gave that one trait to Vicky Vale, would the character be missed at all?  The movie cared so little about him that after his one heroic moment they leave him to die in a pile of garbage, never acknowledging if he made it or not.
  • There is not much life to the film.  Nicholson might have been having a blast and the sets and costumes were beautiful but it is a movie with a very weak pulse.  There is no passion evident in the making of it, nobody had a burning desire to create a great film and the studio was more in love with the idea of a Batman film than the Batman film itself.  This leads me to my third of most damning critique of the movie.
  • No one tries to get to the question of who Bruce Wayne is.  In the film the dullest character is Bruce Wayne and it is not a fault of Michael Keaton.  It is evident that Burton was more in love with the Joker than Batman/Bruce Wayne and it shows in every single scene of the film that Bruce Wayne is in, whether he is in the cowl or not.  My favorite Batman film is Batman Begins and a big part of that is because it was the first time that someone tackled the question of why he dresses up every night and fights crime beyond the shallow “because he saw his parents killed” reason.

Jack actually looked like this when he was counting all the money he made from this film.

I am still thankful for the film because it showed that Batman could be a huge character and that people of all ages love him.  If it wasn’t for this film, we might not have Batman: The Animated Series, one of the greatest cartoons ever created and who knows if Christopher Nolan would ever been able to make his Caped Crusader Masterpieces.  This Tim Burton movie introduced us to Danny Elfman’s Batman score, which in my opinion is the best superhero theme to this day and got a new generation to read comics (myself included).  While it might have also been the reason we had Batman and Robin unleashed on the poor unsuspecting public. I would say that if you added up the plus and minuses for this movie I believe the pros would outweigh the cons, and how could anyone think different about a movie that gave us the one and only “Batdance."

Posted by Ryan

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