Burton's Batman is no Joke-r
It's amusing to think that when "Batman" came out in 1989 that many felt it was too different to the popular TV series as it didn't feel as jokey and had a darker side. Yet watched now after Christopher Nolan gave us the much darker "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" it feels as camp and comical as ever. But even if in comparison Tim Burton's "Batman" does now feel quite comical it is still a very good movie. It may not be dark enough for the comic book purists but what Tim Burton did was to create a middle ground super hero movie one which had a dark side but also a fun side and as such "Batman" works.
Despite the best efforts of D.A. Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and police commissioner Jim Gordon (Pat Hingle), Gotham City is over run with criminals and it doesn't help that the police department is full of corruption. But from nowhere a masked vigilante appears in the form of a giant Bat who may cause Dent and Gordon to worry, but seems intent on bringing criminals down. Enter journalist Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and photographer Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger - No Mercy) who want to learn who is the Batman (Michael Keaton - Beetlejuice) who appears to go out looking for trouble at night. And at the same time enter Jack Napier who having become horribly disfigured in a chemical bath takes on the alter ego of the Joker (Jack Nicholson - The Witches of Eastwick), taking control of the criminal underworld and causing Gotham to fall into more chaos.
What is quite special about "Batman" is that it manages to deliver so much Batman back story and characters yet also a storyline which isn't just about who Batman is. And in doings so it doesn't feel like two separate movies thrown together where we get the history followed by the story. It interweaves them so whilst in the opening half we meet a range of characters such as Harvey Dent, Jack Napier, Vicki Vale, Commissioner Gordon and Alfred the loyal Butler they are introduced as part of the bigger storyline. What this means is rather than being disjointed "Batman" builds layer upon layer of story till it ends up focusing on the battle between Batman and The Joker.
It's no surprise that with Tim Burton at the directional helm of "Batman" it as a visual treat of quirkiness. Coming relatively early on in is his career as a director "Batman" is by no means as weird as some of Burton's later movies, but those gothic touches are there especially in the construction of Gotham City. It's a blend of an old style, smoky city with great imposing buildings and dark alleyways but it's enlivened by splashes of colour making it a brilliant back drop to all the action and story.
And Tim Burton also has to be commended for getting the blend of action, storyline and humour just right. "Batman" maybe darker that the old Adam West TV series but there is still plenty of humour weaving it's way through out the movie. It may now feel quite camp in comparison to say "Batman Begins" but for me it makes "Batman" a joy to watch as you go from drama and action to a light hearted moment without it feeling forced.
Now I may get slated for this but for me Michael Keaton is one of the best when it comes to being Batman, especially in the context of this movie. Keaton manages to find the right balance between humour and the dark imposing nature of Batman and although it's not a character of any real depth, when compared to those in more recent batman movies, he gives him just enough depth without going into all the tortured soul business. Alongside Keaton there are entertaining performances through out from Michael Gough, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance all finding the right blend of humour and drama to make "Batman" skip along at a wonderful pace.
But whilst Michael Keaton should be the star of "Batman" you have to say that Jack Nicholson as the Joker is the star. Prior to the chemical bath which turned him into the white faced monster Nicholson infuses Jack Napier with a sense of evil and a real conniving side. But when he becomes the Joker he steals every single scene with a performance so large that no one stands a chance. But it's not wrong being large because it gets across the deranged nature of the Joker that he is scary, fears no one and will do whatever he wants to win but at the same time has an eye for a woman. It's a stunning performance and once more delivers the right balance between being comical and dramatic.
What this all boils down to is that "Batman" is a very good movie and without a doubt the best of the "Batman" franchise from the 80s/90s. It finds that right balance so whilst it does have action and drama it also has a humorous side which although may border on the camp in comparison to the more recent "Batman" movies makes for a far more all round entertaining movie. And whilst you remember "Batman" for the performances of Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger it also manages to deliver a well crafted storyline so that you get the history of Batman and an individual storyline without feeling disjointed.