Director: Tim Burton
“In this blockbuster movie version of Bob Kane’s classic comic, director Tim Burton reimagines eponymous superhero Batman (last seen on screen in the campy 1960s TV incarnation) as a dark and conflicted character.” (767, Joanna Berry 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Not only am I a massive Tim Burton fan but I’m also a comic and superhero fan and my introduction to the cinematic visions of the classic superheroes (I was already a massive fan of the X-Men cartoons on TV) was through this movie so it will always hold a special place in my heart. While it was a much darker re-imaginging of the ‘Caped Crusader’, especially when held up against the camp Adam West incarnation, I’m not sure that it really holds up all that well when you take into consideration the multitude of Batman movies that have now graced the silver screen – each one seemingly getter darker and more brutal than the one before. When I watched this recently I realised that there is a much more heightened fantastical element to this version of the DC hero than in say Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or even the more recent reboot featuring Ben Affleck in the titular role. There is a camp, almost cartoony, feel to this Batman that was not there in the same way when it first came out and for me that takes something away from it as a film.
Every aspect of this film screams Tim Burton, from the highly stylised sets and costumes to the insane parade through Gotham with enormous inflatable balloons. And it is very much situated in the era of its creation – namely the 1980s. Big hair, big shoulders, big songs … just everything in excess. For me Michael Keaton, as Batman, was something of a revelation as I had only really seen him in Bettlejuice (1988, Tim Burton) where he is almost unrecognisable as the manic title character. It was great to see him take on a more serious, conflicted and emotional role. Joanna Berry has got it completely right when she says, “[W]hile Burton gives his Caped Crusader depth, darkness, and even romance (in the form of Vicki), the show is almost stolen from his hero by the villain of the piece, the Joker, played with gusto by Jack Nicholson. Resplendent in purple suit and clown-like makeup, dancing to the Prince songs that pepper the soundtrack, he was surely the most enjoyably unlikable bad guy to hit the screen in a long time.” (767) Jack Nicholson was outstanding as Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. He’s maniacal while at the same time being anarchical. And he just roars onto the screen in his extraordinarily bright costume – an instant icon! There is a charm to him as well though – you can’t help but be drawn in to his personality. And yet for me the ultimate Joker, as I said before in my post on The Dark Knight (2006, Christopher Nolan) will always be Heath Ledger. While Jack is clearly insane there seems to be more of a sense of innocence or jokiness about his antics – yes he’s out to cause chaos but he does it in a humorous way that doesn’t involve much maliciousness or even bodily harm. The same cannot be said of Ledger’s Joker – he’s all about the hurt and really does want to see the world burn. There is a more visceral and realistic feel to Ledger’s Joker than Nicholson’s. However it cannot be denied that Nicholson did indeed pave the way for all following cinematic incarnations of arguably the most recognisable bad guy in the DC universe.
I would say that Burton’s Batman has now become one of the best films to introduce kids to the world of Batman and Gotham as it is, retrospectively, light-hearted enough not to cause any issues. It’s definitely still a great film to watch – you just have to approach it with an expectation that it now reads as rather tongue-in-cheek.