Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Bassinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance
Directed By: Tim Burton
My goal while re-watching this version was to try and get past the ways it fouls up the Batman story, and just judge it as a movie. So, okay, the Joker was a small-time criminal who killed Batman’s parents. Bruce Wayne isn’t Gotham’s most famous citizen, to the point where an investigative journalist from Gotham doesn’t know much about him, whatever. Commissioner Gordon is hapless, Harvey Dent is black, and Bruce Wayne is a boob. I’ll just have to let it all go.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t expect is that the movie is kinda boring. I don’t mind characterisation in comic book movies, in fact, I’m a big proponent of it. However, this movie goes a little long on the Bruce Wayne/Vicky Vale stuff, the Vale/Knox stuff, the Jack Napier/Grissom stuff, and it’s all a little dull. Maybe it wouldn’t be so dull if it wasn’t so lame. But it is lame, and thus, I grew quite sleepy while watching it.
Luckily, once Jack Napier becomes the Joker and disposes of the ultra-hammy Grissom (Jack Palance, trying to out-ham Jack Nicholson‘s Napier), the movie picks up and becomes entertaining. While it’s not an ideal Joker, Nicholson’s performance in the film is dynamic, and earned him a Golden Globes nomination. He does a good job with the psychotic clown aspect of the Joker, trying to be funny one moment, and homicidal in the next. My favourite scene is when he’s atop the float giving out money, dancing to the tunes of Prince. Joker truly is the energy in the film.
Which is good, because Michael Keaton‘s Bruce Wayne generally manages to suck the life out of every scene he’s in. I’m not even sure if it’s Keaton’s fault, or that Tim Burton has little use for non-quirky characters. Luckily, as Batman he looks cool, and imposing, and has fun toys. Sadly, Batman is often little more than set piece that swoops in, uses his weapons, strikes a pose (mostly because he can barely move in his batsuit), then is off. It’s akin to a comic book drawn by an artist that is only good at splash pages and pin-ups. It all feels really cool, but offers little substance.
Which, is pretty much how I’d describe the entire film in a nutshell. It feels really cool, but offers little substance. At the time, Burton’s style was so new and exciting, that it was enough. Then he continued to do the same thing in every movie since, which takes the shine off of what he did in 1989.