Rewind Reviews – Batman (1989)

Posted on 10 October 2019
By Andrew Siddall
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This year marks the 80th Anniversary of the caped crusader, but also marks the 30th Anniversary of one of his most iconic live-action movies to date. In this Rewind Review, we take a look at Tim Burton’s dark and gothic 1989 movie, Batman.

Veering away from the wonderfully mad 60’s TV series, Batman sees Bruce Wayne beginning his war against crime, striking fear into the hearts of criminals as the costumed hero Batman, until he is brought into conflict with a deformed madman known as ‘The Joker’.

Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice) makes his debut as Batman/Bruce Wayne, a casting choice which many fans were initially surprised by. Keaton puts his own mark on the role, balancing the different personalities of the dark knight with a mixture of comedy and depth and makes for one of the most compelling actors to play the role.

Every Batman needs his Joker, and in this movie, he is played by none other than Jack Nicholson (The Shining), who for some is the definitive live-action Joker. He delivers a truly scene-stealing performance as the unhinged clown prince of crime and delivers a comic book accurate interpretation, with the odd change here and there. He’s nowhere near as serious or disturbing as Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008) or Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019), but he is just as memorable.

Unfortunately caught between the two iconic characters is Kim Basinger as photographer Vicky Vale. She is acted well and has a big impact on the plot, although she is used more as a lightning rod to bring Batman and Joker into a collision course, which isn’t really necessary, but allows certain plot reveals to happen.

One of the most memorable parts of any Bat-flick has always been Wayne’s trusty Butler, Alfred Pennyworth, played here for the first time by Michael Gough. He doesn’t feel quite as rounded a character as Michael Caine’s interpretation, but his odd comments and genuinely caring nature makes this version stand out against the rest.

The story is kept relatively simple, picking up with Batman already established as a vigilante, and takes a few notes from the Frank Miller Batman stories including The Killing Joke and of course, The Dark Knight Returns. It does take some liberties with the source material, which may prove controversial to some, but other than that this is a solid origin for the Dark Knight.

Unlike the more recent Bat-outings, this film is more story focused than action. This isn’t bad by any means, as the story helps add more stakes to the action. And when the battles kick off, they are handled well, but don’t quite have the same urgency or brutality of the more modern movies.

But the one aspect that this movies improves on is the detective angle, which hasn’t properly been seen for a while, (something which director Matt Reeves is hoping to rectify in the upcoming The Batman). It’s great to see Batman figuring things out and living up to his reputation as the World’s Greatest Detective.

There’s also a great number of effects, with most focusing on the Joker’s laughing gas and the stunning Bat-plane sequence. They hold up surprisingly quite well, and they add a lot to the Burton-esque feel of the film.

With Tim Burton at the helm, this features some gorgeous visuals with great gothic contrast between light and darkness with the odd splash of colour. The sets and locations all help towards this and give it a unique feel that most Tim Burton movies have. That being said, this doesn’t quite feel like a typical Tim Burton movie in the same way as the equally amazing Batman Returns (1992) does.

Batman has always had some of the most memorable themes, but none more so than the terrific score by Danny Elfman. It is epic and dramatic and well worth a listen to. It was also great to see the theme being reprised for not just the sequel, but for the phenomenal Animated Series by Shirley Walker (1992) and even in Justice League (2017), going on to show just how synonymous with Batman the theme has become.

It was a surprise for many to see that Prince would also be making a musical contribution to the film, and while this does plant the film firmly in the 80’s, the songs are really catchy and add a lot to the scenes they are featured in, including the fantastic art gallery sequence.

Batman, along with Superman: The Movie (1978), established what superhero movies could aspire to be, light and fun as well as dark and serious. The legacy of these movies is phenomenal, with their influence still being felt in Hollywood and in the comic book industry today.

Overall, this is a fantastic take on the world’s greatest detective. It may have dated slightly over the years, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining and adds to the aesthetic. With its genius casting, well-crafted story and an epic soundtrack, this is among the best of the Bat-flicks and well worth checking out.

Purple Revolver rating: 4.5/5. “Wait ‘till they get a load of me!”