Road to Batman V. Superman: Batman (1989)

Batman V. Superman Dawn of Justice will be the third franchise Batman has starred in less than thirty years. Which, on one hand, is insane that a character can be popular enough to call for eight live action movies spanning over three different film sagas. But, it shows how popular and enduring the character Batman has become. The fact that audiences are ready for another film starring Batman proves that the character has come a long way since his first modern film back in 1989. However, the question remains, how does the movie hold up after more the a quarter of a decade since its initial release?

Before we get started, it’s imperative to understand that before Batman the popular consciousness and understanding of the character was not good. Adam West’s TV series was popular, but pigeonholed the character of Batman to a campier, goofier outlook. As opposed to the dark, brooding crusader Bill Finger and Bob Kane envisioned Bruce Wayne as. So, instead of a crime fighter using the shadows of the night to hunt criminals, most people imagined Batman as a dancer.

Don’t stop the music, old chum.

However, the comics were starting to embrace a darker Batman again. The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke were some of the most popular comic books out at the time. Partially because of their bold story telling, but also because of the dark atmosphere they exuded. Filled with themes of violence, anger, redemption, and twisted visuals these books shocked the comic book world. So, Warner Bros. (who had recently bought the rights to a Batman film) decided that maybe they could make a darker movie. They hired Tim Burton, who was just hot off his first major success, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, to direct, along with screen writers Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren to write a script. The main plot of the story being the classic Batman meets the Joker story and conflict, with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker.

Now, personally, I love this movie, but I think that the film has a lot of problems with it in terms of story and the portrayal of certain characters. Now since I’m a pessimist, I’ll start with my issues with the movie and where I think it could have used some more work.

Oh God, it’s like that one Halloween when your Uncle drank too much and got into his ex wife’s maschera.

First and foremost, I know that most people like this portrayal of the Joker, but I think he is one of the most annoying villains ever created on film. Now before you all rush to the comment section to let me know exactly what kind of asshole I am, let me make something clear. There are some fantastic scenes with Jack Nicholson. His unwrapping at the underground surgeon’s office is great. His killing of the old crime boss is a fantastic reveal. And his last confrontation with Batman is enjoyable. My feelings about the Joker is that whoever plays him is supposed to balance out being funny while also being terrifying. Jack Nicholson is neither. He’s more like that guy you go out drinking with who tries to be really funny, but just comes off as awkward. Especially when he’s making fart noises, and bad puns.

It feels like Jack Nicholson is trying way too hard to be the funniest Joker possible. And it’s just kind of creepy, particularly when he’s after Vicki Vale. In fact his whole motivation toward the end of the film is just about Vicki Vale. It feels petty for a villain like the Joker to go after a woman basically because, she’s hot. The Joker is after better and bigger things than just a woman’s admiration.

Also my biggest complaint of the film comes from the plot is the big reveal, which is that Joker killed Batman’s parents. In terms of the film’s logic it makes sense, but for me it just cheapens the tragedy of Bruce Wayne. The idea that Wayne could never really solve his parent’s murder, or find the man who did it makes it all the more heart breaking. Having him find out that Joker killed his parents and then avenging them just sort of feels odd. Especially since, they didn’t have to reveal it at all, and the movie still would have worked fine.

Now, what do I love about this movie? Well, pretty much everything else. The cinematography is just spectacular, as well as the visual style. It really feels like watching a comic book. The tone and atmosphere are very specific; this comes from how each shot is set up, to the sets, to even the clothes the actors are wearing. There’s definitely a very timeless feel to the movie, which Burton manages to convey very well purely through the images. Many of which have worked their way into other properties: the pearls falling, the roses on crime alley, Batman spreading his cape, and Batman’s shadow.

Burton’s directing is definitely one of the strongest parts of the movie. He masters the art of showing, not telling. There are lots of scenes with very little dialogue, but a lot is said. One of the best examples of this is when Vicki Vale finds out Bruce Wayne is Batman. There are no overblown speeches about why Bruce Wayne does what he does. There are no long debates of analysis, it’s just two people talking, but so much is said about who these characters are.

The cast (apart from Nicholson) is fantastic. Every actor gives a unique and specific performance. Michael Gough’s Alfred is wise and sweet, Pat Hingle’s Jim Gordon is kind and authoritative, Kim Bassinger’s Vicki Vale is compassionate, but has limits. Even Billy Dee Williams did a great job as Harvey Dent, and he only had like eight lines to work with. In hindsight it would have been really interesting to see him become Two-Face.

On top of all that, Michael Keaton’s Batman is really well done. He manages to play the character with a lot of subtlety, but some how is still intimidating and menacing. The fact that you can’t really see this man dress in a bat costume and beat criminals makes it so brilliant. How he plays Bruce Wayne is very different to how he plays Batman. It’s especially funny now to hear how Ben Affleck has gotten so much flak from fans considering Keaton got it just as bad, if not worse. There were petitions against him playing Batman, because Keaton starred in a movie called Mr. Mom. And keep in mind, those petitions were before the Internet, so there were some really dedicated fans trying their hardest to make sure he was replaced.

That kind of backlash has happened for a while now. Ben Affleck is not the first case. But, luckily Keaton killed it, and hopefully Affleck will too.

So, with all that said, I highly recommend watching Batman. If you’ve never seen it definitely give it a watch, it’s a spectacular looking movie with good fight scenes and some damn good acting. If you have seen it give it another watch, it won’t disappoint. It’s available on DVD, iTunes, and Netflix.

So, what do you guys think of this movie? Am I underselling how great it is? Or is it overrated? Let us know in the comments below. Next time on “Road to Batman V. Superman” I review Christopher Reeve’s first Superman film. The movie that made audiences everywhere believe that a man can fly.

Nick Enquist
Nick Enquist
Nick Enquist writes opinion pieces and reviews of comic books, movies, and TV shows for Monkeys Fighting Robots.