Reviews: Batman

89 Movie

I've decided to review each of the 'modern' Batman movies, starting with the Tim Burton legend.

The film opens with one of the best themes of all time, a Danny Elfman masterpiece that would make the movie good by itself even if everything else was terrible. Thankfully, we are treated to a unique treat of the sort only Tim Butron could deliver.

The film is beautifully shot and well acted. The writing of so many scenes is just incredible. But it is the look of Batman that stands out. Burton has a mind like no other, and when he is on his game, his movies are moving works of art.

But Burton's weaknesses shine through as much as his strengths. While is is, as mentioned, an artist with a great visual flare, he is not known for his movies having good plots. At first glance one may wonder what the problem is. It's good vs evil. Batman vs the Joker. That's a plot in and of itself.

No, it is not a plot in and of itself. All we know of Bruce Wayne is that he is a recluse who hasn't got over his parents' death and is beating up and even killing criminals at night. There is no attempt to explore his character or give him proper motivation for his crusade. With the Joker, as well, we are given both too much and too little. Jack Nicholson does a good job, but besides for being too old for the role his performance is hampered by the fact that the movie makes the Joker too human. By showing as much of the Joker's backstory and making his first act as the Joker one of revenge it makes him human enough that I cannot help but ask why he is doing what he is doing, a question that does not need to be asked of other versions of the Joker. With neither side having their actions or motivations explored almost at all there is only a series of events, not an actual plot.

There are two hackneyed attempts to make a plot with the fight over the boring Vicky Vale and the revelation that Joker killed Bruce Wayne's parents. Both are terribly forced. I guess because Batman is a sociopath dropping Joker into the acid would not make him feel guilty and make the conflict personal.

Yes. Batman is a sociopath, waiting until after crimes are commited to punish the criminals and even killing many in cold blood. The character dresses like Batman, but he isn't Batman. In a movie with the name 'Batman,' that is very unfortunate.

A Pretty, Well-Acted, Dumb, Plotless, Mean-spirited Mess, Set to Nice Music.

...Wow, with that title, do I really need to write the review?

Tim Burton's Batman is a well-shot movie with great, gothic art design, smart lighting and editing, and plenty of visual style. It has a rightly-famous score whose main theme has been synonymous with the character for more than a quarter of a century.

And, with that out of the way... I hate this movie.

Yes, part of it is that I'm a Batman fan, and watching Batman use guns to kill people who aren't even criminals before blowing up a building full of other non-criminals sets off my knee-jerk fanboy rage. But it's hardly the only problem with the movie, guys!

Jack Nicholson, following Brando's example, cut what has since become a legendary deal with the production team to play the Joker, and it's apparent they put getting their money's worth out of him at a priority over telling a coherent story or creating a compelling protagonist. I don't mean to imply he isn't sometimes entertaining to watch (even if too much of a good thing is definitely too much), but this is more his film than Batman's. He gets the origin story, the character arc, the lion's share of the screentime. Hell, he's artificially injected into Batman's backstory just to further emphasize his role as the focus of the story.

Batman himself gets the shaft. Keaton turns in a very strong performance, but that's the most that can be said for it. He always seems restrained by the suit, and he gets only a token amount of explanation or examination from a script that clearly regards him as the least interesting thing in his own movie.

Plot-wise, there's frankly little to talk about. It's more a series of vignettes than a coherent narrative. If it attempted to ape a serialized comic format, it is just a failed experiment, but comments by the director indicate otherwise.

Tonally, this movie has no idea what it wants. Dark, violent content coexists alongside the most blatant sort of Silver Age lunacy. And the fight scenes aren't great. Poor Keaton is clearly trying, but the suit keeps him from moving well, and his opponents jump out of Clown Henchman Spawn Points, with no sense of escalation or impact to their defeats.

If you just want to stare at pretty pictures and listen to pretty music, fine. But the movie that comes with them is just not very good, and only sometimes entertaining.

...Alright, that scene where the Joker shoots down the Batplane with a comically-long gun was pretty great.