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"Batman" (1989) Talkback (Spoilers)

Discussion in 'DC Live-Action Movies and Television' started by The Penguin, Jul 11, 2002.

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Rate "Batman"

  1. *****

    41 vote(s)
    34.7%
  2. ****1/2

    22 vote(s)
    18.6%
  3. ****

    26 vote(s)
    22.0%
  4. ***1/2

    12 vote(s)
    10.2%
  5. ***

    5 vote(s)
    4.2%
  6. **1/2

    4 vote(s)
    3.4%
  7. **

    2 vote(s)
    1.7%
  8. *1/2

    2 vote(s)
    1.7%
  9. *

    1 vote(s)
    0.8%
  10. 1/2

    3 vote(s)
    2.5%
  1. BonyT

    BonyT Sisyphus in Hell

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    Thanks for relocating this part of the discussion, YJ --- you're right, it does really belong here, because it had become more about '89 Batman.

    I think you're EXACTLY right about Burton -- that's what DB and I were disagreeing about in the other thread. To me, it's evident that Burton purposely sought to return his version of Batman to Kane's short-lived earliest Batman, who did kill with disquieting ease.

    I can see what you're saying about them making it a little less explicit that Batman is out-and-out executing the Joker; but I still say I don't see any evidence in that scene that Batman has a change of heart about his desire and explicitly-stated aim to kill Joker.



    You know, I still can't remember that scene. But then, it's been a looooong time since I watched Batman Returns. But yeah, that sure sounds like yet another example of Burton's Batman abandoning the Batman character's most defining moral imperative and having no compunctions whatsoever about deliberately, directly killing.
     
  2. Young Justice

    Young Justice Silent Master Apprentice

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    I didn't see him changing his heart either. But I didn't see he properly killing Joker either. I saw him trapping Joker's foot, preventing him to escape. This was an inconsistency of the movie.
     
  3. James Harvey

    James Harvey The World's Finest
    Staff Member Administrator Moderator Reporter

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    Batman (1989) hit the big-screen twenty years ago today, so there's no better time than now to revisit this modern-day classic. Whether you're a fan of the film or not, you can't argue the impact this film has had since it's debut in June 23rd, 1989. So, twenty years later, what are your thoughts on Batman?

    [​IMG]

    Batman
    Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
    Director: Tim Burton
    Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger
    Release Date: June 23rd, 1989

    Synopsis: Released in theaters in the summer of 1989, "Batman" featured the return of the Dark Knight to the silver screen for the first time since the television series from the 1960s and the feature film with the show's characters. Jack Nicholson starred as The Joker, Batman's most well-known villain, and Michael Keaton starred as Batman/Bruce Wayne for director Tim Burton. Kim Basinger played photojournalist Vickie Vale with Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox. Veteran actors Pat Hingle and Michael Gough joined the cast in their first outings as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred respectively. In his only Batman appearance, Billy Dee Williams portrayed District Attorney Harvey Dent.

    Talk about Batman here!

    Related Threads:
    -The Key Role of the Live-Action Batman Franchise in DC Animation
    -Twenty Years of Batman on the Big-Screen - Favorite Moments?
    -Batman (1989) Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman Returns Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman Forever Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman & Robin Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman Begins Feature Talkback (Spoilers)
    -The Dark Knight Feature Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman (1989): 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 DVD/Blu-ray Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman Begins DVD/Blu-ray Talkback (Spoilers)
    -The Dark Knight DVD/Blu-ray Talkback (Spoilers)
     
  4. Batman

    Batman Guest

    Such a great movie! Even though watching it now does not have the same effect as when I saw it as a kid in the theater it's still such a great movie! This is a movie that means alot to me and I'm glad that it means alot to others too!
     
  5. Hobbes829

    Hobbes829 The Bad Guy

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    every movie has it's flaws. however, this movie has a great timeless feel to it. Plus, as a side effect we got the great animated series from that.
     
  6. Michael24

    Michael24 Moderator
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    Wow! I can't believe this movie is twenty years old already. That just seems . . . shocking. (I was between 4th and 5th grade! :eek: I feel old now. LOL!)

    Still my favorite Batman movie. I think I'll watch it this evening to celebrate the anniversary. :)
     
  7. creativerealms

    creativerealms Active Member

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    Of course it does not, twenty years ago i was seven. To a Seven year old that was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Now i'm twenty seven and it's still a great movie but it's no longer the epic masterpiece my seven year old mind remembered.
     
  8. defunctzombie

    defunctzombie 1992 not 2002
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    This movie has got to be the leader of all the things I've double dipped. I had the tape, then the barebones, the sp.ed. anthology, and now the blu-ray.

    This one is one of my earliest moments. I used to be afraid to watch it when I was really little. It wasn't the actual movie that freaked me out, though. It was the WB logo at the beginning of the tape and the noise it made. :sweat:
     
  9. Knight

    Knight Emerald Knight

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    I remember when this movie came out I went to see it and loved it. I got the VHS tape of it the first day it came out when it was released and actually still have it.
     
  10. Palin Dromos

    Palin Dromos The Abyss Stares Back

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    Just re-watched this (needed a distraction from the shock of Micheal Jackson's passing).
    I find it interesting that the 2 most vivid memories from when I first saw the film in the theater are the opening credits; the camera crawling through the symbol, and the end push in on the Joker lying on (in) the sidewalk and the creepy postmortem laughter.
    I think these stick out to me because at the time they were such WTF moments. Before the symbol resolves itself at the start I had NO clue what we were looking at and on a full size movie screen the whole sequence kind of envelopes the theater. (DVD can't quite replicate that experience...or at least my 25-inch TV can't.)
    And the laughter at the end was so convincing the first time I heard it that I was sure that somehow the Joker had survived.

    I think those are a couple of examples of how revolutionary the film was at the time, in the way it played with expectations. Plus it's still a lot of fun 20 year later.
     
  11. LightSpeedBlast

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    Part of the best movies ever, this movie is what The BatMan Films should be like.
     
  12. DisneyBoy

    DisneyBoy Searchin' My Soul

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    I didn't realize I'd missed out on part of the Burton Batman discussion that we were having oh so many months ago.

    Interesting that Batman might have thrown Joker from the tower. Thinking about it, picturing it...I think I like it, and wish they'd filmed it both ways. The grappling hook demise really stank of "Okay folks...so we know we just spent a whole movie trying to scare you with both these characters, but DON'T WORRY Mommies and Daddies - see? Nobody's going to REALLY kill anybody. It's the hook! Silly mishap! Always remember to tie your shoelaces and look both ways before crossing the street!" Like Roy Disney came on-screen to smile at all the kids and reassure them.

    I think I still would have liked this Batman, if he'd done that. I might have especially loved this Batman if, immediately afterwards, when the music got romantic and quiet and Vikki rushed up to hug him - he'd thrown her off the top too, and then we just cut to music.

    I forgive a lot with these first two Batman movies, and it's not because of nostalgia weakening my need for respectful characterizations. There's something really deeply compelling here with these movies. You miss them, you watch them again, you feel the sparks flying around behind every shot, like the generator that inexplicably began twitching when Selina's nerve was tested by Bruce's final offer in BR. It's something else.

    I find it interesting that the 2 most vivid memories from when I first saw the film in the theater are the opening credits; the camera crawling through the symbol...Before the symbol resolves itself at the start I had NO clue what we were looking at and on a full size movie screen the whole sequence kind of envelopes the theater.

    Wish I could remember seeing that. I don't. Maybe I didn't, but yes, that opening is crazy good.

    and the end push in on the Joker lying on (in) the sidewalk and the creepy postmortem laughter....And the laughter at the end was so convincing the first time I heard it that I was sure that somehow the Joker had survived.

    I probably was also momentarily fooled, but the shot is so long it only takes maybe seven seconds to really get that it's a laugh track on a loop. What really gets me is Nicholson's face. He looked dead and creepy, like someone who wasn't treated right by an undertaker. His neck is puffy or something.

    I think those are a couple of examples of how revolutionary the film was at the time, in the way it played with expectations. Plus it's still a lot of fun 20 year later.

    There were glimmers there, between what Burton's mind was bringing in (a hero that's probably a lot darker than we're being allowed to see, music and makeup that really gets under your skin, and visual playfulness that pays off in a big way) and what DC/WB was demanding. An interesting film...one I really enjoy, but ultimately...BR wins, for me. Not that it's a contest.
     
  13. BonyT

    BonyT Sisyphus in Hell

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    Wow--that's quite a shift in your position since the last time we discussed this film, DB. But I think it's probably a wise shift indeed, because I don't think you can really grasp what Burton was trying to do with this film and with the Batman character if you don't come to grips with something Burton actually took some considerable pains to make crystal clear in the movie: that his Batman is indeed a killer (although you're probably right that Burton was somewhat hampered in making that as overt as he would've preferred by the powers that be at Warner). Now let me hasten to say, that statement is not intended as some kind of "shot" at Burton--because in fact he was deliberately hearkening back to very real roots of the character in that regard, namely back to Kane's original '39 Batman (who actually dispatched foes to "the big sleep" rather coolly and casually). ...Of course, one might take issue with whether or not that's the best there is to mine out of the Batman character; but that's another discussion altogether. The point is, you can't really appreciate Burton's film if you're not willing to accept the terms on which he presents it--including the fact that his Batman is really pretty comfortable with killing as part of what he does.
     
  14. DisneyBoy

    DisneyBoy Searchin' My Soul

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    You're right Bony...I guess my statements there do seem like a bit of a flip from our older chats. But in picturing him killing the Joker...it just seemed to work. I mean, his life was ruined by him, and he really has no reason to hold back. It's not like Vikki is some glowing light of redemption. If anything, him liking her seemed to complicate everything, to the point where he seems nowhere remotely like himself at her front door with flowers and glasses. He's really more like the Bruce he could have maybe been if things hadn't gone so wrong years and years earlier.

    Now let me hasten to say, that statement is not intended as some kind of "shot" at Burton--because in fact he was deliberately hearkening back to very real roots of the character in that regard, namely back to Kane's original '39 Batman (who actually dispatched foes to "the big sleep" rather coolly and casually). ...Of course, one might take issue with whether or not that's the best there is to mine out of the Batman character; but that's another discussion altogether. The point is, you can't really appreciate Burton's film if you're not willing to accept the terms on which he presents it--including the fact that his Batman is really pretty comfortable with killing as part of what he does.


    I think now I see that you're not slighting Burton for the killer portrayal (pun intended). I guess I can't help but feel a little defensive. I mean, it's not like I endorse killers - I don't. And Batman, in my eyes, shouldn't be a killer. But this is a Burton movie, and the really frustrating part about it is that there were other cooks in the kitchen sanitizing his efforts. The darkness that permeated Batman Returns was held back a little more here. Returns is my favorite of the two because Burton could go there. Not that I'm referring to the infamous Batman dynamite shot (though you have to kinda love that smirk, don't you?).

    *long sigh* Drat. I'm conflicted. I get myself, but I don't. Don't I want Batman to be some creature of virtue, at his heart? Maybe not in these movies. The animated series did that so well...I can handle Batman here being a little darker. It's really all about perception, and if you rob Batman of the possibility of being as sinister as he appears...in all his various incarnations...then you really just have cuddly teddy bear in pointy ears don't you?

    So run in fear, kiddies. This is a Bat who you can't predict.
     
  15. TheGunheart

    TheGunheart Darkness and Disgrace

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    You know, considering the Art Deco styling and black costume, I think it's safe to say that this is the pre-Comics Code Batman, so there's really no problem with him killing, if you think about it.

    I prefer the Nolan movies, myself, but I still think Burton's films were groundbreaking. Both in terms of its impact on superhero movies (even if its influence was thwarted by the studio's insistence on making things campier and more marketable), and for what it did for the aesthetics of the Batman mythos itself. I didn't realize he never had a grapple-gun before this film.
     
  16. BonyT

    BonyT Sisyphus in Hell

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    I agree ENTIRELY--that's one thing I've always said about this film: Having Joker be the Waynes' murderer made it absolutely inevitable that Batman would kill him at the end of the film. The prospect of an ongoing lifelong cycle of simply capturing the Joker and awaiting his inevitable escape so that it would all unfold again and again would be...unthinkable--utterly untenable under the circumstances and in the world Burton created. There's literally no other way the movie could possibly end but with Joker's corpse on the sidewalk.

    Oh I know that--have all along; and I hope nothing I've said in our various conversations about the movie(s) implied otherwise.

    Well, the first thing that has to be understood is that Burton was indeed doing something different with Batman; and as you've intimated, maybe his Batman has to be considered on its own--perhaps even entirely apart from what has come to most define the character, broadly speaking, over time--in order to be truly appreciated.
     
  17. DisneyBoy

    DisneyBoy Searchin' My Soul

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    I agree ENTIRELY--that's one thing I've always said about this film: Having Joker be the Waynes' murderer made it absolutely inevitable that Batman would kill him at the end of the film. The prospect of an ongoing lifelong cycle of simply capturing the Joker and awaiting his inevitable escape so that it would all unfold again and again would be...unthinkable--utterly untenable under the circumstances and in the world Burton created. There's literally no other way the movie could possibly end but with Joker's corpse on the sidewalk.

    And Batman killing Joker (and consequently losing Vikki, who would not be entering the limo at the film's end, but still winning the love of the city) would certainly put a whole new spin on that grim scowl on Bruce's face as he sits alone in the dark at the start of BR, wouldn't it?

    Oh I know that--have all along; and I hope nothing I've said in our various conversations about the movie(s) implied otherwise.

    Bony, I'm sure you weren't implying anything. I just wasn't understanding where I was coming from emotionally at the time. There was something in what I was saying that was contradictory, and you saw that...I just wasn't understanding it. So, I tip my hat to you sir for being so observant and wise, LOL. I don't want Batman to be a killer, but in this movie, I could see it fitting, and me still liking him. As Oprah would say, I've had an "aha!" moment.

    maybe his Batman has to be considered on its own--perhaps even entirely apart from what has come to most define the character, broadly speaking, over time--in order to be truly appreciated.

    Very nicely put. And it's true. I mean, I have no love or interest in The Dark Knight Returns...but without it, would we have had this Burton flick, or the animated series being able to paint the hero with the shades of black that make him most interesting? Perhaps not.

    Similarly, would Wonder Woman still be viewed as a loveable, caring, fun role model without Lynda Carter's 70s romps? Probably not. As it is, it seems todays writers are rebelling against that image still by perpetually playing up her warrior side (JL, NF, Simone's book). Carter may not have been the best Wonder Woman, but an important version of the character that doesn't really have to play by the rules of the other interpretations to be beloved.

    What an enlightening conversation this is! Only took us a couple of months to finish it :p

    I didn't realize he never had a grapple-gun before this film.

    ...! Neither did I. Was this really the first use of the grappling gun? What a big debut it got, with the close-up on Joker before firing to opposite ends of the room.

    Say...while we're talking about Batman wanting to kill Joker....oh wait. Mentally answered my own question. I was going to ask why he wouldn't just shoot Jack in the face right there in the museum, but obviously, he didn't realize Joker had killed his parents at the time.
     
  18. James Harvey

    James Harvey The World's Finest
    Staff Member Administrator Moderator Reporter

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    Celebrate the 25th anniversary of the iconic film Batman. Whether you're a fan of the film or not, you can't argue the impact this film has had since it's debut on June 23rd, 1989.

    [​IMG]

    Batman
    Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
    Director: Tim Burton
    Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger
    Release Date: June 23rd, 1989

    Synopsis: Released in theaters in the summer of 1989, Batman featured the return of the Dark Knight to the silver screen for the first time since the television series from the 1960s and the feature film with the show's characters. Jack Nicholson starred as The Joker, Batman's most well-known villain, and Michael Keaton starred as Batman/Bruce Wayne for director Tim Burton. Kim Basinger played photojournalist Vickie Vale with Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox. Veteran actors Pat Hingle and Michael Gough joined the cast in their first outings as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred respectively. In his only Batman appearance, Billy Dee Williams portrayed District Attorney Harvey Dent.

    So, what are your thoughts on Batman?

    Related Threads:
    -Batman (1989) Blu-ray Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman Returns Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman Forever Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman & Robin Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman Begins Feature Talkback (Spoilers)
    -The Dark Knight Feature Talkback (Spoilers)
    -The Dark Knight Rises Feature Talkback (Spoilers)
    -Batman: The Movie Talkback (Spoilers)
     
  19. Revelator

    Revelator In summary then: "Oh no."

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    I don't know if Batman (1989) is the best Batman film, but it's certainly the most fun and operatic. The film's scale deserves the overused adjective "epic." It manages to be "dark" and larger than life, and while pedants may carp at the deviations from the comics, they overlook that Burton has achieved the perfect comic tone--fantastical and grand, serious overall but not po-faced or full of itself, macabre and soaring. It's Batman as Bob Kane and Bill Finger first imagined the character in 1939, before Robin and family-friendliness neutered the character. Yes, Batman kills in this film. Yet he is still recognizable as Batman. Pedants don't realize that adaptation doesn't involve a checklist of traits that must be rigorously adhered to. Batman has survived so long precisely because he can be radically reworked, and the character remains recognizable even if every box isn't checked. The silly new cliche among some folks is that Batman is a good Tim Burton movie and a bad Batman movie. How wrong can you be? Batman is Tim Burton's vision of Batman, and it is every bit as alive, valid, and exciting as Bob Kane's, Neal Adam's, Dick Sprang's, Bruce Timm's, and anyone else you care to name.

    In honor of its 25th anniversary, here's what I consider the best review of Batman published at the time of its release. That honor belongs to Pauline Kael, who reviewed the film for The New Yorker back in '89 and accurately pinpointed the film's weakness (an underwritten script) and its many strengths, including the visual dazzle that makes it just as exciting to watch a quarter century later.

    ***

    Pauline Kael on Batman:

    In Batman, the movement of the camera gives us the sensation of swerving (by radar) through the sinister nighttime canyons of Gotham City. We move swiftly among the forbidding, thickly clustered skyscrapers and dart around the girders and pillars of their cavelike underpinnings. This is the brutal city where crime festers—a city of alleys, not avenues. In one of these alleys, Bruce Wayne as a child watched, helpless, as his parents were mugged and senselessly shot down. Now a grown man and fabulously wealthy, Bruce (Michael Keaton) patrols the city from the rooftops. He has developed his physical strength to the utmost, and, disguised in body armor, a cowl, and a wide-winged cape, and with the aid of a high-tech arsenal, he scales buildings and swoops down on thugs and mobsters—Batman.

    There's a primitive visual fascination in the idea of a princeling obsessed with vengeance who turns himself into a creature of the night, and the director, Tim Burton, has given the movie a look, a tone, an eerie intensity. Burton, who's thirty, has a macabre sensibility, with a cheerfulness that's infectious; his three films (Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice are the other two) get you laughing at your own fear of death.

    Seen straight on, the armored Batman is as stiff and strong-jawed as a Wagnerian hero. His cowl-mask has straight-up sides that end in erect ears; he gives the impression of standing at attention all the time. (He's on guard duty.) But something else is going on, too. The eye slits reveal only the lower part of his eyes—you perceive strange, hooded flickers of anger. When Batman is in motion, what you see can recall the movies, such as The Mark of Zorro and the 1930 mystery comedy The Bat Whispers, that the eighteen-year-old cartoonist Bob Kane had in mind when he concocted the comic-book hero, in 1939. Though the Tim Burton film is based on Kane's characters, it gets some of its funky, nihilistic charge from more recent "graphic novels" about Batman, like Frank Miller's 1986 The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's 1988 The Killing Joke. This powerfully glamorous new Batman, with sets angled and lighted like film noir, goes beyond pulp; it gallops into the cocky unknown.

    In the movie's absurdist vision, Batman's antagonist is the sniggering mobster Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), who turns into the leering madman the Joker. Clearly, Batman and the Joker are intended to represent good and evil counterparts, or, at least, twin freaks, locked together in combat; it was Jack Napier who made an orphan of Bruce Wayne, and it was Batman who dropped Jack into the vat of toxic chemicals that disfigured him. That's the basic plan. But last year's writers' strike started just as the movie was set to go into production, and the promising script, by Sam Hamm (it reads beautifully), never got its final shaping; the touching up that Warren Skaaren (and uncredited others) gave it didn't develop the characters or provide the turning points that were needed. With the young hipster Keaton and the aging hipster Nicholson cast opposite each other, we expect an unholy taunting camaraderie—or certainly some recognition on Batman's part that he and the Joker have a similarity. And we do get a tease now and then: when the two meet, their actions have the formality of Kabuki theatre. But the underwritten movie slides right over the central conflict: good and evil hardly know each other.

    At times, it's as if pages of the script had drifted away. The mob kingpin (Jack Palance, in a hearty, ripe performance) is toppled by Jack Napier, who moves to take control of the city, but we're not tipped to what new corruption he has in mind. We wait for the moment when the photo-journalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), who's in love with Bruce Wayne and is drawn to Batman, will learn they're the same person. She's just about to when the scene (it's in her apartment) is interrupted by the Joker, who barges in with his henchmen—we expect him to carry her away. The revelation of Batman's identity is suspended (we never get to see it), and the Joker trots off without his prize. After this double non-whammy, a little air seems to leak out of the movie. And it's full of these missed moments; the director just lets them go. Vicki and Bruce, dining together, are seated at opposite ends of an immense banquet table in a baronial hall in Wayne Manor; two thousand years of show business have prepared us for a zinging payoff—we feel almost deprived when we don't get it. Yet these underplayed scenes have a pleasing suggestiveness. The dinner scene, for example, shows us that Bruce is flexible, despite his attraction to armor. (He collects it.) And Vicki quickly realizes that the Bruce Wayne-Batman identity is less important than the question Is he married only to his Batman compulsion or is he willing to share his life with her?

    The movie has a dynamics of feeling; it has its own ache. Michael Keaton's poor-little-rich-boy hero is slightly dissociated, somewhat depressed, a fellow who can take his dream vehicle, the Batmobile, for granted. How do you play a guy who likes to go around in a bat costume? Keaton has thought out this fellow's hesitations, his peculiarity, his quietness. In some situations, the unarmed Bruce is once again a passive, helpless kid. (In a triste scene at night, he hangs by his ankles on gym equipment, rocking softly—trying to lull himself to sleep.) Keaton's Bruce-Batman is really the only human being in the movie; he gives it gravity and emotional coloring. This is a man whose mission has taken over his life. The plangent symphonic score, by Danny Elfman, might be the musical form of his thoughts; it's wonderfully morose superhero music.

    When Nicholson's Joker appears for the first time, the movie lights up like a pinball machine: the devil has arrived. (Nicholson is playing the role Keaton played in Beetlejuice.) The Joker is marvellously dandified—a fashion plate. The great bohemian chapeaus and the playing-card zoot suits, in purple, green, orange, and aqua, that Bob Ringwood has designed for him have a harlequin chic. They're very like the outfits the illustrator Brian Boland gave the character in The Killing Joke, and Nicholson struts in them like a homicidal minstrel, dancing to hurdy-gurdy songs by Prince—the Joker's theme music. But the grin carved into the Joker's face doesn't have the horror of the one on Conrad Veidt's face in the 1927 The Man Who Laughs (where Bob Kane acknowledges he took it from). Veidt played a man who never forgot his mutilation. Nicholson's Jack Napier is too garish to suffer from having been turned into a clown; the mutilation doesn't cripple him, it fulfills him. And so his wanting to get back at Batman is just crazy spite

    This may work for the kids in the audience, and the Joker's face stirs up a child's confused fear of—and delight in—clowns. (They're like kids made hideous and laughed at.) But possibly the Joker's comic-book dazzle diminishes the film's streak of morbid grandeur—-the streak that links this Batman to the reverbs that The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame set off in us. When the adversaries have their final, moonlight encounter, among the gargoyles on the bell tower of Gotham's crumbling, abandoned cathedral, they could be like the Phantom of the Opera split in two, but while there's pain in Keaton, there's no pain in Nicholson. The Joker may look a little like Olivier as the John Osborne vaudevillian, but he isn't human: he's all entertainer, a glinting-eyed cartoon—he's still springing gags after he's dead. This interpretation is too mechanical to be fully satisfying. And is Nicholson entertainer enough? He doesn't show the physical elegance and inventiveness we may hope for.

    The master flake Tim Burton understands what there is about Batman that captures the moviegoer's imagination. The picture doesn't give us any help on the question of why Bruce Wayne, in creating an alternate identity, picked a pointy-eared, satanic-looking varmint. (Was it simply to gain a sense of menace and to intimidate his prey?) But Burton uses the fluttering Batman enigmatically, playfully. He provides potent, elusive images that draw us in (and our minds do the rest). There may be no more romantic flight of imagination in modern movies than the drive that Vicki and Batman take, by Batmobile, rocketing through a magical forest. Yet though we're watching a gothic variation of the lonely-superhero theme, we're never allowed to forget our hero's human limitations. He's a touchingly comic fellow. When he's all dressed up in his bat drag, he still thinks it necessary to identify himself by saying, in a confidential tone, "I'm Batman."

    The movie's darkness is essential to its hold on us. The whole conception of Batman and Gotham City is a nighttime vision—a childlike fantasy of the big city that the muggers took over. The caped crusader who can find his way around in the miasmal dark is the only one who can root out the hoods. The good boy Batman has his shiny-toy weapons (the spiked gauntlets, the utility belt equipped with projectile launcher, even the magnificent Batwing fighter plane), but he's alone. The bad boys travel in packs: the Joker and his troupe of sociopaths break into the Flugelheim Museum, merrily slashing and defiling the paintings—the Joker sees himself as an artist of destruction.

    Batman and the Joker are fighting for the soul of the city that spawned them. We see what shape things are in right from the opening scenes. Gotham City, with its jumble of buildings shooting miles and miles up into the dirty skies, is the product of uncontrolled greed. Without sunshine or greenery, the buildings look like derelicts. This is New York City deliberately taken just one step beyond the present; it's the city as you imagine it when you're really down on it. It's Manhattan gone psycho. But even when you're down on it you can get into your punk fantasies about how swollen it is, how blighted and yet horribly alive.

    The designer, Anton Furst, seems to have got into that kind of jangled delight, putting together domes and spires, elongated tenements, a drab city hall with statues bowed down in despair, and streets and factories with the coalmine glow of the castles and battlements in Chimes at Midnight. Gotham City has something of the sculptural fascination of the retro-future cities in Blade Runner and Brazil—it's like Fritz Lang's Metropolis corroded and cankered. If H. G. Wells' Time Machine took you there, you'd want to escape back to the present. Still, you revel in this scary Fascistic playground: the camera crawls voluptuously over the concrete and the sewers, and the city excites you—it has belly-laugh wit.

    When Gotham City celebrates its two-hundredth birthday, the big parade balloons are filled with poison gas—an inspiration of the Joker's. (He rides on a float, jiggling to the music; his painted red grin has wing tips.) Paranoia and comic-book cheesiness don't defeat Tim Burton; he feels the kick in them—he likes their style. The cinematographer, Roger Pratt, brings theatrical artifice to just about every shot—a high gorgeousness, with purples and blacks that are like our dream of a terrific rock concert. The movie even has giant spotlights (and the Batsignal from the original comic books). This spectacle about an avenging angel trying to protect a city that's already an apocalyptic mess is an American variant of Wings of Desire. It has a poetic quality, but it moves pop fast. The masked man in the swirling, windblown cape has become the hero of a comic opera that's mean and anarchic and blissful. It has so many unpredictable spins that what's missing doesn't seem to matter much. The images sing.
     

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