The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum

BATMAN (1989) ****

This big budget blockbuster based on the legendary DC Comic character should have been called The Joker, because that’s who gets all the screen time.  You won’t care though because as played by Jack Nicholson, he’s one of the greatest screen villains of all time.  It’s also one of Jack’s best performances and features more quotable dialogue (“Never rub another man’s rhubarb!”) than you can shake a stick at.  Michael Keaton is pretty good as the brooding Bruce Wayne/Batman, but it would take one more film for him to fully grow into the role.  Director Tim Burton brings a suitably darker tone to the movie than most people were comfortable with, and is wise enough to let Nicholson go gleefully over the top.  The film was heavily criticized for not focusing enough time on Bruce Wayne, but Burton’s purpose is to establish and build up the Batman mythos in the minds of the people (and more importantly the criminals) of Gotham City.  It takes a page from the comic, The Man Who Laughs and shows how gangster Jack Napier becomes The Joker, which parallels how Bruce Wayne evolved into Batman.  (Batman inadvertently drops Napier into a vat full of chemicals, turning him into a psychopathic clown faced killer.)  While The Joker terrorizes the city with tainted beauty products that turn people into grinning corpses, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne romances photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and tries to come to grips with telling her his secret identity.  

The film though really belongs to Nicholson.  He has numerous classic scenes, among my favorites:  The scene where he guns down crime boss Grissom (Jack Palance).  “Jack is dead my friend, you can call me Joker!”  The scene where he defaces works of art in a museum before Batman breaks it up.  “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”  And of course, his immortal line:  “Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”  We get also get the definitive version of the Batmoblie, as well as the badass Batwing, which Joker shoots out of the sky with his big ass pistol.  

The ten minute lead up to the final mano y mano confrontation between the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime was filmed in real time, which is a good idea, but it would have benefited by tighter editing.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers kill off Joker (“Sometimes I just kill myself!”), presumably only because Jack pocketed over $50 million dollars for his role and probably would have wanted double for a sequel.  Co-starring Michael Gough as Alfred, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent (later Two Face), Robert Wuhl, Jerry Hall, and Tracey Walter.  Danny Elfman provided the excellent score and Prince supplied a couple of snappy tunes.  Burton and Keaton teamed up the previous year on Beetlejuice.

Tags: action, b, batman movies, burton, comic book movie, jack

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