Release DateJune 23, 1989
StudioWarner Bros.
DirectorTim Burton
CastMichael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Jack Nicholson

There was a time in my life when I didn’t like superhero movies. I felt they were all the same, and they didn’t appeal to me. In recent years, I have completely changed my tune with all the great Marvel movies that have been released. This led to me wanting to go back and watch a lot of the movies that I’ve missed over the years. One of the ones that have constantly come up is Batman from 1989. I was born in 1989, and I never watched this one growing up, so I was curious to see if it was quite as good as people have said it was over the years. This is, after all, a character that has been interpreted in many different ways. Certain elements of this film haven’t stood up to the test of time, but I consider it one of the all-time classic superhero movies after sitting down to watch it.

The basic plot is that Gotham is a city plagued by corruption and organized crime. Bruce Wayne (played by Michael Keaton) pledges to rid the streets of said crime as Batman after witnessing his parents’ murder in his youth. It’s the classic Batman origin story we’ve all heard before at this point. This movie dives a bit more into Bruce’s personal life as he meets Vicki Vale (played by Kim Basinger). Vicki is a photojournalist who becomes interested in Bruce personally and Batman professionally. This creates an interesting dynamic as Bruce has to juggle both personas without giving himself away to Vicki. That ends up being a subplot of the movie as Batman still has to contend with The Joker (played by Jack Nicholson), who is hellbent on destroying Gotham City.

Batman (1989) Review
Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne in Wayne Manor.

I wondered how much I would enjoy Michael Keaton in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman because I thought he felt kind of out of place. Those thoughts proved senseless as Keaton brings a nice balance to the character I didn’t expect to see. Keaton plays a Bruce Wayne that’s almost embarrassed by the role he has to play. He comes across as nervous and awkward at times. You get the sense that Bruce doesn’t want to keep this secret that he’s been hiding, but he has to protect the city. Keaton does an equally admirable job playing Batman when he had no other actor to play off of when filling the role. It’s impressive how well he nailed the conflict in the character. His stoic mannerisms as The Caped Crusader were perfectly portrayed.

Jack Nicholson was my favorite part of the film. He played a Joker that evolved so much throughout the movie in such a fascinating way. He starts out the movie as Jack Napier, who is a sociopathic mob member. He is sent to retrieve evidence by his boss Carl Grissom which ends up being a ruse to have Napier murdered for sleeping with his mistress conducted by a corrupt police lieutenant Max Eckhardt in an unauthorized police operation. Napier falls into a vat of chemicals after a battle with Batman on a catwalk, and The Joker is born. Nicholson has an incredible performance providing that eccentric ruthlessness that this character is synonymous with. He does things like poisoning the food supply in the city and defacing artwork at a museum. His line, “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” is iconically delivered a few times in the film, and it always evokes a sense of danger in a way that you almost hold your breath.

As good as this film is, it does show its age in a few different aspects. The special effects aren’t very good, especially in the movie’s climax, where I had to laugh a little bit. It looked like clip art of The Joker. The fight scenes are also rather forgettable. I don’t think the action sequences hold up well at all in this movie. I can’t fault it for being held back by the limitations of the period, but those things are very noticeable today, especially if you’re watching it on a high-quality TV. There wasn’t a lot of Batman in this movie at all. The focus was more on Vicki and Bruce’s relationship and the evolution of The Joker character. I think that worked out very well for this movie which turned out to be more of a 4-movie series. We were able to get more character development for Bruce himself before diving fully into Batman as a character in subsequent films.

This film is one of my favorites. This portrayal of the character paved the way for the actors that came after and gave us a much more serious version of all of the characters than the last movie in 1966. It was cool to see the Batwing and Batmobile in the form they took in this film (which are still some of my favorite versions of those vehicles). If you haven’t gone back to watch this one, I highly recommend it.

Fantastic character developmentBad special effects
Great story


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