This year marks the 30th anniversary of the caped crusaders’ second big-screen outing, after Adam West in 1969. Gone was the campy fun and faithful sidekick Robin, replaced by the grit and gloom that we have now come to expect from the DC films. However, there was no sign of the realism that would define the Christian Bale era; instead this Batman was dripping with comic book imagery, in what I believe to be his finest film to date. The characters, score, and sets, in my opinion, would not be this good until 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie… and I’d like to explain why.
This story serves mostly as an origin story for The Joker, portrayed with excellent insanity by Jack Nicholson. Here he starts as Jack Napier, a head of organised crime in Gotham, who after a heist gone wrong falls into a vat of ACE Chemicals, driving him to become unhinged. Nicholson seems as if he was born to play the role, prancing around with derangerd glee, yet still maintaining the wits to take over the Gotham City Government as well as pitting its people against The Batman. The role of Bruce Wayne this time around is played by Micheal Keaton, who broods as easily as he breaths. He isn’t introduced to us right away, lurking in the shadow until the 20 minute mark, as Batman would. Bruce is given a romantic interest in the form of reporter Vicki Vale, and a fatherly bond with his butler Alfred, which humanises him a lot. I get the feling that this Bruce Wayne could lead a perfectly normal life, whilst also being a nighttime vigilante who dresses like a bat. All of the characters here play off of each other naturally, but never does the film try to convince you that this could be real life. This is a comic book film through and through.
Gotham City is disgusting in all the right ways. It’s full of litter and smog and crime and you can feel that in every single frame. The foreground is all sets and miniatures but the backgrounds are all beautiful matte paintings which blend effortlessly. This comic aesthetic also applies to the costumes especially when it comes to The Joker. He sports a purple suit and hat combo while his henchmen bear shades and berets. The vehichles all look like they could be made into toys, which of course they would be, but in this setting they don’t seem the least bit ridiculous.
Then there is the score. I am not a huge fan of Danny Elfman’s work, I find it all sounds the same, but that is not the case here. His Batman theme is one of the most recognizable ever written, possibly second only to the 60s TV Theme, and would go on to be used in the Lego Batman games. It is performed by a full orchestra, but the brass section is really allowed to shine through. There is also a small sprinkling of carnival music played throughout the film, done in-universe with a boombox. Again, this all sounds slightly bizarre but for this film it really works and helps give the film a sense of uniqueness.
The script is phenomenol and is so quotable that instead of reviewing it I’m just going to print some lines from it.
“You wanna get nuts? C’mon, let’s get nuts”
“You ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight?”
“You…are my number one…guy”
and finally the often repeated but never improved “I’m Batman”
At this point in Batman reviews from other critics, you may receive a comparison to 2008’s The Dark Knight… but not here. Apart from both featuring The Joker and Batman, there are not nearly enough similarities to compare them fairly. In a time where superhero films seem to be aiming for realism over comic accuracy, it’s nice to return to a film that knows who its audience is. Comic book movies may be seen as “a trend” but Batman is forever.
Until Next Time…