There is so much that the 1989 Batman gets right that in a glut of quarterly-released comic book-related movies it almost seems dated and quaint.
I guess I have a couple of nitpicks like the fact that the city scenes occupy the same city block throughout the movie: Monarch Theatre, City Hall, a storefront simply titled "Hotel", the Museum...all occupy the space of a high school track. Axis Chemicals isn't far away. Neither is the Cathedral.
Also, Batman gets ready to tell Vicki Vale that he's Batman because of a single date and a shared special something. It's like the plot of Sixteen Candles.
But that's really it. It gets so much right and it's so cool. How this movie stays so cool after almost 30 years can only be explained by one of two things: 1) it's enduring value in establishing rarely surpassed norms or 2) the almost shameful sheen I've let accumulate on anything that I connected to as a child that keeps edging out anything that could possibly take its place and viciously confirms my own hardened pre-critical aesthetic.
Or it might be a little bit of both. I don't know. but if I were to apply a little bit of criticism it'd be this:
-it strikes a real balance between Tim Burton's eccentricities, fan service and embodying the guts of practically ancient characters while still establishing itself as its own thing. That's a hard thing to accomplish but here it is almost 30 years later and it's a benchmark.
-Jack Nicholson can't help being Jack Nicholson in any movie he's in. The Shining and Chinatown are more Jack Nicholson in a costume that him hiding behind a character. But here it's a real meld. The Joker becomes Jack Nicholson.
-I didn't realize how much of a hill Michael Keaton had to climb in being a comedian being cast as a superhero (especially after the precedent set by Christopher Reeves) until much later in life but he pulled it off. He's strangely the most grounded character. Alfred, Comissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, Eckhart, and all of the zoot-suited henchmen from the beginning of the movie are cigar-chomping over-actors out of a Howard Hawks movie. But man does he bring it down to earth, even when he's wearing the big rubber suit.
-The Joker brings a terrifying sadism to his crimes. There are moments when it becomes scary because it starts hopping into reality. Yesterday was the first time in 28 years that I noticed that his Smilex compound came from a shelved military nerve gas experiment. I used to think the photos he cut up were just out of enjoyment. But those photos were of something horrifically real being reappropriated for his own homicidal art project. The Joker is a mix of an inborn, independent, free-flowing evil and mankind's collective capacity for evil: weaponry, chemical manipulation, creating a market for passively-observed destructive art. Again, these themes emerge naturally in the way Jack Nicholson absorbs and amalgamates those themes.
- Any film (superhero or otherwise) that deals with big themes and big relationships will suffer from the compression of time that any two hour film has to accept in order to be marketable. In a movie like this, different factors compete to reconcile with believability. Big clown balloons and cigar-chomping want to play up the kitsch. A pilgrimage to a tragic past and dinner in the kitchen want to keep things relatable.
Netflix's Daredevil was a good example of how longform storytelling can make an honest attempt to make these kind of stories a little more relatable. Criticisms aside there, it's able to achieve more realistic human relationship development than 2008's The Dark Knight possibly could. That movie's great and all but watching the effect that Bruce Wayne's relationship to Rachel had on him in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises is simply unrealistic. A couple of hours would've afforded the opportunity to see that relationship as something more than a really sweet crush on a childhood friend that ended tragically.
-The 1989 Batman changed my life.