Batman (1989) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some language, and sensuality
Running Time: 126 min.
Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
There is no denying that Tim Burton's Batman is a marvel of art and set design, and if nothing else, quite the piece of eye candy. However, while the storyline is functional enough to still be entertaining, his film has the appearance of not being a fully finished product, with a script that barely holds itself together, sizable holes in the logic of the plot and motivations of the characters, and continuity errors galore. If you're mesmerized by the sights and sounds enough, Batman does manage to maintain a semblance of a solid form for the first hour, before ultimately falling apart into utter ridiculousness long before the preposterous finale atop a large building with a bell-tower.
Like the comic of its origins, Batman is set in the bleak metropolis of Gotham City, where police corruption by the underground crime syndicate runs rampant, causing a costumed vigilante to stalk the streets scaring the piss out of thugs, all the while dressed as a bat. A couple of reporters attempt to cover the masked phenomenon and uncover who the bat-man is, but a new crime lord has emerged in the form of The Joker (Nicholson, Prizzi's Honor), a former syndicate henchman who was disfigured and discolored in an accidental run-in with Batman (Keaton, Beetlejuice) . The Joker loses the feeble hold he has on his sanity, and terrorizes the city of Gotham with only his arch-nemesis Batman out to stop him.
While many viewers will undoubtedly find Batman entertaining on a superficial level, when one actually tries to follow the plot, it can become a frustrating and eventually fruitless experience. Perhaps it would have helped if the film had any rules. For instance, the Joker has a parade with large gas-spewing floats. Batman counteracts with a Bat-plane which lo and behold contains just the right tool to grab and release the balloons. Then the Joker has just the right weapon to take down the Bat-plane, and so on.
Batman is more like a live action cartoon than a recreation of the comic book. It's all presented in a very over-the-top fashion, and with the exception of the fantastic look and sound of the film, it's quite astonishing people ate this up so readily at the box office and came back for more. I'm giving Batman a marginal recommendation simply because it's viscerally engaging and does deliver a certain level of entertainment, but it's still a disappointment that they dressed everyone up and gave them nowhere to go.
-- Followed by Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin.
©2000 Vince Leo