In 1989, director Tim Burton brought the Dark Knight to the big screen like never before. As the first installment in the initial Warner Bros. live action film series, Batman ushered in a completely new era of superhero popularity. Batman went on to gross over $400 million worldwide, which, at the time, was the fifth highest grossing film ever. The Tim Burton-inspired film also was responsible for the successful launch of Batman: The Animated Series, and paved the way for subsequent DC Animated films. To honor the modernization of the superhero blockbuster, I'll offer a retrospective review of Tim Burton's Batman.
While preparing for Gotham City's bicentennial celebration, Commissioner Jim Gordon and District Attorney, Harvey Dent, increase the police activity around the city. Looming throughout the night, a masked vigilante known as Batman (Michael Keaton), targets the city's criminals, and strikes fear in the heart of Gotham's underbelly. Photojournalist, Vicki Vale (Kim Basingner), seeks to find out more information about the Caped Crusader. Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is second-in-command to a criminal mob organization within Gotham. After being hunted down by the Batman, Napier is accidentally knocked into a chemical waste at the Axis Chemicals plant, which severely disfigures him. Driven insane, Napier reinvents himself as "The Joker," and terrorizes Gotham City, leaving only the Batman to bring his reign to an end.
Batman has been noted to be inspired by Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. The tone of the film set the pace for many future iterations of Batman on-screen because of Tim Burton's more gritty and realistic approach. At the time, the film was criticized because it was considered too dark and violent. As we can see in the passing of time, what was considered dark and violent then has surely been surpassed in subsequent iterations of the Batman character. For instance, the newly released Arkham Knight video game is rated M for mature. This dark and violent take on the Caped Crusader proved to be a successful formula that is still being used over 25 years later.
One of the most notable features of Batman is the casting of the main characters. Michael Keaton, who received much criticism for being cast in the role, does a pretty good job at portraying the billionaire-by-day, vigilante-by-night. In my opinion, Keaton has more of a shining effort in the sequel, Batman Returns. Throughout the film, I'm much more interested in Keaton as Batman, rather than him as Bruce Wayne. Jack Nicholson, who played Batman's greatest adversary, The Joker, easily steals the show. Nicholson added a layer of darkness and depth to the crazed, murdering maniac. Sporting bright colors, ridiculous face paint and fatal gadgets, Nicholson's Joker has remained an iconic portrayal in the superhero film genre.
What I also find impressive about Batman is the art direction, production design, costumes and effects. Batman was, dare I say, ahead of its time. The film's style and design triumphs over the story and characters themselves, and was rightfully nominated for Academy Awards, and even winning the Oscar for Best Art Direction. The world that Tim Burton and his crew crafted was a much different Gotham than we had ever seen. It was violent, brutal and archaic. It really looks like the most rotten place anyone could live. This depiction does much to service the darker characters and the grittier tone of the film.
As I've re-wacthed Batman, I'm not too impressed by the script or story, but It can be said enough how much of a landmark this film is. More than anything, Batman was a cultural phenomenon. I mean, just look at the soundtrack. It has pop ballads from the legendary Prince. Batman revitalized a film genre that hadn't seen much success since Superman II. It certainly will be maintained as not only one of the greatest superhero films of all-time, but one of the truly great films of all-time. It's fresh take on Batman's mythos with impressive production and set design and larger than life characters paved the way to create the most successful live action comic book character ever.