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Batman (1989)

by on 2011/01/30

Back in the deepest, darkest 80s, Batman fans howled in protest and made nooses of their utility belts when they found out that Michael Keaton was going to be Batman. Batman fans are complex, often tortured people, who I would never want to annoy.

Batman fans: Grushenka is your friend. Friend.

As I’ve said on the site before, in my humble opinion, Michael Keaton was a great Batman. He’s got none of movie-star conventional good looks and snide charisma of George Clooney (From Dusk Till Dawn), and none of the boiling emotionalism and rugged physicality of Christian Bale. Keaton was the wiry, agonized, neurotic Batman.

Therefore, Keaton’s my Batman.

Not so Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Jack is not my Joker. Watching this Batman now after seeing Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight (2008) is disorienting. Actually, this is an understatement.

Jack Nicholson’s Joker is to Heath Ledger’s Joker as Gargamel is to Kevin Spacey in Se7en (1995).

Nicholson is a walking, talking cartoon with all of the depth of an oil-slicked sidewalk puddle. I wrote this sentence after learning that Nicholson commanded a towering salary and a cut of the box office credits for Batman. I guess it could have been worse, I read that Robin Williams (Old Dogs) battled hard for the part.

Now to Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) – I think she deserves a Golden Globe for her hair in this movie. Kim Basinger has really, really transcendentally pretty hair, like a golden, shimmering waterfall, in this film. The scene where beret-wearing Vale – the intrepid reporter – sleuths out Bruce Wayne’s tragic past is very likely the loveliest Basinger has ever looked on film. While I’m not a huge fan of Basinger’s kittenish demeanor, her hair deserves our universal love.

Alfred (Michael Gough) is utterly, utterly charming as Bruce Wayne/Batman’s butler and surrogate (grand)father. The fact that Alfred liked Vicki made me like Basinger even more.

There is much to like and love in this Tim Burton film. It is, after all, a Tim Burton film. His works emit a frequency that attracts goths from miles around, driving them to supplication and worship.

It may sound crazy but my absolute, bar none, favourite thing about this film are the fake newscasts throughout. When it is revealed that the Joker has tainted personal hygiene products in Gotham, the plastic, pancake-makeup-covered newscasters devolve until we get to see their pimple-covered faces, chapped lips and frizzy hair.


By no means a perfect film, it is a darned good one with film noir and black comedic touches throughout. I prefer Batman Returns by a margin because it takes us even deeper in the shivery dark.

And so a toast with a big goblet of Axis Chemicals’ toxic goo and ear-to-ear grin for the quirky, black cartoon Batman (1989) and the king of the geeky goths, Mr. Burton.

* * * *

126 minutes

PG for Jack Nicholson, muggings and Vicki Vale and Bruce Wayne’s drunken hookup

  1. Andymovieman permalink

    keaton and nicholson were brilliant as the joker and batman. it was better than the dark knight. tim burton did a good job directing.

  2. Daniel permalink

    A great movie, a definitive cult classic that sat the standards for super-hero movies, long before Spider-Man & The Avengers.

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