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Batman (1989 film)

The 1989 superhero film based on the DC Comics character and directed by Tim Burton.

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Surpassed by Bale and Nolan

  • May 15, 2009
  • by
When Tim Burton put out Batman in 1989, comic book fans and movie fans alike were pleased with this movie about the caped crusader. Coming in at 2 hours in length, this was the first "modern" comic book movie. Starkly different from the optimistic Superman movies of Christopher Reeves with its bright colors and undercurrents of patriotism and American greatness, Burton's Batman was more of a drama than a comic book come to life. Good and evil often fought it out at night, in hidden places, away from the press and public. And so Michael Keaton's Batman set the standard for comic book movies for over a decade until the early 2000's when the Spiderman and X-Men franchises began.

Then came Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins and Dark Knight. Now, comic-book movie fans were treated to the pleasure of two separate, distinctly different movies about the same conflict; Batman versus the Joker. Therefore, this review of Tim Burton's original Batman is written from the POV of a judge who has seen both Nolan's and Burton's creations and is deciding on the better one. I will flat out declare that The Dark Knight is a better movie in just about every respect when compared to Batman. Now here's why.

First of, Michael Keaton and Christian Bale portray the same character, but whereas Keaton's dialogue is stiff and stilting, Bale's is reflective, emotive, and more polished; in total a better representation of his character - a wealthy man with many secrets and too many experiences for a person of his age. This comparison is best illustrated in their respective scenes with their love interest; played by Kim Basinger and Maggie Gyllenhall. Keaton's dialogue with Basinger is terse, monotonous and ultimately melodramatic, and Basinger's character screams too much. Contrast this with Gyllenhall's portrayal of Rachel Dawes; a seasoned DA whose balance of personal and professional goals reflects the lives of many modern woman. The dialogue between Bale and Gyllenhall are serious, introspective, with tinges of melancholy, hope, longing and regret all rolled into one.

The soundtrack of this movie is another letdown; no main themes carry the movie. Instead, we have a series of quirky tones punctuated by a lot of silence. Contrast this with the Dark Knight which has several musical motifs that drive the suspense and action.

Probably the most vivid contrast between the movies is the emphasis on ethics, morals, straw-men scenarios, and conflicts of interest. Burton's Batman is essentially a comic-book adapted to the big screen, a simple story with some action, some comedy, but no morality plays undergirding it. Nolan's Dark Knight is the exact opposite; the entire movie is about individuals being put into situations that challenge their morals, ethics, and judgements. The Dark Knight is a drama set against the backdrop of a comic-book world, and does for comic-book movies what Traffic did for movies about the drug war; i.e. make them deadly serious. And this difference is driven by the Joker. In Burton's Batman, the Joker is essentially that, a guy who fools around with people's lives to rouse laughter either in himself or those around him. Ledger's Joker is an altogether different creature; his evil is purposeful and precise, with the intent to force people to make tough decisions. This is where the original Batman got overshadowed by the Dark Knight, the Joker's portrayal.

So all in all, Keaton's first Batman movie is good, but not great. Its worth the watch, especially to see the progression of how Hollywood has done comic-book movies.

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More Batman (1989 film) reviews
review by . December 12, 2010
Stephanie's Favourite Films: Batman      While some people may not agree with me, I think that this is the best Batman film. Granted, I love the Nolan films, and they are definitely their own creations, but this film just seems like the more traditional film, and sometimes, the traditional way is the best way to go. The joker overshadows batman a lot, and in some ways I don't like that, because in most of these cases, less is more. The casting is great, the story is …
review by . July 04, 2011
Since this is my first review of anything Batman-related, I should share my history with this superhero since he's such a huge part of American culture. From the early 90's up until around 2000 or so, I was actually a pretty big Batman fan. I loved this Batman and Batman Returns, along with the Batman Animated Series during my years of fandom. However, after the turn of the century, my interest in Batman steadily declined as I moved on to other interests (like anime and death metal), but …
review by . September 26, 2010
I was at the perfect age when Batman came out, 12, which was not so young that the movie was over my head and not quite old enough to start being jaded about adaptations.  More personally, I was also a year into collecting comics pretty heavily so I felt like I was at the forefront of the entire comic industry boom that literally blew up overnight after the release of this flick.  This film also marked another turning point in my life as it was what was bouncing around my head right before …
Quick Tip by . August 11, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
my second favorite batman movie next to the Dark Night. i liked the costumes a lot in this one.
Quick Tip by . July 21, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
For as much accolades that this still gets, without Jack Nicholson as the Joker, this movie strings together a few too many undeveloped stories. The wonderful toys and other production save it in other places.
Quick Tip by . August 11, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
When I see this on the Tim Burton poll, I want to sing "One of these things is not like the others...." It just seems out of place compared to the usual Tim Burton fare.
Quick Tip by . May 10, 2010
A medicore Batman movie is made into a great one with Jack Nicholson as the crazed Joker. Fun to look at otherwise.
review by . September 30, 2009
Jack is the Joker
The first major Batman movie was like a nuclear bomb's fallout in 89.  It didn't matter where you hid, it didn't matter where you go, Batman was going to get to you.      A dark direction, controversy in casting and a unique look add up to what becomes a real experience but one that isn't quite as great once you peel it's main appeal away, in one Jack Nicholson.      Jack Nicholson who walked away reportedly $70 million richer from ticket sales, …
Quick Tip by . September 29, 2009
Awesome blockbuster that 's a little too dingy and could have used had better story telling. Jack's Joker makes up for plenty shortcomings.
review by . October 27, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Havingly recently seen Christopher Nolan's spectacular "Batman Begins", I thought it was time to go back and re-visit Tim Burton's "Batman".     Tim Burton has long been one of my very favorite directors. With his taste for dark, humorous, wacky and often weird films, he was the perfect choice to direct "Batman".     Michael Keaton plays Bruce Wayne, who - shhh - is actually Batman. Keaton was an interesting choice for Wayne/Batman, and he gives a great performance. …
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Hi everyone, so here is the rundown of me. I like reading and writing, nonfiction for both. I love movies, especially original ones. I like nonfiction music, eating out, and basketball. I love to travel, … more
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About this movie


Thanks to the ambitious vision of director Tim Burton, the blockbuster hit of 1989 delivers the goods despite an occasionally spotty script, giving the caped crusader a thorough overhaul in keeping with the crime fighter's evolution in DC Comics. Michael Keaton strikes just the right mood as the brooding "Dark Knight" of Gotham City; Kim Basinger plays Gotham's intrepid reporter Vicki Vale; and Jack Nicholson goes wild as the maniacal and scene-stealing Joker, who plots a takeover of the city with his lethal Smilex gas. Triumphant Oscar-winning production design by the late Anton Furst turns Batman into a visual feast, and Burton brilliantly establishes a darkly mythic approach to Batman's legacy. Danny Elfman's now-classic score propels the action with bold, muscular verve.--Jeff Shannon
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Director: Tim Burton
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Release Date: June 23, 1989
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
DVD Release Date: February 10, 2009; May 19, 2009
Runtime: 126 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
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