I am a Batman fan. For most of you reading this, that is not a revelation. I am excited for The Dark Knight Rises next month, and so I have convinced my wife to watch all of the previous Batman movies with me, starting with Tim Burton’s Batman. I thought it would be fun to write about the experience and to share along the way what it is about the Caped Crusader that so draws me to him.
Beware, it is about to get very nerdy.
My earliest memories with Batman were watching the Adam West version on TV. I think we had some episodes recorded on VHS. It was campy as hell (yes, I have heard eternal damnation is campy) but I did not know it at the time and enjoyed it. How was my little brain supposed to know how ridiculous exploding sharks or dehydrated world leaders were? I even had Batman pajamas.
Ironically, I do not remember reading too many Batman comics. That would come later in life.
What solidified my status as a Batman fanboy, though, began in the summer of 1989. It was the summer of the Bat. Tim Burton wrote and directed Batman. Michael Keaton (Mr. Mom and Multiplicity) starred. Batman was everywhere. I do not remember the exact details as to how I saw it. I assume my dad took me. Regardless, I saw it and it blew my socks clean off.
Sure, I was too young to understand some of the finer details of the plot. Or get all the jokes. I had no idea what an enema was. But it was Batman. And it was awesome. The Joker was terrifying. I remember wondering if such a murderous joy buzzer actually existed. His laugh stayed with me. I had to agree with him though, Batman did have wonderful toys. I wished our car had shields. The movie’s climax was thrilling as Batman and Joker fought at the dizzying heights of the old cathedral.
But what does 29-year-old Ryan think of all this?
Re-watching Batman with my wife was an interesting thing. It is hard to separate the nostalgia from the objectivity, but I will try. In the 23 years since the movie came out, I have read or watched many more Batman stories. I feel as though I better understand the core of the character. Batman gets a lot right, but it also gets a lot of stuff wrong.
The biggest transgression is how it deals with Batman’s Rule. Namely, Batman will not kill. Now, I am not sure when this particular character point became important, but it did, and it is. The best Batman stories push him to the brink, make him either question his Rule or force him to find another way. In Batman, it is never addressed. Heck, Batman blows up the Joker’s chemical plant with many of Joker’s goons inside. Not the Batman I know.
The movie also suffers from 80s syndrome. Mediocre Prince music shows up a few times, never adding to the movie, usually distracting from it. Here, take this gem. It is not in the movie, but it is from the soundtrack. Truly terrible.
Burton tried to give the movie an old school gangster vibe but let too much 80s wardrobe in, and the result is that it looks unintentionally silly at times.
So what did Batman do right? The comics coming out in the mid 80s were darker, more serious in tone, so this allowed Burton to follow suit and avoid a lot of the camp from the Adam West days. The set design is good. Gotham looks dark, dirty, crime ridden. As I mentioned before, the Joker was terrifying, but also strangely funny. Nicholson’s portrayal was pitch perfect. He was a mad man. A lunatic.
The movie is certainly not without its flaws as a Batman story, but I still enjoyed it. My inner seven year old still wondered how that joy buzzer worked and found himself waiting for the final showdown between clown and bat.