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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: Sept 15: Batman


Sept 15: Batman

"The Dark Knight of Gotham City begins his war on crime with his first major enemy being the clownishly homicidal Joker."
Directed by: Tim Burton, Rated: PG-13, 126 minutes

Tim Burton's Batman is what turned me onto The Dark Knight. As a young kid, looking for the "ultimate superhero" to worship and idolize, I found so much awesome in Batman that I was immediately hooked. The suit, the gadgets, and the Batmobile gave me something I not only wanted to be a part of, but awesome toys to play with as well (and as a kid, toys are king). Then, just as I was getting into the movies, a glorious thing happened. Batman: The Animated Series premiered and I just about lost it. I couldn't get enough of Gotham's Finest and the obsession rolled in faster than a Batrang flying at a gang of criminals. Now, whenever I hear Danny Elfman's memorable Batman theme, I go back to my childhood and worship the Bat even more, tapping into my nostalgia for a quick fix. 

The movie also gave me the most memorable VHS cover of all time. Just the Bat Symbol- so simple. 

Burton's Batman skips the origin story for the hero (played by Michael Keaton) and focuses on his greatest nemesis, The Joker (Jack Nicholson). The film starts with Batman already doing what he does, but alludes to the fact that he's still a mysterious figure that's popped up in Gotham City. We then see Jack Napier, a professional criminal who's looking to move up in the underworld. After a chemical accident turns his skin white and leaves a permanent smile on his face, Napier takes on the persona of The Joker, a man hellbent on destroying Gotham and taking control of the city. Driven insane by his accident, the man will not stop at nothing to take over and stop the Batman from doing any more good for the city. As The Joker begins his takeover by contaminating the city's hygiene supplies (makeup, deodorant, hairspray, etc.), turning all those who use any products into grin-faced corpses, Batman must figure out a way to stop him, while juggling a love interest (Vicky Vale played by Kim Bassinger), who's a little too curious as to what's going on in the city. 

The Clown Prince finally portrayed as a homicidal freak. 

While I appreciate the film starting off after Bruce Wayne takes on the cowl, the semi-focus on the origin of The Joker is a little out of place. I know a part of it is faithful to the comics, but I don't see how a man falling into a vat of chemicals makes him bat-shit crazy and insane. I would have much preferred to see The Joker exist already, and simply bring his mischief and chaos to Gotham in full force. Luckily, even that smallest bit of disappointment is almost washed away immediately with Jack Nicholson's performance. He steals every scene he is in and seeing his trademark grin (stretched a little wider for the role) and hearing him laugh like a mad man never gets old. His gadgets are just as entertaining and the more comedic route he goes about the role makes his darker moments even creepier. Michael Keaton also does a terrific job as Bruce Wayne, even though I've never thought he fits the role physically. However, even then he's just not on screen as much as I remembered. There's just a lot more focus on The Joker and his story. 

Keaton's Bruce/Batman focuses much more on the gadgets than brute force. He's still a stud. 

While I could go on for days about the film, I'll wrap up saying that Batman really isn't as good as I remember it being. Maybe a part of that is having the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy fresh in my mind, or maybe that times have changed so much that a somewhat campy adaptation just doesn't do it anymore. I actually prefer the animated series over this film and feel the colorful villain and over-the-top style fits much better when hand-drawn. Batman will forever have a place in my heart and I will never downright hate the film, but I have to say it has not aged as well as I hoped. The pacing is a little weak (back to the focusing on The Joker issues) and the entire film looks like it's on one giant sound stage. To argue that, however, one could say that it's a faithful adaptation to the comics, which I agree on, but I guess these days I'm just looking for a bit more from my superheroes, even if it's Batman. 

The Good:
seeing Batman in a live-action movie and realizing how much the film did for the hero and comic book adaptations as a whole (and of course, Nicholson)
The Bad:
too much camp in a post-camp world, feeling more out of place today than anything else
The Ugly:
realizing the film isn't as great as I remembered, with plenty of flaws that I now see as a more "experienced" movie-watcher

Overall: 7.8/10


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At September 16, 2012 at 9:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's always dangerous to revisit an old favorite after you've become more film-savvy. :) But it sounds like this one held up pretty well as a fun movie.

At September 16, 2012 at 10:19 AM , Blogger Nick said...

Yes, it has. But it's still a little sad that it's not as epic as I remember.

At September 16, 2012 at 2:12 PM , Blogger Mavi said...

has the worst chin to play batman.... but he was my favorite....

At September 16, 2012 at 2:34 PM , Blogger Nick said...

Haha. Very true about the chin.

At September 16, 2012 at 5:24 PM , Blogger Richard Kirkham said...

You may have heard the story that Jack Nicholson told Michael Keaton between takes, "Let the suit do the acting kid."

When this movie was coming, the idea of a "Batman" film seemed like a stretch. I saw a survey in the LA Times, just before it came out, where brand names were evaluated for their marketability and audience "want to see", and Batman was not near the top. Most people at the time only had the old Adam West TV show in their heads. However, the trailer was a sensation in the days before the internet. People went to see films just to get a look at the trailer that everyone was talking about. (I actually saw it with "Beaches", yes I admit, I went and saw "Beaches".)

The movie has holes in it, and there are pacing problems, and there are story elements that just don't make much sense. All that said, it looked incredible, Jack chewed the scenery like no one's business and it made money like almost nothing before it. The Midnight screening was packed, people were bouncing beach balls and doing the wave in our theater of about 1200. Those were the days my friend. Have you saved any of the McDonald's toys, or the bubble gum cards or anything else other than that VHS? They are too fun to throw out or put on ebay.

At September 16, 2012 at 7:17 PM , Blogger TheVern said...

Nick Your enthusiasm for the animated series made me want to check that out right away. I have only seen a few episodes

At September 16, 2012 at 9:21 PM , Blogger Nick said...

I probably have something hiding somewhere but I do remember having a lot of little things. I really wish I was around for the premiere, just to feel that initial superhero hype and see something like this before anything else.

At September 16, 2012 at 9:24 PM , Blogger Nick said...

Get on it friendo!

At September 18, 2012 at 9:46 AM , Blogger Sati. said...

I think it was the studio that put presure on Burton to feature The Joker so prominently, still it works for me as I find Keaton's Batman to be dull. Burton films are definetly unique and they are so much, but I must say I'll take The Animated Series over first Batman movie any day :)

At September 18, 2012 at 9:49 AM , Blogger Nick said...

Atta girl! haha. But I could understand the mandatory focus on the Joker, especially with the paycheck Nicholson had coming in.

At September 18, 2012 at 5:21 PM , Blogger MT said...

Great review my friend. I have to admit, I still prefer this movie as the Batman movie to watch, but then again - your review has made me realize that probably has more to do with nostalgia than anything else.

At September 18, 2012 at 7:07 PM , Blogger Nick said...

Yeah.. that's the strongest reason why I gave it the score I did as it will always mean something to me.


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