'Batman' '89 beginning blogged

Cary Ashby
Jun 4, 2010

 

I decided I needed to put my money where my mouth is. Having become a recent advocate for critics (and fans) taking an open-minded look at a film they haven't seen in a while, I decided to do the same thing with "Batman" (PG-13, 1989).
 

I hadn't seen all of Tim Burton's film since I sold my VHS tape months ago. There's no excuse since my fellow Batfan David gave me the "Batman Movie Anthology: 1989-1997"!
 

Instead of doing a full-out review — and inspired by a similar tactic by my buddy Jett at www.batman-on-film.com, I decided to blog the first 30 minutes (the end of the Axis Chemicals scene). It was a treat to watch one of my (still) favorite films, which certainly still has its share of faults, with fresh eyes.
 

Here are my unadulterated thoughts — thank goodness for the "pause" button:

Opening credits: Whaddaya mean Nicholson gets top billing? "The Batman March" is perfect: mysterious, memorable and heroic — but music by Prince? Oh-KAY … Gotham City text: Gee, I'm glad they told me that; I thought this might be Metropolis. This is no place to be lost at night. No matter how many times I see this, I wish Tim Burton had made this family the Waynes and the mugger Joe Chill. I LOVE the silhouette of the Batman seen moving on the rooftop. I'll give it to Keaton — he nails the scary, grim Batman. But wait: He goes down after a couple gunshots. Redemption comes in the form of the Batman getting back up and taking care of business with these goons. "I'm not going to kill you" — the motto by which MY Batman lives. Judging from the trailer, Burton's Dark Knight has no problem using guns (unacceptable!) or body counts (even worse!). The Batman takes terror to the streets. "I want you to tell all your friends about me." Yes, indeed! "What are you?!" "I'm Batman." Game on! … and then the Batman disappears. Brilliant! I'm still torn on casting Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent. It was daring for Burton to cast a black man as a person who is white in the comics. In hindsight, I would have loved to see what Billy Dee would have done with Dent as Two-Face in the sequels. He has the right charisma to be an arrogant prosecutor. Jack the man looks in a dapper in a purple suit, playing with cards. Nice touches. "I didn't ask." Zing! You know Gotham is corrupt when even the reporters pay off cops to get a tip. "Sorry, Knox. These two guys slipped on a banana peel." vs. "I'm telling ya, man — a giant bat!" vs. "Don't be writing this stuff in your newspaper, Knox. It'll ruin your already useless reputation." Great timing, even better dialogue. Why is it the most corrupt cops in Gotham ("Batman," "Batman Begins") steal money, like snacks and have several days' worth of scruff? It's a shame Bob Kane couldn't have played the artist who hands Knox the picture of the literal bat-man. A missed opportunity for a classic cameo. One "dick" and a couple "S-words" — why? Why would a glamour girl like Vicki Vale be interested in the Batman myth? Jack Palance's raspy deliver is music to my ears. In any other movie, it would be overdone. Of course Jack Napier turns up the Joker card. A huge room capable of hosting hundreds of people gambling? Fancy digs, that Wayne Manor. Kim Basinger in white … hmmm. Too bad this Vicki Vale isn't a redhead. Bruce Wayne as a dippy airheard? Yuck! Keaton may be as bad for Bruce Wayne as I expected and said for years … Does this guy Knox ever stop working? And how did he get a ticket to the Wayne Charity Ball? I like Gordon's assertive "if there were (a Batman) we'd find him and arrest him" and Dent's reference to "ghouls and goblins." They add a nice touch to the entire mythical approach to the Batman. Oh, now Wayne remembers who he is … "Are you sure?" Nice job, Vicki! Keaton's doing a tough balancing act: He's observant because he knows Vicki's work extensively (enough to call it by name); distances himself from any talk of the Batman, but doesn't have enough common sense to know how many bottles of wine to order. I'm not sure what I think of this Bruce Wayne characterization. It's leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Knox is a suck-up … and obnoxious. But somehow likeable. Michael Gough's delivery of the "quite unexpectedly" addendum to the news of Gordon leaving the party is pure Alfred. Well done, my friend! Alfred will have his hands full since it appears Keaton makes the millionaire an unfocused airhead. So Wayne videotapes everything in Wayne Manor. Either he's the biggest sicko or very paranoid. Keaton looks good in glasses. It makes Wayne look studious. I still say the shootouts at Axis Chemicals look quite fake. It gives Burton's film too much of a B-movie feel. I don't get the feeling of any true danger to any gunmen. Very disappointing. The calvary arrives! Maybe Gordon can take charge. Oh yes; I love when he snaps the bullhorn away from Eckhart. That's the assertive Jim Gordon I know and love! Another B-movie moment is having Jack make the control board go crazy — and yet another bad gunfight. Why do these guys stand in direct fire? Danny Elfman's score is perfect for the Batman's arrival. I'm torn on the spear gun (it later was dubbed a grappling gun); it's a neat gadget but always looks too much like a handgun for my taste. Naturally, the media used that picture of the Batman holding it for countless stories. The Batman is one rough customer — he leaves the gangster hanging from the railing by his neck! I still dig seeing the Batman reappear from around the corner and whacking the thug with the back of his fist. Ouch! And how about the Batman taking that corner on the walkway by flinging his cape around? Sweet! Like a predator stalking his prey. "Nice outfit" — still one of my favorite lines. And is Keaton almost smiling? The Batman disappears. Perfect! Napier must be thinking, "Hey, where the heck did he go?" Damn, nice shot! He took out Eckhart from quite a distance. Don't mess with Napier in a gunfight. Ouch! So that's how the Joker's face gets mutilated … I'm still bothered by the scene when the Batman catches Napier's hand. Did he intentionally let go or did he lose his grip? I wish Burton had been more clear — but I guess that's the point. Keaton looks so awkward in the Batsuit at times, especially that half-step toward the exit. It looks a little too choreagraphed. And that head turn? How much does that get-up weigh? The image of the Batman ascending to the rafters amid the smoke is in instant classic — beautiful to this day … The Batman's silhouette in front of the Axis Chemicals sign is still my all-time favorite visual from this film. The fake-looking Joker hand coming out of the chemicals? Not so much. A little over done for my taste. Couldn't Burton have had the hand scratch at the side of the vat, clawing his way out? This one is a bit to much like "The Joker from the Green Lagoon." Again, another B-movie moment too many.