Gotham City. Crime boss Carl Grissom effectively runs the town but there's a new crime fighter in town - Batman. Grissom's right-hand man is Jack Napier, a brutal man who is not entirely sane... After falling out between the two Grissom has Napier set up with the Police and Napier falls to his apparent death in a vat of chemicals. However, he soon reappears as The Joker and starts a reign of terror in Gotham City. Meanwhile, reporter Vicki Vale is in the city to do an article on Batman. She soon starts a relationship with Batman's everyday persona, billionaire Bruce Wayne.
Directed by: Tim Burton
. Starring: Michael Keaton
, Jack Nicholson
, Kim Basinger
, Robert Wuhl
, Pat Hingle
, Billy Dee Williams
, Michael Gough
, Jack Palance
, Jerry Hall
, Tracey Walter
, Lee Wallace
, William Hootkins
, Richard Strange
. Music by: Danny Elfman
What a surprise this was! I've watched Batman a number of times over the years--enough to be able to remember quite a few lines of dialogue, which is unusual for me--and I can't remember watching it before and thinking that it was anything less than a 9 or 10. Last night, however, I was very disappointed with the film. I don't know if I just wasn't in the mood for it, or if my critical eye has changed, but I feel even generous giving the film a 7 this time around. It's loaded with problems.
Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren's storyscreenplay cleverly takes us back to the days when Batman was just getting started in Gotham City--he was best known to criminals, but primarily as a myth. Those who believed the myth, at least a bit, were unsure what to think--it was unclear whether the "Bat Man" was out to hurt or help people. A reporter for the big Gotham daily newspaper, Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), believes the myths and continues to print stories about alleged sightings, to the ridicule of his fellow reporters. At the same time, we delve into a story about Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), a questionably insane head henchman for Gotham's complicated underworld network, which involves not only big baddies, like Grissom (Jack Palance), but the police as well. We also get to know Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), whom visiting photojournalist Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger) is quickly falling in love with. Eventually all these threads and the Batman "myth", plus the birth of stock Batman villain, The Joker, collide. Director Tim Burton takes his time putting them together--getting to the superhero identities are "big turning points" as mini-climaxes, despite the fact that by now, even those who have not seen the film know who the superheroes are in their more mundane guises, as well which actors play them here.
Since my critical surprise this time around is going to result in me mostly complaining about the film, let me mention the things I like about it first. As I implied above, I think that starting Batman at this early stage of his Gotham City crime-fighting career was a good idea. I'm not quite sure that taking so long to get into the identities of Batman and the Joker was a good idea, since Batman was already such a pop culture phenomenon by the time this film rolled, and the publicity machine is so high when you have stars of this caliber involved that there was little mystery about who the Joker was going to be. Burton spends way too much time fudging around before he gets to the meat of the film--the "big reveals" feel more like drawn-out ritual. But wait, I'm supposed to be talking about what I like.
Gotham City is a sometimes-amusing satire of the common perception of New York City, and big cities in general. Well, it's mostly amusing at the start of the film, when our token victim family tries to make it back to a "safe" part of the city, or the part they know, and they have to work their way through a sea of hookers and hoods to get there. Of course, they do not make it before they're brutally mugged. Big cities aren't really like that, but people who are afraid of big cities believe that they are. After this good opener, Burton mostly forgets about this particular satire mode.
I also like the production design a lot. Gotham City is part New York City, part Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), and part giant factory, or the inside of a giant machine. The costumes, gadgets, makeup and so on are all fantastic. I think that Jack Palance's performance is great, although he's not in the film nearly enough. There are also a couple times when Burton's Gothic sensibilities worked for the film.
There are also a few mixed blessings. The first is that Burton references a number of other films in an unusual way. There are scenes taken from sources as diverse as Star Wars (1977) and Vertigo (1958). While I also like Star Wars, Vertigo and many of the other source films, I don't quite get what they're doing here as such blatant lifts. Maybe Burton intended the film as a spoof, but that reading doesn't quite work. This is much more serious than the real Batman spoof, the 1966 -' 68 Adam West television series, and the lifted scenes do not play like spoofs.
I'm a big Jack Nicholson fan, and I occasionally like Michael Keaton. But Nicholson this over-the-top might not be a good idea. As an actor, Nicholson tends to be over the top in other films even when he's trying not to be. That's part of what I love about him. And Keaton is appropriately moody, but oddly pouty at the same time. I kept waiting for a scene of him blow-drying his hair before heading off to a disco.
The biggest flaw, though, is that Burton's pacingtiming seems oddly off. Scenes drag on far too long, as do sections of the film. Lines are delivered at bizarre times in relation to other character's lines and actions (listen to Basinger's scream when the "fake gun" goes off at the end, for example), but Burton seems to not notice. There are also a lot of non-sequiturs in the script, both in individual lines of dialogue and overall, in the "logic" of many scenes and sequences. Fight scenes are neither blocked nor filmed well. Worse, two key performances--Wuhl and Basinger--are horrible (and Basinger must have troubles with high heels, by the way; they kept working excuses for her to take off her shoes into the script). Given the combination of the wonky pacingtiming, the non-sequiturs, and the bad performances, much of the film is lackluster at best, and annoying at worst.
Review by Brandt Sponseller from the Internet Movie Database.