July 18, 1989

Batman (Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson)

In 1989, Batman was just becoming cool again, on the verge of fully recovering from the humiliation the character endured at the hands of the 1960s TV show. Warner Bros was canny to hire quirky filmmaker Tim Burton to helm their character reboot (of course, they didn't call them "reboots" back then ;-) In 1989 Burton was the director of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, so he may not have seemed to be a perfect choice, but he brought a gritty sensibility and a dark tone to the film, miles away from the comic book primary colors and overlit sets of the TV show. Sam Hamm & Warren Skaaren's screenplay, plus Anton Furst's production design, owed a big debt to the look and feel of Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. The casting of Michael Keaton guaranteed a Batman heavy on brooding but light on muscle. Ironically, Adam West had a better body for Batman than Keaton, but Keaton had the right attitude.
Keaton turned the character to his advantage: He played up the "Scarlet Pimpernel" angle of Bruce Wayne. Wayne comes across as a wealthy, bumbling flake, completely snowing the reporter and photographer (Robert Wuhl and Kim Basinger) on Batman's trail. The costume helped mask his flabby physique, but in retrospect, he does seem like a librarian Batman after you see Christian Bale with his shirt off in Batman Begins. In 2010, I watched a documentary on Batman, and Michael Keaton defended his Bruce Wayne: he rationalizes that no criminal would ever fear his average-looking Wayne, no matter how crazy-eyed he got. That's what the Batman persona is for. Ironically, Christian Bale's Wayne believed the same thing, even though he's at least three inches taller and much more badass.
Jack Nicholson fully embraces the Joker's homicidal mania, and the screenplay offers a Joker origin story which actually makes sense. I never understood how the Joker could become the leader of a criminal gang with no previous experience. In this case, he's already a high-powered Mob lieutenant with his own loyal soldiers when he gets dumped in the drink, betrayed by his boss (Jack Palance) over a woman (Jerry Hall). The origin of his gruesome smile (he gets shot in the face!) is a classic Burton touch.
THEATER NOTES: A great sold out opening night crowd. A packed house of energized fans is the best way to see a movie.
(Liberty Tree Mall, Danvers)

Stub Hubby & Batman