After the catoonish lunacy of the Adam West 60's TV series which had the Dark Knight dancing, surfing, running to crime scenes ON FOOT and stroking his chin repeatedly speaking bat-nonsense and adding the word "bat" before any device, it was definitely time for something a little more, shall we say, edgy?
Not that the old series weren't fun: they were great! But as far as comic book heroes go, this one had more potential than the West series could ever produce. So who better to bring out the gothic weirdness and quirky theatrics of The Bat than Beetlejuice maestro Tim Burton?
Michael Keaton is the troubled caped crusader, an unlikely choice but one which proved to be surprisingly spot-on: he brings humour and likeability to a character which could easily be bland and "one-note". Of course, the real scene-stealer here is Jack Nicholson's devilish joker who prides himself on being the world's first "homicidal artist" by trashing a museum to the sounds of Prince's funky tunes, poisoning Gotham with giant balloons and, of course, spreading deadly make-up and hairsprays throughout the city. Jack's Joker has the manic, clownish, hyperactive silliness of the old TV series and a slimy, cruel, threatening quality (especially as Jack Napier) making him Batman's perfect polar-opposite. Nicholson steals the show effortlessly with an iconic performance that's still a lot of fun to this day.
Kim Basinger is love interest Vicki Vale...and the least developed character the film has to offer but she does a very decent job here, she's got one hell of a scream and she adds some well-needed emotional conflicts to Bruce Wayne's life.
Further excellent support is offered by a quietly terrific all-around cast: Michael Gough as Alfred, Jack Palance as Napier's slimy old mod boss, Robert Wuhl's cocky reporter, Billy Dee Williams' Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle's Gordon...this is probably the strongest supporting cast in any Batman film and it really makes Gotham feel like Gotham.
The film's style is an ingeneous blend of film noir, gothic visuals and playful 80's tunes: eclectic yes but it works a charm. Even Prince's soundtrack, which feels a bit dated in places, makes sense as The Joker's impish musical motif. The look of the film is dark, stylish and the whole thing is incredibly creative from Batman's ridiculously cool gadgets and vehicles to the heart-stopping action sequences. Danny Elfman's iconic score is also a highlight and not humming it after seeing the film is actually physically impossible.
With Batman, Burton not only reinvented the comic book character and paved the way for numerous sequels, the classic animated series and pretty much anything Batman-related post this 1989 flick but he also single-handedly redefined an entire subgenre as pretty much every superhero film or TV series after Batman tried to imitate Burton's film in one way or another.
Overall, is this the best Batman film to date? Debatable. Is it my favourite Bat film? Hm, it just loses out to Returns but it's a close second. Regardless, although a few effects or stunts here and there haven't dated particularly well this is one hell of a comic book flick and it's about as entertaining, cool and fun as that genre can get so if you STILL haven't seen it get your cape on and Bat-see it Bat-asap.