Thursday, August 13, 2009

Batman Twenty Years Later

Director Tim Burton's Batman (1989) is twenty years old if you can believe that. And while it has its flaws, one must acknowledge it for its revolutionary take on the superhero. The superhero movie was never this dark. Whereas Superman (1978) depicted an ideal America, Batman showed an American city, Gotham, teeming with corruption. It was a city overtaken by the powerful and it showed in Gotham's fascist architecture.

The casting was perfect. While Jack Nicholson was an obvious choice for Joker, it's the choice of Michael Keaton as Batman that's bold and brilliant. At first blush, one can be forgiven to have doubts that Keaton who starred in comedies Bettlejuice, and Night Shift could be Batman. But it was the intensity and his ability to show the need for this average but flawed man the need to wear a mask. (Batman Wikipedia Article)

One must give kudos to Warner Brothers for letting Burton depict Batman in such dark terms. And there must be credit given to graphic novels of the time, that established the dark visions of Batman. Those novels include the Killing Joke and Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Comparing Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and Batman, one need only to look how they both depict Gotham. Burton's Gotham is an ugly city with fascist overtures. Nolan wants a realistic approach. Both depict a city overrun with corruption. Jack Nicholson's Joker is more comedic whereas Heath Ledger gives his Joker a nihilistic take. Christian Bale as Batman in the Dark Knight and Micheal Keaton both give their Batman depictions as angry avengers protecting the city from crime. It's their depictions as Bruce Wayne that differs. Bale is a rich jerk as Wayne. Whereas Keaton is a man uncomfortable in his own skin. He cares about the people of Gotham. It remains unclear what direction Nolan will take the Wayne character.

Burton's Batman had problems, such as Kim Basinger's over the top screaming, uneven costume designs which made some of actors look like they just stepped out of Guys and Dolls and some silly dramatic choices such as the Joker bringing down Batman's plane with a big handgun. However, the film started the modern Batman film series. Without Batman, there's no Batman Begins and the brilliant Dark Knight. Batman still stands the test of time. The grade is "B."

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