Runtime: 2 Hours
and 6 Minutes
I have watched this movie, literally, about a hundred times as, I
am sure, most people my age have. And it was only the last time I
saw it that I suddenly stopped and thought to myself: "Wait a
minute! If it takes the Joker and Batman ten minutes to climb that
damn cathedral, how could Joker's thugs already be up there waiting
for him?" I had seen it a hundred times and I was so enraptured
and spellbound by it each and every time that this crucial question,
a question that might have fatally hindered my enjoyment of a lesser
movie, did not even occur until now.
I think that is because "Batman" is good. Damn good. In
the field of superhero movies, this one stands on a high plateau above
all the others. It lacks the corniness of the Superman films and many
other movies. It has a richer visual world than any other superhero
movies and it has, above all else, better performances.
Jack Nicholson steals the show here. His character is, literally,
larger than life. He starts the movie as Jack Napier. Napier isn't
that good of a guy. He is sleeping with his crime boss's woman (Jerry
Hall, who is Mick Jagger's woman in reality, a fact that makes only
slightly more sense than her sleeping with Jack Palance: either one
of them is equally attractive). He is ruthless and one of the boss's
best men. But, alas, Palance knows of the dalliance and has Jack set
for a fall. Jack falls all right, right into a vat of caustic chemicals.
Jack survives, but is now stuck with a permanent grin and clown makeup.
Not to mention green hair.
The chemicals also have, obviously, done something to his brain. He
emerges from the vat as crazy as a loon. He no longer has much of
an interest in organized crime, though he does keep his men around
to carry out his bidding. Now he fancies himself something of an artist
of carnage. He sees each corpse as a work of art. Each massacre is
a masterpiece. He has turned, in his own words, into "the world's
first fully functioning homicidal artist". He doesn't care about
money. For him, murder and chaos are just fun.
Nicholson is truly awesome here. He takes this outrageous character
and tunnels into the humanity of him. His performance goes far beyond
the makeup job. He transforms himself into one of the sickest freaks
in cinema history in a performance that is definitely one-of-a-kind.
You've never met anyone like The Joker in a movie before. And that's
probably a good thing. In Nicholson's hands you understand, sort of,
why he is the way he is. You also have no idea what he is up to and
you are unsettled by the kinky gusto with which Jack plays this freak.
Michael Keaton plays Batman as a total opposite of the Joker. Where
The Joker is an extrovert, a kind of sick brat desperate for attention,
Bruce Wayne is just the opposite. He sinks into the persona of Batman
as a way of hiding from his own crummy childhood and as a way of making
the sort of people who killed his parents pay for their lifestyle
choice. Keaton is the grounding force of the movie, its center, and
he is superb. He is a good dramatic and comic actor who doesn't get
his due. The reason that most people thought he was weak in it is
because he was overshadowed by Jack's Joker. Hell, even the most magnetic
hero would be blown off the screen by the Joker. Mike is damn good
here: haunted and bruised and obsessed and fascinating. His work here
is subtle and understated. He seems like a man who is only beginning
to learn how to smile. A man who pushes KIM BASINGER(!!) away when
she gets too close. He needs to lighten up and he knows this, but
he can't quite bring himself to do it. He uses Batman as a way of
purging his demons and is now shocked to find that he is creating
even more of them.
I would also briefly like to note the performance of Michael Gough,
who adds dignity and class to this film with his majesterial presence
as Alfred. You can see Alfred pushing his master in a direction that
would lighten him up, and maybe help him out, and you can see Keaton
resist it at every turn. It's a very good relationship. Basinger is
basically eye candy here and has little to do but scream and get into
jams that Batman has to help her out of, but she is beautiful and
she delights the eye long enough so that you don't notice that she
really isn't doing anything to help herself out of her own jams, so
she does what she needs to do. She gets dragged around so much that
she should have a handle, but, hey, you expect that in a movie like
The production design is very good here. It establishes Gotham as
a rotting metropolis and a bleak place to live. It also establishes
it as a real place in our minds rather than a set, which is what it
should do. Burton's direction is very good. His macabre sensibilities
are perfectly suited to this story and serve it well. He also draws
tremendous work from his actors. The fight scenes are also well-choreographed
and distinctive, which is helpful. And Elfman's music. Wow. This is
one of the best scores I've heard in any movie. It underscores the
action and does such a good job that it's like a third lead actor.
It jumps off the screen at you. It's lush and beautiful and delightfully
bizarre (a waltz?) and excellent.
And as for those thugs. Well, they probably came in a helicopter.
Never mind the fact that the helicopter hadn't arrived yet. There
was.... another one. Yeah. That's it. Oh, just shut up and enjoy the
damn movie, would ya?