Batman: Tim Burton’s vision of Denim, Prince & Facial Distortion
In preparation of the July 20th release of Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated trilogy closer, The Dark Knight Rises, The Bro Journey is reviewing each of the previous six Batman films (in order) that have preceded it. So it begins with 1989’s Batman.
By E. Max Bonem, Esq (mostly)
It’s hard to imagine a single director that has made as large of an impact on American movies over the past two decades as Tim Burton. Besides being best buddies with Johnny Depp and marrying Beletrix LeStrange, Timmy played puppeteer to some of the wildest and most fantastic movies of the past twenty years, particularly impacting members of our (post-1985) generation. From the very beginning, with his first feature full-length film, 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (yep, all Tim), Burton has successfully transported audiences to all sorts of dimensions and states of mind, but it wasn’t until his second movie, Beetlejuice (1988), which is truly one of the strangest movie premises ever, that Burton really dove deep into the darkness that lurks below the surface of normalcy. Additionally, besides using artistic license to do all sorts of crazy-ass sh*t to Winona Ryder and spawning the creation of one the most cherished cartoon shows of the 90s (it wasn’t until years later that I realized incredibly flipped around and different the premise of the Beetlejuice cartoon show was from the original movie (beware)), Beetlejuicebrought Burton together with a guy who looks so incredibly unsuited for the part of a rotting “bio-exorcist,” none other than Michael Keaton.
Of course, this initial partnership led to Burton casting Keaton as Bruce Wayne in his adaptation of Bob Kane & Bill Finger’s DC comic book, Batman (Note – For all of you who don’t’ know your TV/Film history, there have numerous TV series based on Batman, including Adam West’s infamous run as Batman from 1966-68 (Mr. West has luckily found a different calling in the latter years of his career)).
Batman was truly the first of it’s kind. Although there are 390,184 new “super hero” movies coming out every year these days, pre-1989 the genre just didn’t really exist (Oddly enough, it was just three years before this that Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns came out, which became the source material and inspiration for much of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, but more on that later). In other words, Burton had completely free range on how he wanted to approach the movie and, although I can’t say the same about some of Burton’s latter work, Batman is pretty freakin’ awesome.
As a quick abstract for any of you too young (we (The Bro Journey) were both born less than two years prior to the movie’s release), Batman makes his debut as a masked vigilante who fights crime on his own terms in corrupt Gotham City where no cops can be trusted and most gangsters dress like they’re going to a 1920s-era theme party. One of the higher-ups in the main Gotham crime syndicate, a character aptly named Jack Napier (played by Jack Nicholson), falls into a vat of ooze (Capital observation #1 by Matt: “Dude, ooze used to be so mysterious in 80s and 90s movies. Need your villain to transform somehow? Throw ‘em in some mysterious, colorful liquid! Boom! Bad Guy!”) and transforms into The Joker. Madness ensues…
Although the movie is pretty predictable and unleashes some serious (however you spell the plural version of) faux pas (i.e. Bruce Wayne rockin’ a pair of Dad-style Wranglers in the Bat cave), there are some incredible scenes and appearances that are simply too incredible/strange/unforgettable to not mention.
First, let’s begin with Matt’s Capital Observation #2, “Holy shit, Harvey Dent’s black!” As many of you might recall, Matt is from Indiana and is alarmed when anyone of African ancestry enters the room, let alone make an appearance in one of his favorite childhood movies. Jokes my friends, jokes. For any of you who haven’t been living in whatever far away frazian (that’s frozen & Asian combined (you’re welcome)) land it is that Bruce Wayne learned to fight ninjas and burn houses down, you probably saw The Dark Knight and, as you might remember, Harvey Dent was played by the dimpliest chin of our generation, Aaron “Sorry folks, I’m whiter than your favorite bar soap” Eckhart. Of course, not only was it surprising that he was even in the original Batman movie (remember, Dent also made an appearance in Batman Forever in the shape of Tommy Lee Jones, but that’s another post), but he was played by none other than Mayor of Cloud City/the only man literally cooler than the other side of the pillow, Billy Dee (that’s right, that’s not an initial, it’s his middle name) Williams. Unfortunately for me, this led to Matt quoting an awful version of Heath Ledger as the Joker’s “Harvey, Harvey, Harvey Dent.” Sadly, there’s no sound clip of this available, but ladies, should you be willing, I’m sure Matt would be willing to offer up an impression in the heat of the moment, and by moment I mean intercourse. Carrying on.
Alfred apparently has access to all police archives and can retrieve them for Master Wayne at any time. Neat.
Kim Bassinger is one foxy 80s mama. We also realized that prior to Katie Holmes’ appearance in the first chapter of the recent Batman trilogy, every single love interest in the Batman franchise has been blonde. I have no idea what that means, but apparently Christopher Nolan decided that Big Daddy Bruce needed some variety in his life (post-Katie Holmes, you got Maggie Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Marion Cotillard (I guess the Knight isn’t the only thing dark in this franchise (HEYOOOOOO))).
Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker, who in this incarnation killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, which is attributed to Harvey “Two Face” Dent in Batman Forever and is portrayed completely differently in the most recent trilogy), is a thing of beauty. As a movie-going generation, we were spoiled by one of the single greatest acting performances of all-time in Heath Ledger’s role as The Joker, but that should not detract from the madness (and the perplexing facial contortion) that is on display in Batman from the mind of Nicholson. According to reports, Nicholson was outraged when Nolan didn’t reach out to him for guidance or as some sort of mentor to Ledger during the filming of The Dark Knight (however, Ledger apparently did this on his own) and when he was informed of Ledger’s death, Nicholson had one simple thing to say, “Well, I warned him.” Uh, what?
On a lighter note, some of The Joker’s best scenes (i.e. vandalizing the Gotham Museum of Art and throwing away $20 million in cash to Gotham’s citizens during a parade where he unleashes balloons filled with poison gas (oh when super hero movies were just so innocent…)) are put to the sounds of none other than Mr. Purple Rain himself, Prince. Yes, by watching Batman, you’ll get to see Jack Nicholson dancearound in turquoise and green checkered slacks and a beret while listening to mother-f*cking Prince. I’ll let that sink in for a second.
The Bat-mobile, which every red-blooded American boy owned some toy-form of, is made from a Chevy Impala. It’s neat looking and I hope either Burton or Keaton still drives it around from time to time. There’s also a Bat-plane, which makes an appearance towards the end and, in one signature Burton-esque scene, shoots itself up above the clouds and hangs in perfect alignment with the moon to create a preemptive bat signal (can I get an amen for foreshadowing? Anyone? Bueller?). Oh, and there are Flying Foxes (really? Of ALL the bat species in the world, that’s what you went with?) hanging out in the Bat cave, including one that is in a large birdcage (I imagine he got out of line and tried get all up in Keaton’s epic hairdo. Sadly, it looks like Batty failed).
All around, Batman was pretty freakin’ cool and it’s really interesting to see where the franchise began (and that Tim Burton, at one time, made really fun, ahead-of-their-time movies). It’s amazing to see how far this franchise that no one expected to be commercially viable has evolved over the past 23 years. An endnote to be examined later: who is the one actor that was in each of the first four Batman movies? There’s no prize to who answers correctly, but I wonder how long it’ll take you, dear reader, to figure it out (and don’t you dare go straight to IMDB). Anyway, Matt’s going to handle most of the work for Batman Returns (sorry everyone), but check back for our second review whenever the Netflix guy brings us our next dosage. Yay America!