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Batman Movie Review

jack joker vale vicki

1989 – Tim Burton –

Unlike the Superman films, in which Christopher Reeve's gift for light comedy as mild-mannered Clark Kent turned out to be unexpectedly appealing, the Batman films have shuffled around the casting of the hero and made their psycho-villains the biggest draw. This emphasis, of course, is also reflected in Anton Furst's boiler-room production design, which reflects the state of mind of Gotham City. The slate gray, canted structures, billowing steam, and gargoyle turrets have an urban-medieval torture chamber look. “Decent people shouldn't live here,” Jack Nicholson's Joker says to Harvey Dent's (Billy Dee Williams) image on TV. “They wouldn't be happy here.”

The hero is presented as a man of mystery who is in the process of being deciphered by Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and the audience. Which parts of his gothic mansion represent him most accurately—the tasteful art objects or the hall of armor and battle gear? The villain, on the other hand, is a known quantity, and he gets all the good lines. “A lovely beast like that running around,” the Joker says on seeing a picture of Vicki Vale, “could put steam in a man's strides.” This comedy of anarchy gives the film its weird charm, and the few touches of satire (as in the scene when the Joker's killer cosmetics scare forces two news anchors to go on the air without makeup) seem a little out of place. Director Tim Burton uses music for some dark comedy, letting “Beautiful Dreamer” and “A Summer Place” play ironically under the Joker's scenes with Vicki Vale. (Even the car gets a dramatic entrance. When Batman and Vicki Vale escape from the Joker at the art museum, the first shot of the bullet-shaped Bat-mobile is accompanied by a crescendo on the soundtrack.)

The plot concerns Bruce Wayne's first appearances as Batman, which coincide with the betrayal of Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) by his fellow hood Carl Grissom (Jack Palance). Napier falls into a vat of chemicals during a shootout with the police and is transformed into the Joker, the chalk-faced, green-haired nemesis of Batman. Many mainstream films confine their darker elements to the villain's part or relegate it to the background. Batman brings it center stage and glories in it. The nightmare fantasy of Batman puts both hero and villain in the grip of competing obsessions. Batman's discovery of Napier's involvement in his own troubled past is the screenwriters' smartest touch. “You're not exactly normal,” Vale says to Batman. “It's not a normal world is it?” he replies. In Batman, comic books meet grand opera meets film noir.

The three sequels have shifted the focus of the series. In Batman Returns Tim Burton increased the number of grotesques among the villains (Danny DeVito as the Penguin), though Christopher Walken's character is the least interesting, and diminished somewhat the role of the hero. Joel Schumacher has directed the two subsequent entries with Val Kilmer and George Clooney, which have in effect turned the hero's part into the guest starring role.

Cast: Michael Keaton (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Jack Nicholson (the Joker/Jack Napier), Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Billy Dee Williams (Harvey Dent), Jack Palance (Carl Grissom), Jerry Hall (Alicia), Tracey Walter (Bob the Goon), William Hootkins (Lt. Eckhardt), Kate Harper (anchorwoman), Bruce McGuire (anchorman), Richard Durden (TV director), Hugo Blick (young Jack Napier), Charles Roskilly (young Bruce Wayne) Screenwriter: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren Cinematographer: Roger Pratt Composer: Danny Elfman, Prince Producer: Peter Guber and Jon Peters for Warner Bros. MPAA Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 126 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Awards: Academy Awards, 1989: Art Direction/Set Decoration; People's Choice Awards, 1990: Best Film—Drama Box Office: $162M (non-US); $251M (US).

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