Following the end of the 60s TV series in 1968, Batman's popularity started to decline and continued into the 1970s. In 1979, producer Michael E. Ulsan purchased the film rights with the intent to create the definitive Batman film. Unfortunately, because of how the character was represented in the 60s series, several major studios turned him down. Eventually, Warner Bros. agreed to produce following the success of 1978's Superman, with producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber joining. Many directors were attached to the project before Tim Burton was brought following the success of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Sam Hamm was hired to write, and the film was finally greenlit after Beetlejuice was a critical and commercial hit. After extensive casting, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Kim Basinger were chosen for the leads despite some controversy over Keaton. Following a decade of development, Batman was finally released in the summer of 1989.
Gotham City has become a den of crime and corruption, the citizens terrorized to walk the streets at night. Despite efforts from district attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), crime continues to surge. However, rumors have begun spreading of a mysterious creature of the night taking out these criminals known as the "Batman". Photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) teams up with reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) to investigate the validity of these rumors. Soon, Vale becomes romantically involved with billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), who became Batman following his parents' murder. Meanwhile, local mob boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) sends his right-hand man Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) to raid Axis Chemicals. During a scuffle with Batman, Napier falls in a vat of acid, becomes the Joker, and takes out Grissom. Will Batman be able to defeat the Joker and save Gotham City?
Batman is not only one of the most important comic book movies ever, but it's also one of the best. First off, Michael Keaton is both an excellent Bruce Wayne and Batman, despite controversies about his casting. As Bruce Wayne, he's very unassuming and weary, but when he's Batman, he is quiet, stoic, and naturally intimidating. Jack Nicholson steals the show as the Joker, reveling in his insane antics and having a blast doing so. Kim Basinger is good and has good chemistry with Keaton, but she somewhat devolves into a typical damsel in distress. Despite limited screentime, Williams, Hingle, Palance, Wuhl, Michael Gough, Tracey Walter, and William Hootkins have their standout moments. Tim Burton's direction is on point, the production design is exquisite, and Danny Elfman's score compliments the film so well. Above all else, this is the purest and most faithful Batman film of its time.
However, Batman isn't without its shortcomings, namely in terms of the story and some rather outdated music choices made. Story-wise, they make it so that Jack Napier killed Bruce Wayne's parents to create a link between Batman and Joker. Not only does this feel contrived, but the point was to inspire Bruce from stopping crimes, which are usually random. Some have complained about Alfred letting Vicki into the Batcave, but I wasn't nearly as bothered by it. Also, as much as I love Prince's music, the inclusion of his songs makes the film feel outdated. Granted, those songs are somewhat catchy and their outdatedness adds to its charm, and the Danny Elfman score overrides them. Even with all that said, this is still an impressive comic book movie that showed these could be taken seriously. Overall, Batman is a somewhat flawed but still enjoyable film deserving of its classic status.
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