Saturday, June 21, 2008

Batman movies - Batman

In anticipation for the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight, I have decided to rewatch all of the Batman movies and write about them on my blog. (Surely I can't also mean Batman and Robin, can I?) First up, Tim Burton's Batman from 1989.

It's difficult to watch this movie without reflecting on what was going on when it came out. It came out the summer after my freshman year of high school, and by that time, I had been reading comics steadily for a few years. I had been a Marvel fan, but the hype around this movie enticed me to start reading some Batman comics. After all, I had an affection for the character as some of my earliest comics from when I was a little kid were Batman comics. (Still have them too!)

It's strange to think about it now, but I remember that it seemed like everybody and their grandmother's pediatrist suddenly started wearing Batman T-shirts. They were ubiquitous. They were everywhere. You couldn't go anywhere without seeing them. And I hadn't acquired my skills at redundancy at that point.

I remember being a bit annoyed, because most of these people were not comic book fans, and you probably would have to force them at gunpoint to even read a comic book. I remember even asking some of my fellow students about reading comics, and they looked at me like I was an idiot. Why would a Batman fan want to actually read the comics?

Anyway, I could go on and on about that, but instead let me write a bit about the movie itself. Ever since Batman Begins came out, many people refer to this as the second-best Batman film (although I imagine that it will be demoted to third once The Dark Knight comes out). I even remember telling people when Begins came out that it was by-far the best Batman movie ever made, and many of them reacted with a skepticism that anything could surpass the 1989 entry.

Here's the thing though - it's not very good. I mean, it has its strong points, and I'll probably even watch it again, but ultimately I couldn't call this a good, quality film. When I was a teenager, my complaints had more to do with the fact that it wasn't true enough to the source material (like with Batman having a cavalier attitude about taking life). Watching it now I realize that it has other, much more glaring problems.

Let me start with what's good about it though:

1. It looks great. Burton really managed to create a new world for this movie. It was definitely surreal, but not in an over-the-top sort of a way that would later plague the Shumacher films. This is probably the sole reason why I'd watch this movie again - it's simply nice to look at. It's dark, it's atmospheric, and I honestly can't think of another movie (with the possible exception of the other Burton Bat-flick) that looks like it.

2. Michael Keaton. His portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman were entirely convincing, which is amazing considering that he really didn't look right for the part. As Wayne, he seemed like he was uncomfortable in his own skin, as that personality was as much of a fabrication as his other one was. As Batman, he managed to change his voice enough that it was easy to suspend disbelief instead of wondering why Vicki Vale didn't simply recognize his voice.

3. The supporting characters. While they didn't have a lot of screen time, I really enjoyed the performances of Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent (he got robbed in Batman Forever!) and Jack Palance as Carl Grissom.

4. The theme song. 'Nuff said.

What's bad about it?

1. The dialogue. It really sounded great in little bits when shown on the trailer, but in context, most of those lines feel shoehorned in there. Pretty much every conversation feels awkward, as though the characters aren't actually paying attention to each other and instead they're just waiting for their turn to say their lines. Pretty much every conversation between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale illustrates this.

2. The plot. There is hardly any narrative drive in this film. The Joker does something, and Batman reacts. The Joker does something else and Batman reacts. While I understood that making The Joker be the guy who orginally killed Batman's parents creates a symmetry, it really lacks the emotional punch that this sort of thing should have had.

3. The Prince videos. I've been on record stating that I like Prince, and his songs for the soundtrack were actually pretty good. This doesn't excuse the obviously extended scenes where it's obvious that they were there solely to get as much of his songs in there as possible in an effort of cross promotion. (I'm referring to the scene and the museum and the parade scene in particular).

What about the undecided?

1. Jack Nicholson as The Joker. I must admit, I'm entertained as I watch the guy. The scene where he talks to the body of the guy he just killed is actually pretty brilliant, and he actually manages to work his way through some of the bad dialogue without you even noticing it was bad until you think about it. Still, is that really The Joker or is it just Jack Nicholson hamming it up? Does it matter? I think that Heath Ledger's Joker is going to be the one to weigh all future performances against in the future.

My grade? C

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