Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Jack Nicholson as the Joker/Jack Napier
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale
Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth
Robert Wuhl as Alexander Knox
Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon
Ah, Batman. Based on the comic book of the same name, this is easily one of the most hyped-up movies of the 1980s. Warner Bros. promoted it to the bone. Trailers, TV spots, hidden promos, merchadise, toys, video games, not one stone was left unturned in their attempt to make absolutely certain that nobody except maybe a few old people in Zimbabwe didn’t know that a Batman movie was being made. But did it deserve this kind of promotion that assured a tidy profit on the sales of action figures alone? Not really. It’s flawed in some ways but at the end of the day, It’s an enjoyable enough film.
Batman’s plot is fairly simple. Street criminals of Gotham City are reporting upon arrest that they were caught by “a giant bat,” dubbed “Batman” by reporter Alexander Knox. Everyone dismisses his news stories about this big humanoid bat (I think it’s made clear that they don’t know whether he’s human or not, assuming he exists) as nonsense. However, one photojournalist, Vicki Vale buys into this and comes to town and partners up with Knox to find proof of this Batman’s existance. In the process, Vicki enters a romantic relationship with a wealthy socialite named Bruce Wayne who they meet while questioning members of Gotham’s elite at a party Wayne is throwing. For those who haven’t turned on a TV since the 1960s, Wayne and Batman are one and the same. Meanwhile, a mob boss named Carl Grissom finds out that his “number one guy,” Jack Napier is fooling around with his girlfriend, so he sets Napier up, causing him to fall into a vat of chemicals but instead of dying, Napier is mutated into a clown-like freak of nature with a psychosis and flair. Renaming himself the Joker and killing his boss, he soon takes over the mob but then discovers that it’s hard to get attention with Batman hogging the media spotlight. A fierce rivalry ensues.
The performances are pretty solid. Michael Keaton was a surprising choice to play Batman, as despite announcements that this film would be dark like the comic books from the 1970s onward and not lighthearted and campy like the Adam West Batman, Keaton had mostly done comedies up to this point. Nonetheless, he did a pretty good job in spite of not having bulked up for the role, with a deep, dark voice as Batman and the attitude of a typical billionaire playboy for the Bruce Wayne persona. Jack Nicholson was an obvious choice for the Joker, but damn it, he stole the show. He has always been great at playing psychotic, evil characters and this movie is no exception. Kim Basinger adds a nice little romance to this movie, not to mention adds more friction between the hero and villain for the Joker develops a crush on Vicki himself. Michael Gough, Pat Hingle and Robert Wuhl are worth honorable mention; they do adequate jobs playing the more minor characters of the movie. It’s also worth noting that in all three sequels to Batman, Gough and Hingle reprised their roles.
The script runs well enough. While nothing artsy, it’s entertaining and at times even makes you think. For instance, the Joker proves himself to be one crazy son of a bitch by implying that he feels that killing people in a way that leaves them with a grin similar to his own makes them “works of art.” Unfortunately, there are holes in the plot big enough to drive the Batmobile through. For example, the Joker breaks in on all the TV shows to make threats. How he is able to do this, we’re not told. These errors become annoying over time.
Overall, Batman isn’t anything classic, but it’s a nice waste of a couple hours.
Overall: 7 out of 10