Tuesday, January 8, 2013

FILM REVIEW

Batman (1989)

Todd Mason has all the links to Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video at his blog Sweet Freedom. Recommended: Movies: The Amazing Spider-Man by James Reasoner


Batman is often not pictured without his costume in comic-books unlike other superheroes like Superman or Spider-Man. The caped crusader is usually lying in wait above the dark and foreboding shadows of Gotham City’s crime-infested streets and buildings. The man behind the mask is a different picture: he is a young handsome and reclusive billionaire with thick wavy hair. This is my image of Bruce Wayne, at least in the Batman comics from the 70s onward.

I, therefore, did a double take when I first saw Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton’s first movie adaptation of Batman. Everything about the big-budget film was right—the bat-suit, the bat-mobile, the bat-cave, the bat-butler, the Joker, except for Wayne himself. As an actor, Michael Keaton did well; as Bruce Wayne, he stood out like a sore thumb. He looked nothing like he did in the comics.


Michael Keaton and Kim Bassinger in Batman

A lot of people liked Keaton (born Michael Douglas) in the first technically brilliant superhero movie since Richard Donner created magic with Superman in 1978. A part of that magic lay in the fact that the twin roles of Clark Kent, the bumbling and bespectacled reporter, and his alter ego, Kal-El or Superman, fit Christopher Reeve perfectly. A more suitable actor has not been born to play the Man of Steel. Brandon Routh was unconvincing in Superman Returns (2006) because, as Clark Kent and Superman, he looked the same. 

But this is about Batman… 

Michael Keaton in Batman
Six years later, in 1995, Joel Schumacher hit the right note by casting Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne in Batman Forever, a perfect match. Why Schumacher did not persist with Kilmer in Batman & Robin (1997), I have no idea. The role went to George Clooney, of all the people in Hollywood.


The Michael Keaton-Bruce Wayne mismatch can, in fact, be likened to the Tobey Maguire-Spider-Man disconnect. Check out the 70s and 80s Spider-Man comics. 

Fortunately, Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne is not as significant as Michael Keaton the Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 film. The caped crusader is quite awesome in his snazzy bat-suit and bat-mobile as he takes on Gotham City’s nemesis, the Joker or Jack Napier, essayed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson. The Joker—the result of a chemical accident and looking nothing less than a freak—shoots the crime boss and takes over the crime syndicate, threatening the citizens of Gotham with a dubious chemical called ‘Smilex’ that causes anyone who uses it to die of laughter and a permanent grin on his or her face. 



Val Kilmer in Batman Forever
Jack ‘The Joker’ Nicholson is the redeeming feature in an otherwise ordinary plot revolving around Batman’s fight against injustice and keeping Gotham City and his girlfriend, Vicky Vale (Kim Bassinger), safe from the likes of Jack Napier and his freak show.

Over the years the Batman films have evolved, both artistically and technically, with Christopher Nolan’s 21st century offering of Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) starring Christian Bale who, in my opinion, is second-best to Kilmer’s Batman.

All in all, an enjoyable series but I still like the comics more.

8 comments:

  1. I agree with you, the Batman comics are better than the movies. Although I haven't read any of the comics in a while.

    I have enjoyed Christian Bale as Batman. Have seen a lot of the others and don't remember which ones I liked best or least. I will have to think about that more and jog my brain.

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    1. Tracy, Batman is my (and nearly everybody else's) favourite superhero and I enjoy his comics more than others. I am also partial to the Hulk. Christian Bale is actually quite good as Batman and he's probably one actor in the role who is more Bruce Wayne than Batman. I liked all the films in parts and especially the two Jokers, Nicholson and Ledger, who were better than our hero.

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  2. Keaton was too edgy as Bruce Wayne. He still seemed psycho even when playing it down.

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    1. Charles, I never thought of Michael Keaton as being "edgy" in the role but, you're right, that's another reason for me to dislike him as Gotham's saviour. I have seen both his BATMAN films more than once but, as Batman, he just doesn't hold.

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  3. I'm happy watching Val Kilmer do just about anything. Especially enjoyed him in TOMBSTONE and KISS KISS BANG BANG.

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    1. Ditto, Ron. Kilmer nearly steals the show from Kurt Russell who put in a powerful performance in TOMBSTONE. They were the perfect foil for each other. Kilmer is one of Hollywood's many underrated actors and deserves better. I haven't seen KISS KISS BANG BANG yet.

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  4. I think you and I are the only people in the universe who think Val Kilmer was the best of the various movie Batmen, Prashant. I've always liked Kilmer -- his wise ass character in Willow, his superb job as Doc Holliday in Tombstone, Jim Morrison in The Doors, Heat, The Ghost and the Darknness etc., etc. He hasn't aged very well and not only are his good looks gone but also, I think, his inventiveness as an actor. I can't much tolerate him in anything he's done after KISS KISS BANG BANG which I highly recommend. Also, if you can track it down, a pretty good noir thriller he did back in the 1980s with his then wife Joanne Whalley-Kilmer called Kill Me Again.

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    1. John, I have always liked Val Kilmer too, as an actor and particularly as Bruce Wayne. He was terrific in TOMBSTONE though I can't help thinking he didn't get his due. He had a small wise-ass role in TOP GUN too. With a second recommendation I'm definitely going to have to see KISS KISS BANG BANG. I don't recall seeing KILL ME AGAIN but I'll keep it in mind.

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