Batman (1989) Movie Review

Title: Batman.
Rated: PG-13.
Director: Tim Burton.
Writer(s): Sam Hamm.
Screenplay: Sam Hamm & Warren Skaaren.
Release Date: 1989.
Runtime:  2h6min.
Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama.
Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Jim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, and many more!
Budget: $35 million (estimated).
My Overall Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Following the staggering success of director Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988), his cinematic impact continues with Batman (1989), breathing a new, darker, and modern life into the campy Batman legacy built so far in the hands of Adam West. Drawing inspiration from writers Alan Moore and Frank Miller’s graphic novels, who also depict Batman in a grimmer and more realistic light, director Tim Burton pits Michael Keaton’s Batman up against Jack Nicholson’s Joker and creates one of the most iconic pop culture movies of all time, inevitably influencing countless other creators in their own endeavours within the superhero world to this day. While not all equally memorable, its sequels will crystalize Burton’s Batman forever while the other two sequels will tarnish Batman’s live-action history until director Christopher Nolan enters the game.

What is Batman (1989) about? Mayor Borg looks to unveil the beginning of a new era for Gotham City as he brings district attorney Harvey Dent and police Commissioner Gordon together for a mission to take down criminal mob boss Carl Grissom. While crime runs rampant in the city, corruption is also inevitable among politicians and police as they continue to deny the existence of a bat-shaped masked vigilante. However, reporter Alexander Knox is convinced by these mysterious sightings and teams up with photojournalist Vicki Vale to unmask the truth. Unfortunately, when the ambitious second-in-command Jack Napier is set up by his boss Carl Grissom, he encounters Batman in Axis Chemicals and inadvertently falls into a brew of acid chemicals, transforming him into the Joker. What follows is an unforgettable love triangle where the Caped Crusader will have to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.

(c) IMDb.

Director Tim Burton’s style and tone in Batman (1989) are a substantial portion of the movie’s appeal and success among viewers. Gloriously encapsulated within a gloomy and ominous Gotham city, with wonderful architecture captured through mesmerizing camera angles, the crookedness of the city is undeniable and even more evident as Jack Napier’s subplot develops into a Joker’s origin story. Presenting both Batman and the Joker as the ultimate antithesis of insanity, director Tim Burton approaches this superhero cinematic outing with a darkly entertaining touch that beautifully highlights Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker up against the winged creature that created him. The circle of life and death exposed in this story offers an enjoyable adventure that allows Batman to embrace his raison d’être in Gotham city as he seeks to put down the Joker before his chaos is brought to full fruition.

While the heart of the story in this movie is born from a flawed and far-from-perfect screenplay, its entire success can almost single-handedly be credited to the unforgettable portrayal of the Joker by Jack Nicholson, from his chilling laugh to his goofy dances. His jokes and poetical dialogue make for an unforgettable performance, accentuated by his desire to become the centerpiece of attention to Gotham city, despising the spotlight put upon Batman by the press. Unfortunately, Michael Keaton’s stiff and dull portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman cannot match Nicholson’s pizzazz. However, the use of an abundance of gadgets, of the iconic batmobile and batwing, and the stealth-and-deception-oriented combat are commendable, paving the way to a somewhat-grounded Batman that isn’t entirely comical in concept.

(c) IMDb.

As wonderful as it might have been for Batman and the Joker to have Kim Basinger play the damsel in distress as Vicki Vale, it is difficult to adore her role beyond being quintessential to the rivalry between the two iconic characters. It doesn’t help that one of the subplots involved her trying to figure out the billionaire’s parents’ tragic death, making it even more evident that her own strengths and qualities are almost non-existent. Michael Gough’s charismatic portrayal of Alfred Pennyworth is also somewhat memorable, although poorly utilized as he mostly serves as a reminder of Bruce Wayne’s lack of female companionship. While Batman (1989) might not be the greatest superhero movie ever made, it remains an important piece of cinematic culture and history, embellished in Danny Elfman’s unequivocal musical masterpiece.

Batman (1989) is a cult classic gem reinvigorating an iconic superhero’s legacy through a quirky yet exciting adventure highlighted by Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of a maniacal and clownish Joker.

Batman (1989) is available for purchase and on streaming services.

Have you read any Batman comics?
Have you seen Batman (1989)? Will you?
What did you think about it?
Share your thoughts with me!


30 thoughts on “Batman (1989) Movie Review

  1. I think this movie still stands up today. While Keaton’s performance is definitely of the lego block variety, I always thought it fit the Batman persona perfectly. I actually remember reading the novelization when it came out. I don’t think I actually saw the movie itself until the late 90’s?

    Batman Returns however, oh man. That was baaaaaad. Will you be reviewing that? I don’t want to say anything more if you are.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It definitely still stands up today, especially when you understand where this new Batman tone is coming from and what it brings to the table. You made me giggle with the “lego block” comment. It’s so odd to say that about Keaton when I know he’s a great actor, especially in some of his later roles. In some ways, I do see how his performance was adequate for a certain version of Batman but it felt inconsistent at times, and sometimes it almost felt like it wasn’t even intentional hahaha So interesting that you had a hard time with Returns. I actually love that more but I look forward to rewatching it to put up a review for it. I’m only missing Returns, Forever, and Robin because having covered all of the live-action DC movies too (released so far)! My goal is to get through them this year. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I have a lot of sentiment for this one, even though I prefer Nolan’s take – I think Keaton’s woodeness is supposed to transmit the trauma from which he never recovered: he’s almost autistic here, and I think it plays quite well against the over-the-top exuberance of Nicholson’s Joker. Basinger is just an ornament, unfortunately, something that plagues almost all female roles in Batman movies; tbh, even Hathaway’s Catwoman is rather unconvincing. But I think Burton’s take paved the way for all other Batman movies, indelibly imprinting itself on the entire franchise, be they movies, comics, or games.
    Fab review, Lashaan!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I want to believe that Keaton’s performance served somewhat to convey a certain trauma but man, it felt inconsistent, there are scenes where he breaks character and becomes something that feels out of place and the awkwardness of it all almost doesn’t feel intentional. I do look forward to revisiting Batman Returns soon just to properly see if a sequel gives me more room to develop his version of Bruce Wayne. And yes, you’re right about women in general… However, the latest effort in The Batman for Catwoman was much more… complex. Still patiently waiting for you to give it a try. 😀 Thanks for reading, Ola!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You know I’ve never been the biggest Batman fan, but I do have other friends who are (including yourself) and when this first came out I ended up watching it. As you said, it’s not perfect, but I ended up really enjoying it and it’s what pops into my head most anytime I think of Batman.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well, this one is a Batman classic (for someone who is not as close to the character as you are). Not sure if it’s when it was made (everything done in the 80s just seems ‘better’) or something else. The new stuff don’t impress me much.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This sounds interesting and looks like Jocker made it more successful than any other character. I don’t like it when actresses aren’t given important roles. why include them if they don’t add much to the story or movie! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Growing up watching Adam West play Batman in the series, I enjoyed this movie way back when I watched it and definitely agree, it is a classic. Yes, Michael Keaton was very stoic and stiff in the role. I need to rewatch this movie, thanks for the reminder, Lashaan.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lashaan, this indeed is the iconic Batman movie a lot of us recall first and foremost. I remember when Keaton was announced as being in the role how much “buzz” there was…both good and bad. Nicholson was off the wall nuts in this, and I think Keaton being stoic in his role played off of Jack nicely. Always worthy of a watch!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s