Batman fans owe a great debt to Tim Burton and his 1989 film. Not because it’s a great kickoff to a serious revamping of the character in cinema, but because without this just okay kickoff we wouldn’t have gotten the excellent Batman Returns or Batman: The Animated Series , or maybe even more successful Batman franchises.
On its own, this film is just okay. I don’t love it like I do most of Burton’s work, and I think it’s because as a fan of Burton and a bigger fan of Batman, this movie rarely feels like either. It’s true that it should have been called Joker because this is Jack Napier’s story from the beginning. Jack Nicholson’s name is even credited before Keaton’s, which is an early indicator that this isn’t a Batman centered story, despite the simplistically appealing poster.
A shame too, because Jack Nicholson is far from being the best thing about Burton’s experimental film. Instead, it’s the surprisingly terrific Michael Keaton, who no one expected to kill it in the role, who steals the show, making us wish that his Bruce Wayne would given a little bit more screen time.
There are a few scenes in this movie that slap a smile on my face (some of Nicholson’s Joker scenes are good), but he just doesn’t feel like the Joker to me. Every time I watch it, I don’t see the Joker. I just see Jack Nicholson with makeup (unlike Heath Ledger, who disappeared into the role). Most of the scenes with the Joker and his henchmen just annoy me after more than three minutes, and that’s never a good sign.
Still, it’s a decent movie. I give it a positive review because I do think it’s a movie I would watch again (I’ve seen it well over five times), but it’s just not a great Batman movie. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like a Batman movie apart from when we see Batman kicking ass (and those scenes, mind you, are excellent and loads of fun).
Most of the time, we just get a mobster movie that doesn’t even feel fantastical like most of Burton’s work. His next film, Batman Returns feels like a Tim Burton movie and it feels like a Batman movie. That’s why I love it.
This one is just okay.