Batman (1989): A Flawed and Amazing Exploration of Revenge and Identity

Batman (1989)

   Tim Burton’s “Batman” was my introduction to DC and the Batman Universe outside of “Batman: The Animated Series.” It has also been years since I have watched this film so it was great coming to it with fresh eyes as even though it is a favorite film, it has a lot of glaring flaws that bring down my overall experience of the story. What those flaws are, I’ll get into deeper into the review. This is the film that really made Super Hero films a thing as it was the success of the Tim Burton films that made Hollywood more comfortable taking a chance with other Super Hero films, for that reason we really can thank the Tim Burton for helping jump start this whole entire film genre in the modern age…for his was the first big hit that showed films about comic book heroes could be profitable and franchises.

   “Batman” was directed by Tim Burton and written by Sam Haam and Warren Skaaren while being produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber.

     The story involves the investigation into the vigilante Batman (Michael Keaton) by reporters Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) while Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) plots a coup against his boss so he can own the gangs, not knowing he’s already been betrayed.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman’s fantastic score captures both the mythicness of Batman, the darkness of Gotham city and even the personal of the romance and relationships we see on the screen. This was my first introduction to his music and from here I fell in love with so much of his work.

The Cinematography – Roger Pratt does a great job capturing the Gothic feel of Gotham as well as the fear behind Batman and the Joker. There are great color contrasts in this film, from the Joker’s purple, white and green…to the black aesthetic of Batman, which really illustrates how they took the scars to their identity.

The World – Burton’s world of Batman is awesome! The city manages to have both a modern and old time feel to it (much like “Batman: The Animated Series”) which gives it an epic and comic book feel. This is a world that feels lived in and has characters outside of those we get to know, to explore.

Harvey Dent – Billy Dee Williams really should have had the chance to play Two-Face. The guy does an amazing job as the charismatic Harvey Dent whose hands are tied by the corruption around him and the power of the Joker and the mobs. The only con is I wish he could have got more screentime and had interactions with the Joker and Bruce Wayne.

Bob – Bob is the Joker’s second-in-command and is  lot of fun. He’s a man fully devoted to Joker and can even hold his own against Batman. Sadly when Batman takes Joker’s poison balloons Joker kills him in anger. Poor Bob, you were a great Dragon for the Joker.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this and I really like Michael Gough’s portrayal of him. He comes off as a grandfather figure who is trying to look out for Bruce as best he can, while still having a level of detachment because of his job. He’s great at connecting Bruce to his humanity though as he does all he can to make sure Vicki and Bruce are as successful relationship.

Jack Nicholsan Joker

Jack Napier / The Joker – Nicholson’s Joker is very much a crazy mob boss, which works. Nicholson owns roles like this and he clearly had a lot of fun. His design manages to be opening yet threatening and he destroys Batman’s plane, breaks into Bruce Wayne’s home and nearly escapes Bruce at the end too. His moment of stupid besides using the chemical planet he was turned into the Joker in was his obsession with Vicki Vale and the fact that after he shoots down Batman’s plane, he doesn’t finish the job and instead chooses to retreat. After seeing him stand his ground multiple times, the moment of arrogance/fear/stupidity? cost the character his life. Also he is all about revenge and hurts Batman, kills the boss and girlfriend who betrayed him and even messes up Gotham. In this way he is an effective villain.

Bruce Wayne / The Batman – Batman like the Joker is a character motivated by revenge and ego. Neither really knows how to be around people and Bruce does that by giving and collecting while Napier just kills and destroys. In this Batman we really see how the death of his parents motivate him as he goes to where the shooting happens to give them roses and it is when Vicki finds out that he is finally able to feel real. Michael Keaton is an amazing Bruce Wayne and really illustrates his humanity better than Bale and the others. He feels like a man uncomfortable in his skin and in constant emotional turmoil. For this reason I get why his Batman kills. He’s a Punisher type Batman and wants to do all he can to prevent more Batman’s from being born (in the first scene we meet him he saves a couple with a child mirroring what never happened to him). For this Batman the Joker and crime isn’t just a duty, it is personal and how his crazy and anger comes out.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is key to this and both Napier’s and Wayne’s trauma transforms them into different identities that elevate their obsessions…from Napier’s disregard for life and obsession with people and art…to Bruce’s desire to hurt criminals the way they hurt him. This is expressed in their identities of Joker and Batman who give them permission to be those people and not have to answer to anyone for what they do.

Okay/Cons – Commissioner Gordon – The guy is invisible and wasn’t needed in this at all. I got the feeling they only put him in this since he was in the comics, Billy Dee Williams Harvey Dent was much more of an influence and punch when I saw Gotham’s leaders than the Mayor and Gordon.

Vicki Vale – Vicki Vale like Knox is largely there be rescued though Vicki gets it worse as she spends a good portion of this film kidnapped by the Joker or screaming…which is a shame. She is a character who could have been more as she was a reporter from a war torn region, yet once a psycho came around (the Joker) she froze and needed Bruce Wayne or Batman to rescue her.

The Mob Boss – He talks quiet and I never saw him as a threat. He owned one corrupt cop and that guys men but we never see him do anything but fail to kill Jack Napier. More could have been done to establish this guy as a threat.

The Cons: Damsel in Distress – Vicki Vale is saved so many times in this, this is distracting and I’d honestly expect more from a reporter who came out of a war zone. This con gets more obvious with each viewing. Vicki Vale is a love interest and something to be competed over with the Joker, not a character.

Obvious Plan – Joker uses chemicals from the place he was dumped into and that his boss had been tamed up with before…how did Batman not figure this out until the very end? This was a major dropping of the ball on his part.

    This is a movie with problems, but it is still one of my favorites and it is thanks to this film that one of my favorite animated series exists (“Batman: The Animated Series”) as well as the rest of Bruce Timm’s work from “Superman: The Animated Series” to “Justice League” and the spinoffs). Batman in all his variations and as a popular character today, probably wouldn’t have existed without Burton and Keaton’s Batman and for what they are…they are fantastic. The humanity of the characters is captured as well as the psychosis one must have to be a vigilante, and this lends power to the script and fills in some of the plot holes or weak characters that happen. This is a favorite film of mine and Keaton will always be one of my favorite versions of Batman.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The Shining (1980): Kubrick’s Masterpiece About a Haunting and Escape From Abuse

The Shining

   Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors so seeing “The Shining” again was well worth it and I was reminded once more of all the reasons why he is a favorite director. I haven’t read the book that the film is based on but Stephen King hated this version of the film even though it is so far the best adaptation of his work…most of the other adaptations of his books are simply terrible. But who knows, Kubrick was never a likable guy so maybe that’s part of it. This is a film that captures so many elements of horror and makes me really want to read the book. I’ll go into the aspects of terror it captures later on in the review.

    The film was directed by Stanley Kubrick who also produced the film and wrote the screenplay with Diane Johnson. It is of course based on the book of the same name by Stephen King.

      The story is about a struggling writer named Jack (Jack Nicholson) who takes his family up to the Overlook Hotel so that he can be caretaker of it. He soon learns about the haunting history behind and as things begin to unravel it is up to his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to cope with the consequences of Jack and the Hotel.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack is wonderfully tense and keeps you on your feet the entire it. It turns mundane things into things that are off, whether it is writing a story or entering a maze. Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind did a fantastic job.

The Cinematography – Kubrick knows how to shoot a scene and the use of the hotel’s size is used to create feelings of isolation. Kubrick also uses shadows and light in the maze for that same bit of terror and using stark contrasts throughout the film to accent loss of control or entering moments of the supernatural.

Film Structure – The structure of the film is great as we are shown Jack’s descent into madness as winter comes on the Overlook Hotel with the time period or time passed flashed after character moments.

The Writing – The writing is mostly show and not tell and that lends it power. We also see character moments revealed in this way too, Jack’s making excuses about hurting Danny only being one time reveal that no doubt had happened more…and the silence of characters reveal intent and action. Kubrick’s script is phenomenal.

The Characters – The main characters are all compelling in different ways and their relationships inform one another as many of them change over the course of the film.

Dick – Dick is the cook and also can communicate and sense things like Danny. He is Danny’s mentor and Danny reaches out for help. He is killed by Jack in the end but is able to deliver Danny and Wendy an escape vehicle to get away.

Danny – Danny is a kid who has a spirit named Tony inside who takes control sometimes and is the one who goes from a passive figure to one fighting for survival as he tricks his father in the maze and reaches out to Dick to save himself and his mom.

Wendy – Wendy’s arc is standing up to her abusive husband and escaping the relationship. In this we see that even though she seems passive that she will fight back and does so when she knocks Jack out and locks him up and later we see her stand up against the spirits even though she’s terrified as she makes the escape with her son. She’s an awesome character.

Jack – Jack is abusive and we soon realize how abusive as the story progresses. He is an antagonist who is complex in that he obviously is not a fully terrible human being, but at the end of the day he is the monster who lets his ego and selfishness control him and whatever ways he was horrible before become compounded as he becomes a force that the ghosts use to kill his family.

Escape From Abuse – Wendy and Danny are in an abusive relationship with Jack. It’s never stated outright but the moment of anger at Danny was shown to be a pattern based off his behavior in the hotel…as well as Wendy’s making excuses for him…it takes seeing Danny hurt again for her to finally stand up and after that she fights. She is no longer a victim but over the course of the film becomes a survivor of Jack’s abuse. She survived while the other family was not able to escape their abusive spouse/father.

The Mystery – The mystery is wonderful as we are left wondering if Jack crossed back in time when he was interacting with the ghosts and if he’d been at Overlook before that day. The nature of the Hotel and Jack are left open which gives power to future hauntings of the place.

What Makes a Good Ghost Story – Part of what makes a good ghost story is how it puts those living on edge and connects them to their mortality (Wendy and Danny’s escape) or their ego and selfishness (Jack). It is less about the ghosts in the end and more about what they make people do. This is a prime example of this as the point of evil spirits in horror stories is to reveal the darker side of the living.

   This is a film that has very little wrong with it. My only issue I could see with it is sometimes it lags, though I valued that time because it helped build suspense, but I’m also aware that not everyone is into the slow build. Besides that, this is one of Kubrick’s masterpieces for a reason and is well worth viewing for anyone who loves suspense, horror and cinema.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10