Do you want to feel old? Batman is now 30 years old.
Yes, Michael Keaton’s first foray as the Caped Crusader debuted in theaters thirty years ago. I was four years old at the time, and I may have even seen the movie in theaters with my mother.
One thing people forget about this movie was at the time, Batman wasn’t considered dark, at least on the big screen. Adam West’s Batman was king and we had Cesar Romero’s Joker who wouldn’t shave his mustache so you could clearly see it underneath the makeup. So seeing a very bleak Gotham along with a Batman all in black was a jarring experience. Adding to the darkness is Danny Elfman’s iconic Batman score, complimented with music by Prince during certain scenes, which all things considered is an interesting choice, which would later be topped by having U2, REM, The Offspring, and Seal on the Batman Forever Soundtrack.
If the Internet was a thing back then, fans would have been writing blog posts about how Mr. Mom would make a terrible Batman. Of course, Michael Keaton would prove everyone wrong, and decades later do so again by making the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming seem like a cool and terrifying villain. In both his turns as Batman, the only wrong he did was that weird gag where he sleeps upside down. Because he’s Batman, get it? And bats sleep upside down?
And then you have Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and I still say to this day that it was impressive that not only was Tim Burton able to convince Jack Nicholson to wear layers of makeup and goofy outfits, but he was also able to convince him to dance around to Prince. Campy stuff like that aside, Nicholson’s Joker was terrifying as much as he was goofy. That first scene where he goes to the underground plastic surgeon scared the living daylights out of me as a kid. Also, to make him more terrifying, his clown gadgets were just straight up murderous weapons; a hand zapper that literally electrocutes a man to death, a squirt flower that squirts acid, balloons that expel poisonous gas, and a revolver with an extra long barrel that he somehow kept in his pants and was able to bring down the Bat Plane in the film’s climax.
But one casting choice that doesn’t get enough credit is the casting of Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent. It’s a very minor role, and he appears in at most three scenes, but it was a crime that he never got to play Two-Face in Batman Forever. He did get to voice Harvey Dent as Two-Face in the Lego Batman movie though.
There are many fans that still consider this to be the best comic book movie of all time, and to be perfectly honest, outside of some issues with the script that are just minor personal gripes, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with them. Besides the sleeping upside down thing, I wasn’t a fan of the personal connection that Burton felt that Batman and the Joker needed with each other. Spoilers for a thirty year old movie: The Joker, as Jack Napier, killed Bruce Wayne’s parents in that alleyway, and Bruce comes to this realization when the Joker asks him “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”, which is what he asked him as a kid when he was about to shoot him next, but doesn’t when his accomplice calls him off. As a comic book purist, I was always a fan of the random street thug being behind the murders, just like how a random burglar is responsible for the murder of Uncle Ben, and not The Sandman as revealed in Spider-Man 3 (spoilers for a decade old movie), even though the shooting was revealed as an accident during the climax.
All in all, it’s a movie that has stood the test of time. Some still prefer this Batman to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (and definitely over Joel Schumacher’s Batman which was a continuation of Burton’s Batman). I myself am on the fence, because I’m not sure if this is due to nostalgia or I’m just a genuine fan of the movie. Time to pull out the Blu-Ray and find out.