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Batman 1989 Movie Review

1989 saw Tim Burton take on the character of the Dark Knight to bring him to the silver screen. The result was a dark but entertaining Batman film.

Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tracey Walter, Jerry Hall, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Palance, Pat Hingle & Michael Gough.

Run Time: 126 min.

US Release: 23 June 1989

UK Release: 11 August 1989

German Release: 26 October 1989

If you are interested in my reviews for The Dark Knight trilogy or Zack Snyder DC movies, scroll to the end!

Following my review for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and with the upcoming Suicide Squad that will feature a small cameo by Batman, I decided to keep going with my string of Batman and Superman reviews. Today I will talk about Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, one of the first superhero movies that went down a darker path and opened up the gates for the 1992 animated series. Before Burton gave the comic book character a make-over, the Dark Knight was known for Adam West’s campy incarnation and while critics loved the more serious tone they also criticised it for being too violent, a fact that stopped my parents from showing me the movie until I was 10 years-old. Still, I was more than pleased when I first watched the movie and it holds a very special place in my heart!


Shortly before Gotham’s 200th founding year, district attorney Harvey Dent (Williams) is trying to clean up the streets with the help of Commissioner Gordon (Hingle) but the police force is full corrupt, officers and the mob are ruling Gotham’s underworld. The people of Gotham are being protected, however, by a mysterious figure that fights for justice during the night. Reporter Alexander Knox (Wuhl) is trying to unmask the so-called “Batman” that most, including the police, believe to be a hoax and photographer Vicki Vale (Basinger) teams up with him to break the story.

Mob Boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance), who figured out that his partner Jack Napier is sleeping with his mistress, sets him up and during a struggle with the police and Batman (Keaton), Napier falls into a vat of chemicals that turn him into the Joker. Vale starts dating Bruce Wayne and figures out that he is Batman while the Joker begins taking revenge on the city.

What I like about Batman, is that Burton decided to depict the character faithfully by filming a darker and more violent movie, but due to the time this movie came out, it also includes cheesy one-liners and silly plot lines. Still, for what Warner Bros. tried to accomplish, this adaptation of the Dark Knight does mostly everything correct. While Burton left the city of Gotham out of his focus, his adaptation centres more on depicting the characters in the story and he did very well at that. That said, this is definitely no film without flaws, suffering from quite a few ones!

My biggest issue with Batman is the side story that focuses on reporter Alexander Knox; I find the character dislikeable because he acts fake and makes too many silly jokes that don’t suit the overall tone of the plot. I think that Bruce Wayne’s past storyline is handled rather poorly. First of all, I am pretty sure that the murder of a prominent doctor and his wife would have been something that people would undoubtedly know or, at least, remember when meeting Bruce Wayne and second, Burton’s choice to make the Joker the murderer of the Waynes was a decision that many despised. Finally, the last issue with this blockbuster, is how Jim Gordon is portrayed in the film. In the comics he is a very important ally of Batman but in this movie, he is represented as a complete incompetent police commissioner.

Even though fans of the character reacted negatively when it was announced that Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman, they were quickly proven wrong about their doubts. Keaton did a great job portraying the man in the bat-suit, making him sound and feel like a menacing power that criminals should learn to fear, but his portrayal of Bruce Wayne is a little bit thin. Not because of Keaton's acting skill, he depicted him great, but it is rather the directorial choice to make Wayne a rich billionaire who nobody knows anything about.

Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Napier/the Joker is fantastic! I still prefer Heath Ledger’s take on the iconic villain, but for the type of film this was, Nicholson’s dark and spoofier take of the villain is excellent. Jack Napier is already a psychotic killer before he is transformed into Wayne’s arch-nemesis, but completely loses it when he sees what the chemical bath turned him into. I love Nicholson’s joker laugh and his one-liners used before killing, and I do believe that he was the best casting choice for the character.

I do like Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, one of the more famous minor characters from Batman lore, and I do think that she did a good job at portraying her persona. She is a photojournalist working together with reporter Knox on the Batman story and through a series of coincidences manages to date Bruce Wayne. Although she plays the damsel in distress during most of her scenes, she is still a tough female character.

When it comes to special effects, most of them do not pass the test of time and are outdated by today’s standards. Gotham’s skyline is definitely a background painting and the sky on which the bat-signal is reflected looks like a silk sheet on which the Batman stood in front of. It also includes effects that still look good, such as the shields on the batmobile or the scenes in which Batman is flying the batplane.

The epic opening number composed by Danny Elfman is globally, the most recognised Batman theme and one of my favourite movie soundtracks composed. It was also used for the 1992 animated series. The film also uses a lot of songs by Prince, which I do not particularly like, as it does not suit the overall atmosphere of the adaptation.


Verdict: Burton’s 1989 directed Batman is one of the rare dimes in the sector of comic book adaptations of that era. Most of the films based on graphic novel characters are usually silly and very campy, which makes Burton’s take of Gotham’s Dark Knight stand out amongst all other comic book movies. He gave the character the much needed darker tone and violence, proving that a more mature-themed comic book adaptation can also be a success. Keaton, Nicholson and Basinger give great performances in their respective roles, but it still has flaws in terms of screenplay and side stories, which give an incredibly irritating character far too much screen time. I will give Batman and 8.0 out of 10.

Thank you very much for reading my review for the 1989 Batman and if you are interested, I will review the 1978 Superman film Sunday in two weeks. Please leave a comment to let me know what you thought of Burton’s film and if you liked this review, make sure to share and subscribe.

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