Sunday, 6 February 2011

80s Movies: Batman (1989)

Batman is my favourite superhero - along with Doctor Who and James Bond, he's one of my few real fictional role models in life. It's the fact that he doesn't have any actual special powers that I like - he's just a man, with a man's courage. OK, that's Flash Gordon, but what Batman does have is an arsenal of rich-boy toys that all seem to fit on to a single belt, and a very, very nice car.

It's also a sign of the times, for me at least, that 1989's Batman was so very, very good, with just the right balance of dark humour and pure darkness itself, while the sequels fell back into the ruinous camp style of the TV series. Compare the psychological thriller style of the first movie - albeit with superhero action scenes interspersed - with the comic-book Batman and Robin (1997) and it pretty much sums up what went wrong in the 1990s as far as big-screen entertainment was concerned.

The Plot

The battle between Batman and The Joker has proved the most widely pervasive of the Dark Knight storylines in the mass-market vehicles for the character, from the TV series to the films - both the 1989 movie and 2008's The Dark Knight. The character of The Joker has also been an iconic role for both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. In Batman, we see the genesis of both Bruce Wayne's dark side and The Joker himself, their rivalry in the classic fight between good and evil, and ultimately the culmination of that struggle.

Like all good 80s movies, Batman is multi-layered - the love interest with Kim Basinger is more than just a minor distraction; it sets up a theme for the Bruce Wayne character that continues as far as the present-day Christian Bale films, the internal struggle for self-identity and the courage to tell his loved ones the truth that holds echoes of the struggle we all feel to be on the outside who we feel we are on the inside.

The Performances

Michael Keaton is still my favourite Batman. Christian Bale comes close but isn't quite so believable in his scenes as Bruce Wayne. Keaton - within the limits of the role for which he was cast, which is admittedly less dark than Bale's 21st-century portrayal - has the likeability of a successful businessman, but the mad glint in his eye that hints at inner turmoil. It's worth remembering that, although he fights for good, Batman is essentially a multiple personality disorder of the most visual kind. Keaton's quiet performance makes it that much easier to expect that he might have made it this far without his superhero alter ego being discovered.

Jack Nicholson as The Joker similarly succeeds in bringing a dark side to a character that, on the surface, is high camp and easy to paint as a figure of fun. Again, plenty has been said in the past about the strength of his performance, so I won't go on about it - but he remains the most iconic adversary Batman has faced in any of his big-screen outings.

The Boxed Set

A special mention for Batman - The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997, the boxed set we're linking to throughout this review. This is a four-volume Blu-ray set containing the four films from the original movie franchise - Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney's outings as the caped crusader. There are hours and hours of special features, telling you how the Batmobile was built, giving an insight into the casting and filmmaking processes, and fleshing out the storyline with deleted scenes and earlier script revisions. If, like me, you're a fan of the films, it's incredible value for money and by far the best way to familiarise yourself with Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin in high definition.

80s Movies

In February, POPSICULTURE are dedicating the month to a look back at the iconic films of the 1980s - a decade whose films continue to draw massive audiences when they are shown on TV. To follow posts in this series, check the 80s Movies label or sign up to the dedicated RSS feed.

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