The Essentials- #35
In 2013, after Christopher Nolan had his go at the Batman legend and created a long-lasting trilogy, its hard to think about what came before and what comes after. Christian Bale nailed Batman, Heath Ledger nailed The Joker, Aaron Eckhart nailed Two-Face, Gary Oldman nailed Commissioner Gordon, etc, etc. Overall Nolan put together a overly-solid trilogy of Batman films and I never, ever want to discredit what he created. But I think its equally important to never forget what Tim Burton did with the character in late 1980's/early 1990's.
The great thing about superheroes, particularly the best characters, are their flexibility. Batman in particular is one of the most flexible characters ever written for comics. Many authors have tackled the character, and many variations of the character have existed. Batman has been campy and silly, he's been gritty, and he's also been downright R-rated. I think that's how we know Batman is a character whom will be apart of American mythology forever. In 2005, 2008 and 2012, Nolan took an interesting route in bringing the character to the big screen, he completely grounded the character in reality. If there was a character or element that he couldn't deem realistic, he didn't use it. Say what you will about what he accomplished, but it was a lot better than the travesty Joel Schumacker pulled off with the character.
I liked what Tim Burton did though, his Gotham City was completely transformed into the real world, but that's not bad. His Gotham City looked like a city pulled from the DC comics. The droll, hanging skyscrapers looked great. The complete Gothic look of the entire city was quite cool. The costumes were all fitting in a bizarre, Burtonian way. As the 1989 original Batman opens, and you watch Gotham City residents walk the streets of downtown, you soak up so much in those opening moments. The costumes and cars look as if you can't place the time period and that was a fun touch the film had.
I know that Heath Ledger killed it as The Joker in 2008, and trying to compare him to Jack Nicholson seems like blasphemy. Well, I don't want to compare the two. The films are set up so differently that comparing the two is too hard. I will say that Nicholson created something impeccably memorable during his one go. His Joker was much more comic book-ish compared to Ledger's portrayal, that's not a bad thing, just a big difference. His plot in the movie to kill half of Gotham City with smiley gas seems like a plot straight out of an issue of Batman. I felt Burton did a very good job staging and creating the plot on film. When I was younger, Nicholson's performance scared the crap out of me. So much so that I didn't watch the film for many years because I was so scared of him. This was when I was very young though, so I think both Nicholson and Ledger created two characters that provoked lots of emotions.
I am a true believer that Michael Keaton was a great Batman, if not, the best actor to ever put on the cowl. I know, that also seems like blasphemy in this day and age. I can't fathom how I dared to write and publish such a thing, but I honestly do not know. Bale did a great job too, but Keaton was the first to play a brooding, dark Batman. I love that he pulled it off, because the deck was definitely stacked against him. Keaton was always a funny man, so the idea of him playing a gritty Batman had fans in an uproar. What Keaton did do was set up a dare that I feel only Bale was able to satisfy many years later. I pretty decent legacy if you ask me. Keaton and Bale will always arm wrestle for my affection and I love that so few actors have been so groundbreaking as Batman.
People may laugh at all the Prince music in the movie (I fully admit that that was a weird creative choice on Burton's part) and the scene where Alfred leads Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger) to the Batcave, revealing Batman's true identity to her, for no reason. But there is no denying that Burton created something truly mythic with his two Batman fans. His first go at the character holds bigger weight with me because Nicholson as Joker is bliss, and the feel, the look, the atmosphere is unlike anything from any other Batman film...even "Batman Returns." I wouldn't be apposed to seeing Burton tackle another Batman film, even though I know it'll never happen. There is still something special that holds up the film to this day. A true original highlight of the character, I love it a lot.