Sunday, June 10, 2012

Batman (1989) DVD

Rating: 3 out 5 cyclical origins

Plot Synopsis:  Joker creates Batman and Batman creates Joker in this tale of gadgets, where you get them, romance and crime fighting performed by a cavalcade of the most popular stars of the late 80’s.  Some how this was most appropriately sound tracked by Prince.

The Good:

-Gotham City, comic booky, awesome, gothic and timeless.  This version of Gotham looks like no other city in the world with its heavy art deco influences and massive statuary all over the city.  It combines the best of a real world setting with comic book aesthetics.  It looks like an awesome city but seedy at the same time, sort of like an early New York, it’s impressive but dangerous, regal but dirty.  You look at this city and you have no idea what era it really is making it entirely timeless.

-“I’m Batman!” fuck yes he is.  Probably the best line ever uttered in any of the Batman movies and Micheal Keaton makes it sound badass

-Mr. Colt .45, Billy Dee Williams is Harvey Dent.

-Jack playing with a deck of cards during Harvey’s speech, it’s really the little things that make Jack’s character shine.

-Knox is a good addition to the supporting cast, annoying yes but a good character who’s played well.

-Jack Palance as Grisham, he’s so Jack Palancey.

-Micheal Keaton as Batman, charming, intriguing, intense, I used to confuse him with Billy Joel

-Alfred, he has a great dry wit combined with exactly what I think Alfred should look like.  It’s as simple as looking at that guy and saying “Yeah, that’s Alfred.”

-The Joker comes off as dangerous and cunning with an artistic mind.  There are flashes of madness and brilliance in his eyes, going from brilliant to manic in moments.

-Dinner with Vicky across a an incredibly long dinner table and Bruce revealing that he doubts he’s ever even been in that room before.

-Joker asking for a mirror, iconic, the chilling laughter

-“Wait until they get a load of me.” the opping afterwards kind of takes away the menace but establishes Joker as fucking crazy.

-“Bob, remember, yooooouuuuuu aaaaaaarrrrrreeee mmmmmmyyyyyyy number one aaaaanddddd IIIIIIIIII...”

-Bruce laying the flowers down in Crime Alley, there is sadness and depth when he takes his moment in Crime Alley and it tells you what you need to know about his origin.

-That little girl looks so happy to be patted on the head by a mime

-“Hello Vinny, it’s your Uncle Bingo.” Joker in that outfit with the slightly different make up surrounded by a posse of killer mimes as he jams his pen into the neck of a rival ganster is so awesome.

-“This town needs and enema!” followed by a rolling party blower/whistle thingy.

-They handle Batman’s origin well, a little exposition and a brief flashback, it doesn’t dominate the movie but does a good job of filling you in on motivation.

-“Becky, you insensitive bitch!”

-The museum scene where Joker’s gang infiltrates the art gallery.  The poison gas killing everyone in it, then the huge entrance followed by Joker’s hype man (big, bald guy with a big boom box) and his gang.  The gang defacing the paintings or at times just out right destroying them as we are introduced to Joker: The Artiste.

-“Where does get those wonderful toys.”

-It’s an interesting twist on Joker to make him this homicidal artist, the idea of making art until somebody dies.  As an artist he elevates himself above all the riff-raff, he is somehow able to totally justify all the crazy shit he’s doing.  It’s all okay in his mind, everything he does is right and nobody can judge him because it’s art and therefore subjective.

-“who is the batman?” “check his wallet.” thanks bob

-Joker’s real hard on TV’s.  He’s constantly destroying them when they say something he doesn’t like.  He hits one with an extendo boxing glove, shoot’s another and I pretty sure takes out 2 more.

-Joker meets Bruce Wayne in Vicky’s apartment, we see just a moment of the possible insanity that Bruce has when Bruce gets a little intense with Joker.

-The Batwing, that thing looks so bad ass, especially when it flies up against the moon and evokes the Bat Signal.

-Joker shoots Bob for no real reason, totally bad ass but also totally meaningless.  Joker just needed to shoot someone and he chose Bob, the dude who’s been his right hand the whole movie.

-Joker’s big ass gun which collapses into a lesser gun and manages to take out the Batwing in one hit.

The Bad:

-The story that that muggers told at the beginning imply that Batman dropped a guy off a 5 story building to his death.  That doesn’t sound like Batman

-Batman spreading his wings in front of the muggers, say what you will about Christian Bales Batvoice at least he never looked like a dumbass.  He just sounds like one.

-Commissioner Gordon get’s totally neutered, he’s barely in the movie and he seems like your forgetful, fuddy duddy grandpa not a super cop that changed Gotham.

-This Batman is slow and lumbering which is understandable because the suit looks thick and cumbersome.

-Axis Chemicals instead of Ace Chemicals, small but I’m a nit picker sometimes.

-I’m pretty sure Kim Bassinger is taller than Micheal Keaton

-Bruce Wayne hanging upside down like a bat making arm motions like a bat.  I remember thinking this was awesome when I was a kid but now it looks so stupid.

-Alfred drops the ball of providing Bruce with an alibi as Vicky Vale leaves, you’d think he’d be used to automatically covering for him by now.

-They personalize the Joker too much.  Part of what makes him awesome is that no one knows who he is or what he’s capable of.

-Batman barely fights, the fight scenes are terrible, Batman barely moves and get’s his ass kicked a lot.  It just seems so slow and clunky and it’s made worse by how stiff Batman moves.

-The Batmobile has a shields mode that get’s used twice.  It seems pretty useless and looks terrible.  It’s poorly animated and the first time we see it, it doesn’t do anything or mean anything or prevent anything.  It just goes to shield mode and then gets out of shield mode and drives itself to Batman.  The second time it takes some gunfire and drops bombs from the wheels.  The movie could have gone without it entirely.

-If he has a target lock why can’t he hit the Joker?  He’s got him dead to rights but those machine guns just don’t seem to hit him.

-I don’t think guns can telescope like that.

-Batman can’t fight, none of the fight scenes are any good.  If there’s any fancy martial arts it’s done by someone else before they’re taken out with one hit.

-Why would you take the hand of The Joker AFTER he threw you off the roof of a tall church?

-Batman kills Joker.  Not only is this a terrible idea for your franchise by taking the best character out in the first movie but Batman doesn’t kill.  He wouldn’t have even put Joker in a situation where he might even accidently die and he probably would have tried to save him anyway.  It goes totally against character.

-Alfred brings Vicki Vale into the Batcave.  What the hell Alfred?  Are you helping the cause or not?

The Ugly:

-The animated Batman moving across the matte painting.

-Billy Dee Williams is Harvey Dent.  Billy Dee Williams is cool and he’s a good actor.  Harvey Dent has always been a white dude.  This is just poor casting.

-The “future” tech of Batman.  They didn’t have a lot of vision in 1989 but who among us did?  However it does add to the timeless feel of this Gotham.

-Jokers partially animated fall from a matte painting

-A lot of the effects don’t hold up well at all.  This was really the time before CGI was even a concept.  If you wanted a special effect it had to be more or less practical, so you had matte paintings, animation and stop motion if you didn’t make a prop that could do what you wanted.  These things do not age well, unless it was done really, really well to begin with but even then you can’t compare them with modern, good, CGI.  So when Batman has these special effects the movie really shows it’s age.

-The fighting is another thing that dates this movie.  This was made when on screen fighting was a totally different animal.  It wasn’t stylistic or edited to look good, it was two guys who didn’t want to hit each other but wanted to make it look like they were hitting each other using long camera takes.  With this style the only thing you can really do to sweeten it is use camera angles to hide how far away the person getting hit is and make it look like you threw a full speed punch at full power and have them react when really you’re miles away from each other.  The fight’s are so slow and ‘gritty’.  Not gritty in a good way, like an actual street fight, gritty in an “I can see how not good they are at this” way.  There’s no finesse, there’s no oomph.  But as I watch a lot of these older movies I find that this is the norm.  I don’t really know when things changed but this style was just simply the norm and you can’t really blame them for using what was popular at the time.

Final Thoughts:  This movie hasn’t aged well.  I saw this in the theater when it came out and thought it was the greatest thing ever.  Superhero movies were still a pretty new thing to me and this represented the best movie about the best hero ever.  But it really only works in the context of that time period, it’s Tim Burton during what could be considered his golden age (with his previous muse Micheal Keaton before Burton found Johnny Depp) teamed with Danny Elfman who does all the music that Prince didn’t do.  This is classic, vintage Burton.  The performances are solid, the script is solid, the cinematography is solid, it is a solid movie.  But it’s solid in the same way Casablanca is solid.  For what it was made when it was it was good but everything improved around it and it suddenly lost context.  This movie has lost its context and literally everything this movie did has been done better since.  It’s amazing how much action movies, and comic moves for that matter, have improved since this was made.

            The biggest problem with this movie is also its biggest strength and that is Joker.  This movie is way more about the Joker than it is about Batman.  We get Batman’s origin told to us with a brief flashback, we SEE Joker’s origin.  We spend time with Joker as a regular mob hit man named Jack, we see his transformation, we are with him when he takes over the mob and as he evolves.  This is really Joker’s movie with Batman in a supporting role.  This presents two problems however.  First is we know too much about the Joker.  The scary thing about the Joker is that you really don’t KNOW who he is, you don’t know what he’s capable of because you don’t know his history.  He could be a doctor, a scientist, former military, he could literally be anyone with any kind of skill set and you won’t know until he demonstrates those skills.  In any given situation he could present an unpredictable threat because you don’t know the things he knows and how he will use them.  Here we have it all laid out for us, who he is, what he knows, what he can do.  All the mystery is gone from the character.  Luckily the stellar performance from Jack Nicholson makes up for all that.

            The second problem is that they use Joker in the first movie and then kill him off.  I don’t know if that’s a result of how contracts were negotiated or what the real reason is but you sort of paint the franchise into a corner by using the Joker first and then killing him off.  The Joker is by far Batman’s strongest villain, the history of the two characters, how dynamic and colorful the Joker is, he’s the best one you could choose.  So to use him first and then kill him off is ham stringing yourself for no reason.  He could have come back the next movie and teamed with a different villain, come up with another scheme, have been a kickass cameo.  There’s any number of ways you could use the character but you kill him off so that he can never be used again.  It just seems like a waste.  A waste on top of being totally out of character for Batman to let someone die.

            Joker is really the only thing that makes this a must see.  Just to watch his character and see how he totally believes in everything he does.  His transformation into a homicidal artist, his descent into total narcissism, his displays of total manic insanity, when he’s throwing out millions of dollars worth of dollar bills with his face on them you know that he thinks that not only is that dollar more desirable but also worth more because his face is on it.  You believe that he thinks it’s hilarious that he’s able to poison random people with no one knowing how to stop him. 

This is the weakest of the good Batman movies, it’s lacking in a lot of things: action, fight scenes, story and special effects.  This movie is iconic, yes, but the real star is the Joker and that’s the biggest reason to see this movie. 

Batman (1989) IMDB

No comments:

Post a Comment