Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"A bad film with a capable director."

One of the pioneering films that introduced the modern age of the comic book movie, Batman was a phenomenon in its time. As one of those who queued outside the cinema to see it, I was very much caught up in the hype, and at the time the experience of watching it was tremendous fun. Sadly, in retrospect, it's increasingly clear just what a bad film it is, albeit a bad film with a capable director.

It opens well. A well-dressed couple with a young boy wander round the streets of Gotham City arguing and searching in vain for a cab. As they drift into a dark alleyway our attention is gripped. The Batman story is legend. Are we about to see his parents getting killed? But these are not the Waynes, and these are not those dark days when Gotham went undefended. Though he's a little slow on the scene, the caped crusader's arrival, beautifully shot, is certainly dramatic, and we know these criminals will think twice about engaging in such activities again.

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Then it all starts to go wrong.

Michael Keaton is perhaps the screen's best Bruce Wayne. His middle-aged, shy millionaire is a world away from the flashiness of Christian Bale's interpretation; but unfortunately he doesn't quite convince as the sort of man who would dress up in a rubber bat costume at night for anything other than impressing the sort of girls who make him feel awkward otherwise.

Opposite him, Jack Nicholson's Joker is all ham, flashily entertaining at first but soon too obviously devoid of substance. His method of attack upon the citizens of Gotham - poisoning supermarket products - is hardly exciting, and he's terribly badly scripted, flapping his arms around and howling largely because he has nothing to say.

Caught in between them is Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, a press photographer (whose camera never corresponds with her pictures), who mysteriously obsesses them both, though she has zero personality and surely can't be the only good looking blonde the city has to offer. Having seen what Basinger can do since she's grown old enough to be offered roles with substance, watching her squeal and whimper in this part now is more annoying than ever.

Struggling vainly to cope with all this, Tim Burton throws in a few signature shots that are almost worth the price of admission alone, yet his distinctive style is missing from the film as a whole, so it's not visually satisfying the way that its sequel, Batman Returns, is. The overall impression one gets is that his vision has been heavily compromised by pressure from the studios involved.

The film falls into a no man's land between the sublime comedy of the Adam West classic and the gritty energy of Batman Begins. Despite a handful of good minor performances - Michael Gough is the definitive Alfred - and despite some striking bits of music from Prince, it really has nothing of its own to offer.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2009
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Batman defends Gotham City against The Joker as they both fall for the same woman.
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Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Sam Hamm

Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall

Year: 1989

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK


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