On the occasion of the film’s 25th anniversary, ComicsAlliance represents our in-depth commentary and review of Tim Burton’s Batman ’89, the father of modern superhero cinema. Originally published in 2011 as part of our exhaustive Cinematic Batmanology series (which also included a massive five-part analysis of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), this piece by Chris Sims and David Uzumeri strips the fan favorite Batman ’89 down to the bone to get at what works, what doesn’t work, and what’s just plain crazy about Burton’s enduringly influential film.
There have been five men to portray Batman in the character's eight live-action feature-length films, from Adam West in Batman '66 to Christain Bale in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises. All five actors came with their strengths and weaknesses, but the best was Michael Keaton, who played the DC Comics superhero in 1989's Batman and 1992's Batman Returns.
In the first major scene of Batman '89, Keaton famously grabs a terrified mugger by the collar, holds him off the side of a building, pulls him close to his face, and hisses, "I'm Batman." As a 12-year old watching that moment on a VHS tape in my living room, I believed Michael Keaton. And I still believe him as a grown man watching it on DVD in my office 25 years later, even after having seen a half-dozen different Batman movies since.
I realize declaring Michael Keaton's performance as Batman to be not only my favorite Batman but the best Batman is a somewhat controversial statement, even (especially?) among my fellow writers at ComicsAlliance, but allow me to make my case.
Changing the racial identity of characters has become a contentious issue amongst fans of superhero comics and their adaptations in other media. The awful practices of casting white actors to play people of color, or of turning previously non-white characters into white characters, is all too common in movie adaptations of books, cartoons, TV shows, or even real life stories -- but rather surprisingly, superhero comics and their adaptations have mostly avoided this problem.
In comics, the controversy takes a different direction. Several white characters have become non-white, mostly in movies, and sometimes in reboots. Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four; Helena Bertinelli aka the Huntress in the New 52; Nick Fury in the Ultimate Comics line and on screen. These are changes that agitate some readers -- but realistically, the changes don't go far enough. Superhero comics have a cultural bias towards white characters that has everything to do with their institutional history and nothing to do with what makes sense to the stories.
On the occasion of the film's 25th anniversary, ComicsAlliance represents our in-depth commentary and review of Tim Burton's Batman '89, the father of modern superhero cinema. Originally published in 2011 as part of our exhaustive Cinematic Batmanology series (which also included a massive five-part analysis of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight), this piece by Chris Sims and David Uzumeri strips the fan favorite Batman '89 down to the bone to get at what works, what doesn't work, and what's just plain crazy about Burton's enduringly influential film.
I was an unabashed fan of the 1989 Batman movie around the time of its release (particularly after it hit VHS), but the years have worn down my appreciation of it, and quite a few aspects of it don't entirely stand up to the scrutiny of a critical lens anymore.
There are a few pieces of media related to the film, however, that I feel just as positively about as I ever have. The Prince soundtrack, for one. And for another, the Sunsoft-developed game for the Nintendo Entertainment System that included a few cutscenes with lines from the movie, and largely ditched its plot otherwise. I took a stroll down memory lane with it, and it still holds up.
A whole lot can change in 25 years.
There may be no better proof of just how much pop culture can shift in a quarter century than the above, 20-minute video Warner Bros. produced in 1988 to show ancient movie distributors who were not so sure a film about a dark, intense Batman would be something anybody would want to watch -- which is pretty funny considering just how massive and influential the film turned out to be.
In the summer of 1989, primed by "Kiss" and "Alphabet St." and "Sign 'O' the Times" to expect brilliance from the first taste of new Prince music, I raced out to buy "Batdance," the first single to be released from his soundtrack to Tim Burton's Batman. It seemed like a great idea at the time.
I remember my feeling of dazed disappointment the first time I heard "Batdance" lurch to an end. "Batdance" isn't even a song, as such, but a cluster of unrelated chunks of underdone rhythm tracks, ineptly pasted together with chopped-up samples of film dialogue, a couple of lines flown in from other songs, Prince singing the hook from Neal Hefti's '60s Batman theme, and (in its album mix) a very aggressive guitar solo that has almost nothing to do with what's going on around it. Prince and Batman together? How could that not be awesome? What just went wrong here?
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Tim Burton's Batman movie, The Arkham Sessions takes a break from analyzing the psychology of Batman: The Animated Series to pay special tribute to the legendary film that influenced the style, music, and dark themes of the animated show. Consistent with her measured, analytical approach to the characters and stories of BTAS, Dr. Andrea Letamendi offers psychological conceptualizations of Burton's Batman and Joker with the help of co-host Brian Ward.
Is the film, as Burton once described, a story about the intertwined paths of Batman and the Joker, culminating in a "fight between two disturbed people?" Furthermore, how does Keaton's Bruce Wayne compare to Kevin Conroy's version when it comes to the maintenance -- or fusion -- of multiple identities? How is Nicholson's Joker more destructive and dangerous than Hamill's? Listen to this special edition of the The Arkham Sessions and reminisce about Batman '89 in a whole new way.
Three of Hollywood's biggest industry guilds have submitted an amicus brief in support of the Kirby estate in the case of Lisa Kirby V. Marvel Characters. The brief urges the Supreme Court to hear the case, as the guilds believe the outcome will have major implications for the film industry.
The latest trailer for producer the Michael Bay-produced, Jonathan Liebesman-directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gives us the most clarity we've seen yet on the new film based on on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s enduringly popular characters. While fans may never accept the lusciously lipped, Shrek-like designs for the TMNT, some may be relieved to learn the apparent fact that the Japanese villain Shredder will not be played by the distinctly non-Japanese William Fichtner, as previously reported.
No, now the Shredder is a robot.