'Batman' (1989)/Directed by Tim Burton/Grade: A-
This is one that I took awhile to finish, as I had a hard time warming up to it. But once I finally got around to seeing Tim Burton's Batman (1989) all the way through last year, not only did I know right away it was one of his best films, but one of the best superhero movies I've seen.
The story followed The Caped Crusader (Michael Keaton, perfectly cast and wonderfully odd in his trademark role) as he goes up against his first major adversary, The Joker (Jack Nicholson). As Batman clashed with the clown prince of crime, Bruce Wayne also fell in love with photojournalist Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger), who was reporting on the Batman.
One of the things that made this stand out so much is how it truly felt like the crew took the Batman comics, and magically brought them into the real world. From Anton Furst's grimy, gothic production design, to Bob Ringwood's noir-esque costumes, Batman created a truly transportive world.
Danny Elfman's score was also one of his absolute finest. Right at the start, was about as extravagantly heroic, propulsive and full of energy as I could imagine. Elfman has been a legend for a long time, and when he passes away, I guarantee this will be remembered as a crowning achievement.
Additionally, Michael Keaton proved to be the best onscreen Batman I had seen. Carrying himself with utter intensity and authority, he immediately made me think, no one comes close. Not only that, he crafted a totally unique, funny and likable portrayal of Bruce Wayne. When I watched him have conversations with Vicky, it seemed like two people who genuinely enjoyed each other's company. The Dark Knight (2008) may be my favorite Batman movie, but I always felt bored with Bruce and Rachel Dawes' (Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal) romantic subplot, as they didn't have any chemistry. Ergo, it existed as something to progress the story. Here, I legitimately wanted to see Bruce and Vicky's courtship flourish and thrive.
From an action filmmaking standpoint, Batman had ferocious energy, combining tightly choreographed hand-to-hand fights, equally tight editing by the late Ray Lovejoy, and dated but still visually exciting special effects. I was particularly exhilarated by Batman's climactic confrontation with The Joker.
Lastly, I need to make note of the script's comic-book-style dialogue. While Bruce and Vicky spoke to each other like real human beings, everybody else spoke to each other with a lovable amount of hamminess, without winking at the camera. It was so much fun to watch a cast who clearly had as much fun on set.
At the end of the day, while it's not my top pick amongst Batman films (it ranks as #3 on that list), this is a stunning and aesthetically distinctive picture. It's filled with awesome visuals, quirky and fascinating characters and performances. This is not only one of the best superhero movies ever, but one of the best comic book movies in general, as well as one of Tim Burton's finest efforts. Check it out if you somehow haven't seen it yet.