Batman has changed over the years. He’s gone from Holy Rusted Metal to hallucinogens, from campy to comedy and then back to campy. He’s been through more first ladies than half of its leading men, and has seen more directors than an ingénue.
First up to bat in the Batman movies was Tim Burton, fresh off of Beetlejuice and right before Edward Scisscorhands. Burton’s Gotham is a noirish nightmare that grabs you from the opening scene. Batman is still a spook story to criminals, but he’s a rumor spreading like wildfire. Bumbling on the trail is jackass journalist Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), and the girl drawn to the mystery of the bat is Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger).
Across town, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is a cocky criminal striking it to the boss’ squeeze, and when the boss finds out, Jack gets a permanent facelift that makes the plastic surgery in Brazil look merciful. Being forced to put on a happy face isn’t a bad thing for Napier’s disposition… it’s everyone else it sucks for.
Comparing Batman movies is truly apples and oranges (aside from Batman & Robin, which sucked beyond all possible question). Burton’s Batman is halfway between camp and cool. Burton’s surrealistic signature seeps through every pore of the film (really, who else but Tim Burton can make a scene with choreographed mime attacks), and this Batman has enough outlandish visuals and strange sayings to stick the quoteaholics on repeat for a week.
Nicholson plays the Joker with the sardonic glee that only Jack can. Outdoing his overacting in The Shining, good old Jack and Tim Burton work together to go for broke at being over the top. Jack makes jokes that Carrot Top wouldn’t touch and turns them into situational gold.
With as much of the show being stolen by Jack, Keaton can’t help but play second fiddle in his own movie. Keaton plays Batman with the charm of the boy next door… which is exactly what Batman doesn’t need to be. Instead of caped crusader, we get to see the sweet side of Bruce Wayne. Instead of an athlete, Keaton’s Batman moves like a slasher-flick psycho, a determined constant force to deter evil. But despite Keaton’s strange schism between sap and psychopath, Tim Burton’s Batman is still such great fun.
Burton’s Batman is a must see. It’s a comic counterpart to Batman Begins with just enough action in to make life interesting. Burton’s first Batman is a cynical cinematic masterpiece that shouldn’t be missed by any who call themselves sarcastic.
The new Anthology DVD set includes the first four Batman films: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. Each comes in a two-disc pack (that’s eight discs total), with commentary tracks, making-of featurettes, music videos, and deleted scenes (for Forever and Robin). Extra points for an impressive box design.
You know the name.