Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ever Dance With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight?

I remember getting out of the car, walking up to the theatre and in front of the ticket window was the Batmobile. Not the old 60’s version, but the new, sleek, jet-black Batmobile. I didn’t know the word when I was eight, but that car was sexy. And now, as I watch Batman again, almost twenty years later, I realize the word isn’t sexy; it’s stylized.

I’m not going to dwell on the shortcomings of the film or turn this into an “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Tim Burton’s Batman” blog, but I can only talk about my memories of the movie as a kid and how I look at it now. It is one of those great movies like Temple of Doom, which should be for kids, but is decidedly not. There are plenty of campy touches especially in the sound effects with punches that sound hollow and bullets that whiz by like in an old western. But, Tim Burton being Tim Burton fought tooth and nail with the studio to make a much darker version of the Caped Crusader. From someone who admittedly never reads comic books, but was inspired by The Killing Joke, his film strikes a fine line between the personal and the professional.

Apparently, there was a huge outcry against the casting of Michael Keaton in the movie. The internet did not exist then and I don’t really remember any of it, but I can understand why people were suspicious and also, why they were satisfied. His is great as Bruce Wayne, but in all of the movies, I’ve never seen anything as compelling as Keaton trying to tell Kim Basinger that he is Batman. He captures the true essence of Wayne in the scene, wrestling with his dual identity and who he can let into his world. There wasn’t as much of that even in Begins. I have always been a big Keaton fan and to me, Batman may not always be Keaton, but Keaton will always be Batman.

"My life is really... complex."

One cannot talk about the film without talking about Jack. The Oscar winner goes over the top for this role, playing off his public persona and previous performances. But enough about Jack Palance, Jack Nicholson is the star of the film, as expressly written in his contract giving him top billing and a huge percentage of the film’s gross profit, approximately sixty million dollars. He chews through the scenery, has the best lines in the script and did I mention he made sixty million dollars off this movie? He was the definitive Joker character, but even Mark Hamill in the cartoon was better than Nicholson’s incarnation.

"Love that Joker!"

I really loved Kim Basinger in the movie and especially Robert Wuhl, as the more intrepid reporter Frank Knox. That they never brought back his character is another shortcoming of the series, right up there with not bringing back Billy Dee Williams, opting for a different three named actor to flesh out that role.

The final climax is one which never was really topped, not even in Begins. Everyone knew that Bale could beat Neeson, but in this movie, Batman is in mortal danger and having already saved the city, fights for himself. Instead, he would go on in other movies to always save someone else or, (I can’t believe I’m typing this) save Gotham City from freezing. Batman is bloodied, beat up and about to exact revenge on the man who (allegedly) killed his parents. It never got that personal again for Batman until Begins. Even in Forever, they really missed out on the parallels between Dick Grayson and Bruce that forged a real relationship and trust between the two that doesn’t exist in the film. They tried to make a big deal out of family in the fourth film, but it felt false and forced, all alliteration aside.

My thoughts kept returning to The Dark Knight though and I was struck by how many themes in this film are to be revisited in the new one. Of course, there is the obvious comparison’s between Nicholson and Ledger’s performances, but I think we can lay those to rest now. I’m talking about issues like corruption, organized crime, a love triangle and the city’s ambivalence towards Batman. Plus, you add in beefed up roles for both Alfred and Gordon, toss in secondary characters like Lucius Fox, Scarecrow, the Gordon kids, Mike Engel and more, it’s no wonder the film is almost three hours long.

As I watch the film again, I’m filled with a sense of nostalgia. It’s feeling that has permeated me lately with the impending release of The Dark Knight. Because Batman is timeless, the movies make me feel like a kid again, only this time, I’m going into it a much wiser and older kid. I can’t wait.


Fletch said...

Just seeing the images takes me back.

I was 12 when Batman came out. It's safe to say that I was right about the target audience, and it's also safe to say that I gobbled it up hook, line and sinker.

It saddens me a bit to watch it these days and admit to myself that it hasn't aged as well as I thought it would (for example, despite the mostly old-time look, the use of 80s-era sedans for the Joker's goons and other cars in the background kill the illusion for me every time), it still has aged okay for a 20 year old film.

It's a dead heat for me in the "best Batman" contest between Keaton and Bale. Thankfully, they're very different actors giving us very different portrayals.

I love Nicholson's perfomance and can't stand when others say how he was just being himself. I disagree - I think he really caught the spirit of the character, and damn - he was dangerous.

And I gotta tell ya - that Batmobile is still the sweetest damn car around. I'll take that over the Rumbler any day of the week.

It's a shame that the first in each series is so strong, as they can't help but be compared - it'd be a lot easier if one of them really sucked. ;)

(No, I'm not counting this as my entry to the blog-a-thon, but it's probably long enough. Sorry.)

Michael J. Mendez said...

I'm afraid I may have saturated my childhood in saccharine as well. Sugar coated with syrup on side, some should say, all alliteration aside.

It is not as great a movie as I remember it to be. But, I tend to let go of myself for about ninety minutes and get caught up in it again. The good parts definitely keep me moving through the bad parts and I truly get excited for that scene in the apartment between Bruce and the Joker.

Mean kid. Bad seed. Hurt people.