Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Batman


  Batman is a big deal to me, seeing as how I saw it after Batman & Robin, and then also after Batman Forever. I was a 90's kid. Not an 80's kid. My dad also felt it was too dark for me as a youngster whereas the ridiculously neon stylings of Batman & Robin was a natural progression from my early childhood favorite: Batman: The Movie. So after years and years of camp and cheese, my dad bought me Batman. It was nothing short of a revelation. A revelation I can imagine being nothing short of a cultural phenom when it came out. Comic book movies don't have to be lighthearted or campy. Brilliant notion.

  Batman takes it to the extreme for it's era. It's less concerned with flashy action scenes, and more concerned with the oddities of reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne (Keaton) and the psychotic proclivities of The Joker (Nicholson). It's more concerned with style and awe instead of story and pacing. Batman has fits of intensity, and then long sequences of socializing and investigating. Characters brood over newspaper clippings or TV monitors, they lurk around preparing for their next encounter. Plot-wise, Batman is tight as a drum. Story-wise, I feel it leaves something to be desired.

  I don't feel like Bruce Wayne has much of a character arc here. We follow him around as he goes sorta nuts over reporter Vicki Vale (Basinger), but it seems like he's only peripherally interested in her. Alfred seems to be far more smitten with the concept of Bruce settling down than Bruce is smitten with anything but being Batman. He always seems preoccupied or deep in thought. Although he does eventually realize that he should invest in a relationship with Vale, the realization hits him with the impact of someone remembering where they left their keys.

  This whole situation does end up producing one of the movie's best scenes. But you wonder how he got to that point, emotionally. He's been such a champ at being detached thus far. Then again, this is why I love Keaton as Bruce Wayne. His performance is odd, aloof and weird, and deserving of a better plot- not a cliche romance that honestly adds very little to the movie. This is not a substitute for an actual character arc. He starts and ends the movie in the exact same emotional state. He learns nothing, he doesn't grow as a person, nada. Yet... I think this is simply because Batman himself is not the focus. The villains are. They will always be, at least until Batman Begins. However, the movie's strengths far outweigh these weaknesses.

  Batman succeeds where virtually all it's successors utterly fail. Gotham city. Gotham and Batman are inseparable. You can't stick Batman in California and maintain the same tone. Batman inhabits Gotham City the way a bat inhabits a cave. It has to be dark, creepy, and have danger lurking around every corner. Gotham City here is not just New York dressed up as Gotham, it's been built from the ground up. It looks like something out of a dark and twisted dream. Old and new architecture are present, but they clash. It isn't a smooth blend of old and new, the new industrial architecture is like a cancer, ravaging Gotham. Steam vents and smoke stacks sprout from the buildings like insidious weeds in a dying garden. This city was crafted behind the scenes, it wasn't just a set that they put together. There are matte paintings, miniatures, and all kinds of effects used to bring Gotham to life.

  They understood that Gotham had to live and breathe, just like the dark knight himself. It shows, and the end result is nothing short of breathtaking. As a backdrop, the city is a fantastic stage for the plot to unfold. Double dealings, dirty cops, mob bosses, and of course the caped crusader himself taking no prisoners. It isn't really fair to slight the movie about the romance subplot, because I also think that it is interesting to measure how Bruce Wayne interacts with women. The freakier they are, the more interested he is. I mean... he can't possibly have normal tastes. No way. Batman is not the mask, Bruce Wayne is. Bruce has no time for the mundane, and as actor Robert Wuhl remarks at one point in the movie, the rich are odd "because they can afford to be." Well, Bruce is so rich, he can not only afford to be odd, he can afford to be Batman.

  Batman himself is brought to life wonderfully in this movie. He's dark, violent, odd and memorable. The casting of Michael Keaton has gone down in history as one of the riskiest casting choices ever, and one can see why. He doesn't look like a Batman at first glance. Hell, he doesn't even look like a Bruce Wayne. Yet, Keaton inhabits the role with a very dark distance about him. He seems a million miles away whenever he's Bruce Wayne, and as Batman he has a violent fire behind his eyes. Nicholson is still the best Joker, gleefully delighting in the chaos and the mayhem he causes, something Heath Ledger's Joker never did. Ledger's Joker is far more deadpan, much less hysterics. Which work in the Nolan movies, but here...? We needed Jack Nicholson's insanity. It's perfect.

  Between Batman and the Joker we have a gaggle of gadgets and guns and henchmen and vehicles and... it goes on and on. It's ridiculously fun, as most of the movie is. There's no denying that. From start to finish, Batman commands the viewer's attention with an out of step time period, and a gothic art deco style that one simply can't place. It's a comic book brought to life. That's all the explaining I've ever needed to do. In the translation though, it does lose a few things, and reinterprets a few other things. It adds a connection between Batman and the Joker that... seemed odd and tenuous at best, but I guess it completed this little circle they had going of "you created me and I created you". I'm not a huge fan on that point, but eh. It doesn't change that much about either character. Worse things have happened. Like... Batman & Robin.

  Anyways, despite it's sparse action, and style-heavy proceedings, the movie is still careening towards the inevitable showdown, which doesn't disappoint. The movie is big on spectacle if nothing else. Not the sort of Michael Bay spectacle we've all come to expect from summer blockbusters these days... but a sleek, gothic, stylish brand of spectacle. Then again... this is directed by Tim Burton. It's a fantastic movie to look at, and is a true experience. To date, despite it's shortcomings, I believe it's the best Batman movie, and it also happens to be my favorite Batman movie. In the process of writing this, I've also been watching it's sequel, Batman Returns... contemplating whether or not I want to write a review on it. But you can be sure that if I do, it'll be at the same Bat-Time on the same Bat-Channel!

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