Study Guide

Batman

Batman Introduction


Release Year: 1989

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Sam Hamm

Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger


We're going to take you a back to a time when clowns terrorized the streets. No, not the Clownpocalypse of 2016 but the release of Tim Burton's Batman way back in 1989.

Prior to the release of Tim Burton's Batman, the Caped Crusader was last seen in theaters in 1966 with Batman: The Movie. Based on the popular TV show, it featured Adam West running around in blue tights, animated word bubbles like POW and ZAP flashing across the screen, and a man who didn't want to shave to play the Joker so he painted his moustache white. (Hey: it was 1966. Your 'stache was your calling card.)

Tim Burton's Batman, over thirty years later, shows us a gangster being dropped in acid, a man being electrocuted to death on screen, and Joker attempting to gas half the population. Yeah, we'll say things got a little bit darker in Gotham City while Batman was away.

American audiences didn't know what hit them…probably because they were just getting to know Tim Burton. Burton, who was just thirty-one at the time, had previously directed Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) and Beetlejuice (1988). But just from those two films, we all knew Burton could do two things well: dark and weird.

To bring his brand of offbeat quirkiness to the Dark Knight, Burton brought in Michael Keaton (who played the ghost with the most in Beetlejuice) to play eccentric zillionaire Bruce Wayne. Fans wanted someone with a little more action movie pedigree attached to the role, like Mel Gibson or Pierce Brosnan. (Source)

But Batman wasn't your typical summer blockbuster explosionfest, although it has plenty of big, beautiful, fiery explosions. With Keaton in the Batsuit, Batman became a character driven by angst and an identity crisis; a guy unsure of what world he belonged in.

A big-budget superhero film may have seemed like a weird choice for a director known for movies about strange, tortured loners like Lydia Deetz and Pee-wee Herman, but what better words to describe vigilante bajillionaire Bruce Wayne than "lonely," "strange," and "tortured"?

Tim Burton's Batman is notable for how weird and different it was at the time. But Batman himself is a weird and different character. Burton understood Batman, and by getting such a good grasp on the character, he introduced Batman to millions of people who had never picked up a comic book.

Burton understood villains too, and he knew that a hero, even a tortured one, isn't a hero without a villain. To give Batman an equal, Burton cast Jack Nicholson as Gotham's greatest villain: Joker. With a blinding grin, green hair, and a purple suit, Joker adds anarchy to Batman's already out-of-balance world. Nicholson plays him with glee, dancing around to Prince songs and sneering, "Wait 'til they get a load of me."

  

And get a load of him, they did. If Joker's plan was to have the highest grossing movie of 1989, it worked. Batman was the top film that year, beating Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, and The Little Mermaid at the box office. And that's not even counting all the cash money from toys, like the Bat Cave playset, the Bat Wing, the Joker van, and every child's favorite toy: Bob the Goon. (Source)

Burton and Keaton would collaborate on one more Batman film, Batman Returns (1992), before getting sick of Batmania. Keaton would later play a character suspiciously similar to himself in Birdman (2014) and Burton went on to create more tortured weirdoes like Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, and Johnny Depp.

The Batman franchise itself moved on to even more darker and violent territory. Christopher Nolan's trilogy of Batman films—includingThe Dark Knighthad even creepier clowns that make Nicholson's Joker and his thugs childish by comparison. But Burton's Batman, despite being set in comparatively simple times, defined the character for a new generation. And that is why it's the one with the simple title. No subtitle. No Begins or Returns or And Robin. It's just Batman.

What is Batman About and Why Should I Care?

Into every generation, a Batman is born.

Grandparents had Adam West as Batman: zany, colorful, and a little flabby. (Sorry, Adam.) Parents had Michael Keaton: dark, off-kilter, moody. You had Christian Bale: angry, conflicted, ripped like a Greek statue. We don't know which generation Ben Affleck belongs to. No one will claim him. (Sorrynotsorry, Ben.)

Even though all these men play the same character, each actor tackles the role differently, defining that Batman for its generation. Michael Keaton was the perfect 80's and 90's Batman—angsty, dark, and weird, but still hopeful. He may have been writing Gothic poetry in his bedroom, but he had no idea just how dark the world could actually be.

Tim Burton's Batman is the bridge from the colorful free-lovin' 1960's depicted in the Adam West-era Batman to the dark and depressing 21st Century of the Christian Bale-era Batman. It's the first Batman film to introduce a dark edge to the series…even if it might seem quaint in retrospect.

Burton also proved that Batman could make bank. The 90's saw three more Batman films, partially because Batman's massive box office success made big-budget superhero summer blockbusters cool again. Batman paved the way for the rebirth of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and a few other Mans we can't think of right now.

Finally, Batman showed us how important it is for the villain to be just as much, if not more, of a character in the film. Batman is just as much about Joker as it is about Batman. We can thank Nicholson's portrayal of Joker for inspiring knockout performances by Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor, and even Heath Ledger as Joker part deux in The Dark Knight.

It's important to honor those heroes, villains, and movie directors that came before us. Just as you wouldn't exist were it not for your parents and grandparents, modern iterations of Batman wouldn't exist were it not for Michael Keaton and Tim Burton's Batman. (It's weird to think of Michael Keaton giving birth to Christian Bale, but that's pretty much what happened.)

And now you'll never get that image out of your head.

Trivia

Someone thought Smilex, the name of the gas Joker used to kill Gotham citizens, would be a good name for an electric toothbrush. It could be the last toothbrush you ever use, but at least your smile will be bright and wide. (Source)

Tim Burton was criticized for not having enough Batman in Batman. But fans with a keen eye and good math skills calculated the percentage of screen time that Bruce Wayne is snugly tucked inside his Batsuit. The verdict? Tim Burton's Batman has the most bat-time out of all the Batman movies (Batmen movies?), including the Christopher Nolan films. (Source)

Another group of eagle-eyed fans with keen timekeeping skills timed Joker's ascent of Gotham Cathedral. He tells his men to arrive in ten minutes. How long does it take them to arrive? Ten minutes. Man, do these fans watch movies with stopwatches at the ready? (Source)

Would a bat by any other name smell as sweet? Actually, we don't want to know what a bat—or Batman—smells like. But we would be curious to slip into a parallel universe where another actor was considered for the part of Batman. Other actors rumored to be in contention for the starring bat role in 1989 included Alec Baldwin, Pierce Brosnan, Bill Murray, and Charlie Sheen. (Source)

Speaking of casting rumors, Blade Runner co-star Sean Young was cast as Vicki Vale, but had to drop out due to an injury. Later, Sean Young would break onto the Warner Bros. set dressed as Catwoman, believing that she would be a better fit for the role in Tim Burton's Batman Returns than Michelle Pfeiffer. (Source)

Billy Dee Williams isn't some Rando Calrissian who wandered in off the streets. He was a big-name actor at the time, so why is he only in Batman briefly? Well, his character, Harvey Dent, later becomes Batman's nemesis Two-Face. By the time Batman Forever rolled around, and Tim Burton was replaced by Joel Schumacher, the role was recast with Tommy Lee Jones. (Source)

Batman Resources

WEBSITES

The Bat Cave
This website is a shrine to Tim Burton's two Batman films.

All the Bat News that's Fit to Bat Print
Batman Online covers news big—interview with a guy who played a goon in 1989's Batman—and small—casting news for modern Batman films.

BOOK OR TV ADAPTATIONS:

On the Books
Writing the novelization, Craig Shaw Gardener tightened up any plot holes big enough to drive the Batmobile through.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

Opposites Attract
Burton describes himself as an "optimistic pessimist" in this article. We'd describe Batman the same way.

Out of the Box
Read this interview with the fat mime from Batman. He speaks, so you don't have to interpret the whole thing from hand signals.

Looking Back at the Bat
Michael Keaton channeled his own personal loneliness into the Batman role. It almost makes us cry little bat-tears.

The Joke's on Him
Jack Nicholson was "furious" that Heath Ledger took over the role, and we don't think he's joking. Or is he?

VIDEO

One Bat Wing Down
Siskel loved Batman. Ebert, who is perhaps the Joker in disguise, did not. These two batty guys fly in circles reviewing the film.

Dark Shadows
Burton addresses the question as to whether or not the Joker is too flamboyant and over-shadows Batman. Batman likes shadows, so we think he's fine with being in the background.

Batmania
Forget Zika or SARS, in 1989 everyone was consumed by one plague: Batmania.

He Who Doesn't Sin
If you think there's nothing wrong with Tim Burton's Batman, CinemaSins has 148 counterpoints for you to consider.

AUDIO

Bat Boy
This isn't the Batman radio show from the 1940's, but it is a radio program about the man who brought Batman back from the brink of obscurity.

The Purple One
You can listen to Prince's Batman soundtrack until you're purple in the face.

IMAGES

Behind the Bat-Scenes
Keaton and Nicholson ham it up like Abbot and Costello Meet Batman and Joker in these promo shots.

In Living Color
This fan-made poster is the opposite of the minimalist original, but it's a ton of fun.