The character of Batman is a creation of pre World War II America. Conceived in 1939, Batman was originally a “pulp” hero, who cared little for killing or maiming those that he went up against. However, the character evolved over time, taking on the nobler attributes that many comic fans have come to expect from the character today. During this metamorphosis, the character morphed from costumed detective, to a campy, cartoonish version to match the Adam West television show, and ultimately to a full blown superhero with the lifestyle to match. Regardless of the constant reinvention, comic sales continued to drop in the 1970’s and early 80’s, and by 1985, circulation was at an all time low.
Then in 1986, Frank Miller reinvented the character into a much darker, more intense caped crusader in his seminal works The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. This Batman was extremely dark, and very grim. Hell, he didn’t even shave on a daily basis like that puss Superman. This Dark Knight was bound and determined to root out injustice wherever it maybe. With this as their template, Warner Brothers decided to launch Batman onto the big screen. Looking for a director that could properly convey this modern day retelling of the Dark Knight, Warner Brothers quickly settled on the one man that could accomplish this task, the director of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Tim Burton. Warner felt that only Burton’s vision could shed the campy perception of Batman that was forever stuck in the general public’s view of the hero due to the hit 60’s television show and replace it with the awful late 1980’s campy instead. Burton set out and cast his vision of the perfect Dark Knight, the one actor who epitomized the brooding, reclusive, athletic super hero. Of course, that actor was Mr. Mom himself, Michael Keaton. Apparently Johnny Depp was busy that week.
Our film begins on the streets of Gotham, grim and dirty, and filled with crime. You can almost smell the poverty coming off the screen. I imagine it smells like a blend of a nursing home and the sleeping bag of a carny. The criminal underworld is a flutter with rumors of “The Bat” killing criminals in the city. Two criminals who just successfully robbed a family who had stumbled into the wrong alley, encounter the Bat. He beats up both criminals after taking one gunshot to the chest. He pronounces that he will not kill them, but wants them to send a message for him. He is Batman. Apparently, Batman is not into the whole brevity thing.
The film then jumps to the lead character of this film, Jack Napier, played by the poor man’s Christian Slater, Jack Nicholson. Napier is the right hand man to the lead criminal mafia boss in Gotham, Carl “Curly” Grissom. Unfortunately, the right hand has been placed where it doesn’t belong recently, and Grissom has caught onto the scent that Napier has been sneaking around with Grissom’s girl. Grissom sets Jack up, in the hopes that he will get pinched. Batman beats the police to the punch, and during the struggle, accidentally drops Jack into a vat of Nickelodeon-slime, forever scarring Jack, physically and emotionally. But not financially, since Nicholson reportedly took home$60 million for the role. Jack is now Joker.
In a very hostile takeover, Joker kills Grissom, and takes over his organization. The clown prince of crime starts his crime spree, which is essentially to make people into him, but has the nasty side effect of causing death. Did we mention the Nickelodeon-slime scarred him mentally too? Batman foils one of the Jokers plans, and then interrupts the Joker while he is out on dinner date with Vicki Vale, the throw away female character in the film – masterfully depicted by Kim Basinger, who is best known as the mother of a rude, thoughtless little pig. Soon, Bruce Wayne stumbles upon the fact that Jack Napier is the killer of his parents, erasing nearly 50 years of mythology for the sake of giving some motivation to Batman to take on the Joker.
The film culminates with the Joker attempting to gas the citizens of Gotham with giant balloons. Why? Who gives a fuck, they’re balloons, and I guess death by a giant baby balloon is pretty funny to the Joker. Batman interrupts his plans by stealing his balloons with his Bat-wing, a supersonic, multitasking, crime-fighting plane that can be shot down with one hit from a pistol. The Joker and Batman battle for Vicki Vale’s affections atop of Gotham cathedral, a church that appears to be made of nothing but stairs and deteriorating brick. Must have been a union job. Joker survives Batman’s initial attack which leads to Batman and Vale hanging from the edge of the building. The Joker attempts to make his escape via a helicopter, but Batman essentially ties him to the building. Ultimately, our protagonist falls to his death due to the creditability of the plot being stretched too far…and probably because the studio couldn’t afford to bring back Joker for the sequel. Batman and Vale also fall, but are saved by one of Batman’s many toys. In the end, the police forgive Batman for all the people he has killed in the film because he gave them a light that shines a bat on the clouds.Listen To The Podcast