Batman ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The comic book movie has certainly expanded and blossomed over the past preceding decade, less concentrated on the themes in regards to the obligations and strengths of the hero themselves, and more fixated on the idea of of the comprehensive and intricate mythos. If only the Greek scholars of millenia ago could see the landscape and orientation of mythologies today, no doubt confused by the overabundance of tragic backstories and acts of justice for the sake of duty, rather than definitions of morally repugnant actions and quests for the sake of glory. Not that superheroes have to clash against the supervillain on a skulled shaped island and expect to be compensated for their efforts, what I’m saying is that our modern culture’s definition of a “hero” has very much matured and changed over the following thousand years. And one of its earliest cinematic incarnations would assuredly help set the framework for modern comic movies today. Tim Burton’s Batman is ravishing, straightforward, but delivers a solid equilibrium between avant-garde macabre, and utmost elegance and dignity.

The city of Gotham is no stranger when it comes to its taste in the theatrics. One minute a family is getting mugged in an alleyway, and the next minute those same street thugs are getting hounded and assaulted by a vigilante dressed as a flying rodent, armed with an assortment of gadgets and weaponry. Throughout the criminal underworld of Gotham, only one name strikes fear among the most seasoned of crooks...the Batman. And it is this name that attracts the imagination of journalists like Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), determined to get more information and a credible story about the mysterious caped crusader. But for others, the name elicits resentment and retribution, such as in the case of homicidal bandits like Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), after falling into a pool of chemicals during a nasty encounter with the vigilante, transforming into the forever smiling psychopath: the Joker. Meanwhile, Vicki starts becoming more intrigued into the personal life of an isolated billionaire, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), unaware that he is secretly her Dark Knight in shining armor himself.

The narrative itself is, more or less, thinly light on composited structure, focusing instead on the hero vs. villain dynamic that helped make the brand of superheroes popular in the first place. So anyone who craves for something with a little bit more substance are likely to be left hanging, like a bat themselves. The appliance of special effects in the movie, while interesting and a few exceptional, have unsurprisingly antiquated over the past few decades.

But even I would concur that these are merely minor complaints, at best, what the movie lacks in both an intricate plot and immunity to aging, more than makes up for it in conveying its simplicity through the its visual storytelling. While noticeably chintzy in a few places, the gothic and art deco set design and locations communicate a distinguishable ambience and aura that other comic book films have yet to emulate. Burton’s decision of allowing the presence of slower and quieter moments, do a great job of allowing the audience the opportunity to absorb the environment and the emotions of the characters. The first time we’re introduced to Bruce Wayne at a fundraiser held at his manor, both we, Ms. Vale, and her partner, Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), start making assumptions that Wayne’s life is all banquets and glamor. It’s not until both Ms. Vale, and therefore the audience, start to discover an underlying tragedy to Bruce, and how it has affected him for most of his life. “What do you suppose does that to a kid?” says Knox as he shows Vicki the headline of Bruce’s parents being killed in an alley. What it does is create themes of seclusion and solitude. As Bruce Wayne, he is isolated from the rest of Gotham in a luxurious mansion in the outskirts, as his alter ego, Batman, he prefers being thought of as a rumor or myth, not allowing any photographic evidence of his existence because it helps inspire fear into his enemies. Michael Keaton succeeds in delivering a very sly and unassuming approach to the character he plays, and the scenes where he and Basinger are put together in the same room without wearing any masks always feel honest and legitimate - never once do I get the impression they’re reading from a script. Jack Nicholson as the Joker serves as a perfect reversal analogue to that of both Wayne and Batman: prideful, flashy, and desperate for any kind of attention (and also the murderer to Bruce’s parents of course).

But the cherry on top of what helps define these characters, the scenes they share amongst each other, and the city they inhabit, is the absolutely monumental and grandiose score by Danny Elfman. Were it not for Burton’s direction, the music for the film would be delegated to background noise, recognizing the significance and impression music can have on action sequences and other individual moments of calm. The scene where Batman drives Ms. Vale to his “Batcave” after saving her from Joker’s goons, has only one line of dialogue, letting the performing music convey the entire gravity of the moment itself.

Though reaching third when it comes to an interweaving and substantial narrative, Batman finishes first in creating an aesthetically stunning spectacle, that has the decency to carry a modicum of grandeur and intelligence for its comic book audience. Had it not been for Burton’s directing and Elfman’s talent, it’s an all likelihood that this movie would’ve been at home, “washing its tights.”