Over the years, the superhero genre has grown into a money making monster. As I am typing this, Marvel’s Doctor Strange is dominating the global box office, proving that no matter who, or what, comic you decide to transform into a 2-hour CGI beast, even if the global mainstream audience might not know the character per se, will be a money maker. As a huge, diehard comic book fan, I am overall pleased with the films coming out recently. Even if there are a few duds (looking at you Batman v. Superman), these films are usually a good popcorn flick that brings out the inner comic book nerd in me. It wasn’t always this way, though. Rewind the clock over 30 years and none of these films would have even been considered. Guardians of the Galaxy? Doctor Strange? Ant Man? None of these characters are really household names like, say, Spider-Man or Superman. It’s crazy to see the landscape of the genre change over all these years. 30 years ago, superheroes and comics were considered nothing more than just books for kids. The casual fans had characters like Superman engraved into their mind as Christopher Reeve, and Batman was nothing more than a campy crime fighter. Thankfully for the diehard fans, they had the ’80s renaissance of dark and adult-themed comics coming in. With Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore coming out with the legendary Watchmen and V for Vendetta around that time, these books were being taken seriously again. For the film fans, though, the landscape of the whole superhero genre was about to change.
1989’s Batman was the first jolt of energy to the whole genre. Directed by Tim Burton, this dark, sinister, and somber take on the popular caped crusader exposed film audiences to a new take on this legendary character. Batman explores the life of Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), the billionaire owner of Wayne Enterprises who is known for his lushes parties and extravagant fundraisers and who, at night, goes out into the corrupt metropolis city of Gotham as the crime fighter/detective Batman to inject fear into the criminal underworld, as a result of being haunted all his life by the death of his parents. As the Dark Knight continues his war on the crime wave in Gotham, a new and mysterious enemy who brands himself as the Joker (Jack Nicholson) vows to take down the bat once and for all, as well as take over the city for himself. With the revelation that this new foe might have connections to his past, Bruce physically and mentally fights this enemy as well as his inner demons, with the help of reporter Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and the campaigning DA Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams), and eventually proves himself as the true hero of Gotham.
Before he got too quirky for his own good, director Tim Burton lends his odd eye to the production of Batman, designs THE definitive visual representation of Gotham, and still trumps the films that followed his. With winding roads that traverse a city of taller-than-believable towers that hang above the city like a canopy, and the dark, brooding and gothic mansion of Wayne Manor, the production design on Batman is still hauntingly beautiful to this day. On top of this, the cinematography paints Gotham as a beautiful but dangerous opposite of other beautiful metropolises. In addition, the brooding performances of the dark and distant Bruce Wayne and the darkly humorous but still dangerous Joker, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson really play well as the polar opposites of the film. One man wants to restore justice to the city he loves and the other wants pure chaos on the streets, with both of them having wanting overall control of the city for different purposes. With a great supporting cast of Kim Basinger as the love interest to Bruce Wayne, Michael Gough as the stern but caring butler Alfred Pennyworth and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Tim Burton builds this ensemble level cast and uses every character perfectly, so no one ever feels shoehorned in.
Spawning 3 sequels (Returns being my personal favorite one and the last 2 being pretty abysmal) and an amazingly underrated animated show in the early ’90s, Batman transcended what people thought of superhero films, giving the mainstream a dark and twisted tale of the dark underworld of crime. The success of this formula would allow future comic book adaptions to even be considered, such as X-Men, Blade and Spider-Man, with these films contributing even more to the boom of the comic book genre. In reality, the expansion of the comic book film is really directly related to the success of Batman, so without Batman, we probably wouldn’t have the films we have today.
dir. Tim Burton
Screens Friday, 11/11, 11:59 PM @ Coolidge Corner Theatre