Today marks twenty-five years since the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, a.k.a. Batman ’89. The arrival of that property seemed like the most important event of its decade (please note: I was only a decade old in 1989). It was definitely the most important Batman movie—the first outing since Adam West’s goofy tenure. Could they reclaim Bats from the campy mire of his 1960s tv series? Imagine if they’d messed it up. Twenty more years might have passed sans Batman. On the other hand, a chasm like that would have left the floor open for something totally wild, like a Wonder Woman movie.
There are, of course, folks out there who think they did mess up Batman ’89 and that the one true Bat-film is Batman Returns or The Dark Knight or one of the animated features. I am not one of those people. I dig Batman Returns, Dark Knight is probably my favorite film of the current era, but Batman ’89 is pure intoxication. The perfect meld of 1940s gothic and ’80s decay, a grime-streaked world where inky blackness acts like some kind of bizarre security blanket. They had trouble replicating that atmosphere even in the sequel where Burton was directly involved. And how can you top the disturbed, punchy combo of Keaton and Nicholson?
Sure, they cut a few corners. The Joker as the guy who murdered Batman’s parents is too convenient and in the end pointless when all they do is have Bats and J argue about it like sixth graders. They posit Vicki Vale as some big shot journalist but the solution to the Batman mystery is just served up to her on a plate. What do you want? No movie is perfect. Nothing’s perfect. Methinks the dialogue is crackling enough to cover these stumbles in plot.
This is the part where I remind you my parents did not let me see Batman ’89 at the cinema; a friend’s mother told my mother it was too violent. I must have complained all summer and fall because my dad brought it home on VHS that Christmas. He wouldn’t let me watch it straight up, though: first I had to sit through The Bells of St. Mary’s, which is one of those Bing Crosby movies where he breaks up fights between altar boys and croons for nuns. I appreciate this torturous move now but at the time I was pretty outraged. Still, I endured, and then Daddy-o let me watch Batman in peace.
To celebrate today’s auspicious occasion I will of course engage in some binge listening of Prince’s Batman ’89 soundtrack. I think a few Pat Hingle impressions are also in order. By the way, I’ve never understood those who gripe about the Prince music in Batman. The sexual undercurrent of pop funk accents the blackness and grit so nicely. Also, like the Joker, Prince is a garish weirdo outfitted in purple who is constantly on the verge of either kissing or slapping someone. Would you have preferred Michael Jackson? MJ was originally approached to write for the movie but couldn’t commit.
It could have been worse. They could have asked some hair metal band to write a power ballad about the Batmobile. One of the greatest joys Batman ’89 brings me is that I can watch it and not think about Vince Neil.