In 1989, Warner Bros. Pictures released Batman (aka Batman ’89). The live-action comic book movie, directed by Tim Burton, starred Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Kim Basinger, and introduced ‘80s audiences to the Dark Knight.
Prior to the release of Batman ‘89, the most famous version of the character was the light-hearted Caped Crusader, as seen in the 1966 Batman television series. This iteration starred Adam West and Burt Ward and was a comedic take on the character – far removed from what Burton was set to deliver.
Before Batman ’89 arrived in movie theatres, fans of the ‘60s show were a little apprehensive, worried about what might appear on the big screen now that Batman was getting an update. However, once Batman ’89 arrived, all that changed – the film was an instant hit with audiences and critics alike, cementing the film’s status as a gamechanger.
Batman ’89 was also a monster hit at the box office. The film was a huge financial success around the world, practically turning it into a stone-cold classic overnight.
But all these years on from its initial release does Batman ’89 still stand up? Does the movie continue to offer all the action, excitement, and wonder that it did all those years ago?
Well, today I’m taking a look back at Batman ’89, to find out if it still works. I will be rewatching the film, and passing comment on it in real-time, so that you can see my thoughts.
Is Batman ’89 still a good movie? I guess we shall find out…
4secs – The Warner Bros. logo appears, the Batman theme music (composed by Danny Elfman) kicks in, and I am so ready for this movie!
1mins – The bombastic theme, played over a set of opening credits, is the PERFECT way to open this film. It sets the tone of the picture, while giving the audience all of the star names that are set to appear in the film, and makes it clear this is something special.
2mins 35secs – Ok, opening credits are over and here comes Gotham City. This city scape is a mix of physical sets and matte paintings. It’s grim, grubby, incredibly uninviting, and yet oh so expressive. I love it!
4mins 30secs – As the film gets started, a husband, wife, and son are trying to get a cab in downtown Gotham. After failing to secure a vehicle they decide to cut across town, which is CLEARLY a big mistake. Within seconds they are jumped by two alley-dwelling lowlifes.
4mins 35secs – With crime taking place on the streets below, Batman is watching from up high, ready to pounce. This scene paves the way for the Dark Knight’s first appearance in this movie. Only this first appearance is a bit rubbish. Why? Because it’s an animated Batman!
The very first shot of Batman on screen is not an actor, but a piece of animation. No idea why this choice was made, but it sure sticks out like a sore thumb here. Thankfully Michael Keaton shows up in just a few seconds, with a dynamic action scene to show who the real Batman is! Hurrah!
5mins – One of the most obvious things to note about this movie is just how dark it is – something which seemed so alien to audiences back in 1989, yet doesn’t seem alien at all these days, now that we’ve all gotten so used to this being the default setting.
I remember watching this film on VHS in ‘89/’90 and thinking how different it was to the ‘60s show. I think it took me a couple of watches to truly get my head around it.
7mins 5secs – The introduction of a couple of key characters here: Commissioner James Gordon, as played by Pat Hingle, and District Attorney Harvey Dent, as played by Billy Dee Williams. Both of these characters/actors should have appeared in multiple movies, but sadly only one of them did.
Hingle makes his debut here, then returns for the next three Batman movies. Sadly, Williams gets the short end of the stick, by being dropped for the next film, and then replaced by a different actor for the third movie.
Should he have come back? 100% yes.
8mins – Another important introduction and one which some would say is the most important introduction of them all, it’s now time for Jack Nicholson. Here he is introduced as mobster, Jack Napier.
8mins 20secs – Jerry Hall also pops up, playing the role of Alicia Hunt – the girlfriend of mob boss Carl Grissom.
For the record, Alicia is NOT playing a version of Harley Quinn. I know that some people misremember the film and think this is some Harley prototype, but it’s not.
9mins 45secs – Another introduction, this time for Lieutenant Eckhardt, as played by William Hootkins. Eckhardt is a dirty cop, modelled loosely on two police officers from the comics: Arnold Flass from 1987’s Batman: Year One comic, as well as Harvey Bullock.
10mins 15secs – The introductions keep on coming, with Robert Wuhl taking on the role of reporter, Alexander Knox. This is a character who only appears in one Batman movie (sorry to all you Knox fans out there), but he is a significant player in this film.
Rather interestingly, despite his one-movie appearance, Wuhl reprised the part of Knox for a brief cameo in Crisis on Infinite Earths – the TV crossover event from the Arrowverse.
12mins – Tracey Walter pops up playing Bob the Goon – Jack Napier’s right-hand man. Walter was cast in this film because he is good friends with Jack Nicholson in real life.
13mins 15secs – A little nod to Batman co-creator, Bob Kane here.
13mins 35secs – Next big introduction goes to… Vicki Vale, as played by Kim Basinger. Although, I need to point out that there’s a misspelling of her name in this initial scene!
When Vicki is talking to Alexander Knox, he has a copy of Time magazine in his hand, which features some of her photography work. On the cover of the magazine it features her name, which is credited as Vicky Vale – Vicky with a ‘y’. Her actual name is spelt Vicki with an ‘I’.
14mins – For those who don’t know, Kim Basinger wasn’t the original actress cast for this movie; she was a very, very late addition to the film. The original actress was Sean Young, who had to pull out of the film at the 11th hour, after she broke her arm in a horse riding accident. And now you know.
15mins 30secs – I’m now fifteen and a half minutes into this movie, and there’s yet another big introduction. This time it is for Carl Grissom, as played by Jack Palance.
So that’s Michael Keaton, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Nicholson, Jerry Hall, Kim Basinger, and Jack Palance! Even if this movie had flopped back in 1989, it would have flopped with one of the best casts around at the time.
17mins 45secs – And speaking of the cast, the final key player is introduced in the shape of Michael Gough, who is playing the role of Alfred Pennyworth, better known as Bruce Wayne’s trusty butler. Gough is not only great in this movie, he returns for the next three films (Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin) where he continues to be great.
20mins – At the twenty-minute mark now and time for a quick bit of reflection on what has come so far… which has included the Danny Elfman theme, the sight of a very stylised Gotham, an action sequence to properly introduce Batman, and an ever-expanding cast of famous faces. That’s a lot to cram into twenty minutes, but it manages it perfectly, with everything flowing so well.
25mins – First big set piece of the movie now, and it takes place at Axis Chemicals.
25mins 30secs – You know, if this movie was produced today, Lego would have a tie-in with this picture and would be turning Axis Chemicals into one of its sets, complete with various goon mini-figures. Heck, they probably have done this anyway!
27mins – This whole Axis Chemicals sequence is designed to set up the Joker’s origin story, with Batman ‘sort of’ responsible for Jack Napier’s transformation into the Clown Prince of Crime.
This scene also provides an opportunity for Batman and Napier to meet, prior to Napier becoming the Joker. This way Batman gets to see what kind of a twisted person Napier is regardless of his imminent change.
28mins 50secs – Jack Napier is pointing a gun at Lieutenant Eckhardt.
Napier: “Eckhardt, think about the future.”
29mins 30secs – And Napier has just been dropped into a vat of acid. This sort of thing would kill an ordinary person, but apparently not Napier, as he’ll be back in a minute.
32mins – A little Bruce Wayne/Vicki Vale interplay now, which allows these two characters to get acquainted, while simultaneously giving the audience more of an insight into who Bruce Wayne is. This section of the film also offers a nice little moment with Alfred too, to highlight his ‘family’ connection to Bruce.
34mins 40secs – Meanwhile, with Napier surviving the acid incident, he goes to a backdoor surgeon to see if he can improve his now disfigured appearance. We don’t get to see how mangled Napier’s face is prior to the surgery (shame), but he must have been in a bad way if the end result is anything to go by.
This whole sequence is fun and plays like something out of a ‘50s B-movie. I love it, but I must admit that this back street procedure seriously creeped me out when I was a kid. It just seemed so damn sinister.
37mins – With Napier officially dead, it’s now time for the Joker to make his entrance.
38mins – Joker: “Jack? Jack is dead my friend. You can call me, Joker. And as you can see, I’m a lot happier. Hee hee hee.”
39mins 30secs – Jack Nicholson is truly terrifying as the Joker. He looks creepy as heck, and is clearly unhinged. Once again, he scared the crap out of me when I was a kid, and still freaks me out now.
Nicholson is just so damn good in this part. It almost feels like this is a role that can’t be topped or equalled, but there have been multiple fantastic Jokers, including Cesar Romero, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, and Joaquin Phoenix, so it seems like the Joker is just a great part to play, full stop.
45mins 30secs – And now, after 45 minutes of really good stuff, Batman ’89 hits one of its dumbest moments: An investigation into Bruce Wayne’s past, conducted by Vicki Vale and Alexander Knox.
Why is this moment so dumb? Because Bruce Wayne is one of the richest citizens in Gotham City (possibly even the world), who has one of the most tragic backstories, and yet these two ‘ace reporters’ know nothing about his history!
49mins – You know… it goes without saying, but Michael Keaton is excellent in every single scene in this movie. It’s difficult to imagine just how much of a backlash there was to his casting, considering how fantastic he is here, but so many people really didn’t want him anywhere near this film!
I’m so glad that Burton and the producers of this film ignored the backlash. Keaton slots in exactly how he should.
50mins 30secs – Joker: “Batman. Batman. Can somebody tell me, what kind of a world we live in where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press?”
55mins – And now for yet another creepy moment, as Action News begins to report on the sudden death of two fashion models, who appear to have died under suspicious circumstances.
During this report, one of the reporters (Becky), begins to laugh uncontrollably, before falling off her chair stone dead. Becky has been killed by the Joker. She now wears a grin across her face.
59mins 30secs – And if Becky’s death wasn’t scary enough, now comes a shot of Alicia wearing a disturbing mask. Once again, this was pure nightmare fuel for the young, impressionable 7 or 8-year-old I was back in 1989!
1hr – Now for a word on the general aesthetic of Gotham City, which is incredible. This whole look was the work of the late British production designer, Anton Furst.
Furst won an Academy Award for this movie and rightly so. The way Gotham City looks is just superb.
It looks like something out of a comic book, yet at the same time it looks just like a regular, dirty city. So it is both fantastical and somewhat realistic – a perfect blend of the two.
1hr 6mins 45secs – Joker: “Boo!”
1hr 7mins 30secs – It takes over an hour for the Batmobile to be introduced, but boy, when it makes an appearance, it is a joy to behold. The design is very different to the ‘60s version, and yet so cool too.
In my opinion, this is one of the best Batmobiles that we’ve seen on screen. I’m partial to a few others, including the Batmobile from Batman: The Animated Series, but this is a damn fine car.
1hr 10mins 30secs – After a brief car chase, Batman finds himself up against a trio of the Joker’s henchmen, including Bob the Goon. Momentarily knocked to the ground, and seemingly unconscious, Joker’s goons try to take a peek underneath Batman’s cowl.
In a blink-and-you miss it scene, you can just about see that the goons do achieve their goal of removing the mask. However, they are distracted when Vicki Vale takes a photograph, which gives Batman enough time to spring into action, and stops them from seeing his true identity.
1hr 13mins – The Danny Elfman music continues to impress. Has there ever been a bad score for a Batman movie? I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Between Elfman here (and in Batman Returns), Elliot Goldenthal for Batman Forever/Batman & Robin, Hans Zimmer for the Nolan trilogy, and Michael Giacchino with The Batman, the scores have been truly excellent.
1hr 17mins – Back to the story (which I’ve barely commented on) and the Joker’s plan to poison Gotham City has been foiled by Batman. It was a good plan, but he didn’t count on Batman using his detective skills to throw a spanner in the works.
1hr 23mins – Earlier in the movie, we had Batman meeting Jack Napier. Now we get a scene – set in Vicki Vale’s apartment – where Bruce Wayne meets the Joker. Symmetry.
1hr 24mins – Joker: “Tell me something friend. You ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
1hr 26mins – Vicki Vale and Alexander Knox finally discover the truth about Bruce Wayne’s past – that his parents were murdered.
1hr 30mins – With the audience now privy to Bruce’s past, it’s time for further details, signalled by the use of a flashback. As the flashback begins, the action cuts to the Monarch theatre, where the Wayne family have been watching a musical called Footlight Frenzy.
For those wondering, Footlight Frenzy is a real movie – but it’s not a musical. The film was released in 1984, and Batman ’89 simply borrows its name for a poster seen outside the Monarch theatre.
1hr 31mins 45secs – As the scene continues to play out, it is revealed that a young Jack Napier – played by Hugo Blick – was responsible for the murder of Thomas and Marth Wayne. So, not only is he a thorn in Batman’s side today, but Napier/Joker essentially ‘made’ Batman who he is.
This Joker revelation shocked audiences back in the day. Nowadays it seems contrived, but it’s fine.
Would I prefer a different, nameless criminal being responsible for the murders? Possibly, but the Napier revelation has never bothered me (and still doesn’t).
1hr 39mins – And now for something new: The Batwing! Yes, the Batmobile was cool, but the Batwing is even cooler!
1hr 40mins – The great thing about Batman ’89 is the way it just keeps adding more and more ideas and fun stuff into the mix. The film never lets up, and continues to offer plenty of excitement and entertainment, to keep audiences interested.
Does the plot make much sense? At this point in the film, the story is starting to get away from itself a little, but things like the Batwing really make up for it.
1hr 42mins – The Batwing is seriously cool. It looked good in 1989 but it still shines all these years later.
1hr 43mins 30secs – And this shot of the Batwing against the backdrop of the moon is just iconic.
1hr 44mins – So, the Joker’s latest scheme to kill the citizens of Gotham (this time by gassing them), has been foiled yet again. Does he have another plan? Erm… no, not really. But it doesn’t matter, as I’m firmly into the ‘wrapping things up’ stage of this movie, with the ending almost in sight.
However, before I get there, the Joker drags Vicki Vale into a cathedral, with Batman following close behind. Why are they all going into the cathedral? Well, according to the story, the Joker and Vicki Vale enter the cathedral so that a helicopter can pick them up from the roof… which kind of makes sense, when you consider how difficult it must be to land in Gotham City.
In truth, I believe the cathedral scene was something conjured up by Batman ‘89 producer Jon Peters. How I understand it, he came up with this idea, Tim Burton was told to just run with it, and that’s why it all seems a bit random towards the end of the movie.
1hr 57mins – After some nonsense in the cathedral, as well as another Batman/Joker confrontation, the big finale arrives.
The Joker is climbing up a rope ladder, attached to the helicopter, when Batman fires a grappling rope around the Joker’s leg. The other end of the rope is attached to a piece of stone, which ultimately comes loose from the cathedral, the weight of it pulls the Joker off the rope ladder, and the Joker falls to his death.
The Joker is dead.
1hr 59mins 45secs – It’s a shame the Joker is killed off, as he is a character that should ALWAYS get away, but for the series to be able to move forward and onto other villains, the Joker really needed to die. If he had remained alive, audiences would have wanted more and we might never have got to Catwoman or Riddler etc.
2hrs 50secs – And as the movie enters the final moments, the Bat-signal is introduced, once again ensuring something new is thrown at the screen even though the audience is completely sold on this movie. Does it need to be here? Nope, but I’m sure glad it is!
Well, that was a bloody brilliant movie, wasn’t it? Even after all these years Batman ’89 still has the power to impress.
It is a film which tells a dark and edgy Batman tale, chucks so much into the mix, and never fails to entertain. I made barely any mention of Keaton, but he is excellent in the role of Batman, and Jack Nicholson’s performance is equally a triumph.
Does everything in the movie work? Not entirely, and of course, the film has aged a little in places, but for the most part it knocks things out of the park.
The choice to set the film in a somewhat ‘timeless’ time period was a stroke of genius, giving the film a bit more shelf life, and the sheer fun of seeing this comic book character brought to life as a dark moody vigilante is just wonderful. Yes, I know this is how we see Batman these days, but back in ’89 this really was something bold and exciting and this still carries through to today.
Batman ’89 isn’t my favourite Batman movie, but it sure is one of the best. The film gets so much right, and is so incredibly confident in what it does, you can’t help but fall for it.
I’ve watched this film many, many times, and yet it still continues to delight. This is a superb piece of comic book cinema and one of the true greats.
I can’t imagine there is anyone out there who is reading this who hasn’t watched this film, but if that is you, then go check it out. You can thank me later.
Thank you for stopping by I’ll Get Drive Thru to read this post about Batman – I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip back through Batman ’89. For more Batman-related posts, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.