Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Overindulged Films: Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)

To be more exact, my problem with these films is the Overindulged Director (Tim Burton) and at least one Overindulged Star (Jack Nicholson).

I seem to remember liking both movies when they premiered, but I suspect I enjoyed the anticipation more than the results. I had high hopes that Batman would bring the superhero film genre some redemption after the cinematic travesty known as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

But viewing them now, it's hard to believe I was all that pleased. Both films had their moments. The highpoint was probably Gotham City, clearly inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The Batmobile was pretty cool, too, and the Batplane wasn't bad. Michael Gough made a fine Alfred, and Kim Bassinger did a surprisingly good job as Vicky Vale.

But Michael Keaton was just okay as Bruce Wayne, and when it came to Batman, he and his stand-ins were merely stiffs in suits. The rubber was so thick the actors could barely move, let alone fight, and Batman's most convincing move seemed to be getting knocked flat on his back.

But the biggest problem with the first film was Jack Nicholson's dialogue. His lines were so corny, juvenile, and downright painful that I have a hard time believing a scriptwriter would have written them down. I have to suspect that Nicholson was ad-libbing, and given his stature and influence, Tim Burton just gave him free rein.

On the other hand, Nicholson's lines are so bad that they may have been an actual plus for Burton, serving to distract the viewer from his heavy-handed direction.

Burton was not so lucky with Batman Returns. With Danny DeVito (the Penguin) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman) seemingly following the script, his in-your-face gothic vision was on full display. I can't fault Burton for having a distinctive style, and it was fine for films like Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. But with an icon like Batman, I want the focus on the hero, not on the director's need to show how bizarre he can be. The scenes with the Penguin and Catwoman, both alone and together, labored so hard to be creepy that they became boring.

To be fair, there were moments in both films when the story took center stage, and I felt like I was truly in the world of Batman. But those moments never lasted long, and in the final analysis, Bats always took a back seat to Tim.

More Overlooked Films, as always, at SWEET FREEDOM.


live sports said...

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pattinase (abbott) said...

I think they took their cue from the TV series and played it too much for camp. Nicholson is a lazy actor and doesn't try to develop a character all too often. I am not sure movies like THE SHINING did not encourage him to think he could do whatever he wanted on the screen.

Dan_Luft said...

I worked in a movie theater back then and it is hard to explain just how big the anticipation for this movie was. THE LAST CRUSADE was fun and people had a good time. DIE HARD was practically a sleeper in comparison (and in theaters longer). But BATMAN was talked about in a different way. Ushers were calling up friends to watch the trailer before other movies started and any poster we displayed was immediately stolen starting a year before the movie's release.

Whenever I worked the ticket booth, I took several calls per HOUR and had to tell people that we were not showing it and wouldn't be showing it opening weekend.

By the time it came out, most of us in the theater were all tired out and most of us caught it on video.

Todd Mason said...

Sadder still, except for the cartoon feature films being about as good and as flawed as the Burton duo, the subsequent Batman films haven't even been as good...you want to talk fanboy/"critic"-coddled, you're talking the Bale films...the ponderous bores...which are indeed still better than the pathetic campfests that followed Burton.

Dan_Luft said...

But Todd really nails it. The cartoons starting from Mask of the Phantasm and then continuing throught the early 90s were great. Better than we would ever expect from anything live action.

Merchant said...


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George said...

I'm not fond of these Tim Burton films, either. I saw them when they were first in the theaters, but I never watched them again. And, I don't own DVD copies of them. The Christopher Nolan BATMAN films are problematic, too. But I have watched them multiple times.

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Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I actually prefer Returns to the first one, but I must say I think they are both fine movies.

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