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.
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.