Okay, confession time: I’m not a huge Batman fan. I think he’s a great character, sure, and Batfleck was something incredible, but if you ask me to choose, I’ll always pick Supes over Bats.
But I had a really good time with this movie! I like neo-noir as a genre, and this movie definitely holds more to those genre conventions than, necessarily, to what would come to be ‘comic book movie’ genre conventions. And as a neo-noir, the film really works.
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale straddles the line between femme fatale and ingenue in a way that feels natural. Her Vale starts the film wearing black, her long, long legs the first thing we see of her. By the end of the film, she’s dressed in white, being driven back to the Wayne Manor by Alfred, her face the focus of the shot. The film’s visual refusal to characterize her as either archetype, I think, is wise. After all, the film has no other female characters with major speaking roles. By drawing from both archetypes, the film neatly sidesteps stereotyping and gives her some dimension.
The other standout performance, of course, comes from Jack Nicholson as the Joker. The film chooses to use the ‘Jack Napier killed Batman’s parents before he became the Joker’ origin for him, which works well here. It allows for some direct confrontation of Batman and Joker as thematic foils. Additionally, the line “Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” becomes a sort of “Rollo Tomasi” plot point. While I personally prefer L.A. Confidential as a quality piece of neo-noir, Batman is definitely more fun to watch and less emotionally draining.
Nicholson’s Joker, also, has some legitimately terrifying moments, especially in the museum scene with Vicki. I’m surprised that Suicide Squad didn’t take more queues from Nicholson’s Joker, to be honest.
One casting decision I don’t agree with: Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne. He just doesn’t have the look, to me. Too soft in the jaw, too peaked in the hairline…basically every other Bat I’ve seen looks better. It messes with my suspension of disbelief, considering Bruce’s status as a premier playboy. However, Keaton does good emotional work on the Bat, and that’s probably more important. I really liked, also, that his Bruce wears glasses to read — I haven’t seen something like that in other continuities, so it was a new quirk.
Also I really loved Billy Dee Williams’s cameo as Harvey Dent, and wish we could have seen more of him. I can’t remember if he appears in Batman Returns or not, but we’ll see.
Moving away from the acting, I really liked Elfman and Prince’s takes on the score and the two musical numbers in the film. The fact that this Batman film includes musical numbers courtesy of the Joker really pleases me. I hope we get some musical numbers in future Batman movies, because that would be so much fun.
My only major quibble with the film is the fact that the romantic subplot between Vicki and Bruce feels really cliche, especially once she finds out he’s Batman. They could have done this better, though I love Vicki as a character and like her and Bruce’s chemistry.
Over all, this film was a lot of fun to watch, and I hope that I have as much fun next week with the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie!