On the eve of Justice League being released,lets take a look at the one hero who is the odd duck in a team of super-powered human beings, the one mortal who stood toe to toe with gods and earned their respect. Lets take a look at his first outing which changed the way how superhero movies will be perceived for every movie to follow.
We’re going to take you a back to a time when clowns terrorized the streets. No, not the Clownpocalypse of 2016 but the release of Tim Burton’s Batman way back in 1989.
Prior to the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, the Caped Crusader was last seen in theaters in 1966 with Batman: The Movie. Based on the popular TV show, it featured Adam West running around in blue tights, animated word bubbles like POW and ZAP flashing across the screen, and a man who didn’t want to shave to play the Joker so he painted his mustache white. (Hey: it was 1966. Your ‘stache was your calling card.)
Tim Burton’s Batman, over thirty years later, shows us a gangster being dropped in acid, a man being electrocuted to death on screen, and Joker attempting to gas half the population. Yeah, we’ll say things got a little bit darker in Gotham City while Batman was away.
American audiences didn’t know what hit them…probably because they were just getting to know Tim Burton. Burton, who was just thirty-one at the time, had previously directed Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and Beetlejuice (1988). But just from those two films, we all knew Burton could do two things well: dark and weird.
To bring his brand of offbeat quirkiness to the Dark Knight, Burton brought in Michael Keaton (who played the ghost with the most in Beetlejuice) to play eccentric zillionaire Bruce Wayne. Fans wanted someone with a little more action movie pedigree attached to the role, like Mel Gibson or Pierce Brosnan. (Source)
But Batman wasn’t your typical summer blockbuster explosionfest, although it has plenty of big, beautiful, fiery explosions. With Keaton in the Batsuit, Batman became a character driven by angst and an identity crisis; a guy unsure of what world he belonged in.
A big-budget superhero film may have seemed like a weird choice for a director known for movies about strange, tortured loners like Lydia Deetz and Pee-wee Herman, but what better words to describe vigilante bajillionaire Bruce Wayne than “lonely,” “strange,” and “tortured”?
Tim Burton’s Batman is notable for how weird and different it was at the time. But Batman himself is a weird and different character. Burton understood Batman, and by getting such a good grasp on the character, he introduced Batman to millions of people who had never picked up a comic book.
Burton understood villains too, and he knew that a hero, even a tortured one, isn’t a hero without a villain. To give Batman an equal, Burton cast Jack Nicholson as Gotham’s greatest villain: Joker. With a blinding grin, green hair, and a purple suit, Joker adds anarchy to Batman’s already out-of-balance world. Nicholson plays him with glee, dancing around to Prince songs and sneering, “Wait ’til they get a load of me.”
And get a load of him, they did. If Joker’s plan was to have the highest grossing movie of 1989, it worked. Batman was the top film that year, beating Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, and The Little Mermaid at the box office. And that’s not even counting all the cash money from toys, like the Bat Cave playset, the Bat Wing, the Joker van, and every child’s favorite toy: Bob the Goon. (Source)
Burton and Keaton would collaborate on one more Batman film, Batman Returns (1992), before getting sick of Batmania. Keaton would later play a character suspiciously similar to himself in Birdman (2014) and Burton went on to create more tortured weirdoes like Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, and Johnny Depp.
The Batman franchise itself moved on to even more darker and violent territory. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films—including The Dark Knight—had even creepier clowns that make Nicholson’s Joker and his thugs childish by comparison. But Burton’s Batman, despite being set in comparatively simple times, defined the character for a new generation. And that is why it’s the one with the simple title. No subtitle. No Begins or Returns or And Robin. It’s just Batman.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Into every generation, a Batman is born.
Grandparents had Adam West as Batman: zany, colorful, and a little flabby. (Sorry, Adam.) Parents had Michael Keaton: dark, off-kilter, moody. You had Christian Bale: angry, conflicted, ripped like a Greek statue. We don’t know which generation Ben Affleck belongs to. No one will claim him. (Sorry not sorry, Ben.)
Even though all these men play the same character, each actor tackles the role differently, defining that Batman for its generation. Michael Keaton was the perfect 80’s and 90’s Batman—angsty, dark, and weird, but still hopeful. He may have been writing Gothic poetry in his bedroom, but he had no idea just how dark the world could actually be.
Tim Burton’s Batman is the bridge from the colorful free-lovin’ 1960’s depicted in the Adam West-era Batman to the dark and depressing 21st Century of the Christian Bale-era Batman. It’s the first Batman film to introduce a dark edge to the series…even if it might seem quaint in retrospect.
Burton also proved that Batman could make bank. The 90’s saw three more Batman films, partially because Batman’s massive box office success made big-budget superhero summer blockbusters cool again.Batman paved the way for the rebirth of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and a few other Mans we can’t think of right now.
Finally, Batman showed us how important it is for the villain to be just as much, if not more, of a character in the film. Batman is just as much about Joker as it is about Batman. We can thank Nicholson’s portrayal of Joker for inspiring knockout performances by Alfred Molina as Doc Ock inSpider-Man 2, Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor, and even Heath Ledger as Joker part deux in The Dark Knight.
It’s important to honor those heroes, villains, and movie directors that came before us. Just as you wouldn’t exist were it not for your parents and grandparents, modern iterations of Batman wouldn’t exist were it not for Michael Keaton and Tim Burton’s Batman. (It’s weird to think of Michael Keaton giving birth to Christian Bale, but that’s pretty much what happened.)
And now you’ll never get that image out of your head.