6 Reasons Batman (1989) Wasn’t So Good

Batman (1989) may be the most pivotal comic book movie of all time. From 1978 after Superman opened until its premiere, fanboys and fangirls had a quartet of Superman movies, one Supergirl movie, two Swamp Things, and Howard the Duck in theaters. Batman, and its $411 million box office total (#12 on the All-Time list of Comic Book movies) showed Hollywood there was money in comic book movies. Batman was the first movie to make $100 million in its first 10 days and was the first comic book movie to win an Academy Award (for Art Direction). Fanboys and girls around the world need to look no further than Tim Burton’s Batman as to why we are in a comic book movie Renaissance today.

I saw Batman in the summer of 1989 with my cousin Carl at the Eric Theater in Muhlenburg, PA. As a 13 year old boy, the movie was perfect and since my first viewing, I have seen Batman more times than I care to or am able to count.

But as great of a movie as my beating fanboy heart tells me it is, my brain tells me otherwise.  Batman rides on the laurels of its box office success and nostalgia. Granted, I am well aware just how influential this movie has been but its influence to the genre doesn’t mean it was a good movie. The missteps, in part, may be a result of Tim Burton not being a comic book fan (although he reportedly was influenced heavily by ‘The Killing Joke’ and ‘The Dark Knight Returns’)?  They may have come due to unwanted studio “suggestions”.  Whatever the reason, things like cathedrals as tall as skyscrapers, a serving dish that can stop a bullet at point blank range, and Jack Palance just scratch the surface of why Batman (1989) Wasn’t So Good:

  1. The Batsuit: The director of special effects/make up, Bob Ringwood, knew putting Michael Keaton in grey and blue tights wasn’t going to translate well to the big screen. The Batsuit needed to be as tweaked (and those tights hung in the deepest recesses of a closet).  It needed to be able to protect a guy who would spend most of his time swinging above Gotham City and throat punching street toughs. So Bob went through 28 sculpted latex designs, tried out 25 different kinds of capes, 6 different head pieces and spent over $250,000 figuring out the right design for one of the most iconic comic book superheroes of all time. In all of his research, time, and money he ended on a suit that doesn’t let Batman move his head. The suit was fantastic as long as Keaton didn’t have to look up, or down, or from side to side or in other words, do anything Batman might have to do (author’s note:  You win Carl*).  Maybe they should have gone with the tights?

    Don't move or else my grapple line will miss you.

    Did that guy move? Where did he go? I can’t see anything.

  2. The Batmobile: Batman has driven a ’36 Cord, Cadillac, Studebaker, Camaro, Corvette, Porsche, Jaguar, Chrysler, a Pantera, and a Mazda. But in 1989, he drove a fusion of 2 Chevy Impala chassis matted to a Chevy V8 engine with a giant, shell-less, Good & Plenty sticking out of the grille. Like the Batsuit, at first glance the Batmobile looks fantastic. It had the retro jet engine from the TV show and machine guns. The only problem with the Batmobile was it cornered like your grandmother in her ’87 Oldsmobile with bad CV joints and a wheelbase of a yacht. The car needed a grappling hook to make a hard turn. In 1989 we were years away from Garmins, so in a city like Gotham with all of its one ways and side streets, two wrong turns and the Batmobile had better be
    Can someone move that car? I have to back up.

    Can someone move that car? I have to back up.

    able to parallel park better than it can take a corner.

  3. Alexander Knox: “You know what would really help sell this movie? Shtick and comic relief from Arliss!”- Should have been said by no one, ever and yet there he was.  Robert Wuhl’s Alexander Knox was the least interesting and necessary character in this movie (much like any role ever played by Shia LaBeouf).  The character of Alexander Knox was Jar Jar Binks before Jar Jar Binks was Jar Jar Binks. In the original script, Knox met his end from a dose of Joker’s poison gas on the streets of Gotham but the script was rewritten and inexplicably, Knox lived.  Much to our dismay.
  4. Open Invite from Alfred: Alfred Pennyworth has been around since April of 1943. He started as an overweight junior detective added in to the comics to provide some measure of comic relief. That was quickly changed (and yet we still got Alexander Knox 40 years later) after the Batman serials had a more serious Alfred. So since the 1940’s, Alfred has been by Bruce Wayne’s side as his butler, field medic, driver, and father figure. In Tim Burton’s movie, Alfred also became the guy who decided it was a good idea invite Vicki Vale in to the Batcave to have a look around, play Solitaire on the Bat-computer, and totally piss away the secret identity of the guy who signs his paychecks.  If that would have been Robin who did that, he would have been
    Alfred, I am so going to bash you...oh hi Vicki!

    Alfred, I am so going to bash you…oh hi Vicki!

    out on his yellow caped ass. Can you fire a father figure? You should at least be allowed to hit him with a Batarang I think.

  5. What Happened to Joe Chill: I accept that Tim Burton was not a comic book fan growing up. I also accept the mythologies fans have grown up reading and committing to memory and gospel sometimes need to be updated or tweaked for the sake of the film but surely some things need to remain in canon and untouchable, take for example, who killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. I don’t have an answer to the conflict in the Middle East or when my sister’s birthday is but I sure as hell know the Joker did not kill Bruce Wayne’s parents, Joe Chill did.  Apparently, Tim Burton did not or did not care and while we can accept reasonable changes to better fit the times, this is one that is hard to swallow (I credit this for the disaster that was Sam Raimi okaying Flint Marko killing Uncle Ben in Spiderman 3).
  6. RIP Joker: Surely Warner Brother’s knew they had potential for sequels before Batman premiered (they greenlit Superman IV: The Quest for Peace for godsakes). So why was it that at the end of the movie, Batman’s greatest nemesis was embedded in the sidewalk? Because Tim Burton had thought of his movie as a one time piece. He saw Batman as a self contained moive and not to be a universe that would be built upon (which wasn’t such a bad idea had we known Joel Schumacher was going to start directing these things) but didn’t someone at the studio with a shred of comic book fandom have the power to add input in to the ending? Someone? Anyone? So Warner Brothers was ok with Nuclear Man and a dead Joker? *sigh*

 

 

*Author’s Note:  My cousin Carl, 3 minutes after we left the movie theater in 1989, went on a teenage tirade about how ridiculous Batman not being able to move his head was.  Listening to him verbally roundhouse kick Batman in the face struck a defensive chord with me and I immediately went on to defend the head piece and hate my cousin for the past 24 years.  My admittance about the utter stupidity of such a design has finally given credence to my cousin’s argument 24 years ago.  So, you win Carl…and I still hate you.

 

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Husband, father to two girls, dog walker, living with male pattern baldness. In addition to writing on his own site, Jimmy contributes to DadsRT, COAL.com, and the Southern Berks News. He is the world record holder in his house for 'Best Hiding Spot' during Hide and Go Seek.

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