Batman

Batman ★★★★★

The first great superhero film, Tim Burton's "Batman" makes no apologies first its comic book source material, offering an operatic and adult-friendly take on Bob Kane's costumed detective. A collision of dusty noir, sardonic humor, and gothic cool, Burton weaves his recognizable sense of style into a personality-rich action film that easily grips and thoroughly entertains.

Pitting Michael Keaton's Batman against Jack Nicholson's the Joker, "Batman" is an origin story, of sorts, for both characters, flashing back to when each became defined by his respective, costumed color. Waging war over the shadowy turf of Gotham City, the two come to deadly blows at the end of arcs that find them inextricably connected.

That connection drives the film's thematic soul. A film about how evil begets good and how good begets evil, both text and subtext pay particular attention to the symbiotic nature of hero and villain. Without this film's Joker, there would be no Batman; without Batman there would be no Joker. It is a cosmic yin and yang where, without the darkness, there can be no light. The thematic strength of the narrative is that is pays close attention to those relationships, and, while it communicates its themes loudly, that narrative has notes of depth because of it.

Burton visualizes the narrative with imagination, blending imagery from the comic book pages with an aesthetic sensibility that is both gothic and industrial. A sophisticated, comic book noir combining something post-war with something modern, Burton builds a world that is colorful and shadowed, authentic yet removed. It is the perfect playground for a man dressed as a bat to go up a against a playing card clown.

Burton keeps the tone serious but underscores it all with a touch of whimsy and glamour. The film ebbs and flows with pacing that highlights action set-pieces but allows character and story beats to have equally important moments. Danny Elfman's now-iconic score elevates the film's designs and sequences to epic highs.

With all of its stellar elements, the cast of "Batman" is also a thing of excellence. Against type and expectation, Micheal Keaton easily embodies Bruce Wayne. His Wayne is witty yet quietly tortured and boasts arched-eyebrowed magnetism. Nicholson's Joker is equally compelling. Crazed and charismatic, the Joker is quintessential Jack Nicholson only, now, in pancake makeup; he is brilliantly dangerous. Kim Basinger is just as well-placed, while Micheal Gough, Robert Wuhl, and Jack Palance add quality support.

Story, look, cast, music, and direction make "Batman" one of the 1980s' best films. A superhero film that proves that the source material's darker and grown-up strokes are worthy of exploration, Burton's comic book-inspired outing is grand entertainment. Thrilling, bold, and completely engaging, "Batman" is crowd-pleasing spectacle at its finest.

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