Batman ★★★★½

Batman is one of those epochal movies that became so culturally ubiquitous, and its branding so ever present, that I ceased to remember the quality of the film itself.

I saw it several times during the original theatrical run, then numerous times on VHS. The home theater experience has apexed in the twenty-odd years since I last saw it, and now offers the quality approximation of a theatrical watch, so this latest viewing felt like seeing it fresh for the first time since '89. Unexpectedly, it blew me away.

After a long stretch of personal indifference to the property- the high camp exhaustion of Schumacher's tenure, the earnest brow furrowing and tedious "grounded reality" of the Nolan films, the digital 'roid rage slop of Snyder's iterations- it's so nice to return to this cheesy and whacked-out vision.

The guy dresses up like a bat, for Christ's sake. The movie should be wild and weird.

I feared returning to Nicholson's Joker, but his garish, flatulent showboating has aged miraculously well. His warped leering and mugging, more Cesar Romero than Ledger or Phoenix, is perfectly calibrated with the outsized style of the surrounding film, and is more disturbing to me than the tiresome edginess of later Jokers. What can I say.

Joker is introduced with a pair of flat-out classic sequences- the dank surgery room, then his unveiling as he kills Grissom. These scenes are astonishingly cinematic, generating palpable fear and strangeness through set design, lighting and blocking. Take or leave Burton, but there was a time when he could stage some awe-inspiring moments.

Jack's brief "oop, oop" monologue, backdropped by a moody vision of Gotham through the window behind him, has more stylish menace than anything in Nolan's entire mid tone utilitarian boring-verse, which just isn't for me.

(Even Schumaker's films, while nauseating, at least understand the fundamental absurdity of the material).

Pleasures abound. Anton Furst's Goth Nouveau world, a massive and bold mixture of Noir and German Expressionist atmosphere, seduced me completely. Elfman's main theme actually gave me chills again. Keaton is genial yet loopy in the right amounts, perfectly cast despite the hilarious (and now primeval) fan boy controversy.

Bruce and Vicki having dinner at the massive table in his mansion- a play on Kane, but also a scene told with images. This feels like a MOVIE.

I did not expect fucking Batman to make me feel surges of cinema bliss again.

I'm gushing here, but swaths of it still aren't very good.

Robert Wuhl is irritating and unctuous as ever. Jack's act wears perilously thin by the end. I was vaguely embarrassed any time Bruce and Vicki's relationship got too real amidst all the Smilex lunacy. The script rambles as well; I generally care more about style and tone than story, but I often felt adrift in Stuff Happening.

Also, the Big 80s are in full effect here, with bombast and one-liners surging like the tide, threatening to drown all other concerns.

All things considered, though, Batman works like crazy. The style, spectacle and artifice are overwhelming, allowing me to accept the ridiculous characters and proceedings as par for the course. It's dark and bizarre while having a healthy sense of humor and absurdity, a tonal achievement that completely eludes more modern versions of the character.

It's creative. It's fun. Imagine that.

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