Josh Needle’s review published on Letterboxd:
The first film in the late-80's big screen launch of the caped crusader is directed by Tim Burton, a filmmaker who I am not a huge fan of, but has made a few films that I do really like, and this is definitely one of them! Batman was revolutionary for it's time in the sense that it revived the concept of superhero movies being taken seriously, and being good, especially after that train was derailed with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. While I personally don't think this film is anything mind blowing, this is still a pretty awesome movie, it's the best of the four total movies, and I have a great time every time I watch it!
First off, the performances here are awesome! Michael Keaton plays the title role of Batman/Bruce Wayne and back before this film was released, fans thought this was a terrible idea! Having a comedic actor play Batman? How would that work? Well, it did, and to many fans Michael Keaton is still to this day the definitive onscreen Batman. His performance as both Batman and Bruce are fantastic. He brings the dark and mysterious persona to life perfectly when behind the mask, and is able to bring out a much different character when portraying Bruce Wayne, the billionaire playboy. Personally, I think Keaton does a better job as Wayne than as Batman, but when the dark knight is on the screen, I can't complain!
The films villain, the Joker, is played hilariously by Jack Nicholson. While I do have a bit of a gripe with how the character is used throughout the film and that Nicholson's performance feels less like a performance and more like he's playing himself just dressed up like a clown, it still works in the context of the movie and how this character presents himself. Nicholson is so much fun to watch onscreen. He's quite scary at times, mainly just because he's so unpredictable, but more so than anything else he's just so damn funny! He has this really twisted sense of humor and you almost feel bad for laughing at some of the things he say or does, but that's just a testament to how enjoyable Nicholson is in the role!
The film also stars Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale (Bruce Wayne's love interest), and Michael Gough as Alfred, both of whom do a great job in the film and are really enjoyable to watch, and both of whom also have terrific chemistry with Michael Keaton in all of their scenes opposite him.
While not exactly an action-heavy movie being as there was only so much that director Tim Burton could do at the time, there are still some pretty fun action sequences here, my favorite of which actually being the opening sequence and the introduction to Batman! There's also a really exciting chase/escape sequence including the Batmobile that I always get a kick out of seeing.
The film has a very unique tone that we don't really see too much in the superhero genre nowadays. Burton did a really great job at giving the film a somewhat dark tone, but at the same time having this campiness and fun style be present and blended in. It's done really well and works beautifully for what this movie is, giving it a very classic Batman feel.
While the plot isn't anything groundbreaking and is more or less a typical superhero story, it's still a lot of fun and very well-executed. The film pretty much just drops you right into the heart of Batman's existence in Gotham City, skipping the origin story and instead focusing on the origin of the Joker. It's an interesting approach as opposed to many of the superhero films we get today, and while it also ties into one of my issues with the movie, overall it does work well!
One other thing that I really love, in fact aside from Michael Keaton as Batman this is probably my favorite part of the movie, would be Danny Elfman's musical score! Danny Elfman is one of the best composers in the business, and in my opinion his Batman theme is near the top of his greatest achievements list. The music is fun and mysterious and whimsical and just sounds like everything a 1980's superhero theme music should be!
As for what I don't like about the movie, there's honestly not that much. However the two issues I do have aren't exactly small. Like I said, the movie focuses on the Joker's origin story, which is totally fine with me, but the problem I have is that the movie as whole feels more like a movie about the Joker and Batman is just in it. I think the Joker is awesome in the movie and I love seeing him, but if the movie is called Batman, and is advertised as being a movie about Batman, I sort of expect/prefer it to actually be a movie about Batman.
My one other gripe, and this isn't really the movie or the filmmaker's fault, but there are times where it does feel dated and some of the campier elements do come off a bit too cheesy and while I don't think it ever gets "cringe-worthy" per say, I do find myself being a bit put off by certain bits of the film more now than when I was younger.
Overall though, Batman is an exciting, semi-dark adventure that brings the caped crusader to life in a way nobody else could have at the time. Despite it feeling more like a Joker film than a Batman one, the action and performances are excellent and it's a really a fun ride!