Batman ★★★

I dunno. People get worked up about how iconic Heath Ledger’s Joker is. But I say to those people, have they seen Jack Nicholson’s take? Strutting goofily about, twirling his retractable telescopic pistol, grinning creepily through those indented facial prosthetics, and making fart noises—now that’s iconic.

Nicholson is absolutely on fire in this—off the charts bonkers—but he exists in a movie that simply cannot keep up the same pace. The trouble is, Nicholson is so loopy and over the top, that everyone else around him seems awfully bland by comparison. The worst offender is Keaton’s Batman. Boy is he lifeless. Dry as a cream cracker and with about as much personality. He’s an actor I’ve never really understood, and I don’t suspect his uninspired two-film run as Bruce Wayne/Batman is going to change my mind anytime soon.

The one thing that works in Keaton’s favour is that the remainder of the supporting cast are even less interesting and just sort of fade into the background. Billy Dee Williams’ Harvey Dent is essentially a nonentity; Commissioner Gordon barely makes an impression; and Michael Gough’s endearing rendition of Alfred isn’t given nearly enough time to shine (besides Joker, he’s by far the most likeable character in this). Kim Basinger (Base-inger? Bass-inger?) is not particularly renowned for her acting chops, and she only proves that further here as Wayne’s feeble love interest, Vicki Vale. She has all the charisma of a balloon on a stick—so in fairness, she’s every bit Bruce Wayne’s match.

At least the film is nice to look at. The kooky set designs and costumes have all of those familiar Burton idiosyncrasies, which collectively give the film a theatrical quality that feels appropriate to its comic book roots. There’s also some typically excellent miniature work on display here from legendary special effects wiz Derek Meddings (of Thunderbirds and Bond fame) which really helps to bring Gotham to life and create the illusion that the city exists on a much larger scale. If nothing else, the film is an excellent showcase for the continued appeal of in-camera effects some thirty years on. Giant vats of gloop; billowing clouds of steam; sparking pyrotechnics; fiery explosions—it’s a proper practical effects party, and a real feast for the eyes.

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