|It's almost like I arranged this on purpose! ...But I didn't.|
Yes, I swear there's a point to what I'm about to say. I'll even start off with an amusing little bit of trivia.
In 1977, George Lucas broke Directors' Guild of America rules by foregoing an opening credits sequence in the movie he had just made, arguing that it would ruin the pace of his film. The DGA basically let the issue slide because they thought nobody was going to see his stupid little sci-fi movie. And since that movie, as of the time of this writing, has since gone on to spawn three sequels, three prequels, and a spin-off called Rogue One... yeah. Hindsight, huh?
But opening credits sequences eventually stopped being mandatory, though a few films still continue to use them to this very day. Most notably the James Bond franchise.
Blockbuster superhero movies generally continued the practice, as well. I've mentioned before that many superhero films made around and after the X-Men and Spider-Man films would use abstract CGI openings. Spider-Man used web imagery, X-Men used DNA imagery, and Hulk used... I don't know, a peyote trip?
But while I would argue that the practice of superhero movies using thematic imagery in artistic opening sequences was at its height in the early 2000s with Marvel's first batch of pre-Iron Man films, I would also argue that DC pioneered it with Batman: The Movie before cementing the idea of an artsy opening credits sequence with Batman.
Batman: The Movie was made in the 60s. As such, it had a typically nigh-psychedelic opening sequence with colored filters and spotlights.
Superman: The Movie blended sophistication with spectacle by putting zooming text through a starfield.
Batman goes even more abstract and modernist by showing a dark, cloudy sky before panning through some kind of weird maze made out of some kind of black stone, or plastic, or something. But when the camera finally pulls out to get a look at the whole thing, it turns out that we were getting a good look at the Batman symbol itself.
Honestly, looking back at it now, the opening credits to the first Spider-Man film kind of seems like one big homage to the opening credits of this film.
You've got the Danny Elfman score, you've got the dark, minimalist look, and you've got the abstract focus on imagery representing the hero. But instead of zooming through webs, this intro takes us through an extreme closeup of the Batman symbol.
|Extreme close up! Whoooooooooaaaaaaa!|
At least... A version of it. The symbol used in the intro, and as the logo for the movie itself, is not the one on the Batsuit. I'll explain when I go over the Batsuit in the Review.
The film proper opens up on Gotham City, DC Comics's most wretched hive of scum and villainy. Until they came up with the city of Bludhaven, but whatever.
As the camera pans through the city streets, it becomes clear that there's a distinct style at work.
"Well, duh," you might say. "It's Tim Burton. The movie's going to look like a live-action Corpse Bride."
And yet... no. Tim Burton has a very distinct visual style that isn't actually very prominent in this movie. When Batman proved successful, Tim Burton was allowed to go all-out in the look of Batman Returns, and it shows. Here, however, you can tell that he was told to reign it in.
While there are some very Burton-y touches (like the architecture that wouldn't look out of place in Fritz Lang's Metropolis), the thing I find most striking about this movie right off the bat is the juxtaposition of the 1940s and the 1980s. Or as the latter was known in the 1980s, "The Present."
Punk fashions and leather walk side-by-side with vintage cars and fedoras. Neon lights and black-and-white TVs.
|It's like 1955 Hill Valley and alternate-1985 Hill Valley got smashed together.|
In that way, now that nearly thirty years have passed, the juxtaposition of the 40s and the 80s together actually makes it seem to exist in its own timeless universe. Except for one little detail of the 80s aesthetic, but I'll get to that.
Anyway, a man, his wife, and their son are trying and failing to get a taxi to take them home. They just saw a movie at the Monarch Theater, and they just need some transportation.
Wife: "For God's sake, Harold, can we please just get a taxi?"
Yes, you might have thought that this was Thomas and Martha Wayne, taking their son Bruce home from a Zorro movie.
It is not.
But obviously, this is supposed to immediately evoke Batman's origin in our minds, especially when they decide to cut through a dark alleyway, only to get ambushed by a mugger.
This scene is a pretty brilliant deconstruction of the now-standard superhero movie formula that opens with the hero's origin story. Funnily enough, that formula wasn't standard at the time this movie was made. There was really only one example of a superhero movie laying out the events that caused the protagonist to become a hero before getting into the real meat of the plot: Superman: The Movie.
So audiences at the time would probably have expected Batman's first...
Hm. Maybe the people who dislike origin stories have a point. I mean, here's a great example of a movie that still tells us the important history regarding our hero without following the formula to the letter.
Anyway, the mugger and his accomplice get away with their ill-gotten booty. Not a bad haul tonight, but one of them is a little bit hesitant to stay on the rooftop they fled to. After all, there are rumors going around. A small-time thug recently fell off a rooftop after using some mind-altering substances.
Mugger 1: "I heard that the Bat got him."
And why is this the rumor going around?
Mugger 1: "Five stories straight down. There wasn't no blood in the body."
Mugger 2: "No shit. It was all over the pavement."
So... I want you to keep this anecdote in mind for later. Just trust me, this story's going to come into play.
Behind the muggers, a dark figure gracefully descends from above as they continue to argue. And when a noise makes them look up....
|"I sure hope they find my cape-flapping scary."|
|Well, that was a short movie.|
The Bat: "I'm not going to kill you. I want you to do me a favor."
|"Could I borrow some change? My car's at the meter and I don't have pockets."|
Mugger: "What are you?!"
The Bat: "I'm Batman."
After tossing the mugger back onto the roof, the music crescendos as Batman leaps down the building, disappearing when the mugger looks down.
Elsewhere, some suits are having a dinner to discuss the upcoming election, while I refrain from making jokes regarding the one we just had.
Man: "Across this nation, the words 'Gotham City' are synonymous with crime. Our streets are overrun, our public officials are helpless. As mayor, I promise to root out the source of this corruption, Boss Carl Grissom. Now, our new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, will carry out that promise."
So the podium is turned over to Mr. Harvey Dent himself, played by Billy Dee Williams.
|"Welcome. I'm Harvey Dent. I'm the administrator of this facil... I mean, the new DA."|
Okay, now I can't stop imagining a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact where the Borg go back in time to assimilate Gotham City, only to be stopped by a team-up between the Enterprise crew and Batman.
|Somebody please tell me there's fanfic of this somewhere.|
Harvey Dent: "People of Gotham City. I'm a man of few words. But those words will count. And so will my actions."
|"Unless we're talking about this movie specifically, where my impact will be minor. And my dialogue could easily be given to other characters."|
Harvey talks about making the city safe for decent people, and Jack mutters that decent people shouldn't live in Gotham. Jack is accompanied by his gorgeous supermodel girlfriend.
|Who he's barely interested in, because the guy is simply insane.|
Girlfriend: "Pretty tough talk about Carl."
Jack: "Don't worry about it. If this clown..."
Jack: "...could touch Grissom, I'd have handed him his lungs by now."
Girlfriend: "If Grissom knew about us.... he might hand you something."
Jack: "Don't flatter yourself, angel. He's a tired old man. He can't run this city without me."
So Grissom's second-in-command is schtupping his moll. I'm sure this won't backfire on anyone.
This brings us to Jack's big character-establishing moment when he looks at himself in a mirror.
Girlfriend: "You look fine."
Jack: "I didn't ask."
This can sort of be seen as the Harley Quinn/Joker relationship stripped down to its core. A beautiful blonde, utterly devoted to a sociopath who dismisses her needs but still seems to want her company, even if he doesn't seem to appreciate it. The question of whether or not the Joker "loves" Harley Quinn, however, is an important one to examine. And one that I'll examine when Harley Quinn actually shows up.
Elsewhere in Gotham, the cops and paramedics deal with the aftermath of Batman beating up the earlier muggers, wondering what could explain their crazed ramblings and many injuries. The grizzled officer on the scene is one Lt. Eckhardt, fashioned after Harvey Bullock from the comics. But I'll be calling him "Lt. Porkins," since that might be his actor William Michael "Hoot" Hootkins's best known role.
Lt. Porkinst: "Ah, they're drinkin' Drano."
|They actually named one of the few fat guys in Star Wars "Porkins."|
Rest in Peace, Red Six.
Officer: "It's a little weird, lieutenant."
Drinking Drano? Yes, it is.
|I'm a Windex guy, myself.|
But back in the day, you had to do work if you wanted to report on nonsense that may or may not be completely made up. Lois Lane got lucky when a flying spaceman decided to stop by her apartment for a quick chat. Here in Gotham, the local Lois Lane wannabe is a guy named Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), whose main method of obtaining information is harassing cops.
|"I'm nowhere to be found in the original comics, so damn it, I'm just going to have fun with my only film appearance."|
Knox: "Hello, Lt. Eckhardt. I hear we just had us another Bat attack. That's, what, eight sightings now in just under a month? I hear the Commissioner's even opened a file. True?"
Lt. Porkins: "Sorry, no; these two slipped on a banana peel."
Mugger: "I'm telling ya, man! A giant bat!"
Whether or not this alleged "Bat" is real, the impact on crime is very real. Every low-life in town is looking over their shoulder for a giant immortal Bat that thirsts for the blood of criminals.
Knox: "They say..."
Lt. Porkins: "I say you're full of shit, Knox."
As an aside, they've been saying "shit" a surprising amount for a PG-13 movie.
The MPAA rating system is... weird. Basically, anonymous adults from California watch a movie and give it arbitrary ratings. Their methodology is unknown, contradictory, and seemingly random, but filmmakers have learned by this point what to do in the way of swears.
Everybody thinks that G-rated movies are for babies, so filmmakers slip in a "Hell," "ass," or "damn" to get a PG. A single "shit" or possibly even a single "fuck" tends to get you bumped up to PG-13, and a barrage of "fuck" or AVGN-style creative metaphors will get you an R. And if you mean "fuck" as in the actual act of sex, that definitely gets you bumped up to at least an R, possibly an NC-17 depending on other criteria.
But this movie packs in a lot of "shit" for modern PG-13 standards. Which is understandable, since PG-13 was suggested by Steven Spielberg in '84 to improve the rating system, so standards hadn't adjusted yet. You'd be surprised how much swearing was peppered throughout PG movies back in the early 80s.
Anyway, Lt. Porkins says that Knox can quote him on the large quantity of shit inside Knox, leading to a trailer line.
Knox: "Lieutenant, is there a six-foot bat in Gotham City?"
And some more lines.
Knox: "And if so, is he on the police payroll?"
Not since the 60s.
Knox: "And if so, what's he pulling down? After taxes?"
Porkins doesn't answer, but walks off into a nearby alleyway for a snack. Jack's a-waiting with his trusty goon Bob (Tracey Walter) to hand the lieutenant a sandwich.
|Wait a minute, money's not edible! Call me crazy, but I think there's foul play afoot!|
Lt. Porkins: "That's my territory. If there's a problem, I deal with it."
Jack: "Your problems are our problems."
Jack tries to subtly get Porkinst's loyalty, but Porkins's smart enough to see that Jack wants to take over the crime racket. And he doesn't think Jack can pull it off. Mainly because Jack has always been a little nuts. I mean, come on, if Jack wasn't crazy, then why would he be played by Jack Nicholson?
|This is the look of a man who can't decide whether to skin or disembowel somebody.|
That's why, as good as The Shining was, nobody was shocked by Jack's growing insanity.
...Jack Torrance, not Jack Nicholson. Well, Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. And as Jack Napier.
Man, he plays a lot of guys named Jack.
Anyway, Jack shoves Porkins back, which doesn't exactly have as much oomph as when Superman does it to Batman, and Porkins whips out his gun, only for Bob the Goon to come to Jack's aid. In the end, Porkins puts his gun down, losing the chance to end this movie very quickly. Dang it, Porkins, between this and not blowing up the Death Star, you're just bad at you're job.
The next day, the Mayor is busy planning the celebrations for Gotham's two-hundredth anniversary. There's absolutely no money in the budget, but he's insisting on a parade anyway.
Mayor Borg: "I want hot dogs, balloons, the whole shmeer."
Harvey Dent points out that the festival has already spent $250,000 than its budget and has nothing to show for it... which makes me wonder exactly how bad the corruption in this city is. I mean, let's face it, that money probably wasn't "spent" so much as "embezzled" or "used to pay off mobsters."
Mayor Borg: "You fill this square with people and the businesses will come back here."
As I've mentioned before, I live in Michigan, a state with its own real-life Gotham City, Detroit. So while I'm not an expert, I'm familiar with urban decay and attempts at gentrification.
To be fair, Detroit has had worse times than right now, but it's certainly seen better days. The worst thing that can happen to a city is for all the businesses to move away. For Detroit, the car factories started shutting down. For Gotham, the place simply got so bad that all the businesses moved away. Probably to avoid having to deal with the gigantic crime syndicate. As such, the only major businesses left are probably in the pocket of Grissom's syndicate, if not at least paying into Grissom's protection racket.
Gotham City is a wretched hive and certainly looks the part. And since the people put in charge of maintaining law and order are taking bribes in the form of money sandwiches, Borg is hoping that making the town look a bit nicer will convince businesses that Gotham has gotten better, improving the economy as he and Harvey Dent tackle Grissom's syndicate from the top down.
Businesses are a very important part of improving a city's safety and economy, if Detroit's turnaround can be used as an example. So Mayor Borg's plan of spending money to make money is risky, but can pay off in the long run if he gives his city some positive national attention.
However, there is a downside to this plan. People might not join in the festivities if they feel unsafe, so the Mayor wants the cops to arrest Grissom for something. Anything. Because it's not like taking down the biggest crime boss in Gotham City will create a power vacuum, or anything, sending the criminal underworld into disarray as rival gangs compete to be the top dog.
Back at the Gotham Globe, all the other reporters are making fun of Knox's crackpot "Bat-Man" story, including the paper's artist who hands Knox a picture for his article.
|Man, Bob Kane's early ideas for the character were weird.|
At Knox's desk, he finds a pair of legs.
Knox: "Hello, legs."
Well, at least he's polite.
The legs are connected to noted photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) who has been reading his stuff on this "Bat-Man."
Knox: "Listen, if you want me to pose nude, you're gonna need a long lens."
|"Really? Long lenses are used to magnify things that
are really far away. Or really small."
"Yeah, that sounds about right."
|"I mean, you saw it when they gave out a prize for that ridiculous story about that flying guy in Metropolis, right?"|
Knox: "Vicki Vale, will you marry me?"
Vicki Vale: "Nope."
Knox: "Buy me lunch?"
Vicki Vale: "Maybe."
Knox: "I eat light."
|"No, really, I photosynthesize."|
|A for effort, though.|
Grissom likes the idea, so he puts Jack in charge of the operation. Personally. Jack is so taken aback that he stops playing with his cards and looks at the foreshadowing in his hand for a second.
|Subtle. Real subtle.|
But there's certainly no hard feelings, right? After all, Grissom is insisting that his boy Jack go into that chemical plant.
Grissom: "Youuu... are my number one guuuuuuyyy."
After Jack leaves, Grissom calls up the police officer he has in his pocket, Lt. Porkins....
Later, at the benefit at STATELY WAYNE MANOR, everyone arrives for some gambling, while also making donations to save the Gotham Bicentennial Festival. Knox sticks out like a sore thumb, so the Wayne butler, Alfred (Michael Gough), asks if he needs anything. So Knox takes a glass of champagne and hands him a one-dollar-bill.
|"Sir, in this house, such bills are used to start the fire. But I suppose it is the thought that counts."|
Vicki Vale: "Could you tell me which one of these guys is Bruce Wayne?"
|"Why does everybody keep asking me that?"|
Vicki thanks him and walks away, but Keaton follows her while Alfred follows Keaton to clean up after him, taking away his champagne glass and removing a fountain pen from a plant.
As Michael Keaton follows Vicki around, Commissioner Gordon is hitting the craps table. Knox tries to hit him up for information, but Gordon denies everything regarding this Bat. And when Harvey Dent shows up, he simply laughs it off.
Harvey Dent: "Mr. Knox, we have enough problems in this city without worrying about ghosts and goblins."
Good idea. Ghosts n' Goblins isn't a game you can just pick up and beat, you need to put time and strategy into it.
While Knox fails to get a quote from the mayor, Gordon is called away by another officer regarding an anonymous tip that just came in. Apparently, Jack Napier's removing evidence from Axis chemicals... and Porkins was put in charge of the situation. So Gordon leaves to takes care of the situation, followed by Knox and Vale.
But they seem to take a wrong turn when following him, because they end up in a room filled with various suits of exotic armor, distracting them. Knox's actor ad-libs a few jokes, and Vicki Vale remarks that if worthless guys have more stuff, Bruce Wayne must be the most worthless guy in America. Michael Keaton has been watching them this entire time, and even helps Knox when he wonders where Bruce Wayne got one of the armor suits.
Michael Keaton: "It's Japanese."
Knox: "How do you know?"
Michael Keaton: "Because I bought it in Japan."
Yes, Michael Keaton is playing Bruce Wayne... to the shock of no one reading this.
It was Jon Peters who suggested Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne, after they had failed to find a traditionally-square-jawed actor for the role.
For Tim Burton, everything fell into place when Keaton was cast. Not only was he the last person you'd expect to play Batman, but Keaton has some very intense eyes. Not only that, but his unimposing physique would actually give Bruce Wayne a reason to reinvent himself as a frightening figure of the night with sculpted rubber muscles.
But fans were leery of such a comedic actor taking over the role. So DC quickly cobbled together a 90-second trailer of whatever clips they had, arranged without music, in the hopes that they could put Batman fans' concerns at rest. And given that people were reportedly buying up tickets to random movies just to see the Batman trailer, it worked.
Anyway, Bruce is familiar with Knox's work, and compliments it.
Knox: "Thanks. Can I have a grant?"
And he's familiar with Vicki's work in Corto Maltese, as well.
Bruce Wayne: "You have a wonderful eye."
Knox: "Some people think she has two."
As they talk, a servant comes in to tell Bruce that they need to open up more champagne, and he gives permission.
Bruce Wayne: "Open... what, six? Six?"
I love how Bruce is asking Knox and Vicki for their opinion here.
|"How many do you usually put out, Knox?"|
Knox: "Yeah. Six is good."
It's clear that Bruce isn't exactly... normal.
When the conversation resumes, Vicki tells Bruce that she'll be staying in Gotham for a while to cover the mysterious Bat-Man, which surprises Bruce a little bit. Vicki asks what Bruce does for a living, but the conversation is interrupted by Alfred.
Alfred: "Sire, Commissioner Gordon was compelled to leave."
Bruce Wayne: "Okay, thank you."
Alfred: "A-hem, very unexpectedly, sir."
Geez, could you be any more suspicious, Alfred?
|"It was as if he had some bats in his belfry, sir."|
|"Yeah, I got it."|
|"A man with bats on the brain."|
|"A bat-man, if you will."|
|"Yes, I get it, Alfred."|
So as Bruce leaves, Knox and Vicki are left baffled by this odd, odd man.
Knox: "The rich. You know why they're so odd? Because they can afford to be."
As Knox admires a mirror (with a secret camera on the other side), Bruce Wayne watches the footage from his secret lair deep beneath STATELY WAYNE MANOR, and he rewinds the movie until he finds the part where Commissioner Gordon had to leave.
After hearing the bit about Napier at Axis Chemicals, Bruce takes his glasses off and prepares to get to work.
Meanwhile, outside Axis Chemicals, Porkins passes out some pictures of Jack Napier to his men and orders them to shoot to kill. Inside, Napier and his men start searching for the illegal bookkeeping, finding only an empty safe.
Jack: "We've been ratted out here, boys."
As they try to leave, a shootout breaks out in the Alien nest between Napier's guys, Porkins's men, and Commissioner Gordon's men. No really, this is the set they used in Aliens.
Gordon grabs a megaphone and orders Napier to be taken alive, in flagrant disregard of what Carl Grissom ordered Lt. Porkins to do.
Jack starts messing around with random machinery to cause all sorts of chemicals to go everywhere, distracting the cops while he tries to make his escape from the chemical plant.
Luckily, Batman arrives to take down Napier's men, starting with one guy who gets dangled by some Batrope.
|Quite frankly, this guy should count his blessings. That's basically how Gwen Stacy died.|
But Bob the Goon comes along to stick a gun in Gordon's face and threaten to fire unless Jack gets to leave.
|And so, James Gordon's career as 007 was short-lived.|
With no choice, Batman puts Jack down, allowing the gangster to have one last quip before grabbing his gun and shooting the Bat.
Jack: "Nice outfit."
But Jack doesn't get to shoot, since Batman disappears. So instead, Jack aims his gun elsewhere.
Jack: "Hey, Eckhardt! Think about the future."
|"You ever mambo with a goat in the fog?"|
|"Just something I'm working on. Don't worry about it."|
And here's the part that people have paused a million times and gone over frame-by-frame.
Does Batman drop Jack Napier?
After going through it frame-by-frame myself... no. His hand slips, and it jerks up because all of a sudden he's using all his arm strength to lift a man he's no holding onto. Batman does not pull away his hand.
As Jack gets flushed away through the plant's pipes, Commissioner Gordon turns his focus on Batman, who uses a smoke bomb to vanish into the night.
Outside the factory, near the drainage pipe which pump toxic chemicals into the Gotham River, a chalk-white hand with green fingernails emerges....
|I like to think his nails were already painted. Maybe he has a niece he spends time with? You don't know.|
The next day, Knox is on the phone with Commissioner Gordon, who continues to deny everything, even to the point of claiming Napier's fall into chemicals was a suicide. As Knox's questions go nowhere, Vicki theorizes that they might be able to triangulate Batman's flight path from the various sightings around Gotham. But that's all she can do right now, since he has a hot date with Bruce Wayne.
Said date... well, it starts off tepid at best as Bruce and Vicki eat soup from opposite sides of a gigantic table.
|Also, random thought. That is clearly a bat.|
Not just because of the literal distance between them, but because it takes Bruce a while to realize that there's something wrong with this setup.
Vicki Vale: "Do you like eating in here?"
Bruce Wayne: "Oh, yeah. ...You want to know the truth, I don't think I've ever been in this room before."
If you watch, he genuinely answers her question before pausing and joking. Almost as if he has to remember to turn on the charm. And right after that, they move their dinner to the kitchen, like he finally got the hint.
The kitchen seems to be more successful, since Alfred joins them to tell embarrassing stories about Bruce that Vicki just eats up. But eventually, he heads off to bed and leaves the two to talk.
Vicki absolutely loves Alfred, and Bruce can't imagine life without him.
|"I sure hope he doesn't have any sort of incurable genetic disease. That would suck."|
|"They both have that old person smell."|
Vicki Vale: "You know, this house and all this stuff really doesn't seem like you at all."
|"Yeah, I get that a lot, too. I keep telling people that's part of why I was cast, but no one seems to listen."|
|I see what you did there, Burton.|
Bruce Wayne: "One drink and I'm flying."
Vicki Vale: "Why are you afraid of flying?"
|"Statistically speaking, it's the safest way to travel."|
As they make their way up the stairs for a little making out, Grissom is happy as a clam now that Jack's been flushed away into the river after drowning in toxic chemicals. He even pours himself a drink in his downtown office... as Jack shows up.
Grissom quickly whips up a "Thank God," but Jack knows better. He knows that Grissom called in with an anonymous tip and gave Porkins the order to kill Jack.
Jack: "You set me up over a woman. A woman."
And he knows that Grissom has a gun in his desk.
Jack: "Don't bother."
Grissom: "Your life won't be worth spit!"
What, did we already use up as many utterances of "shit" as this movie was allowed?
Jack: "I've been dead once already. It's very liberating."
Grissom tries to plead with Jack, but he doesn't answer to that name anymore. As he moves into the light, showing off his new face, he reveals his new name.
Jack: "You can call me... Joker. And as you can see... I'm a lot happier."
|And suddenly, a new batch of people developed coulrophobia.|
As circus music that sounds an awful lot like the Super Mario underwater theme plays, Joker shoots the crap out of Grissom, pulling off some trick shots just for funsies until he runs out of bullets.
Joker: "Ah, what a day."
Back at STATELY WAYNE MANOR, Bruce and Vicki cuddle for a bit. She's asleep, but he's wide awake. That is, she's asleep until Bruce gets into his back stretcher... thing.
|I have no idea why he's doing this. Not even being Batman explains it.|
Joker: "'Terrorizes'. Wait 'til they get a load of me."
And then he just... sort of makes noises. And laughs.
Coming up in Part 2! A clown puts on makeup, and a man wears a mask to show his true face.