Friday, November 25, 2016

Recap: Batman (1989) Part 3: Pagliacci

You know, it’s easy to forget, but at this point in the movie, we don’t know why Bruce Wayne is Batman. Strictly speaking, the film technically didn’t even reveal that the two are one and the same yet. Sure, we’ve seen both Batman and Bruce Wayne in the BatCave, but perhaps Bruce Wayne is funding the Dark Knight’s escapades through his corporation? Some kind of “Batman Incorporated,” if you will.

Or maybe Bruce Wayne just lives in Batman’s attic.
At the Gotham Globe, Vicki tells Knox everything she knows as well as everything that just happened to her. Knox pretty much ignores her and instead brings up what he just discovered. Sure, it’s pretty jerky to move past her traumatic tale, but to be fair, he’s trying to subtly tell her to get away from both Joker and Bruce, since Bruce can’t exactly be the picture of mental health, judging by his actions and what Knox discovered about Bruce’s past.

As it turns out, that alleyway Bruce visited is where his parents were shot and killed. Right in front of Bruce. When he was only a kid.

Knox: "What do you suppose something like this does to a kid?"

Judging by the number of orphaned superheroes, I think the answer's obvious.

As Vicki runs off, Bruce looks at a Canadian map… I mean, a map of Gotham in the Batcave that has Axis Chemicals circled. He goes to Alfred, who's putting the Batsuit back in the vault, and Alfred tells him that the file Bruce wanted on his parents' murder is on the table.

Bruce Wayne: "What's on your mind, Alfred?"
Alfred: "I have no wish to fill my few remaining years grieving for the loss of old friends. Or their sons."

"Yeah, well, life's filled with disappointment. Batmobile needs a tune up."
Over at City Hall, Mayor Borg ironically seems to have come to the conclusion that resistance is futile, and so decides to postpone Gotham’s big bicentennial celebration, owing to all the terrorism he and the police have been powerless to stop.

The Joker, wearing his makeup and broadcasting on his pirate signal, disagrees.

Joker: "Now you fellows have said some pretty mean things. Some of which were true under that fiend boss Grissom. He was a thief. And a terrorist. On the other hand, he had a tremendous singing voice. He's dead now. And he's left me in charge. Now, I can be theatrical, and maybe a little rough. But one thing I am not... is a killer!"

"What about all those people you killed?"
"The museum patrons you gassed and the gangster you stuck a quill in."
"...They got better?"
 Joker: "I'm an artist. I love a good party. So, truce. Commence au festival!"

"If we cancel the celebration, then the terrorists win!"
"Aren't you the terrorist here?"
"Don't change the subject."
And the Joker even makes two other promises. First, he's going to drop more than a few million in cash on the crowd at midnight. And second, he's going to provide a show by fighting Batman one-on-one.

Joker: "Mano y mano. I have taken off my makeup.”

“As far as you know.”
Joker: “Let's see if you can take off yours."

"But if I do that, people will see the skin around my eyes."
Bruce pauses the TV feed in the Batcave before taking a good look at the face of Jack Napier. And he thinks back to that night.


A movie.

An alley.

A mugger.

The mugger, who bears a striking resemblance to Bob the Goon, grabs Martha Wayne's pearls, As she and her husband try to fight back, another mugger shoots them both dead before aiming his gun at little Bruce.

Second Mugger: "Tell me, kid. You ever dance with the devil by the pale moonlight?"

The first mugger runs off and yells for the other...

First Mugger: "Let's go, Jack!"

...before they both make their getaway, sparing Bruce's life.

So, the movie has just posited the idea that Jack Napier murdered Batman’s parents.

Bob Kane actually really liked the idea and went on record saying that he wishes he’d thought of it. Tim Burton defends the rather improbable coincidence by saying that the story of Batman is basically a larger-than-life tale akin to ancient mythology. And mythology was filled with things like a king hearing a prophecy that his son would kill him, so he sent his son away, only for him to return and kill a man he had no idea was his father. And then he had sex with his mom, but that part isn’t relevant.

And, yeah, I can see where Tim’s coming from. It’s unrealistic… but hey, it makes for good character motivation and it symbolically represents Bruce’s quest to avenge his parents by making their murderer the biggest crime lord in town, with a garish style to rival Bruce’s Batsuit.

But several details in the film have led myself and others to believe that Jack Napier did not actually kill the Waynes all those years ago. Though entirely unintentional, there are a few pieces of evidence that actually support this theory. Allow me to make my case.

  • This is a flashback. As such, you could make the argument that this isn't exactly how it went down. After all, "Jack" has had his voice pitch-shifted down and distorted to illustrate that this is a memory.
  • This is the first time we've seen this actor's face. 
Yes, it appears in Jack Napier's police file in a mugshot of his younger years, but you never actually see his face, just part of his head. This is likely so Bruce wouldn't have a chance to figure out the intended connection sooner.
But for all we know, young Jack Napier doesn't even look like this guy.
  • The guy doesn't look like Jack Nicholson did when he was younger. It's believable that he could be, but they look more like brothers than anything else.
  • Flashback Jack and Jack Napier have different eye colors.
  • Joker says "In the pale moonlight." Flashback Jack says "by the pale moonlight."
  • Joker never asks that of his prey; saying it to Bruce is the first time he says it in the movie.
My theory: Bruce's parents were killed by person or persons unknown. Batman fuels his crusade by blaming their deaths on his next target. His parents' killer never asked any questions regarding the devil or the pale moonlight. Bruce just projected Joker's comment onto him, making it easier to conflate the two in his mind. And in the end, he misremembers what Joker said to him, which is why the quote is slightly different in the flashback.

But the flashback, accurate or not, is interrupted by Alfred bringing Vicki into the Batcave and leaving, having done his worst. Many fans took issue with that, and I see where they’re coming from. It’s not Alfred’s secret to tell. But if you consider the idea that perhaps Alfred had earlier let slip that Bruce wasn’t actually going on a business trip, it’s possible that Alfred (who outright said that he wants to see Vicki and Bruce get together) did this because he knew that Bruce would never open up 100% to Vicki if left to his own devices.

And now that she knows the truth, Vicki can only wonder why, if Bruce really cares for her, he didn't tell her the truth in the first place.

Vicki Vale: "Why won't you let me in?"

"I think Alfred's done a fine enough job with that."
Vicki Vale: "I've loved you since I met you."

Really? You seemed very unimpressed with the guy you asked about Bruce Wayne.
Vicki can't understand why Bruce does this whole Bat-crusade, and the only answer he can give is "Because nobody else can."

Vicki Vale: "I just gotta know. Are we gonna try to love each other?"

"Honestly, that depends on whether or not you return for the sequel."
But with the Joker on the loose, Bruce has to suit up and do his job. Said "job" being driving into Axis Chemicals and using the Batmobile to drop a bomb in front of some goons.

Well, so much for "Batman doesn't kill."
Those goons? Dead. Any homeless people hanging out outside the building? Dead. Axis accountants doing their job in the offices? Dead. Janitors? Dead.

Even if there were no homeless people, accountants, or janitors, somebody got caught in that bomb blast and died. And what about that guy who fell off that rooftop? Did he back off in fear, or was Humpty Dumpty pushed?

And in the film’s climax, he’s going to throw one of Joker’s goons down to the ground from the top of a cathedral. And he’s going to outright tell the Joker “I’m going to kill you.”

This Batman kills. And… I’m actually okay with that, for reasons that I’ll get to in the Review.

Batman's intended victim target, however, wasn't in the building at the time, allowing him to taunt the Batman from a helicopter while Batman's belt falls down.

And you can't un-see it.
Joker: "Into the air! Junior Birdman! Missed me!"

Ironic that he's talking to the senior Birdman, then.

So after Joker's model helicopter takes him to where he needs to be....

Seriously, as much as I love this movie, the model work could be better.
...he begins his own parade for the people of Gotham. And yes, he blares some more Prince music. This time, it's "Trust." And he starts getting it from the crowd as he dumps piles of cash on them all, to the disgust of Knox and Vicki, arriving on the scene.

Knox: "'Gotham's greed.'"

All this for one-dollar bills.
And if they would have showed a picture of the money being dropped, it would be Joker's face on a one-dollar bill, completing the joke from the museum scene. Of course, not only was Knox originally slated to die during this scene, but there’s another deleted scene where Joker poisoned all the cops, explaining why there are none present. And then there’s the fact that Jon Peters eliminated the ending where Joker kills Vicki Vale, getting killed in turn by Batman.

This whole scene was edited by Jon Peters during the writers’ strike, meaning that Tim Burton wasn’t even clear on some of the scenes he was filming. But the rest of the movie is surprisingly coherent considering all that.

Anyway, Batman was caught by surprise in his Batmobile, when the Joker was in the air. So this time, Batman takes to the air in the improbably-shaped Batwing.

As Joker spots him in the sky, he tells his men to start pumping the place full of Smylex gas as it emanates from the parade balloons. As Gotham chokes, Knox grabs a painter's mask and a baseball bat to become a masked bat-man of his very own. Too bad, then, that painter’s masks protect against airborne particles and not gas fumes. So even though the writers took a liking to the character, he should be starting to giggle and die.

But as Knox takes to the crowd, Batman uses an attachment on the Batwing to grab the balloon strings and take them all into the atmosphere.

Joker: "Why didn't somebody tell me that he had one of those... things? Bob. Gun."

And with said gun, he shoots Bob. Which I think we can all agree is the most heinous thing he’s done this whole time.

Joker: "Going to need a minute or two alone, boys."

Batman takes the Batwing high in the sky....

Get it?
...before swooping down to do a strafing run at the Joker.

Joker: "Come on, you gruesome son-of-a-bitch. Come to me."

"C'mon, hit me. C'mon c'mon, I want you to do it, I want you to do it, c'mon, c'mon, do it.
Hit me! Cmon I want you to it. C'mon do it! Hit me!"
All of Batman's bullets and rockets… wait. So, guns are off-limits, but bullets are fine?

“Rubber bullets. Honest.”
Right. And the missiles?

“Rubber missiles.”

Either way, they all miss, so Joker fires back with the long gun he keeps down the front of his pants.

What? What else could I have meant by that?
The single shot improbably takes the Batwing down, so Joker finds and grabs Vicki who went to the wreckage to look for Bruce.

Joker: "I've got to get you to the church on time."

Yes, this is the part I alluded to in the Intro, where Jack Nicholson asked Tim Burton why he was climbing the cathedral stairs, and only got “I’ll tell you when you get up there” for an answer.

After calling in his helicopter to pick him up at the top of the cathedral, he drags Vicki inside, followed by Batman. Joker drops one of Vicki's heels down in a scene mirroring Bruce doing the same at STATELY WAYNE MANOR, and the two of them make their way up the bell tower before Joker sends the big ol' bell crashing down in an attempt to stop the Caped Crusader.

Oh, and there are cops and paramedics on the scene. They don't do much, since Joker destroyed their way up.

When Batman arrives, Joker sends another martial arts goon after him who does some impressive flips... before getting knocked out in one punch. Over on the other side of the room, the Joker is convinced that he's the romantic hero of this story, despite Vicki's protests, and even dances with her. He seems very convinced that his goons will take care of Batman to the point that he doesn't even seem to know that Batman's still around and kicking after kicking all the thugs around.

Joker: "You know, without you, I just wouldn't want to go on."

And to Vicki's shock, he shoots himself in the head.

Good thing that wasn't the gag spear gun.
Joker: "It's as though we were made for each other. Beauty and the beast! Of course, if anyone else calls you 'beast,' I'll rip their lungs out."

Vicki isn't really into the Joker, in case you couldn't tell, but she decides to give Batman an opening by distracting the Joker by pretending to be seduced by him, even though she's really not into it. She kisses his arm as he holds her, getting visibly annoyed by a little bit of fuzz in her mouth.

Vicki: "Mr. Joker?"

"Actually, can I call you 'Mr. J'?"
Vicki: "I love purple."

And then she starts dipping below screen, presumably to... you know. Rub this man's rhubarb. But in actually, she's ducking so Batman can deliver a one-liner and a punch.

Batman: "'Scuse me. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

Joker gets knocked into a bell, bounding back into Batman's fist.

Batman: "I'm going to kill you."
Joker: "You idiot!"

"That's what I do!"
Joker: "You made me, remember? You dropped me into that vat of chemicals! That wasn't easy to get over, and don't think that I didn't try!"

After another round of beating the clown up, he distracts Batman by pretending to spit out chattering teeth before attempting a punch on Batman's armor. It doesn't go well.

Batman: "You killed my parents."
Joker: "What? What are you talking about?"
Batman: "I made you, you made me first."
Joker: "Hey, bat-brain, I was a kid when I killed your parents. When I say I made you, you gotta say you made me. How childish can you get?"

"You think killing me will make you happy? Like years of searching for the man who killed your parents would end in a neat little package, explaining why I was there and why I did what I did?”
“Well, here’s the thing. Answers don’t give you everlasting satisfaction.
Sometimes you need to brace yourself for disappointment. Think about it.”
“Imagine your favorite TV show. You’ve been through it all.
The ups, the downs, the crazy coincidences, and then: Bang! They tell you what it’s all about.”
“Would you be happy? Does it make sense? How come it all ended in a church?”
“Come to think of it… hey, Burton! Why is this ending in a church?”
“I… uh… I still don’t know.”
But Batman continues to advance, necessitating desperate measures.

Joker: "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses on, would you?"

Batman finds a solution by punching the glasses off his face, and the Joker goes over the edge. Literally this time. But he also takes Vicki and Batman with him. They hang from the ledge he's standing on as he laughs at a gargoyle and pulls the old fake-hand-trick as he offers to help Vicki up.

As he dances around, the ledge gives way a little, giving him the idea to kick Batman's handholds out one brick at a time. It's at this point that his ride shows up, so he grabs the rope-ladder before tempting fate.

Joker: "Sometimes, I just kill myself!"

"Saying that can't possibly lead to an ironic demise!"
And so, Batman grapples Joker's leg and ties him to the gargoyle, which breaks off and sends him plummeting down to the ground. Batman and Vicki also fall, but Batman saves them with another grappling hook. Down below, the cops investigate the Joker's laughing corpse, only to find that the laughter is some kind of recording.

"So much for sequel bait."
And so, Gotham celebrates at City Hall as Commissioner Gordon announces that they've rounded up the Joker's men once and for all. Vicki Vale walks away from Knox and his quest for a scoop as Harvey Dent reads a letter from Batman to the people of Gotham.

Harvey Dent: "'Please inform the citizens of Gotham that Gotham City's earned a rest from crime. But if the forces of evil should rise again, to cast a shadow on the heart of the city... call me."

Knox: "Question. How do we call him?"

"What, did he give you some kind of red phone?"
And so, Gordon unveils the Batsignal, which he shines into the sky as Vicki Vale finds herself in Bruce Wayne's car, with Alfred at the ready.

Alfred: "I thought champagne would be in order, ma'am."

"You can have some too, if you'd like, Ms. Vale."
But Bruce is busy helping Gotham, making him run a bit late.

Or maybe he's just standing there, admiring the Batsignal.
And with that, the film ends.

So let’s review and see exactly why this film succeeds, despite containing a large number of things that people complain about in other Batman films.

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