That’s right, thirty years ago and on June 19, 1989, the Tim Burton directed, Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson/Kim Basinger Batman film was released to theaters and became a monster hit. It is not exaggerating to say this film, released 11 years after the Richard Donner Christopher Reeve/Marlon Brando/Gene Hackman Superman may well form the alpha and omega of superhero films and explain why such films are so popular today.
When Superman came out in 1978, it was released a mere 10 years after the last episode of the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV series was cancelled.
Certainly not a terribly long time!
I suspect part of the reason that Gene Hackman’s Luthor -or at least his henchmen- are played mostly for laughs is because Donner and company were hedging their bets, hoping that after the very somber first and second acts of Superman (for those who have yet to see the film, I’m referring to the Krypton and Smallville segments) they needed to not only provide something a little lighter and “fun”. They likely drew some inspiration from the Batman TV show and its more silly portrayal of the villains but made the villain’s plans all that much more deadly.
Superman ushered in what I call the first wave of superhero films and, for the most part, they weren’t all that good. There were some very cheap Marvel Comics character releases that are viewed today as cult artifacts rather than legitimately great films and while Superman II (1980) did quite well Superman III (1983) and especially Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987) proved that even with the earnest acting of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, the script is everything and in the case of these later two films, they had miserable scripts/stories.
After Superman IV, one could be forgiven for thinking the superhero film was done and over with.
A mere two years later and with the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, the genre would prove to be very much alive.
Back in those pre-internet days, I recall vividly being extremely excited to see this new Batman film. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was a current thing and, along with Alan Moore’s Marvel/Miracleman and Watchmen, an almost morbid sense of “reality” was permeating comic books and their heroes.
It was very much hoped by me -and I’m certain many others!- at that time that Tim Burton would deliver a dark and grim Batman, one that would bury the then viewed as ridiculous Adam West TV show of nearly two decades before.
I distinctly recall Entertainment Tonight one day offering an exclusive “preview” of Batman and me setting the (*cough*) VHS to tape it.
What I saw totally turned me on. Unfortunately, I can’t find that particular clip but check this out, a preview of the summer films for 1989 (see how many have become lost in the flotsam!)…
Somehow a friend of mine and I snagged a “sneak preview” showing of Batman way back then and, along with a rowdy crowd of people like us, were thrilled to see the film a few days (maybe even a week) before its formal release.
I remember being so damn excited to see the film and was in rapt attention as the credits rolled and the film went on. For the first half of the film, I felt it was everything I hoped for. Right up and until this sequence…
Alas, from that point on, the film in my humble opinion went downhill. It seemed to be paying tribute to the Adam West Batman but with a darker palette (the museum sequence, in particular, could have easily fit into that show).
And the ending… well… it was weird, to say the least. Batman seems to be in such a superior position with his fearsome Batwing yet gets taken out by a ridiculously big Joker gun. (Oh, and for those who hated the Snyder version of Batman, you do remember in this film Batman uses the machine gun on his Batwing to try to kill the Joker, right?).
The conclusion in the Cathedral was visually lush and reminded me of Neal Adams drawn comics, but the ultimate fate of the Joker felt incredibly morbid, even as I strongly suspect Tim Burton knew there was no way Jack Nicholson would return as the Joker in a sequel film and decided the best thing to do was end the character right there, something he would do in the sequel to this film with Danny DeVito’s Penguin.
When I left that preview showing, I have to admit I was dejected. I felt this movie was so close to greatness but the script had gotten away from Burton and company. Curiously, I read the novelization of the film…
…before seeing the movie and the second half of the novelization was quite different from what appeared in the movie. I suspect Burton and company essentially jettisoned the script after the “wait ’til they get a load of me” scene and went their own way.
Still, the film was a HUGE hit and I suspect it helped revitalize the superhero movie genre just when the Superman films -at least III and IV- were indicating the genre was running out of steam.
Where does the time go?!