21 THINGS I LEARNED AT THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY THEATRICAL SCREENING OF BATMAN (1989)
#1 BATMAN 1989’S UNEXPECTED SIMILARITIES TO THE #GOTHAM TV SHOW
#Gotham fans will be delighted to see that Batman (1989) actually had a scene like their pilot. The original script included a young James Gordon consoling Bruce the night his parents died. The scene was cut, but it was included in a BRIEF shot of the Gotham Globe newspaper.
#1.5 The text reads: TODAY another gangland killing in Gotham City, prominent Doctor Thomas Wayne was brutally gunned down with his wife after leaving the theatre—his only son Bruce Wayne was with the doctor and Mrs. Wayne and unfortunately witnessed the crime.
2# MILLIONAIRES IN 1989 WERE NOTHING LIKE MILLIONAIRES TODAY
Bruce Wayne at the time was invisible and eccentric. He didn't want to be in the public eye beyond maintaining appearances, such as when he invites Vicky, a talented and widely-read journalist, to see his aloof millionaire self in person and report back the kind of person no one would ever suspect is Batman. No one even remembered that his parents had been murdered.
Back then, we didn’t have immediate access to a wealth of information and photos about whoever we want. Nor did we have the ever-hungry gossip and social-media machine
#3 BILLY DEE WILLIAMS AS HARVEY DENT WAS INSPIRED CASTING
I'm so mad we never got to see him as a proper Two Face. Like Michael Gough repeating his role as Alfred for all four movies until Nolan, Billy Dee Williams could have been the connective tissue in a series of ever-changing Batmen. The closest we got was this insane fan art (still from movie on left).
#4 BATMAN (1989) HAS MORE TWISTS THAN A SHYAMALAN MOVIE
I was endlessly fascinated by imagining what it was like to see this movie for the first time in 1989. Unless you were reading Wizard, there was a good chance you knew next to nothing about the movie. You might not have even seen the trailer. Today, we make fun of people who were up in arms over Michael Keaton playing Batman (MR. MOM?!), but comic book culture was way different back then. Only nerds followed comic books, let alone a comic book MOVIE. You had a good chance of going to see Batman without knowing Michael Keaton was even playing Batman.
And the thing is that even though movies are often inextricably linked to the foreknowledge audiences bring into the experience because of the marketing, films are foremost made as their own entity. Every reveal in a movie was written and filmed so that an audience would experience it without knowing the reveal in advance.
For example, the first time we meet Michael Keaton, we don't know he's Bruce Wayne. We discover that at the same time Vicky does. She starts off by asking this random guy at the casino event which one of these guys is Bruce Wayne.
Random guy says, “Uh…I’m not sure.”
Then when Vicky is with Knox in the art room, they’re making jokes and looking around, and Random Guy quietly comes up behind them. They ask where a particular statue came from, and Random Guy says, “Japan.”
Knox: “How do you know that?”
RG: “Because I bought it in Japan. Hi, Bruce Wayne.”
And Vicky, in a callback to Bruce’s earlier response to her (“Uh…I’m not sure”), she now says, “Are you sure?!”
It was delightful to watch that scene again as though this is the first time we discover he’s Bruce Wayne, too.
#5 BRUCE WAYNE IS MORE ABSENT MINDED THAN YOUR DAD
Bruce is absent minded, and that's hilarious until you think about whether that means Batman is absent minded, too. But I don't think he is. I think it's that his mind is always in the business of being Batman, and when he's Bruce, he's phoning it in. When he's Batman, he's nothing but focus.
#6 KIM BASINGER IS PERFECT AS VICKY VALE
If I had to cast Vicky Vale today, I'd cast Beyonce. The role requires someone who exudes grace, intelligence, and determination.
#7 BATMAN (1989) IS ONE HELL OF A LOVE STORY
I looooooved the first date scene between Bruce and Vicky, and it gave me a deeper glimpse into this portrayal of Bruce Wayne. There is a real person inside Bruce, but he never shows it.
The scene starts off with them eating at opposite ends of a comically long table. And boy do they play up how comically long it is. Vicky asks Bruce for salt, and he can’t quite hear her. Then when he brings the salt to her, the camera switches to a wide shot and follows him as he walks ALLLLLLLLLLL the way from one end to the other.
The shot stays wide as he hands over the salt, and then stays so we can follow Bruce as he walks ALLLLLLLLLL the way back to his seat.
From the audience’s POV, who knows how many times he’s done this before? All to preserve his image of eccentric millionaire (Not billionaire. Remember, this is 1989 posing as 1929). And of course he invited over Vicky Vale. A popular, reputable journalist who can report back that Bruce Wayne is the sort of person no one would ever suspect is Batman.
But yeah, this behavior and this table and this date are bizarre, and Vicky calls him out on it. Maybe she’s the first one who ever has? Because Bruce decides in that moment to show her his true self.
#8 VICKY VALE CALLS BATMAN ON HIS BULLSHIT
I doubt anyone ever asks this simple question. They’re just happy to be having dinner with a millionaire, but Vicky is interested in who Bruce really is.
And after a moment’s reflection, he says, “You know…I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten in this room. Do you want to get out of here?”
And then we cut to him and Vicky laughing as Alfred tells a story of Bruce as a kid. It’s a side of Bruce that not even Bruce often thinks about, let alone shows to another person. And if Alfred is to be believed, it’s the first time since Bruce’s parents were gunned down that this mansion has been full of light and life.
It’s a rare moment for Bruce to show himself as the real Bruce. Not that Batman is just a disguise and not his true self, but he can’t show anyone the true Bruce who is both Bruce AND Batman. This Bruce Wayne is so secretive that most people don’t even know that his parents were murdered, as evidenced when Vicky has to figure out why Bruce laid down two roses in an alley.
#9 EVEN BATMAN IS PROBLEMATIC
I don’t know what to do with this scene of Bruce and Vicky drunkenly stumbling up the stairs.
Vicky points out the problem when she says, “I feel so drunk, but you’re not anything. How…?” I don’t want to believe that Batman would let himself get drunk, but if he’s only pretending to get drunk while letting Vicky actually get drunk, and now they’re on the way to sleep together, that is the definition of uncool.
#9.5 Side note, I was so young when I saw this that I had no idea “sleep together” was a euphemism. Vicky later says, “I can’t believe I slept with you!!!” And I thought wow, that makes sense. Sleepovers really are a big deal.
#10 GOTHAM CITY IS AN AWFUL PLACE TO LIVE (DUH)
You get a sense for just how decayed Gotham City is when Joker kills someone in broad daylight, and the cops in the background just stand there. They don’t do anything until Joker’s goons gun them down.
#10.5 Side note, can we just point out that it was Tim Burton, not Joel Schumacher, who made the bizarre decision to have the bad guys drive around in brightly-colored, easily-identifiable cars?!
#11 BRUCE WAYNE HAS SUPERPOWERS?!
I was eight or nine when I first saw this, and when Bruce gets shot in the arm, I assumed he'd actually been shot. I thought oh, he's like Superman and is invulnerable. For years afterward, every time I imagined a new superhero, I assumed they too needed invulnerability since apparently all famous heroes de facto did.
#11.5 Similarly, when Batman in the finale flies his Batwing above the clouds for that iconic shot of the Batwing imposed over the moon, I thought ohhhhhh he’s recharging. Superman gets his powers from the sun, Batman gets his powers from the moon.
#10.75 Please don’t @ me to point out that the light from the moon is literally reflected sunlight. I was eight years old when I thought such things :P
Besides, how are you to know that sunlight doesn’t adopt new properties when reflected through moon cheese?
#12 BATMAN IS A BOY JUST TRYING REALLY HARD TO IMPRESS A GIRL
I refuse to believe Batman programmed his Batmobile to ram him down unless he says STOP. It must be programmed to sense something in his belt, so the only reason Batman pretends to use a voice command to stop the Batmobile is that he's trying to impress Vicky.
#13 I SUSPECT MICHAEL KEATON WROTE AT LEAST ONE SCENE IN BATMAN (1989)
I have no way of verifying this, but the scene after Alfred brings Vicky down to see Bruce in the Batcave reminds me of Michael Keaton’s humor. I mean that in a good way. Bruce and Vicky are suddenly a bickering married couple, Vicky worried about him always being at work, never being home with her, how long can this last? And Bruce get snitty and says, “I’ve got to go to work.”
The sudden "I've loved you since I met you" in no way feels earned, but as a scene, it works.
#14 BATMAN IS JUST A DUMB GUY RUNNING FROM HIS PROBLEMS AND MAKING THINGS WORSE
That fight enrages Bruce, and he runs off to hide in work. He drives to Axis Chemicals and blasts the place to holy hell. Like, that’s something the police could do. Go in, shut the place down while he focuses on Joker. But nope, he’s mad, and so he goes to blow it up himself.
Arguably, Batman’s decision to impulse-destroy Axis Chemicals in the next scene is what causes the destruction in the rest of the movie
See, while he's destroying Axis, Joker brings in his blimps and poisons everyone at his money event. I argue Batman would have been there to prevent this before it happened if he hadn't been elsewhere, destroying Axis.
#15 JOKER’S CRIMES DISPROPORTIONATELY HURT POOR PEOPLE
About Joker's crime. I never saw it this way before, but good lord does his big blimp event at the end disproportionately affect poor people. His big attraction is that he’s handing out buckets of money, but do you think any people of means were down in the streets to grab a handful of at most a few thousand dollars?
There’s a weird dissonance that never resolved for me about Batman somehow being the poor man’s hero, and Joker , if not being an outright rich person’s hero, is the enemy of the poor people. And is that really any different?
#16 JOKER IS A HUGE PRINCE FAN
lolololol he plays it on the stereo at the museum and at his poison event. I always thought it was movie music, but nope, one of the goons is carrying a massive stereo with Prince playing at full volume.
#17 BATMAN (1989) IS A COMEDY
There’s so many laughs in this movie. Batman orders Vicky, “Get in the car.” She says, “Which one?”
The camera slides over to reveal a completely inconspicuous option.
It’s a joke that would be mirrored in Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Catwoman follows Batman off a roof and into his latest vehicle. She says, “Mother warned me about getting into cars with strange men.”
Batman answers, “This isn’t a car.”
#18 JOKER’S ALTERNATIVE FACTS
Once Batman reveals to the public which hygiene and cosmetics products to avoid, Joker puts himself on TV to call Batman out for a final showdown. He tells the audience that he’s showing his true face, and he’s calling out Batman to show his. Except this is a lie, because Joker says this while he’s wearing his fake Jack face.
We normally think of Joker as having a human face, and the green hair and white skin come from makeup. But not this Joker. This one’s face was turned into Joker’s face in the chemical accident. Now his skin is gauche, pasty white, his hair a toxic green. And he’s literally missing his lips. The surgeon, using “what he has to work with,” tattooed lips onto him with lipstick red.
#18.5 Side note, LOL AT THIS SURGEON’S OFFICE?! It’s a back-alley office with a sign that says “Surgeon,” and yet when Joker loses his mind seeing how his face was put back together, the doctor sadly defends himself by saying, “You see what I have to work with here.” And the camera shows us a sad and limited assortment of surgical tools.
WHY IS HE IN BUSINESS AS A SURGEON IF HE’S APOLOGIZING FOR HIS WORK?????
#19 BATMAN’S SECRET CONNECTION TO JOKER IS AWFUL FOR BATMAN BUT GOOD FOR THE MOVIE
Joker being revealed as the person who killed Batman’s parents is awful. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now, but at least in the context of the movie, it serves a purpose.
It explains why Batman is so off his game that he doesn’t easily take out Joker. In his rage, he almost gets himself and Vicky Vale killed.
First, when he flies the Batwing at Joker. He fires machine guns, missiles, bombs, all of them miss Joker. He could have ended this right away. That would have meant killing Joker, but Batman’s already shown he’s not above such things.
For example, when Batman first encounters Jack Napier/Joker at Axis Chemicals, he lets Jack fall to his death into the vat of chemicals that will turn him into Joker. Essentially, Batman is saying that even if he doesn’t kill someone, that doesn’t mean he has to save them, a plot beat that would be repeated in Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS.
Second, once Batman catches up to Joker and Vicky at the top of the cathedral, he’s now recovered from crashing the Batwing, and he kicks the crap out of Joker. He goes out of his way to beat the guy’s face in rather than simply apprehend him and call it a day.
Batman is too smart to do any of that. The only reason he didn’t end this as quickly as possible is that he was so full of rage that he didn’t want to.
#20 HARVEY DENT WOULD HAVE BEEN A HUGE CHARACTER
Note that it is Harvey Dent, not Gordon, who reads the Batman's letter. Gordon lights the signal. An excellent foreshadowing for the relationships that would have formed, with Dent becoming Two-Face and Gordon replacing him as Batman's preferred contact.
#21 THE END
lol at the end of the movie, why is Batman just standing there looking at his giant Bat signal instead of finding whatever crime made the police light the signal?! I realize he’s in love, but wtf?
Thanks for joining me for this chance to revisit BATMAN (1989)!