BATMAN '89: A Retrospective
Author: Sean Gerber (Follow @SeanGerberMMM)
June 28, 2014

June 24, 1989 - BATMAN had been in theaters a whole day and still, I had not seen it. Having fallen in love with the title character via reruns of the 1960s television show, BATMAN was the first movie I can remember following and looking forward to prior to its release and I could not be there on opening day. When youíre five years old, youíre not exactly the master of your movie destiny.

The remedy to this injustice appeared to be on its way when my mom, dad, brother, and I piled into the family car late that Saturday afternoon. We were on our way and I was beaming with excitement. Something was amiss, however, as we were driving in a direction much more familiar than the path to the multiplex. A few turns later and it was clear, we were not going to the movie theater.

We were going to Grandmaís house!

BATMAN was going to be seen by the Gerbers that night, but only two of them. My brother and I were left to watch VHS recordings of those 1960s episodes while our parents made sure this new, darker iteration of the character was safe for their young kids. I remember being incredibly frustrated until Grandma hit Play on the VCR. Sure, I wanted to see Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, but at age five, I already took the battles between Adam West and Cesar Romero deathly serious anyway.

Looking back, I canít really blame my folks. They did the right thing. If youíre worried whether or not a movie is okay for your kids, itís better to check it out for yourself first instead of going in blind and then blaming the studio or director after the fact. Well done, Mom and Dad.

The good news that came out of this switcheroo was my parents returning from the theater with a stamp of approval for the film. BATMAN was something their kids could handle, so my brother and I were taken to see it soon after. The rest is history, but this is a nostalgia trip so Iím confident anyone reading will afford me a few details.

I was absolutely mesmerized by BATMAN. The opening trace of the Bat symbol was great, but really, it was Batmanís introductory rooftop beat down of a pair of thugs that hooked me. For the first time, I understood what it meant for Batman to strike fear in the hearts of evil men. No one was ever afraid of Adam West, but Michael Keaton terrified his victims. Suddenly, wearing a Batsuit had a greater purpose than just being really cool window dressing.

Director Tim Burton and production designer Anton Furst gave Gotham an atmosphere worthy of Batmanís longstanding mythology. It wasnít a real world, but it wasnít completely out of reach either. It was a wonderful balance of urban vigilantism and fantastical escapism. You can see this comic-come-to-life influence in todayís Marvel Cinematic Universe films, less the gothic decorations.

Jack Nicholson was a much more lethal spin on The Joker than I had previously seen. Still, as strange as it sounds, there was always an element of playfulness to his homicidal endeavors. Jack Nicholson had fun, which was an excellent fit for both the character and the tone of the film. Love that Joker!

Setting aside my review, Iíd like to focus more on just how important BATMAN was to me, and the greater superhero genre. For me, BATMAN came along at just the right time. It was not long after the movie came out that some of the other kids started gaining more interest in sports than superheroes and action figures.

Not me, man. When my dad scored only two tickets to an Angels baseball game, there was a dilemma around which of his two sons he would take with him. My older brother was easily being the bigger baseball fan, so an offer was made for my dad to take him to the game while my mom took me to see BATMAN a second time. As far I was concerned, I was getting the far better end of that deal and quickly accepted those terms.

BATMAN along with the television show it inspired, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, were the dominant, critical forces that ensured I would never grow out of Batman. I never had to, as this 1989 film, even with its camp, showed that Batman and, by extension, the very concept of superheroes were serious business with stories that could inspire and entertain across generations and genders.

History has shown Iím not the only one who felt that way about BATMAN. Its influence can still be felt in the superhero genre even 25 years after it debuted in theaters. Not every film did it right as we all try to forget about movies like SPAWN, but many did including two franchises that played integral roles in expanding the superhero genre, BLADE and X-MEN. Even SPIDER-MAN, while appropriately adopting a more vibrant color palette, felt comfortable being campy thanks in part to BATMAN.

Looking back on the divided reception for MAN OF STEEL, it is clear that Warner Bros. could actually benefit from a return to the serious, but not afraid to have fun roots BATMAN planted in the ground. People still like to have fun with superheroes, even Batman. Hopefully, the warm and fuzzy feelings brought back by the 25th anniversary of BATMAN and the 75th anniversary of its title character will inspire the current shepherds of the franchise to apply the lessons the film taught multiple generations of fans and filmmakers. We would all stand to benefit from that line of thinking, just as we have in other franchises over the past two and a half decades.

Love that BATMAN! - Sean Gerber

Longtime BOF'er/BOF contributor Sean Gerber is the founder of MODERN MYTH MEDIA.
Follow him on Twitter @SeanGerberMMM.

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