Why BATMAN '89 Is Not An Origin Film
Posted by: Ricky Church (Follow @RICHARDCHURCH16)
Date: July 11, 2017

Over the last couple of weeks there’s been some discussion among us here at BOF and other fans about whether or not Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989) qualifies as an origin story for The Dark Knight. While it does show Gotham City accepting Batman as their defender by the film’s end, B89 doesn’t actually treat the film as an origin for Batman.

While we get to see the infamous moment in Crime Alley, that moment comes very late in the film and acts as more of a reveal to Vicky Vale and Knox than the audience. In fact, it’s more to fulfill the movie’s twist as we discover a very young Joker was actually responsible for killing the Waynes. It does little to really inform who Bruce Wayne is or why he is the way is.

Don’t get me wrong, learning he witnessed the murder of his parents does kind of explain many of Bruce’s eccentricities when he’s not in the Batsuit. But B89 never goes in depth into how that shaped him into the man be becomes, at least not in the way BATMANL YEAR ONE or even THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, two comics which the film used as a basis, did.

B89 doesn’t even show how Bruce decided to become Batman. Rather than spending time leading up to this choice, or even dressing as a bat at all, the movie begins with him already having been The Caped Crusader for some time, evidenced by two criminals debating whether or not he exists right before he drops down on them. His reputation has even grown within the Gotham PD and the press. Batman has no origin in this film, he already “Is.”

What B89 really is is an origin for The Joker. We go through all the typical origin steps with Jack Nicholson’s villain: we see and get to know Jack Napier, witness his transformation into The Joker and how he rises through Gotham ranks. Everything we should learn about the hero we instead learn about the villain. That might be okay for a sequel to do, but for the first film in a series? Definitely a risky move Burton made which, in my opinion, did not pay off 100%.

Part of me can reconcile why exactly Bruce and his decision to become Batman is not really delved into very much in this film. Throughout B89, Batman is a mysterious force in Gotham. No one knows what he is and many people believe he’s made-up. Burton tried to place us in the shoes of Vale, Knox and the rest of Gotham, and even The Joker, as we tried to piece together what exactly Batman’s purpose was. He seemed like a mysterious and dangerous force of nature, one that could not be stopped and was ruthless to criminals. In this regard, not focusing quite as much on his origin works as it makes the audience question what Batman will do next, but it still doesn’t make this an origin film.

BATMAN may serve as a good first adventure for Batman that sees him become Gotham’s official protector, but its still not an origin film -- not like SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, WONDER WOMAN or BATMAN BEGINS.

Where do you stand? - Ricky Church

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