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Tim Burton’s Batman 25 year Anniversary

Looking back to the great movie summers that I have experienced, 1989 was probably the best year in my opinion.  That year we got Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dead Poets Society, The Little Mermaid, Lethal Weapon 2, Back to the Future Part II and many other great films.  However, in the year that Rick Moranis shrunk his kids and Tom Cruise was born on the fourth of July, it truly was the year of the bat!
In early 1988, I was a sophomore, comic book geek and all around nerd in high school.  There was not an internet to find the latest gossip and candid set pics.  We had to learn our nerd news through magazines and Entertainment Tonight.   When I first learned that there was going to be a Batman feature film, I could barely contain my excitement.  The first comic book I had ever read was in the summer of 1976 when I was four years old, and it was Detective Comics #458 in which I am first introduced to Batman as well as Man-Bat in the backup story.  My grandfather had it in a stack of magazines on his coffee table.  I could barely read at the time and had to have grandpa help me, but this is what got me started in a life-long obsession for comics and Batman.
I grew up on re-runs of the 1966 show with Adam West and Burt Ward as the Gotham knight and his faithful boy wonder.  I loved it!  Sure, it was campy and cheesy, but I was a five year old boy, don’t judge!  So, now we are getting a feature film?  My mind raced.  I started speculating as to what they might do for the plot, and who, WHO would be Batman?  “Would they resurrect Adam West?  No, he was too old.  Are they going to use Frank Miller’s brilliant Batman material from 1986?  Oh, I hope so!  Will the villain be the Joker?  The Penguin?”  Then the news broke.  Michael Keaton has been cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman.  “What?!  Johnny Dangerously is Batman?  The Dark Knight is Mr. Mom?!  Why?  If you say Batmanjuice three times, will he suddenly appear?”  As you can tell, my reaction was one of puzzlement.  I was not alone in this.  It seemed to be a popular opinion that a comedic actor playing Batman was an odd choice.
The first time I saw Michael Keaton in the suit was a piece that Entertainment Tonight did on the production of the film.  I was blown away!  In my mind I had pictured the blue and grey, but here was the Dark Knight in all his rubber-suited glory.  It was evident that the look was inspired by Frank Miller’s work a few years earlier.  Now my excitement level began to rise.  Batman merchandise started to appear everywhere!  I wore a different Batman t-shirt to school every day.  My classmates called me Batman.  Sure!  I was 16 years old, and ran around in my Bat gear like a nerdy little kid.  Like I said, don’t judge!  It seemed like I was spending every waking minute talking about Batman.  Months and months went by where I wasn’t getting laid, but dammit!  I was going to get to see a Batman film! 
Then the time came.  I was so excited!  A mere four days before my 17th birthday, on June 23rd, 1989, the movie that would change comic book film history and this nerd forever was released.  It was obvious that this was a long way from being Adam West’s Batman.  The changes to the character from the likes of Alan Moore, Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller were obvious influences on the tone and vibe of this film.  It had all the makings of something that you would find in one of their books combined with the dark imagery and direction that only the mind of Tim Burton could give us.  This film was dark, it was gritty and gave us a grim Gotham City that was not expected by the generation that grew up on Adam West’s Batman.  Gotham was in the grips of crime boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance).  Gotham police are corrupt and on the mob’s payroll.  Life in Gotham was not a bright and cheery existence for its citizens.  Then word of attacks by a giant bat against thugs and gangsters started to spread.  The rumors spoke of a vigilante hero cleaning up the streets.  Journalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) investigates and finds more than just the bat.  
Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) has a rumble with our hero and falls into a vat of chemicals transforming him into the classic crown prince of crime, the Joker.  As Vale starts to uncover the mystery that is Batman, the Joker is terrorizing Gotham by tainting everyday products with his chemicals that kill with a smile.  Batman is the only one that can save the day.
I saw the film six, that’s right, SIX times that weekend.  After that weekend, Batmania spread throughout the world like a plague.  This was a Batman unlike most had ever seen before.  The crux of this film is not the trope of bad guys thwarted by the superhero.  Instead, the story follows the relationship between the two damaged and emotionally scrambled hero and villain.  Batman was inadvertently created by the Joker and he essentially created the Joker.  Watching them both mentally decline under the weight of their psychological damage was interesting and entertaining.  Seeing Batman rise above and find a way to come out on top, while the Joker loses everything was satisfying for me.
This is definitely Tim Burton’s tale.  He gave us Batman as a modern day fairy tale, while keeping the spirit of Batman alive.  Sure, there were problems with how some of the comic book material was ignored.  Batman does not kill or use guns in the comic, yet he did in this film.  The Joker did not kill Bruce’s parents when he was a young Jack Napier.  As a matter of fact, in the comics, we still do not know the true identity or origin of the Joker.  Alfred just lets an outsider (Vicki Vale) walk into the Batcave?  With all that, this film still worked for me.  I got a cool Batman.  An awesome Batmobile was created for this film.  The action was great and fun.
25 years later I still, despite my pre-film misgivings, feel that Michael Keaton was a great choice for this role.  He is able to give us a good Bruce Wayne while also showing us how damaged he is emotionally by donning the cowl and cape.  Batman still holds up today and is a film in the comic book genre that I still use as a baseline for measuring other superhero films.  The classic cars and the costuming that could fit into any decade in the span of 1930’s to the 1980’s make this a timeless classic.  The re-imagining of Gotham and its characters engaged in the age old battle is a film that defined pop culture in 1989 and gave us a glimpse into the ongoing battle of Batman versus his rogue’s gallery and Bruce Wayne versus his damaged psyche.  
So tonight, I plan to celebrate this 25 year milestone with a big bowl of popcorn, put on Batman t-shirt and watch this film for, I don’t know, the 500th time?