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Superhero movies. As far as I know, the first time they could be taken seriously was with 1978's Superman. Of course, I was only three at the time, so... that's not really my idea of the start of serious superhero movies. For me, that came in 1989, with this movie (when I was 13). That has always been my conception of when modern superhero movies began. (Others might reckon the start as 2000's X-Men, which I can understand. But any other movie besides the three I have mentioned as possible start dates for serious superhero movies is just wrong.) Anyway, I vaguely recall going to see this movie in my local theater with my dad and our pastor at the time, Bob Torosian. (Best pastor ever, RIP.) I actually can't recall how much I might have known about Batman prior to this movie. Surely I was aware of the character and his universe, but... it can't be until after this that I got into comic books, at all, really. So... for a lot of reasons... this movie is pretty nostalgic to me. (Like, it's sort of on the line between what I consider nostalgic and what I consider too recent to be nostalgic, even if there might be a few things a bit more recent than this that I'd call nostalgic.) There's probably... so many things I could say about this movie, I might forget some things. I had both the soundtrack (by Prince) and the score (by Danny Elfman) on cassette tape. (Probably still have both of them somewhere.) And I'm not sure, but it very well might be the first thing I ever saw that was directed by Tim Burton. And it must be what inspired me to create my fanfic character, The Kidder. And... I must have had the movie on VHS, but I'm not sure how many times I watched that. Surely not many, because I'm not the kind of person who watches favorite movies a bajillion times, generally speaking. But anyway, I'm writing this after having watched it on DVD in 2018. And while maybe this time I didn't think it was quite as good as I did when I was younger, I still thought it was pretty great. I'm not sure how much of that is because of nostalgia, or how much I would have liked it if this were the first time I'd ever seen it. And I don't really care. I still think it's one of the most noir-ish superhero movies ever, even if it's about as comic book-y as a movie can be and still be taken seriously. Also, I think it's safe to say that without this movie's success, there would have been no Batman: The Animated Series (and therefore no DC Animated Universe).
Anyway, it begins with a husband and wife and their son leaving a movie or whatever, and unable to catch a cab, they walk down a dark alley. And at first I thought this was a flashback to Bruce Wayne and his parents when he was a kid, but it wasn't. Because after they're attacked, their attackers are confronted by Batman. So, it's in the present. (We do eventually get a flashback of young Bruce and his parents on the night they were killed, but that's near the end of the movie.) For now, the mayor of Gotham City is intent on celebrating the city's upcoming bicentennial, despite not having much money in the budget, and despite the rampant crime by a mob led by Carl Grissom (Jack Palance). But the mayor is confident that District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee "Lando" Williams) and Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle) will be able to put a stop to Grissom's reign of terror. Meanwhile, a reporter named Alexander Knox has been writing stories about rumors of a vigilante in the guise of a giant bat, who has been terrorizing Gotham's criminals. Of course, no one believes him, and everyone mocks him. That is, until he is approached by a respected photographer named Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), who is interested in his stories, and wants to team up with him. (I must say, when I was younger I liked Knox more than I did this time. I always thought he was funny, and... I dunno, basically a good reporter, I guess. This time, I didn't exactly dislike him, but... I didn't exactly like him, either.) Anyway, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) is holding a fundraiser for the bicentennial, and Vicki has a pair of tickets to the event, so she takes Knox with her. Soon after that, Bruce starts a romantic relationship with Vicki. However, it's complicated, because he has to hide the fact that he's Batman from her. (Bruce's butler, Alfred, encourages him to pursue the relationship, and ultimately tell her the truth, but that will take awhile.)
Meanwhile... Grissom is worried that Harvey and the police could connect him to Axis Chemicals, so he sends a team led by Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) to get rid of any possible evidence. Jack is Grissom's top guy, but he's also having an affair with Grissom's much younger girlfriend, which is apparently why Grissom wants to get rid of him. It doesn't help that Jack is supposedly a psychopath. We'd previously been informed of this fact by a cop named Eckhardt (who, watching the movie this time around, reminded me a lot of Harvey Bullock, from the animated series). Eckhardt was working for Grissom, which meant he had to work with Jack, though the two of them clearly didn't like each other. And when Grissom decides to set Jack up to die, he wants Eckhardt to do his dirty work. But both Commissioner Gordon and Batman get wind of it, and each separately go to Axis Chemicals to stop it. In the ensuing chaos, Jack ends up falling into some chemicals and apparently dying. But he later emerges transformed both physically and mentally. He now looks like every fan's idea of the Joker, with the white skin and rictus grin. And his insanity is now far more obvious, because he's fully embraced it. He realizes Grissom had set him up, so he kills him and takes over the gang. (Incidentally, Joker's top guy is named Bob. I kind of always liked him, despite his being pretty much a cipher.) So... um... Joker soon becomes obsessed with destroying Batman and obtaining Vicki Vale as... a girlfriend, or whatever passes for a girlfriend in his twisted mind. And of course, he has plans to terrorize Gotham, as well, at the bicentennial celebration. So, Batman has to stop him.
Beyond that, I guess I don't know what else to say about the plot. But the movie has so damned many amazingly quotable lines. And it's just iconic in so many ways. ("I'm Batman"? Check. Batwing in front of the moon to look like a Bat-emblem? Check. And did I frickin' mention Danny Elfman's score?) It has plenty of flaws (some of them maybe only in retrospect, but some of them are things fans of the comics would have known about at the time, even if I didn't until later). And in a lot of ways it may seem quaint compared to superhero movies that came much later (like the Marvel Cinematic Universe). But still... I really can't imagine any of that would exist if this movie hadn't been such a huge deal, at the time. And it remains a hallmark in its own right. (And I'm not just saying that because of how much of an impact it had on making me... me. Although it definitely did.) Also, Nicholson remains my favorite live-action Joker ever (though my absolute favorite Joker is Mark Hamill in the animated series), no matter how good anyone might say Heath Ledger was in The Dark Knight.