Top 6 Reasons why Batman changed Superhero films as we know it!
So, as of this writing, today marks the 30th anniversary of Batman 1989's premiere and while there may be signs of its aging, there were many reasons of why and how, Batman '89 has become a game-changer when it comes to both Superhero films and theatrical blockbusters!
1. The Actor who would be Bat
When many where excited upon learning of Batman being developed as a live action film, the bizarre stuntcasting of Michael Keaton as the titular character, were met with plenty of skepticism and disdain.
Some like myself questioned Director Tim Burton's suggestion to cast Michael Keaton over Alec Baldwin as Bruce Wayne especially since both actors appeared in Burton's previous film, Bettlejuice. While Baldwin may be the perfect archetypal fit, it was Keaton’s comedic timing and substantial proof that he can also handle dramatic roles, as seen in Clean and Sober, that gave him somewhat of an advantage.
The biggest trick was the ideal of a "Fat, balding comedy actor” having convinced skeptical moviegoers, like me, was an impressive feat!
For those who thought Keaton's casting was questionable, can you imagine how Batman would turn out had Bill Murray gotten the part?
Yes, was one of Burton's first picks!
2. No Batshit!
Prior to the movie, there were a majority of non Comicbook readers who were quick to associate Batman with the campy Adam West 1966 Television series, whenever the name
"Batman" was mentioned. However, the movie's story structure, settings and narrative, had taken an opposite direction from the silly and cheesy tropes found in the TV series.
It was a much darker concept, partially inspired by legendary Comic scribe, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, that imbued a retro futuristic and dystopic atmosphere when describing Gotham City thanks in part to its impressive set pieces.
The action was violent enough to warrant a PG-13 rating, a first for a Comicbook film. Batman for the most part, would subdue his adversaries with a punch, kick or batarang, but when all else fails, there are times that he would resort to actually killing a motherfucker, be it the Batmobile assault on Axis Chemicals where he was responsible for the deaths of Joker's minions, the tripping of a big henchman, who had the "upper hand" only to fall towards his death or tying Joker's ankle to a weighty building structure-leading to Jack Napier plunging to his death Hans Gruber style! Unless I’m mistaken, he even gunned down a bunch of Joker's minions while piloting the Batwing!
It's been ages since I last watched '89, but my memory is usually on point. So, as I was saying, Burton's take on the Dark Knight, was more than your average Superhero film, because it defied convention.
In the comics, Batman would apprehend a sociopath like Joker, only for him to escape Arkham Asylum and go on some homicidal binge afterwards, whereas the main antagonist be it Joker or Penguin would experience an outcome.
It's controversial, yet credible and not to mention how it set the standard for other Comicbook films where the bad guy doesn't live to cause chaos another day. (Raimi's Spider-Man series, Ironman, Captain America, Man of Steel and so forth.)
3. Paint it Black
Prior to the release of Batman '89, the titular character was depicted as wearing either the classic Blue cape, underpants and cowl or a black set with both having grayish tunic and tights underneath. Like once again, the TV series, however, Adam West's costume had some silly color configuration going on. As in some dark blue cowl with purplish grey tights. Well, it was the "far out Sixties" so I guess everything went out the window.
As did the OG designs as far as the costume designer was concerned.
Not only was Batman's costume all black, but it was made from rubber as a means of body armor protection, because honesty speaking, if you're some eccentric billionaire obsessed with fighting crime, why not "armor up" when you're likely to get shot at?
Other than that, Batman's costume, looks as if it was recycled from thousands of condoms and tires.
The all black rubber aesthetic set the trend in other Comicbook files like, Marvel's X-Men, where FOX opted out the "Yellow spandex" in favor of going all black.
4. "Wait till they get a load of him"!
Jack Nicholson delivered an over the top performance as Batman's iconic adversary, The Joker and what makes Nicholson’s take on Joker so special, is his story arc in particular.
From an arrogant, yet cunning Mob enforcer to this delusional erratic sociopath murderer. And if he's not concocting some mass murder scheme, he's chasing the tail (literally speaking) of Investigative journalist, Vicki Vale played by Kim Basinger. Throughout the movie, Jack had the most memorable lines:
"Have you ever danced with the Devil in a pale lit moonlight"?
"..And Where's the Batman...he's at home, washing his tights"!
If not for Nicholson's Aire of flamboyance and sheer wickedness, we may have ended with a one note Joker, but instead, the "other" Wacko Jacko, took us all for a wild ride!
5. "Where did he get those wonderful toys"?
There are some movies that have product placement and there are films, that unintentionally, serves as a 2-hour commercial! And its Batman '89, which falls within the latter. During its worldwide release, retailers made a killing off Batman related merchandise. Action Figures, Playsets, T-shirts/Apparel, Videogames and even shit like McDonald's Happy Meals!
Batman was the first Superhero Movie to affiliated merchandise to astronomical heights. This in many ways, have set the prescient that Comicbook films can cross pollinate with other non-media companies when further promoting their Intellectual properties, and of course, revenue.
6. "It's the Marketing, stupid"!
A film studio can push their upcoming product through conventional means, albeit a Movie trailer or your standardized Subway poster for a soon to be released movie. However, the strategic marketing at Warner Brothers, managed to build up hype by doing something far less perpetual by having a movie poster with the gold Batman sigil displayed in the center of an all-black background!
Most comicbook readers and pop culture enthusiasts had a good idea of what this would entail, while those who were not in the know, were clueless of what those posters meant. Some even went as far to speculate that they were gold teeth!
It brought so much attention and hyperbole, but the ending result, is that it worked in WB's favor. This hype machine was utilized at an age where advertising ecommerce and internet fanzines, have yet to borne fruit!
That being said, Batman '89 is not without its flaws as we pointed out in a previous podcast. However, I must give credit where its due.
Superman may have become the forerunner of pushing comicbased movies into the mainstream, but it was Batman that kicked off its resurgence.