In Gotham, a city shrouded in fear and overrun with crime, a silent guardian known only as Batman watches over the people from the shadows of the night, offering them protection from the evil which seeks to destroy them forever. The story creates a complex tapestry between Gotham’s dark hero, Batman, and his sinister, albeit flamboyant nemesis, the Joker.
The irony in the original Batman focuses on the symbiotic link which exists between the two main characters: Batman and the Joker. The Joker is established as being the one who is responsible for the tragic demise of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and thus he is also the catalyst which drove Bruce Wayne to embrace the dark vigilante within him that is Batman. The irony lies in the fact that Batman is at least partially responsible for Jack Napier, aka the Joker, being mutilated in a tragic accident and as a result, being transformed into the Joker. The connection between Batman and the Joker is a crucial element in the movie. It explains the motives which drive Batman and his dark nemesis and gives the backstory of murder of Bruce’s parents a deeper purpose beyond his transformation into Batman. Likewise, it gives the Joker a justifiable reason for his hatred of Batman and his desire to kill Batman and deface the dark hero in the eyes of Gotham.
Michael Keaton’s personification of Batman is unique because his parent’s untimely demise has rendered him a victim of the residual darkness which remains in the wake of his tragic loss. The result of his painful past creates within the character the dual personalities of Bruce Wayne and Batman. However, unlike Christian Bale’s version of the same character whose psyche is able to strike a fragile balance between the personalities of Batman and Bruce Wayne, Michael Keaton’s version of Bruce Wayne is completely immersed in the Batman persona because he is shackled to the tragedy of his past. He is unable to integrate with the present because he is so psychologically driven to avenge his parent’s death, but even when he embraces the darker personality of Batman, the pain of losing his parents is not resolved. Another thing to note about Michael Keaton’s Batman is that with the exception of his loyal butler, Alfred, and his flimsy relationship with Vicki Vale, Batman is complete and utterly alone in his battle against the Joker.
The Joker (Jack Nicholson) is the most fully developed character in the movie, and by far the most interesting. Tim Burton’s interpretation of the Joker portrays this dark nemesis of Batman as a highly intelligent psychopath whose sinister nature is coupled with a dark, almost maniacal humor and an obsessive infatuation with the beautiful photographer, Vicki Vale. As a result of the tragic accident caused by Batman, the Joker’s features were mutilated and he uses makeup in order to create the illusion of a “normal” face. The illusion of the normal face is the true mask in this version of the Joker’s persona though there are occasions when his clown-like face paint are utilized when he is confronting Batman. Unlike Christopher Nolan’s portrayal of the Joker which casts the character as a psychotic genius, with no empathy for human life, Tim Burton’s Joker is driven solely by his desire to destroy Batman so the focus can be shifted onto him.
The awkward love triangle between Batman, the Joker, and Vicky Vale is probably the weakest element of the movie. While other versions of Batman have allowed the dark warrior to be portrayed as being at least comfortable with women, Michael Keaton’s version of Bruce Wayne struggles to connect with his feminine counterpart because he is so wrapped up in his persona of Batman. The Joker’s role in the love triangle is one of obsession. He sees a photograph of Vicki Vale, becomes infatuated with her, and goes to extreme lengths in attempting to win her heart.
While there are some flaws in Tim Burton’s rendition of “Batman”, the movie also has many elements which make for a memorable story. The exceptional soundtrack by Danny Elfman creates a strong, almost foreboding mood which allows the audience to be swept into the story while also choreographing the emotions and action sequences and adding another layer of depth and excitement to the movie. The diabolical pairing of Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson creates a believable marriage of the hero and villain that is both humorous and dark. As one of the strongest interpretations of the dark knight’s story, this film is definitely worth watching if you enjoy “Batman”.