Those who say it stinks relative to Batman Returns are doing it a disservice: I enjoyed this movie hardly any less, and it’s not much goofier, except in tone. And I was impressed that it actually does a good job with the character of Robin — a role that very easily becomes laughable to a modern audience, though he was a big selling point to young comic fans back in the ’40s. Jim Carrey is an ideal choice for the Riddler. Having said that the original Burton Batman is overrated, I guess I can say that this movie is underrated.
This does not mean that it’s good. The writing is ridiculous, the acting is childishly hammy, and the set design is silly and garish. The first half hour in particular is very stupid and corny, almost as bad as its sequel, Batman & Robin. Once we get to the circus scene where Bruce Wayne meets Dick Grayson, the thing pulls itself together somewhat and manages to suck less.
Val Kilmer may be considered more of a “real” actor than Michael Keaton, but if so he sure doesn’t show it here. If he shows any talent, it’s one for crude mimicry: he replicates all the defects of Keaton’s performance. I’m reminded of the notorious scene in The Island of Dr. Moreau where he does a bad Marlon Brando impression, after Brando’s character is dead. Plus, the script calls for him to have a lot of masculine charisma, and he doesn’t even measure up to Keaton in this department. A role that fares even worse is that of Two-Face, played by Tommy Lee Jones. It’s terribly written and the makeup design is lame-o.
Visually the film is Schumacherized, but aside from excessive amounts of gaudy light-show, most of it is not too annoying or embarrassing yet. The notorious rubber nipples on the Bat-suit make an appearance, but they’re only on screen very briefly. There are some other “gay signifiers”, but they stay traditionally unobtrusive — no big problem if you don’t go deliberately looking for them. This sort of feature will come into its own in the next movie. The atmosphere is also getting a good deal more childish than the first two films, but again, not nearly as much as in the following film.
The whole reason they changed the tone and style so much was apparently because of a think-of-the-children! backlash by concerned parent types against the dark and grisly flavor of the fun in Burton s previous outing. But the differences are far more cosmetic than substantive.
There may be nobody alive who agrees with me in ranking the first Batman almost as low as this one, so trust my opinion at your own risk.
No, wait — I did find one reviewer who rates this higher than the other Batman movies... John Stanley.
excellent camerawork and direction... slide[s] effectively into the
psychological dark side of Batman/Bruce Wayne... could be the ultimate
comic-book action movie.