Note: I wrote this article back in 2015, and both my thoughts on the subject and the state of Batman films have evolved since it was published. I no longer believe Batman (1989) to be as bad as I once did, but, more importantly, I don’t get joy in yucking the yums of others as much anymore. I still think it’s one of my least favorite Batman films—but I have come to recognize the difference between having favorites and least favorites and taking a definitive stance on “best” or “worst”.
Anyway, the below is the article in its original form. I’ve chosen not to change any of it, but if you want to read more about my evolution on certain kinds of internet writing, I recommend you check out my article on James Bond and fragile online fans. In particular, the last point I make in here about people thinking Batman (1989) is good, and that making it bad, is the one I disagree with the most.
Of course, I still do agree with several parts of this article, especially that I really don’t like the way Commissioner Gordon is portrayed in the 1989 and 1992 Batman films.
Original article, where I explain why (at the time I thought) Batman 1989 is bad, is the worst, etc:
Why Tim Burton’s Batman is the Worst Batman Movie Ever
People are still complaining about the idea of Ben Affleck as Batman. But, based on the trailers alone, and a few released still images, it’s already obvious that, even at its worst, the new Batman and Superman movie can’t be worse than what has come before it. Batman has bottomed out plenty of times before, but nothing is worse than the 1989 feature film adaptation, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. It does not matter what Ben Affleck does or does not do. Nothing is worse than what has already happened.
Let’s look at why.
8. Commissioner Gordon is a disaster.
The only reason that this is one of the minor flaws in this film is because Jim Gordon is made into such a completely irrelevant character. They took one of the most important aspects of the Batman myth and made him into a bumbling, slapstickish cartoon police chief. If Burton had treated his source material with more respect, Gordon wouldn’t be such an irrelevant character. Commissioner Gordon is one of the first two characters in Batman, ever. He and Bruce Wayne appear on the very first page of Detective Comics #27 together. He has a major role in every great Batman comic and graphic novel of all time. Instead, he is made into an incompetent joke who you probably don’t even recall being in Burton’s Batman.
7. Batman is completely wrong, including that there is no hint of the “Batman shall not kill” concept.
I understand that the “Batman doesn’t kill” rule hasn’t been around forever. In the first few comic books in which he appeared, he cavalierly snapped necks and shrugged when villains died. But by the time the 1989 Batman film was made, Batman had become staunch in his refusal to kill. His character spent the majority of his time in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns musing over the death of Jason Todd and wondering if it could ever justify killing the Joker in return… which he did not do. Then, in Batman, it never seems to even cross his mind that he doesn’t kill people.
6. Tim Burton didn’t like comic books.
Quoting Burton: “I was never a giant comic book fan, but I’ve always loved the image of Batman and the Joker. The reason I’ve never been a comic book fan – and I think it started when I was a child – is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don’t know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that’s why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read.”
At this point, its important to tell you that The Killing Joke, despite being written by genius Alan Moore, is considered by most to be a bad Batman narrative, and considered by Alan Moore to be Alan Moore’s worst work.
5. The Joker is completely wrong.
The character of The Joker, like a lot of characters in Burton’s films, is not a real character. He changes from scene to scene, with no defining characteristics. The only really clear thing about him is that he is pining after the same woman as Bruce Wayne AND Batman. Worst of all, we are given a definitive origin of his character, including a name, an explanation for why his skin is white and his hair is green. And in giving him these characteristics, we never get a fully-formed Joker. He always remains nothing more than a mentally-ill gangster, out for revenge. Sure, The Joker is the same villain whose identity is ever-evolving. But here, he doesn’t even seem to remember that he IS The Joker. And this is tragic, as he’s being portrayed by Jack Nicholson. Imagine if Nicholson had the chance to play a version of The Joker who made sense, and who matched the villain we know from the source material.
Of course, if they had done a better, proper job with The Joker in 1989, we would never have gotten Heath Ledger’s brilliant version in 2008.
4. Bruce Wayne is completely wrong.
Throughout all other Batman media, Bruce Wayne is presented as a good, troubled man who dresses up as a bat at night. But during the day, and in the public eye, Bruce Wayne attempts to project the false identity of “billionaire playboy philanthropist.” The trouble is that, in this film, Bruce seems to not have that facade. He IS that bad boy. He’s disrespectful to his butler and father figure, Alfred. He doesn’t seem to have any ethics regarding being sober and sleeping with a drunk woman (which is so, so messed up. Makes you wish that Bruce Wayne of The Dark Knight could go back in time and beat up Bruce Keaton). He also watches a strange amount of television. And, during various scenes, he watches villains do some dastardly deeds while he just looks on and does nothing.
3. The tone is inconsistent.
It can’t decide if it’s cheesy and fun, or dark and mysterious. The protagonist is unclear. Bruce Wayne is more creepy and unethical than anything else. And this is what makes this, yes, a worse movie AND a worse Batman movie than the goofball buddy action films Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. At least those knew what they were.
2. There is a scene in which The Joker dances around to a Prince song while vandalizing a museum.
I would put up a link to a YouTube video of the scene, but Prince won’t allow it online.
Yikes. It’s just so bad.
1. People think it is good.
The worst thing about the 1989 Batman film is that people think it is good. Nothing makes a bad thing worse than when it isn’t recognized as being bad. And, I’ll admit, I was one of those people. But I also thought that the third installment of Back to the Future was the best. I was a child. For anyone who thinks that Tim Burton’s Batman is the best, or even anything other than the worst, I encourage them to return to it and watch it as an adult, trying their best to abandon any sense of nostalgia.
It’s not a good movie, nor a good telling of the story of Batman.
I’m certainly not the first person to espouse this opinion. If you’re interested in reading more about why Tim Burton’s Batman is that bad, check out some of the following:
- What Are You: Comics Alliance Reviews ‘Batman’ (1989), Part One
- “4 Reasons Tim Burton’s Batman Sucks,” from the Nerd Clave
- “Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ Turns 25: Lessons Applied to Batman V. Superman,” from Rant Lifestyle]
Meanwhile, if you want to read more Batman stuff by me, go for it.