Burton And The Bat: 20 Reasons 1989's Batman Is The Perfect Adaptation

The Caped Crusader has gone through a lot of changes in recent years, hasn't he? He's gone through countless suits, sidekicks, cars, gadgets, and goons of the Rogue's Gallery in adaptation after adaptation. From panel to page to screen, Batman's ever-growing list of incarnations continues to grow and thrive with each installment. He's been portrayed through live-action, animation, and even Lego bricks, giving us a Batman for every occasion. When it comes to Batman on the silver screen, he's kinda stepped away from the Bat he used to be. The modern Batman has had some trouble finding that superhero sweet spot, a case of either being too much or not enough. While Affleck's interpretation is palatable to some, there's definitely something not fully realized in some of his later screen appearances.

Though many consider Christopher Nolan's trilogy to be the ideal superhero adaptation, we believe we need look no further than the mad genius of Tim Burton in his 1989 adaptation. Though a few fans might have forgotten, for a long while, this was considered the ideal comic book movie. Before Burton got his hands on the Bat, superhero movies were campy, hokily acted, and considered kid-stuff. Burton's Batman took those concepts and broke them in half. His version was dark, but not overly-grim, comedic where it needed to be, action-packed, and it had a style completely different from its peers. Don't believe us? Well, here are twenty reasons to prove that 1989's Batman is the ideal adaptation.

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One of the problems troubling the DCEU's films is that it suffers from a great amount of excess. Sometimes it's as simple as excess CGI, excess designs, excess weapons, and so on and so on. This problem can make a film come off as garish or too over-the-top. Justice League was one of the most expensive movies ever made, and not even all that dough could keep it from its flaws.

Batman's success came partially from its correctly used elements. It was the right amount of dark, had the right amount of spectacle, used its humor wisely, and the performances were appropriate for comic book characters. None of the thematic elements were more than what they needed to be, and sometimes that's all you need.


Look at films like Superman or Flash Gordon, these were what viewers once considered comic book movies. They were colorful, flashy, over-the-top, and campy, and soon that became what people associated with the genre. Dudes in bright-colored spandex fighting other dudes with weird facial hair or too much guy-liner. That's where Burton made one of his first improvements, he didn't go to make a superhero movie, he wanted to make a Batman movie.

Where Superman was colorful and charming, Batman was dark and mysterious. Aside from the Joker's antics, a great deal of the film is steeped in shadows, just like the protagonist. That theme of mystery and otherworldliness carried throughout the film and helped it stand out from its other peers in the genre.


Batman Michael Keaton

Jumping off our previous point, perhaps the strongest element the film has is how much it takes from the comics, including the tone. Batman in the '80s, like many of his superhero peers, seemed to be at his greatest. His stories were dark, action-packed, and blended the detective genre with that of the superhero. The gothic architecture and design against a blood-red sky, not exactly Metropolis, is it?

Let's face it, Burton handles gothic better than anyone, and that totally shows. Other superheroes save shimmering cities, Gotham is built of stone and cold steel. Prior villains were mad scientists and evil aliens, Gotham's goons are gangsters and hitmen. It's darker and bleaker than most before it, but you cannot deny its place in the genre.


Batman has been the hero of many a reader throughout his long and decorated career. The bat in black has lurked in panels for nearly eighty years and we have two dudes to thank for it. Bob Kane, the initial creator, and Bill Finger, the unsung co-conspirator, helped bring us the Caped Crusader we know and love. It seems Burton knew that too, but only if one pays attention.

In the newsroom where Alex Knox interacts with a cartoonist, the artist hands him a caricature of Batman. In the bottom corner of the drawing is the signature of Bob Kane. Hard to believe this guy brushed off one of the comic book world's biggest names. Guess the newspaper game is pretty tough.


Until the arrival of 1989's Batman, the biggest name on the screen was the late and great Adam West in the silly and swinging '60s adaptation. Not that there's anything bad about the classic series, but it wasn't what the comic book character was supposed to be. A common complaint amongst some of the more die-hard Batfans, the '89 film was the Batman many dreamed of.

From the costume to his presence, Burton's Batman captured the dark and foreboding aura the character presented in the comics. Almost every still of Keaton in that mask looks like it could be in a comic panel, and it's a far step away from West's version. West will always be classic, but Keaton's is just perfection.


Kanye said it best, every superhero gotta have his theme music. Fortunately for Batman, he's got one of the greatest film composers on his side. If it's one thing fans can expect from a Burton film, its a sensational score by Danny Elfman. The former Oingo-Boingo member is responsible for many great themes and scores, but his trip to Gotham City is quite remarkable.

Elfman's theme for Bats totally encaptures his dark but heroic essence, using its subtle start before building up to a triumphant blast before fading back into the shadows. This theme would not only be used again for Batman Returns but as the intro for the successful animated series as well. Let's face it, crime-fighters need good tunes.


Batman 1989 Finale

It's been said by many a fan and scholar that superheroes are our modern equivalent of Greek myths. It would seem Burton possibly had the same idea in the introduction of Batman in his film. Before we're given our first full vision of the Dark Knight, his persona is shrouded in mystery and urban legend.

When we're first introduced to Gotham City, the two crooks that rob the tourists paint us a picture of Batman's almost supernatural reputation. Burton definitely shines by building up the Caped Crusader with some eerie undertones. Heroes should always strike fear into the hearts of evil-doers, but Batman actually delivers.


Michael Keaton in Batman Returns

One thing that separates Batman from other members of the DC canon is not only how good of a crime-fighter he is but how cunning and intelligent he is as well. Unlike the '60s incarnation, we see the forensic and crime-solving side of the Worlds Greatest Detective. The Batcave isn't just a dark place with gadgets and d0-dads all whirling about, it's more like a laboratory for evidence and research.

It's nice to be reminded that it takes more than muscle to get the job done as a superhero, makes the nerd in all of us feel special. Seeing Bruce Wayne go through Jack Napier's crime files and investigating the chemicals turning Gothamites into grinning ghouls gives him a more analytical quality not always seen in some Batman adaptations. Simply put, Batman makes geeks look good.


Jack Nicholson Joker

Of course, we can't talk about Batman without mentioning his most famous adversary, the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. Everyone's familiar with Batman's nemesis, but his origins have almost always been clouded in mystery. Burton, however, decided to give him an origin story a bit more tangible than what had been presented in the comics at the time.

The film introduces the Joker as Jack Napier, a gangster who falls into a vat of chemicals that change him into the freaky clown. Not only is it simple yet understandable, but also one of the most accepted Joker theories out there. Even influencing the flashbacks in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. What can we say? If it works, it works.


Keaton Bruce Wayne Batcave

Not only did this film have one of the best interpretations of Batman, but it also showed us a new side of Bruce Wayne as well. Despite the criticism he faced before the release of the film, Michael Keaton brought us a complex and interesting depiction of the character. This is the guy that played Beetlejuice, right?

We see not just a rich socialite, but a man who wrestles with the dual identity, his mission to maintain justice, and the ghosts of the past he's still dealing with. We felt like Bruce Wayne was real and Keaton's performance was genuine. We've gotta give him props for an impressive range.


Heath Ledger's performance was Oscar-worthy, but for a real grin again and again, we gotta go back to Jack. As far as we're concerned, Jack Nicholson's Joker embodies everything the character needs to be. He's freaky, he's funny, he can cut a rug to a catchy Prince tune. Joking aside, Nicholson's performance is like something straight from the panels of a comic, and that's the way it should be.

From vandalizing an art museum to gassing Gotham with parade balloons, this Joker not only looks the part, but he echoes his gold and silver ages. He's a master criminal with a humorous flavor. Though some might consider this direction a bit old-school, we consider it something in need of a comeback today.


As with the joker, Burton's Batman was one of the more comic book accurate depictions for the time. His mannerisms, movement, and personality capture the true essence of the character. His ominous figure, his thirst for justice, and mysteriousness surround him like never before. Often imitated but never duplicated, this bat hit the nail on the head.

Bats went through a complete makeover once Burton hit the scene. For one, his suit looks more protective than previous versions, he doesn't deliver much dialogue, and he relies a lot on stealth and presence for intimidation. He fights when he needs to and makes smart use on the various gadgets. A bit basic nowadays, but as comics go, this is the classic bat.


Batman 1966 Adam West Batusi

Until Keaton's Caped Crusader came to town, the title was held by Adam West. West's Batman was more of a comedic take on the crime-fighter, but this flick called for a better class of hero, and Burton was the one to give it to them. He lost gimmicks and gags and focused harder on action and drama.

This was a new Batman for a new audience, and the result was nothing short of pop culture gold. The classic bat symbol, the gliding cape, the various tools on the utility belt, it all came together perfectly on a black-clad Michael Keaton. With his performance coupled with an original design and story, it was a perfect fit for a new breed of bat.


Where would Batman be without his famous set of wheels? Before Bats was driving in a turbo-charged tank, he was cruising in this black beast on wheels. When this thing hit the movie screens, fans went nuts. It was like something straight out of the mind of Bruce Wayne himself. The batwing spoilers, eerie headlights, and afterburner all parts of one of the greatest cars in comic book history

Where the '60s Batmobile was something akin to a hybrid of the comic book car and a police car, this ride straight up screams Batman. The car would later be featured in the sequels, the animated series, and variations of its design would be prominent throughout various media. You just can't beat this stylish design.


The relationship between Batman and the Joker is one of the most dynamic dramas in comic book history. The Dark Knight did an excellent job with its portrayal, but Batman captured it in a style that was truer to form than the more recent film. Instead of both characters using a dark aesthetic, Burton used their opposing features to create some interesting tension.

Like many heroes and villains, they are polar opposites of the other. Batman is dark and brooding, the Joker is bright and colorful. The Joker is full of riffs, one-liners, and memorable quotes, Batman stays the strong and silent type. The version presented in Burton's film represents the ideal dynamic for the two famous characters.


Michael Keaton as the Vulture

Nowadays, seeing a big Hollywood name behind a favorite comic book character is not that big of the deal. But before, it was a risky move casting someone so well-known in a role like that. Though Jack Nicholson was given top billing for his role as the Joker, Michael Keaton's arrival wasn't initially adored.

Coming off the success of Beetlejuice, Keaton was looked upon as a comedic actor. At the time, the idea of him in the role of Batman would be like Jimmy Fallon as Professor X. Keaton even got threats and a petition was formed to get him off the project. Much to everyone's surprise, Keaton rocked the cape and cowl and was a perfect fit for the role.


Like many successful films, Batman's success soon spawned a television series. In 1992, the world was introduced to one of the most beloved adaptations of the Dark Knight ever devised. Next to the film, Batman: The Animated Series was one of the most renowned adaptations of the character to ever grace the screen.

Taking from the film's design, atmosphere, and of course, its Batman, the animated series pushed the envelope for what a cartoon could be. It could be as compelling for adults as well as kids. It had drama, action, mystery, and engaging characters and storylines not seen in animated shows at the time. Like the film, it took the right risks and made the right moves, establishing it as it's own ideal adaptation.


Batman 1989 Production Design Sketch

One of the biggest things to remember about comic book movies, the idea is to adapt to a new medium, not make it one's own. Take something like the '66 Batman or Nolan's version. Both were reimaginings of a famous character. The early Batman was campy and comedic like a Saturday morning cartoon, Nolan's version was going for something more realistic. Burton's, however, was a film version of a comic book character.

The elements Burton brought to the screen can all be found on the pages of a Batman comic. The costume, car, and the gothic atmosphere all make up a classic Batman story. Burton didn't try to change anything to fit a certain agenda, he just wanted to bring Batman to the screen.


To take from the last statement, '89's Batman did what some comic book films have a bit of trouble doing nowadays. It stuck to the source. It's easy to see in the design, tone, and atmosphere of the film Burton was working with the comic books as direct inspiration. It was even said that he had issues of Batman on set to make sure he stayed true to form.

Too many superhero flicks make the mistake of trying to be too realistic, too gritty, or too modern. There are times an adaptation needs to be over the top and times it needs to be grounded, and Batman is both. Excess realism does not a comic book movie make.


Batman White Knight Burton 89 Batmobile

Burton's Batman is regarded as one of the first perfect comic book films, and Burton is often given the credit for crafting the mold for the modern superhero flick. But the reason the director gets this claim is that he realized the golden rule of comic movies. It's a comic first, a movie second.

When we as fans step into a theatre, we want to suspend belief and feel like we're inside the pages of our favorite comic. That means they want to see men who fly, insane villains, and a heroic protagonist they can root for all the way. Marvel has this down to a science, but DC is still late to the party. Perhaps they should look back instead of mixing and modernizing.

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