"I'm of a mind to make some mooky."
Directed by Tim Burton, this Warner Brothers film replaced America's memory of the campy Caped Crusader from the 60's TV show with a dark, brooding antihero, just in time for the angsty 90's. This tonal shift was inspired by Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (the flashback sequence in which Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered is lifted almost panel for panel) in which Batman has become an ultraviolent behemoth at the age of fifty, and diehard comic fans were aghast at the casting of Michael Keaton in the lead role. The uproar died down considerably after these people actually saw the film.
However, far more fun to root for is Jack Nicholson as the villainous Joker. He paints his name on famous works of art, he wears any garish combo of green, purple, and orange he can imagine, and he grooves to the fantastic soundtrack by Prince. Never before has megalomanical sadism been so hilariously charismatic.
Great in smaller roles are Billy Dee Williams as District Attorney Harvey Dent (the character who becomes Two-Face in Batman Forever), Robert Wuhl as plucky yet virginal reporter Alexander Knox-- basically a substitute Jimmy Olsen, and Jack Palance (before his Academy Award for City Slickers) as slimy crime boss Carl Grissom. Kim Basinger (who would also later win an Oscar for LA Confidential) is here too, as Vicky Vale, who technically is a talented fashion and news photographer, but really she's just the pretty chick who is frequently in peril. She screams a lot.
The screenplay by Sam Hamm and Warren Skarren does a great job of catering to Batman aficionados and newbies by never explicitly revealing Wayne's secret identity in a single moment. They just draw closer and closer to it until you can figure it out for yourself (before, say, Vicky does) and if you already knew, no time was wasted. The dialogue is consistently inventive and fun, while remaining idiosyncratic for each well-drawn character.
If you still need an incentive to see this flick, Batman also has more groovy gadgets than James Bond, from batarangs to the Batmobile to grappling hooks. As the Joker says, "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" This movie is for the kid in all of us.
Tim Burton followed up with a sequel, Batman Returns, in 1991. Joel Schumacher directed two more which were much more colorful and campy, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, neither of which Michael Keaton wished to play the title role in.