In the comments thread for the last entry (and by the way, I said it over on MightyGodKing and it's still true here, I love getting comments. Blogging is essentially unpaid writing, and getting feedback makes it all worthwhile. Thanks to everyone who comments on my posts!)
...um, sorry. In the comments thread for the last entry, Justin Garrett Blum said, "if it were true, then why did Tim Burton do such a dark film and why, of all of Batman films, was that the hugest smash hit?" (It, in this case, being my claim that the 60s Batman series made it hard for Batman to escape the label of being a campy kids' show.) And I'd like to respond to that, but doing so involves a confession. Crucify me if you may, but...I really don't like Tim Burton's Batman. I actually think it sucks pretty bad. And I think the only reason it has the reputation it does is because fans were cringing so much in anticipation of another Adam West-esque campfest that seeing a movie that treated Batman the way he was in the comics made them raise it onto a pedestal that it doesn't deserve.
The thing you need to remember, in order to make sense of all this, is that comics were actually popular and accessible to the general public back in the 1980s. (Rim Shot!) Seriously, Batman comics were easy for kids to get hold of back then, and the character had a massive fan following among teenagers. This meant that there was an enormous disconnect between the audience of Batman, who had come of age on Denny O'Neil and Alan Moore and "knew" the character to be a dark, serious, vengeance-obsessed detective who fought crime with grim brutality...and the popular impression of the character, forged by endless syndication repeats of the Adam West series, who "knew" the character to be a campy, brightly-colored kid's character who fought goofy pun-based villains like King Tut and Egghead. The discontent by Batman fans was bubbling under the surface like a pressure-cooker, just waiting for someplace to vent.
That someplace was Tim Burton's Batman. To Batman fans, and remember, finding out that the movie was going to be grim and serious and gothic was like finding out you'd just won a war you'd been fighting for twenty years. This was "our" Batman, not the stupid Batman for old fogies, and the word-of-mouth on that movie was killer. Every kid told every other kid that this Batman was going to be cool, not lame, and it created a buzz that turned the film into the smash it became. (Which, I hope, answers Justin's question. It's not that I think that Schumacher's films would have been good if not for the Adam West series, but the reason they were bad in the specific way they were bad was down to the 60s show.)
But setting aside that exuberant exhilaration at finally getting a Batman flick that didn't use the phrase, "Holy (Insert Stupid Catchphrase Here), Batman!"...which I can finally do, I think, after twenty-one years of emotional distance and lots of actually good Batman adaptations, including but not limited to the animated series and Chris Nolan's excellent film, The Dark Knight...it's actually not very good. Michael Keaton is a decent enough Bruce Wayne, but he's clearly not physically capable of doing most of the stuntwork as Batman and the rubber muscle suit they put him in hampers him even further. The action sequences mostly consist of Batman standing still as thugs caper around him, until he finally manages to lift a fist up far enough for someone to run into. (Speaking of things that were long-term harmful effects, it does seem like it took a long time for people to get past the need to put their heroes into stiff, impractical costumes with sculpted muscles...)
The film labors, like most "first movies" in super-hero sagas, under the weight of having to introduce the character and its rationale. It's really most unfortunate in the case of Batman and Superman, two characters whose origins are already very well known and very simple to explain; honestly, there's no reason why, "My parents got shot by a mugger" should take longer than five minutes to show. But in practical terms, there's no Joker/Batman action until about forty minutes in, and that's too long. (Although, in the film's defense, it is better than the Donner Superman, which doesn't get around to even showing Superman in costume until about the same length of time has passed. I swear, cut off the opening Krypton sequence and people could be forgiven for thinking that the film is a coming-of-age drama set during the Great Depression for the first half-hour.)
Nicholson...on the one hand, he's just doing Nicholson. On the other hand, this is probably the film best-suited to him just doing Nicholson. (That's the big problem with his part in The Shining...you never believe he's sane long enough to be surprised when he goes nuts.) On the other other hand...for a reported $50 million bucks, including his chunk of the gross, you'd think that he could have gone on a diet, maybe? The Joker is supposed to be gaunt, but instead he's pudgy. (Again, this goes back to the action sequences. The dramatic final confrontation between Batman and the Joker is two out-of-shape guys in their 40s wearing silly outfits kind of hitting each other. It really undercuts the climax when you can't believe either one of these guys could take the other in a fight.)
I could go on--the Smylex gas plot is undernourished, the chemistry between Basinger and Keaton is non-existent, the story involves (perhaps even pioneers) the terrible super-hero movie cliche of the hero revealing his secret identity to his girlfriend after swearing he'll never reveal it to her, and the Prince soundrack is, in retrospect, awful and overused. But at this point, I'm just piling on. The movie is a typical bloated summer blockbuster, plotless and star-heavy, and the only reason it was the success it became was that its target audience was desperate for any kind of Batman movie where the sound effects weren't presented in big word balloons on the screen. Now that we've tasted better fare, this one hasn't aged well at all.
Or at least, that's my opinion.