“Batman” isn’t the best Batman, but out of all the Batmans, it feels the most true to the type of Batman it envisions its Batman should be. It’s the only “Batman” that actually makes Gotham City feel like a living breathing city, a moving metropolis composed of neon-colored hoodlums and thugs, where everyone has a terrible fashion sense but no one is out of fashion.
Tim Burton deserves praise for crafting that cinematic world but Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson get all the credit for bringing it to life. At this point in time, these were two relatively serious actors, Hollywood all stars where superhero movies were not the norm, save for the Christopher Reeves “Superman” films. You could argue that Keaton and Nicholson were risking nothing at all by staring as Batman and The Joker, but you could easily attest that they were risking everything since the movie could be a flop.
But what Keaton and Nicholson do so well, and make this movie so memorable, is that they actively portray Batman and The Joker not as comic book characters, nor as real life people, but movie characters, individuals almost self-aware of their log lined-existence. They’re never too serious like Nolan-characters nor too-silly like Marvel men, the perfect tone of the best of what superhero films can offer from all sides of the aisle.
“Batman” does feel a bit worn, just due to old age, with its story and pacing not keeping our attention at all moments. But as a feat of world-building in the comic book universe, “Batman” is unmatched, with Burton, Keaton and Nicholson each on top of their game.