Face-Off: Batman (1989) vs. Batman Begins

Last weeks Face Off saw our readers ban together to remind us of the impact Star Wars had on their lives and cinema. No surprise there.

This week, we have Batman '89 vs. Batman Begins. The highly anticipated Dark Knight Rises is creeping around the corner, it seems fitting to discuss two films that breathed new air into the character of Batman and kept him fresh in the eyes of the public for years. So here we go...two films, two decades, two very different styles. Which is superior?
Tim Burton and production designer Anton Furst took their unique style and threw it in our face with this film, and in my opinion it worked. Gone is any sign of life within Gotham City, gone is any sign of gray in the Batsuit, this is dark sh*t we're dealing with. It's funny when damn near the thing closest to light colors we get in Batman is the villains lavish suit. Thanks for the contrast Joker.
I loved the grounded, gritty, realistic style Nolan employed with this film. After the surreal gothic feel of Burton's films and the live action cartoon feel of Schumacher's installments, this really was the only way to bring a fresh feel to the table. What makes Begins take this category in my eyes is even with this believable feel Nolan still nailed the darkness that this story needs to have, specifically with the feel of Gotham City. There's no absence of darkness here.
Batman/Bruce Wayne
A lot of people had reservations on the casting of Michael Keaton as the caped crusader for Batman. Stars like Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Tom Selleck, and even Bill Murray were up for the part. Who knows what those men could have brought to the table, but to compliment Keaton on his performance it's one of those situations I can't imagine anyone would have done better. There's just something in Keaton's eyes that made you buy him as both Bruce Wayne (enough edge, with the right sense of humor) and Batman (the perfect amount of menace).
Christian Bale was given a much more developed character in Nolan's universe than Keaton got in Burton's films. This was an origin story, and enough of an engaging origin story that we're hooked enough until Bruce finally dons the cape. And yes, that is thanks to Bale's perfect portrayal of a tortured Bruce Wayne. When the suit finally comes into play, it's time to be entertained by Wayne's martial arts training from earlier, and the grating voice Bale adopted for Dark Knight wasn't as pronounced (save for one scene) and it was a plus.
While I am a way bigger fan of Ledger's turn as the Joker in TDK, it can't be denied how much Nicholson rocked his version of the clown. It was way over the top, it was goofy, it was brilliant. The Joker contrasted the type of Batman we got it this film beautifully, and in between his cartoonish antics proved to be a formidable foe for Batsy. It was blast to see Jack having fun with the part. Like most though, I didn't really dig the angle of how Joker came into play in Bruce Wayne's past.
The villains were great here don't get me wrong...but we ultimately didn't get to see much of Ra's Al Ghul, which disappointed me. But what we did see I loved, especially his mentorship of Wayne before sh*t hit the fan. A lot of depth to the character. Scarecrow was great and menacing for most of the film, but sort of fizzled out in the end I felt the character was cheated. Small gripe though. Tom Wilkinson nailed Falcone and got some of the best lines in the film I think. Bottom line is the actors who got villain roles in this film brought their A game, but Nicholson's Joker holds a special place in my heart.
Danny Elfman came on board for Batman and does what he does best and gave me what has ultimately become one of my favorite scores period. It's been said that for inspiration Elfman was given The Dark Knight Returns to read and ultimately worked from the songs that Prince and Michael Jackson provided to develop what we ultimately got in the finished product. Well...it worked.
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard collaborated to give us a memorable score for Batman Begins. The music brought a lot to the training sequence, the emotional moments after the loss of Bruce's parents, and the first appearance of the Batman. While I think Elfman's score is superior, Zimmer and Howard were definitely no slouches. Bravo.
Tim Burton's style worked for this source material. Over the top, larger than life, in your face style. Keaton made for a great Bruce Wayne/Batman for two films and while Burton's approach turned many people off, for a lot of people it worked and it's legacy proves that. Nicholson gave us a great villain and Kim Basinger gave us great female presence in the film, she was beautiful and magnetic. My point is, with all the hype surrounding Nolan's universe, we should never count out what Burton accomplished.
Who knows if someone else could have came along and revitalized Batman as well as Chris Nolan has, but two films in and the looks of the upcoming conclusion I find it hard to believe that it's possible. Nolan knew what the character needed and he developed a great story, and brought along a great cast and crew to make it happen. Bottom line the best compliment I can give Batman Begins is it's the best origin story we've ever gotten. Full of win!
Well my friends, it seems we've reached a stalemate. It makes sense, these films couldn't be more different in their approach but they are both undeniable classics. Some find Nolan's films overrated. Do you ultimately agree? Has nothing knocked the original Batman live action film of its pedestal? Let's get this tie breaker moving.

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at [email protected] with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which movie are you anticipating the most?
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