How 1989’s ‘Batman’ Defined the Superhero Movie Experience
On its 30th anniversary, much less has changed than you’d think
Last week, actor Robert Pattinson became the latest square-jawed actor to win the role of Batman. Predictably, a bevy of nerds freaked out. Much the same happened just over 30 years ago when it was announced that Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in Tim Burton’s film. The more things change, huh?
Actually, it turns out more things have stayed the same since Batman premiered in 1989. It broke ground for superhero movies in a lot of ways, much of which today’s Marvel and DC blockbusters still tread. But what’s most surprising is how little people’s feelings and expectations about these movies has changed over the past three decades.
The internet’s loud teeth-gnashing over Pattison’s casting — apparently just because he starred in the Twilight franchise, even though he also isn’t particularly fond of them — is no different than when people complained about the announcement Ben Affleck would don Batman’s cowl in 2013, or both George Clooney and Val Kilmer in the ’90s. (Much of Marvel’s casting has had the exact same problem; it’s hard to fathom now, but there were even complaints when Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Iron Man back in 2006, too.) The only difference is that without the internet, the formal complaints were mostly confined to genre movie magazines like Starlog and Fangoria.
We wanted the Dark Knight, not Mr. Mom in spandex.
I know because I was there — and complaining with them. I was extremely irritated that director Tim Burton was going to create another Batman as campy as Adam West’s version in the 1960s TV series. I mean, why else would he cast Michael Keaton for the role? Keaton was a comedic actor who’d just starred in Burton’s Beetlejuice as the darkly wacky title character. I, like most of the nerds, had been hoping to finally see a live-action movie that took the superhero seriously, like his comics of the ‘80s — especially Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. We wanted The Dark Knight, not Mr. Mom in spandex.