Adapted by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren from The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.
Tim Burton must dream of being the Joker. And probably Batman. Because it’s clear in Batman that he understands those characters more than anyone else, and that’s why he conducted it as an opera. Which makes complete sense, because Gotham City is very operatic. Batman Begins includes opera analogies, and here it’s the Batman and the Joker dancing at the top of a clock tower amid romantic accusations of creating each other, with references to other works like Beauty and the Beast. The way Burton sees Batman is that it’s the sum of a culture, which come together in such a way to create a tale of two men wanting revenge against the people that wronged them, and begin driven crazy as a result. Indeed, the scene involving the Joker improving the paintings while dancing to Prince is by far the best, and most interesting part. The Joker says he’s “the world’s first, fully-functioning, homicidal artist”, who “makes art until someone dies”. He even says that, as an artist, he shouldn’t be compared to normal people. Anyone familiar with the works of Burton, including Edward Scissorhands and Alice in Wonderland, need not be told that this is Burton himself speaking through these characters. Everything, from the production design, to the performances, to the artistic decisions made, are an extension of him, and it’s surprising that his name doesn’t precede the main title, possessively: Tim Burton’s Batman is what this really should have been called.
Is it like the comic books? Well… no. But that’s good. Because one of the most annoying things about comic book adaptations is that studios expect people to want the same thing every time. And we don’t. Just… make something unique, and it will probably stand the test of time that way. Burton is an auteur, and you can tell with this. It’s obvious that everything on screen has gone through him, and all of it’s threaded together, with the assistance of Michael Keaton. Keaton is by far the best Batman, because he was working with the director that understands him the most. Instead of being an intelligent forensics analyst, he’s truly insane. Many have attempted to make a man dressing as a bat to fight crime look understandable, but Burton understood that it can’t be, and decided to theme everything around that. Wayne is insane, the Joker is insane. And so they’ll dance together. The two freaks, who are the most liberated people for being out of touch with reality.
What Batman did for the character is to unmask him. To show us that, as much as we like to pretend to, we don’t really know him, and shouldn’t try to. Because he’s dangerous. It shows us all we should see of him, and then takes us out of it knowing that he shouldn’t be touched, because ultimately he’s warped and, as a result of trauma, reacts by making people like the Joker. There are many stories, like The Killing Joke, that makes Batman and the Joker look the same, but none of them accomplished it quite like Batman, because that retcons the Joker into also creating him. The theme of the story is that these people were made for each other, because only they are as insane as each other. And that’s quite beautiful, in a gothic kind of way.
Batman: operatic analogies justify character mythologies. 8/10