The criminals of Gotham City are running scared following the vigilante exploits of a shadowy figure who calls himself Batman. Armed to the teeth with remarkable crime-fighting gadgets and dressed headto-toe in bullet-proof armour, Gotham's Dark Knight is also its wealthiest citizen, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton). Forever scarred by witnessing his parents' murder as a child, Wayne deals out instant justice to the villains who have taken control of the streets, striking fear into the heart of even the most hardened criminal. Cornering major Gotham gangster Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) in a chemical factory, the pursuit ends when the villain falls into a vat of toxic waste. Horribly disfigured after his dunk in the gunk, Napier becomes unhinged criminal mastermind The Joker and sets his sights on bringing Gotham to its knees. With an array of fiendishly deadly schemes, the Clown Prince of Crime soon spreads panic throughout the city, and it's up to the Caped Crusader to wipe the grin off his face.
While Tim Burton's gothic take on the DC Comics' legend was seen as revolutionary at the time, following Christopher Nolan's considerably more edgy Batman Begins and its complex sequel The Dark Knight, Batman circa 1989 looks rather tame. That's not to say that it's not thoroughly enjoyable, however, and as much of a quantum leap from the campery of the sixties TV series as Nolan's films are from this gloomy yet glossy comic book adventure.
Keaton makes for an admirably low-key Bruce Wayne in contrast to Nicholson's wonderfully showy turn as the grinning psychopath, the actor's immensely lucrative pay deal giving him a huge chunk of the film's $250m gross profit - enough to put a smile on anyone's face. Along with Nicholson's scenery-chomping performance, and a memorable supporting turn from Jack Palance as his duplicitous boss, the real draw of Burton's Batman is the audacious set pieces and glorious gadgets. "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" ponders Nicholson as Keaton scoots out of his clutches with the help of a grappling gun, and it's this mixture of high tech tools and well-staged action that made Batman an international phenomenon.
Although subsequent sequels would suffer the law of diminishing returns before hitting bottom with 1997's execrable Batman and Robin, the film that reintroduced Gotham's winged vigilante to the masses is still an exciting and eye-catching outing for Bruce Wayne's alter-ego.