‘Batman’ casts a long shadow at the Mann Center


In the 35 years since the release of Tim Burton’s “Batman,” there have been 128 superhero movies made, and that’s just counting the ones that made it to theaters. 

The caped crusader alone has had 11 theatrical outings since Michael Keaton first donned that molded rubber costume in the summer of 1989. Even Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker received a standalone film in 2019, with a sequel slated to release this October. 

And yet, Tim Burton’s “Batman” casts a long, caped shadow over everything that’s come after. A heady mixture of of-the-moment cultural touchpoints, inspired design and direction, and a knack for iconography have ensured that even on a crowded playing field “Batman,” screening at The Mann Center on Thursday, June 20, with live orchestral accompaniment, stays ahead of the pack.

“Batman” is more than the sum of its parts, but even several decades on, those parts are pretty bizarre. Though he’s now viewed as the king of pop macabre, at the time of its release Tim Burton had only two films under his belt, both madcap comedies. Warner Brothers reportedly received more than 50,000 petitions and letters protesting the casting of Michael Keaton, then known for his comedic roles. Add into the mix original songs from Prince, and you can see why, before its release, critics were predicting a Bat-bomb.

But somehow “Batman” synthesizes these stray parts into an entertaining whole. Burton’s predilection for German expressionism melds with the film’s outstanding production design, making for a unique blend of art deco, gothic theatricality, and late 1980s fashion that still feels entirely singular decades on. Keaton, for his part, plays Batman and alter ego Bruce Wayne with peculiar charm. His squirrely, deadpan delivery stands in contrast to the glowering, tortured billionaires that have followed in his wake.

These choices, both organic and studio mandated, make for a movie that feels, above all else, singular. In an increasingly franchise-driven film landscape, this feels uncommon. In the modern landscape of superhero movies, each film functions as a part of a larger whole. The production design for “The Avengers” cannot differ greatly from “Doctor Strange” or “Spider-Man.” The result is films that suggest an expansive universe but want for individual character. To this day, nothing quite feels like 1989’s “Batman.” In an era where superhero sequels were far from a guarantee, every aspect of the film feels like a singular statement. Its gothic vision of Gotham City, its patchwork of styles and influences, and especially its bombastic Danny Elfman score still feel unique and encompassing 35 years later.

Any Batman fan can tell you that “truer” adaptations of the Batman comics have been made since this 1989 outing (the curious are strongly encouraged to seek out the exceptional 1993 animated film “Mask of the Phantasm”). Yet few will argue that any Batman film since has been quite as iconic. 

For tickets and more information, visit manncenter.org. For lawn seating, lawn chairs and blankets are encouraged. As part of the Summer Picnic series, outside food and beverages are permitted in the venue.