The Final Scene looks at the last few minutes of some of the most well-known movies of the past fifty years. This week, it's Tim Burton's 1989 version of 'Batman'...
When Jack Nicholson was asked about his feelings on playing both Joker and appearing in a comic-book movie, he described it as "a piece of pop art", and always spoke warmly about it in subsequent interviews. Pop art is defined by its challenge to fine art, in that it works with mass culture, banal and kitschy tones, and bold imagery. Pop art, particularly in the '60s where Batman came to popularity, was known for its precise and almost hard-edged compositions.
That essence of pop art permeates Tim Burton's vision of 'Batman' right through the entire movie. The Joker is covered in popping purple and green. When he dances his way through a modern art gallery to the sound of Prince, he gleefully upends the place (except for leaving a Francis Bacon painting alone) and talks with Vicki Vale about being the world's "first fully functional artist." Then, of course, Batman smashes into the middle of it, kicks the crap out of everyone and swoops away with his grappling hook.
Right through 'Batman', you're continuously reminded that this is a comic-book strip brought to life, with all the sharpness of colour, the simplicity of story, and the outsized performances intact. There isn't a hint of subtlety to any of it, and why would you want it? After all, it's pop art made real and on screen. There may be long shadows and gloomy interludes, but it's all done in such a silly way that when you do get to some emotional beats - when Vicki Vale follows Bruce Wayne down into Crime Alley - it looks hamfisted compared to everything else.
Leading up to the ending, we see Batman battle his way through a church to horrifying carnival music, right before he drops Joker out of a helicopter as his final vengeance against him. With the story neatly wrapped up, Batman presents the city of Gotham with the infamous Bat-signal and as he stands watch over the city, Danny Elfman's triumphant score blares out over the credits. Again, it's that same idealism and broad strokes in pop art that plays right into the ending.
There couldn't be a hint of ambiguity in it, and while you might think it's setting itself up for a franchise, really what it's doing is simply following the traditions of comic-book storytelling. That, quite simply, one story will lead into the next. 'Batman' was Issue 001, and 'Batman Returns' would go on to be Issue 002.