Released in 1989, Tim Burton's Batman holds up very well 22 years after its release and I actually prefer it over Christopher Nolan's re-entry, as interesting as his vision is. As for Joel Schumaker's stunning though at times silly vision of Batman, I try to forget about those films. Burton's first Batman is pure escapism in a sort of old fashion way. No CGI to be seen here and it works better that way. It's no surprise to me that Burton's Batman has been compared to Citizen Kane (1941) or The Maltese Falcon (1941), Burton and production designer Anton Furst take you into a dark world filled with crime and also mystery. Other films at the time such as Blade Runner (1982) and Brazil (1985) had already experimented with the classic film noir style, done in a sort of retro/futuristic way but Anton Furst's design for Gothem City truly feels like you are viewing a modern retelling of the classic noir films from the 40s.
Sam Hamm's script is solid and while it has been the target for criticism, I feel that he did a nice job, his dialog is very witty at times and a little over the top but it's appropriate, particularly with Jack Napiar/ The Joker. The performances are actually quite impressive and even better then what Chris Nolan got out of his actors but that's just an opinion. Micheal Keaton, while controversial and unusual at the time, gives a really good performance, he is very shy and sensitive which is the Bruce Wayne that I respond to the most. Jack Nicholson really needs no analysis for his work here, he is just perfect that putting into words is pointless. His joker is fun and even believable, Jack is just as great of an actor as James Cagney in my mind. Kim Basinger is actually much better then she is given credit for, her and Keaton work well together. The rest of the cast really are supporting characters, some are familiar to the Batman story, some are new. One of them being Alexander Knox. Robert Wahl plays a very likable guy who the other characters have a hard time taking seriously. His eagerness to find Batman and win his Pulitzer prize is well done and is a very down to earth performance, which I guess is what the movie needed.
As for Tim Burton's direction, he handles the actors very well and as for the technical work, I have mixed feelings about that. A lot of moments have really well choreographed camera work but there are a couple of zoom in shots that I felt were sloppy and a little unnecessary. There are a couple of matte painting shots that may not hold up as well today but none of this really matters, it still works. Of course, Danny Elfman's score left me speechless. He combines the fun, the adventurous and the dark side of Batman into one piece. I recommend buying the soundtrack with Elfman's score on it, it's amazing!! I think that Batman may be the best Hollywood movie of the late 80s and I still consider it a favorite from my childhood. I know that comic book purists prefer Nolan's Batman but as just a movie guy who loves old fashion Hollywood movies, this one appeals more to my taste. Batman deserves its comparison with Citizen Kane or any other Hollywood masterpiece as far as I'm concerned, even Casablanca (1942) or The Godfather (1972). Burton's 1992 sequel, Batman Returns is equally as great and even takes the series into a direction that's more complex and provoking which Joel Shumaker ignored. While Christopher Nolan's Batman films have stolen the popularity of Burton's, I would argue that his will go down in history as Hollywood classics.