Tim Burton's Batman is the first live action piece to attempt to take the character seriously. Michael Keaton stars as Bruce Wayne, who became a millionaire orphan when his parents were shot in cold blood while he stood by unable to prevent it. Needless to say that experience had a major effect on young Bruce and turned him into the man he is today, responsible for the creation of symbol he would later on create to combat evil. But with every superhero there must always be a super villain, one that's ironically created out of the actions of the hero.
Jack Nicholson is Jack Napier, the number one "go to guy" for the cities notorious crime boss, Carl Grissom. Grissom sets Jack up to take the fall when he learns that Jack is fooling around with his woman, his plan almost works; Jack falls into a vat of toxic waste during an encounter with the Batman, but miraculously survives. Now permanently disfigured and crazier than ever, Jack takes on the role of a murderous clown known as the Joker. The Joker quickly takes his revenge on Carl Grissom, and then sets his sites on Gotham's caped crusader, the only one who stands between him controlling the city.
Batman has the comic book look and feel down to an art, but that's about all it has, a look. The action scenes are sparse and mechanical, Tim Burton is a genius when it comes to the look of his films, but he's not an action film director, and that's what Batman lacks, especially with a story that at times is quite boring. In terms of the characters, Michael Keaton is by far the best pre-Bale Bruce Wayne/Batman, but after watching Bale take the role to new heights, Keaton's performance is almost as embarrassing as the actors who follow him. Keaton is emotionless, dry and dull, and while Bruce Wayne is not necessarily the pillar of emotion, Keaton soon makes Wayne out to be a total bore.
Following Keaton is "the great" Jack Nicholson whom I have always found to be quite the overrated actor. Nicholson has talent, no doubt, and plays an excellent villain, but he has no range. All his characters are too much of the same, and his version of the Joker is more of an extension of Jack Nicholson than it is of Batman's greatest enemy. Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker is only a mild step forward in the right direction, topping only Caesar Romero's portrayal of the clown prince in the overly corny television series, more corn than cruel.
In the end, if you’re looking for a decent comic book adaptation which goes no further than a mediocre story, flat acting, an authentic look, and an awesome bat-mobile then you'll be pleased with Batman. But for most people re-watching this film will probably make you realize how mediocre the Batman series was from the beginning, and will only make you more appreciate the new levels that Batman Begins has excelled the franchise to. Before it came along, the Batman series was limited to a comic book feel, while Batman Begins turned the character and the franchise into something more realistic and believable, and it didn't have a Prince soundtrack or Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent!