This is considered by many to be a giant step in the evolution of a new, more serious Batman. In direct opposition of the '66 spoofy Batman, Burton sought to create an art deco city that housed a much more intense Batman than we've seen up to this point. The building blocks are there for Nolan to complete the transition to his masterwork. Nicholson owns the role, if campy and Keaton embraces the role, if a little silly at times.
Burton identified with the gothic and nothing else. His ignorance of the character undoes the film.
The 14 year old me gave it a 10, until he killed the criminal in the belltower. Batman is not a killer.
Batman has been defined in the public mind by two spectacular screen successes that were completely wrong: the '60s TV show and this film.
Both Frankenstein's creature and Tarzan became unrecognizable in their transition to film, but those lunkhead mistakes perversely became canon in the public mind. The continuing disservice comes from clueless filmmakers having no faith in the real material or the audience. Their results may be interesting or lucrative but they are still wrong.
The popular 1966 camp series is all that mainstream viewers knew of the character for three decades before this. This first Burton film was praised by the mainstream because they thought he brought a dark edge that lifted the material. But this was ignorance, doubled.
The Batman started in 1939 as a swipe on the brutal pulp stories of The Shadow, a new hell's angel to fight off Depression-era fears. The Joker was a sadistic serial killer, Robin a devilish imp, the city a gothic gauntlet. But WWII then turned all superheroes into boy scouts selling war bonds, and the '50s devolved them into surreal silliness. The '60s TV show was by creators making fun of the '50s comics at face value without respecting the character's dark origins or the medium. It is Suits mocking "kid's stuff" for bucks and yucks, the default mistake. The real mid-'60s comics were proving them wrong: Batman had become his most mature with clever John Broome stories and sophisticated Carmine Infantino art. But the public went with what they saw on the tube.
In the early '70s comics renaissance, The Batman regained his dark and adult edge singly with Denny O'Neill and Neal Adams' immortal work; with noir writing and fine illustration, they redefined the psychotic Joker, the adult Robin, and the shadowy Darkknight Detective. This magnified with Frank Miller's 1986 "The Dark Knight Returns," a dsytopian future allegory fuled by punk energy and film noir. Both of these eras were graphics revolutions that had evolved comics to a mature level which galvanized the market. Again, the Suits misread this cultural momentum has something to exploit for quick loot. To a public who only knew the camp show, Burton's dark film seemed like a revelation and an advance. In truth, it was a profound misunderstanding of the material by a contrary creator who wasn't into it, coasting on those superior works. It was a monster success, but it is only a clumsy and murky sketch of what could have been.
Luckily, someone who had read all of these works would get it exactly right in 2005, and show the public the real and only Dark Knight.