100 Days of Superheroes- Day 24: Batman Returns (1992)
He's Back!!!!!....wait...when did he leave?
“Sitting around and just waiting for a Batman to save you, you all make it so easy….life’s a bitch now so am I”
The title is Batman Returns, but I wasn’t aware he ever went away, at least not in the context of the movie. Maybe they meant return in box office terms, and with the visual talents of Tim Burton at the helm, I warmly welcome him back.
Getting the old cast back for the film really wasn’t that difficult in this case. Once you leave out Vicki Vale, the only two people left alive from the first go around is Michael Keaton as Batman himself and Michael Gough as his ever faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth. Batman Returns suffers the same major problem as it’s predecessor. It’s got a lot of great development on the villains but it leaves the title character taking the backseat. Once again Bruce Wayne is only in maybe 5 minutes of the movie and even Batman’s screen time is chicken feed in comparison to that given to Catwoman and the Penguin's. Yet despite this major recycled flaw, Batman Returns is still one helluva good sequel.
The film kicks off with a flashback sequence to the birth of the Penguin. He is so hideous and deformed that his rich parents decide to dump him into a sewage stream. Returning to the present, the Penguin has become the leader of the “Red Triangle” gang, a group of circus outcasts that like to blow things up. He hatches a hair brained scheme with the cities “lead citizen” Max Shrech who is looking to get rid of the current mayor and replace him with the Penguin. At the same time a famine figure known as Catwoman is looking to get revenge on Shrech. So where does Batman come in. Well he is trying to stop ALL of them, making enemies out of all three villains and ending up framed for murder.
As seen with such film as Spider-Man 3, the incorporation of two many villains can cause a film to become unbalanced and limit the different characters screen time, creating inconsistent pacing. Tim Burton managed to find himself a nice well balanced script that kept all the villains in order and prevented them from tripping over one another. As for who is the main villain? That is debatable. I’d say that it is the character of Max Shrech.
He is the man who creates Catwoman (indirectly), and tempts the Penguin to wreck havoc on the city. Nothing would have happened in the film had Shrech not attempted to appeal to his corrupt nature. Christopher Walken really didn’t give any special performance here (like the other two villains did), but it never felt like he was phoning it in and it worked for the story. His character is so much of a corporate asshole that he even schemes to take over the city while standing around a water cooler.
The Penguin is probably one of the hardest of the Batman villains to do, so it’s a little bit of a surprise that they chose to attempt him. Maybe he just appealed to Burton’s weird film nature. There are times when his character does come off a little goofy- like when sending out an army of penguins to attack the city- but Danny DeVito’s performance (much like Jack Nicklsons) is so gloriously over the top that he is just a lot of fun to watch when on screen. He also interacts well with Batman and the other villains who are constantly backstabbing one another.
Then there is Catwoman, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Without a doubt she is the best villain of the film, and probably the best villain in the entire Burton- Schumacher franchise. She perfectly plays the characters transformation from a nerdy timid secretary to a sexy but mentally unhinged fighter. The fact that she seems to have a lot of suppressed rage only adds to her eventual insanity and metamorphosis as Catwoman. In the film she leans far closer to a full-fledged villain than the anti-hero she typically is made out to be. I understand her motive to kill Shrech but I’m not sure why she chooses to help the penguin go after Batman. I can only assume she is just irritated that he got in the way. It's kind of the classic cop out villain motivation. Yet that is my only real complaint about her.
They also have the classic Batman-Catwoman romance in there in a unique way that works well with how the two character will later have to approach one another. It was a far better relationship than what they attempted to craft between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale in the first film. Overall Pfeiffer is a phenomenal Catwoman and if Anne Hathaway does half as good as she did, the Dark Knight Rises will be in the bag.
I commented on the previous Batman review that Bruce Wayne really didn’t come off as a playboy and just seemed lonely all the time. Here they do a little better with the minimal amount they spend on his character. He seems a bit more out going and not so down and depressed all the time. Still the film lacks any real focus on him, targeting his alter ego more. As before Michael Keaton does a great job with his Batman persona.
As usual Tim Burton does a great job with the visual direction and the script was well written with some memorable dialogue. Perhaps not as quotable as many of the Jokers classic lines, but good none the less. Danny Elfman returns to do the music for the film and the theme from the first returns. The music isn’t much different, but that can hardily be considered a complaint.
Batman Returns is a great sequel that only improves over the original. It may lack in the character of Batman and Bruce Wayne, but it has well rounded villains, more action, and a tighter, finer plotted script. Best yet, you might be able to look at this as the Die Hard of superhero films seeing as it all takes place during the holidays. What better way to celebrate Christmas than watching Batman?
FINAL RATING: 8/10- (80%)
Previous DAY 23: The Rocketeer-
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