Nov 14, 2014

[Movies] Batman Returns (1992)

After Tim Burton's first Batman movie, the floodgates were wide open for future superhero endeavors. But more importantly the path was clear for another Batman movie - and we got a real killer one.

Batman Returns on its own is one of my favorite Batman movies of all time. It had an amazing balance of origin stories (in terms of the villains) and strong performances all around. But it also indirectly set the pattern for sequels needing more than one villain and theoretically even more villains in subsequent sequels.

This unusual pattern led to some pretty bad movies further down the road as the story would get increasingly confusing and watered down with all the additional villains thrown into the mix.

But this one was just perfect - it had the right balance of all the different elements that just made things work. And if there's one Batman movie from this era that you have time to see, then it should be this one.

Synopsis: Batman Returns is the 1992 sequel to the prior 1989 Batman movie. It was directed and produced by Tim Burton with a screenplay by Daniel Waters.

We are first introduced to Tucker and Esther Cobblepot, a rich couple who are apalled by the fact that their son is born with significant physical deformities. They eventually give up on him and abandon him in the sewer, but the child is rescued by a flock of escaped penguins who somehow raise him. 33 years later in the present day, he emerges as the Penguin (Danny DeVito) and manages to kidnap businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). He threatens Max with blackmail based on his more unscrupulous business practices unless he finds a way to integrate the Penguin into Gotham City as a proper citizen.

Meanwhile, there's Max's rather shy secretary, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfieffer), who stumbles across information about the new power plant that she wasn't supposed to find. And when she alerts her boss about the danger, he simply pushes her out the window. Her body is swarmed by a number of cats and for some reason she manages to survive the fall despite the height. She barely makes it home and is in some sort of a deranged mental state as she puts together a black leather catsuit for her to wear. And thus Batman (Michael Keaton) now has to deal with two major villains active in the city although it's not clear what their immediate motivations are.

Let's get this out of the way - no one is quite the same Catwoman as Michelle Pfieffer is as Catwoman. From her first scene in full costume (as seen in the video below) she clearly embodied the role. She was sexy, fierce and yet quite strong and certainly a match for Batman in her own unique way. And while she was't necessarily a comic book accurate version of Catwoman, she's still quite the larger than life character that really made a difference in this movie. And seriously, how much licking did Michelle Pfieffer have to do to get through this movie?

But don't immediately dismiss Danny DeVito's performance as the Penguin. This was not the comical little character with a monocle that we saw in the old Adam West Batman TV series. He was a disturbed and quite deranged villain with a rather horrifying cadre of circus clowns that seem like they'd be right at home in American Horror Story: Freak Show or something. Despite driving around in a giant rubber duckie or commanding an army of rocket-bearing penguins, this Penguin was the stuff of nightmares.

And when you really think about it, this movie had actually three villains once you include Christopher Walken as Max. And to be fair, Christopher Walken is Christopher Walken and what he does best is to be himself. But he also worked amazingly well in this movie and despite being "only human" he still managed to hold his own against both Catwoman and Penguin.

I'm guessing that the success of the first movie (and its merchandising arm) led to even more gadget and enhancements to Batman's arsenal. We had the Batmobile's new armor mode to prevent theft or tampering (sort of) and the fact that it has an alternate mode - all fun stuff! Whether or not it was just to push merchandising, it certainly added a lot of great value to the movie.

Beyond the gadgets though, Michael Keaton as Batman was almost a little underwhelming, if only in contrast to the crazy set of villains set before him. His out of cowl scenes as Bruce Wayne always seem to be stuck mainly about romantic efforts, but I suppose it all still works in the end. It's not that he was bad - everyone was just amazing that it's hard to keep score.

The story was rather well written and it managed to juggle a number of elements between Penguin's plans for the city and Catwoman's plans of revenge against Max. But despite all that was going on, it didn't feel at all confusing and things just sort of lined up quite well. Throw in the charming score by Danny Elfman and you have a Christmas movie that is unlike any other.

Batman Returns is definitely my favorite Batman movie. It had a campiness laced with a lethal edge that kept it feeling like a comic book story and yet that much darker as well. Thus it gets a solid 5 Catwoman deaths out of a possible 5.

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