July 22, 2012

Batman Returns (1992)

"When a corrupt businessman and the grotesque Penguin plot to take control of Gotham City, only Batman can stop them, while the Catwoman has her own agenda."

As much as I wanted to quit this Batman movie marathon after the last one, I remembered "Batman Returns" as being a little bit better so decided to press on regardless. I thought, "Surely, it couldn't be as crappy as the first Tim Burton "Batman" movie."

Just so you know, this is the only Nintendo generation "Batman" movie which I own on DVD. I have "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Forever" (1995) on VHS because I don't feel the slightest need to upgrade them. If the tapes snap or wear out, I won't miss their loss. I don't own a copy of "Batman & Robin" (1997) at all because, as far as I'm concerned, that movie was such a worthless load of crap that it doesn't even exist in my world. I shouldn't need to tell you that I haven't seen any of the "Batman" cartoons either (but, obviously, I just have).

Why did I only buy "Batman Returns" on DVD? Catwoman, the "Nosferatu" reference via Christopher Walken's character name, and because it was cheap. I know that you now can get the "4 Film Favorites" pack of "Batman" movies for $9.99 or less new, but why would I want to waste another $7.50? I hadn't even watched this DVD, and I bought it three years ago.

Beginning with a baby being thrown into the sewer was a great start which was only ruined by having "A Tim Burton Movie" appear in the titles which followed. Ugh! Usually, as soon as I see that name, I press the "off" button. Fortunately, as a Classicist and heartless human being, I applaud the choice of leaving deformed babies to fend for themselves or die rather than being a drain on the rest of society so I was immediately intrigued.

"Make-up effects by Stan Winston" promised something special from the late master of horror creatures, and "Music by Danny Eflman" was kind of a given. At least, there was no mention of Prince or "Squiggle" this time.

With the baby basket having floated downstream throughout the titles until finally coming to rest in front of a group of penguins, I thought only one thing, "Are there really penguins living in the sewer?" There are no prizes for guessing who the baby would grow up to be.

Jumping thirty-three years on, "Batman Returns" was apparently set around Christmas with all the fake snow and happy-looking Gothamites which Tim Burton could muster. I applauded that too since I was still dying in 90 degree weather with 87% humidity. Ah, coolness! What a pity that it was only on the telly.

Don't worry, I'm not going to go through the entire movie from arche to telos, but I thought highlighting the beginning would be a good way to show how some movies can hook me in the first few minutes and others can't.

You probably know everything about "Batman Returns" already; that it's really all about The Penguin, Max Schreck and Catwoman with Batman turning up occasionally to be all wooden and stiff or to use some clever gadget which couldn't work in the real world and doesn't work properly in this fantasy one either. (I still haven't forgotten how the original Batplane in the previous movie was equipped with machine guns and rocket launchers yet couldn't hit The Joker from 100 feet away. Being brought down with a single shot from The Joker's pis-rifle was icing on the cake. Stuff like that sticks especially when you're watching a sequel.)

There was quite a lot of horror in "Batman Returns" though which still deserves a mention. No, I'm not talking about Christopher Walken's hair or even Selina Kyle chopping up a beautiful leather coat to make a badly stitched-together cat costume. Seriously, just the look of Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin) with blood or green goo dripping out of his mouth was the stuff of nightmares.

"Batman Returns" really pushed the limits of the PG-13 rating with the level of violence: clowns fired machine guns into crowds, two guys were set on fire (one of them by Batman!), Selina got pushed through the window of a tall building, The Penguin bit a guy's nose off, pedestrians got run over... I could go on, but you get the picture. For some reason the censors didn't though, so that's one small mercy. It was also considerably more adult when it came to sexual innuendo and swearing. Yay for both!

Of course, "Batman Returns" was and still is a beautiful looking film. The camerawork, lighting, set design, costumes, make-up, and all the other smoke and mirrors which enhanced the cinematography were excellent for the time. Even the acting was only a little bit short of being excellent.

I think the main difference between "Batman Returns" and "Batman" (1989) was that a lot more work went into the characterisation. Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne was much more brooding and he apparently learned to be considerably more badass as Batman in spite of the limitations of the costume. He was still a bit stiff though and blander than the villains.

The relationship between Batman/Bruce Wayne and Catwoman/Selina Kyle was extremely well scripted and tied the narrative back together every time it was in danger of getting too confused or lagging. I'm not going to say anything about the lack of chemistry there since Michelle Pfeiffer had more than enough sexiness back then to camouflage the failings of a dozen people whether they still looked like dweebs or not.

The only place where the story briefly went wrong was in the last 20 minutes. The penguin army with rockets strapped to them was ridiculous. Tim Burton's biggest failing nowadays is that he always has to turn an otherwise great story into some stupidly childish fairytale, and this was, undoubtedly, where that annoying habit started.

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed rewatching "Batman Returns" for the first time in twenty-years. It held up very well indeed, wasn't at all dated, and, I'm tempted to say that it will remain the best "Batman" movie for a long time to come.

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