Batman Returns

"You're just jealous, because I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask!"

Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin did not appear. The Batmobile lost more than a wheel and the Joker didn't get away and died in the previous film. Yeah, it didn't really rhyme, but that is still a semi-accurate description of Batman Returns, Tim Burton's second (and last) Batman film and the best Christmas superhero film ever made. Also, as far as I know, the only Christmas superhero film ever made.

Batman was a comic book movie that just so happened to be directed by Tim Burton. Batman Returns, however, is a Tim Burton movie that just so happens to star Batman – although 'star' might not be the most accurate word. He may have top billing this time, but Michael Keaton is even more of a supporting player in this film than he was in the first one. Despite his best efforts, Batman is reduced to being nothing more than a supporting player in his own movie. Burton is so obsessed with his freakish villains that he neglects his main character completely. Compared to the freaks and outcasts this film offers up, a billionaire dressing up as a bat to fight crime is just too normal for Burton.

Even with the Dark Knight himself pushed to the sidelines and in spite of the film's other flaws (mostly to do with the script, which went through three writers and numerous drafts), I like Batman Returns more than its predecessor. If Nolan hadn't come along, there is little doubt that this would be my favourite Batman movie. A lot of it has to do with the Christmas setting (seeing the Batmobile prowl the snow covered streets of Gotham is such a fantastic image) and the dark, twisted fairytale angle Burton goes for.

After the huge success of the first film, the studio wrote Burton a massive cheque and told him to go and do whatever he wanted. And, boy, did they regret that. Unlike with the first film, Burton came to this film as a film-maker more comfortable with making big budget blockbusters. Feeling more confident, he let his imagination loose and created one of the darkest comic book movies ever made. Far darker than a studio with nothing but McDonald's merchandise on the mind would like.

Mainstream superhero movies really don't come more dark and deranged than this one. Remember, this is a movie that starts off with a rich couple dropping their newborn baby into the sewers. At Christmas! And the Penguin's masterplan is not to become mayor of Gotham, that is all Shreck's scheme, but rather to have the first born sons of Gotham kidnapped and drowned. You can see why the studio was nervous. The mass murder of children is not exactly summer blockbuster material. But this is meant to be a fairytale and fairytales in their purest form are very dark.


Danny DeVito chows down on the scenery with the same relish as the Penguin a campaign worker's nose. But no matter how hard he tries, he is no Jack Nicholson. Christopher Walken does his Christopher Walken thing, and the day I tire of that is the day I tire of living. Also, this film has my absolute favourite crazy Christopher Walken hairdo. But the undisputed star of the film is unquestionably Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Pfeiffer's unhinged take on Selina Kyle makes for a more fascinating sparing partner for our hero than the dull Vicki Vale. It is too bad that Batman/Bruce Wayne is underused so much. Batman and Catwoman's deliciously twisted tragic romance just isn't given the attention it truly deserves.

Notes and Quotes

— Unlike The Joker, who surrounded himself with faceless thugs, the Penguin has a gang of anarchistic circus folk. It's very comic book and also very Tim Burton, as is their base of operations: the world's creepiest abandoned zoo. Which is where he also keeps his army of penguins.

— Gotham PD are useless if they rely on one just guy in costume to deal with rioting clowns.

— Instead of Prince we get a nifty little track by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

— The film was seen by the studio as a box office disappointment because it didn't make as much as the first film. That might have something to do with releasing such a wintery movie in June.

The Penguin: "True. I was their number one son, and they treated me like number two."

Batman: "What do you want?"
The Penguin: "Ah, the direct approach. I admire that in a man with a mask."

Catwoman: "I am Catwoman. Hear me roar."
— I didn't know she was a Lannister.

Batman: "Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it."
Catwoman: "But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it."

Chip: "Dad, you buy that 'blurry' business?"
Max Shreck: "Women. Nothing surprises me, Chip, except your late mother. Who'd have thought Selina had a brain to damage. Bottom line, she tries to blackmail me, I'll drop her out a higher window. Meantime, I got better fish to fry."

Selina Kyle: "It's the so-called normal guys who always let you down. Sickos never scare me. Least they're committed."

Three and a half out of four freaky Christopher Walken hairdos.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

7 comments:

PlatinumRosebud said...

Allo, Mark.
Nice review.
This is my favorite live action Batman as far as his antagonists is concern.
For me, nobody can beat Michelle Pfeiffer's take on the Catwoman.
I saw "the making of" this film and learned that Michelle really did those whip scenes herself.
Christopher Walken, gosh, I miss this guy.
Whether in far out low budget movies or in big budget ones, this guy is really a conversation stimulant.
Christopher can never go bad in a film.
At times weird, but good.
The weirder he gets, the better he is. Hahaha.
Have a nice day, Mark!

Nadim said...

Batman Returns is one of the earliest movies I remember loving as a kid. I used to get the coziest feeling watching this film around Christmas time and I would really like to rewatch it again soon! It's so delightfully deranged and mesmerizing as a production.

Michelle Pfeiffer is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. She was simply phenomenal. I don't think anyone's take on Catwoman comes close (although Hatheway whom I hate, was surprisingly SUPERB in TDKR).

Anyways you really got me excited to rewatch the film. Perhaps this Christmas?

Matthew said...

Die Hard is *obviously* the best superhero Christmas movie.

Mark Greig said...

Matthew, since John McClane is essentially an everyman type of hero I would not class Die Hard as a superhero movie. However, it is the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

Diogo said...

This is a flawed movie. But the dark, hybrid noir/fairy tale/comic book atmosphere,the poetic, lyrical dialogue and the memorizing performances make it not just one of my favourite superhero movies but also one of my favourite movies ever, period.
I think of Chritopher Nolan's and Tim Burton's approaches to the material the same way my history teacher once described the difference between Romans and Greeks. For the former, everything beautiful must have a purpose. For the later, everything with a purpose must also be beautiful.

Victor said...

This is my favourite Christmas film of all time. Great review but I will say that I think this is better than the Nolan films. Despite the Nolan films being more true to the comics in terms of story this really captures the atmosphere.
Penguin and Catwoman are the worst Batman comic villains (imho) and they were rewritten in to outrageous, hilarious characters, I wish the comics has taken some inspiration from those two.

Victor said...

Nadim, I just read your comment and I had the exact same experience of this film. It was my favourite film as a child, I'd look forward to seeing it all year and it would always make me feel (in the words of a 7 year old me) "Christmasy"