Cert: 12 Runtime: 126 mins Director: Tim Burton Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Gough and Christopher Walken
You gotta admit I played this stinkin’ city like a harp from hell
Now then jumping into 1992 Burton’s last Batman film.Batman Returns is a perfect film to watch during the holiday season as the winter/Xmas atmosphere that Burton creates for Gotham City is wonderful. It’s weird that Warner decided to release this as a summer film. It doesn’t fit.But what’s even weirder, when you consider the content of this film, is that it was aimed at families. An upper-class family throws their mutant baby down the sewer, a socio-phobic billionaire dresses up in leather as a flying rodent, a lonely secretary has a mental breakdown and dresses up in leather as a feline, and said grown-up mutant baby freak runs for political office. Not to mention the S&M subtext that Tim Burton somehow managed to get away with. His eccentric visual style fits this film best, and is the height of his career. So anyway having defeated the Joker, Batman(Michael Keaton) now faces the Penguin (Danny DeVito) – a warped and deformed individual who is intent on being accepted into Gotham society. Crooked businessman Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) is coerced into helping him become Mayor of Gotham and they both attempt to expose Batman in a different light. Earlier however, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), Max’s secretary, is thrown from the top of a building and is transformed into Catwoman – a mysterious figure who has the same personality disorder as Batman. Batman must attempt to clear his name, all the time deciding just what must be done with the Catwoman.”Batman Returns” is not a perfect film in the empirical sense of the word: there really is not quite enough Batman presence, some of the fight scenes (particularly with Catwoman) don’t make sense, and some of the plot points are a bit more fantasy than reality (albeit that’s probably intentional). But a mathematical stacking of pros and cons is not what makes a film great or horrible, it’s the impact of it and the merit of its artistry. In this respect, Batman Returns is a masterpiece.
Tim Burton’s major contribution to Batman in general, despite his frustrating insistence on being fascinated with the villains, is giving him back, and refining, his dark nature. Burton, along with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns (graphic novel) and Christopher Nolan, re-imagined Batman into the Dark Knight, perfecting him into the somewhat frightening crime fighter Bob Kane was getting at back in 1939. “Dark” characters are often created by piling on violence, sex, or drug use, but Batman needs none of that to be scary. In fact he’s better without it. He’s dark because that’s what he is, and there’s a purity to it that no other super-hero can touch. Tim Burton pioneered this image of him in “Batman,” then mastered in “Returns.”Batman Returns” centers around four characters: Batman, Catwoman, The Penguin and Max Shreck. These four principles are the force of this movie, and the film’s plot serves as an elaborate character study of each of them. Every one of them is both friend and enemy of each other character at different points of the movie, until the conflict between them throws the plot into a frenzy of senseless mayhem at the conclusion, finally succumbing to the insanity of its principles. For this reason, the ebb and flow of the plot is a bit off-kilter, and that would be a problem if any of those four performances weren’t absolutely fabulous. Describing someone’s acting never does it any justice, so I won’t try to get into details, but it should be noted that all four of them spar with each other at full power.The Batmobile is back and still kicking, and Burton and company thought of some great ways of tinkering with their toy, none of which I will reveal now. Suffice to say the Batmobile offers up some of the grandest entertainment in the film, involving chase sequences that stand up to this day due to the sheer cleverness of the situation. The Dark Knight’s suit is more regal in this one, slightly grayed, taller and less compacted. Batman looks something like a king in his outfit.
As for Michael Keaton, he proves yet again why Bob Kane gave him the nod for the role in 1989. It doesn’t matter that the man is not all physically imposing, because that face of his looks so terrifying and dark in the Cowl that his presence is magnified two times over. Keaton’s rasp is still on point, able to transform his body language and his voice perfectly under the suit. It should also be noted that Burton’s Batman is quieter than anyone else’s, including Frank Miller’s. I love that.Batman is always too chatty everywhere else. As for Catwoman, Batman Returns perfected her. There is no reason to ever do Catwoman minus The Dark Knight Rises (possiby) again in any work of fiction, because you will never again create a character so fascinating, sympathetic or more tragic. Burton took a nothing character, some one- dimensional sultry cat-burglar, and made her a vicious look at sexism and the persecution of innocence in an ugly, cruel world. Well done.Danny DeVito’s Penguin is horribly ugly, completely hate-able, and rather pathetic, which is exactly what they were going for. He’s a twisted animal with twice the anger and half the brains, not able to compete with Batman on any real level.DeVito will never get the credit he deserves for the film, because he makes you hate him so sincerely you forget to stop hating him when the credits roll. Christopher Walken is chilling, hateful and…(please don’t ask me how he did this)…sympathetic. It’s impossible to understand, but Walken somehow played Shreck so purely that it’s hard not to respect him, even though he is a truly corrupt, twisted creature of a man.The plot is imperfect, some of the fights are odd, and the plot is as much fantasy as that’s possible in a movie set in a city, but it doesn’t matter. Four fascinating, complicated characters are set into a boxing ring and told to go at it, and Batman Returns is the result. Not to mention the whole film is anchored by one of the most famous superheros of all time. It’s a shame Batman gets upstaged by Burton’s fascination with The Penguin, but it’s a forgivable mistake in a story that’s so deeply affecting, and so dark. That’s the key thing Returns has that the original kind of missed: the soul.