14 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman Returns [1992]


proudly presents


Batman Returns (1992)

"Two Truths" | Batman Returns is an interesting movie to take in. Whereas with the previous film, it was a Batman movie with Tim Burton at the helm, it's reversed here - Batman and the characters are the mercy of Burton's method of madness and oddities. Furthermore, Returns pushed the boundaries of a 'dark' superhero movie to surprising heights, to the point it's baffling Warner Bros. released this Christmas-themed beast (in June). Honestly, it's almost as if there is no right/wrong, good/bad with this movie, because it's one of those films that easily divides people - lots of people love it, and others despise it. As for me, there are parts of Batman Returns I like a lot, specifically the dynamic of Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne together, but otherwise, I can comfortably say I'd be fine holding off rewatching the movie until the Batman reboot hits theaters in about five years from now.

So what I did like - every scene with Selina and Bruce together. The super awkward but kinda-nice-in-a-weird-way dimly lit date at the mansion, or the absolutely exquisite scene at Shreck's dinner ball which boasts excellent dialogue and performances. And when in costume, the energy that ignites the movie as Batman and Catwoman circle one another and then strike. It's brilliant, and I don't exaggerate in saying that Catwoman quite easily makes the movie for me. That's not to say I particularly liked her 'origin' story, specifically the whole resurrection-by-cat-licks thing, which is, well, too bizarre for my taste. But to see that change in Selina, from humble, mumbling secretary to Max Shreck to this outward, confident, no-hold-barred individual, it's great to watch that, and it's well written to boot.

In fact, the script's pretty damn good. Sure, they change up the Penguin's origin quite a bit, take some liberties with Selina Kyle, and Max and his wicked evilness pretty much go nowhere, but all things considered, this is a solid endeavor. It touches on the psychological aspects of each of the characters, it gives motives to everyone, and even offers some genuine humor, this time not solely from Alfred. Danny Elfman comes back onboard as composer, crafting a less atmospheric tune and instead going for a vibe that fits the circus folk that assist Mr. Penguin. But despite how good the script and its actors are, there's just something about Batman Returns that doesn't make me fall in love with it, like I should. When Batman and Catwoman share the scenery, the movie is firing with electricity and I perk up in my seat anxious to see where this goes, but when the Penguin and Max come into view, it's still well written, just far less engaging.

Maybe that's the rub. Lacks the ability to grab me and immerse me in that world. Christopher Walken didn't help, either. For a movie that plays itself very seriously, Walken is simply unable to make anything work. His style just gives me the giggles, and the eye liner and pure white hair do him no favors.

So with this as Burton's last time in the directing chair of a Batman movie, what can be said about him and the two films he gave us? They certainly were ballsy going the route they went, and although I know the fans appreciated the more straightforward tone, I am curious how the general public reacted. Were they receptive of Batman how he should be presented, or were they crying fowl at the lack of camp and camera winks? Burton developed a world, takes on Gotham and its characters that are entirely his own. Tim Burton is the greatest asset and greatest villain to Batman and Batman Returns, in that ultimately, his very specific style can impede on the viewing pleasure (specifically with this one, in regards to Penguin and Max more than anything else). But it's hard to really judge Burton, because during this time period Frank Miller graced comic readers with The Dark Knight Returns which went darker and weirder than any film has ever attempted, making these movies nearly Disney by comparison.

I'll end it with this: I don't love, love, love these Burton movies. I hardly take a look at them. I like the Batsuit design. And Danny Elfman's score. But I don't enjoy them or become super engaged by them. When I watch these two movies it's more like I'm trying to find what other people love about them so damn much instead of liking or hating it myself. And writing that is going to be contradictory because elsewhere I write how I think this is a damn good movie. Maybe that's the best way to sum up the Burton films. Contradictions. It's good... ... ... but it's bad.. ... ..

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman | Even moreso than the '89 film, Keaton shows off his strength as both Bruce and Batman. We see a Batman who appears to have a slight bit of glee in his job, as he smiles when placing an explosive on one of the clown folk, and a Wayne that actually cracks a joke at least once in a scene. Plus, in accordance with working the dumb-playboy angle, we get to see a good amount of Wayne's aloofness. He shows the outside world that sure, he's Mr. Billionaire, but he doesn't seem to be a confident figure (as seen in his conversation with Max in the beginning where he comes across as a bumbling idiot). To the outside world, he's got them fooled, but when he starts letting people close to him (e.g., Selina), a bit of that facade starts to shed and the two of them reveal their second sides.

Just blimey - honestly, Selina/Bruce/Catwoman/Batman make this movie. I said it before and I'll say it again, damnit!

As a kid watching this for the first time, I recall being floored by the moment in the climax as Batman rips his rubbery mask off to reveal the face underneath. It was astonishing! Batman revealed himself! The mask came off! It was a beautiful, powerful moment and cool beyond description. Now, it's still a highly effective scene as two damaged people try to find a 'happy ending' together, only for Selina's lust for revenge to win out [hey, Bruce got his revenge last movie, so why not her?]. Though this time, I did notice how the black around his eyes disappears when he takes the mask off. How bouts that for some humorous inconsistency. But I get the purpose - it'd be a tad freaky for Bruce to have two black circles around his eyes during a rather emotional scene.

Taking this as Keaton's last outing as Bruce Wayne and Batman, gotta say - I was highly pleased with his performance. Forcing myself to block the Nolan movies out of my head as much as possible, I have to appreciate exactly what Keaton brought to the table. He presented the man with dual identities, who is haunted by the murder of his parents, who doesn't approach dressing up as a bat as something funny, but a duty, a horrific image to inspire fear. Keaton isn't the definitive Bruce Wayne, but he got so much right he's a very close second. 

Danny DeVitto as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin | What a poorly developed character. Borderline tragic, really. Well, poor choice of words, the character's meant to be a tragic dick. It's difficult to suss out my feelings about this guy. Sure, I'm a tad peeved that the Oswald Cobblepot we get here isn't the one from the comics, that we don't have a intelligent man who aims to take the Bat down. Nah, what we got instead is a true Tim Burton creation - which is understandable, because it's the freedom to be as Burton-y as he wanted that got him to come back for another go at the Bat - a small, fat, curly, frakkin' ugly misunderstood, sociopathic, horny guy who is more toad-y than penguin (the male version of Dolores Umbridge!). But fine, accepting what we have here, let's take a look at his character.

Continuing with the duality theme, Oswald is struggling between his animalistic side known as 'The Penguin', where he chows down on fish all day long and hangs with some circus freaks, and the respectable public figure that is, for some reason, running for mayor as his destined legal name, Oswald Cobblepot. In the end, Oswald's nature wins his ambition to order Gotham around, and basically just decides to blow the whole place to nothingness. Well, at least be satisfied with the deaths of several thousand Gothamites. No hateration towards Danny DeVito, he did just fine with what he had to work with, but something about the Penguin just doesn't work. Maybe it comes down to him simply not coming across very villain-y, which is, I recognize, a odd thing to say for a guy who was about to kill thousands. But Penguin, he's more like an adult child still in diapers and complaining about how the world doesn't understand him. Bats should just lock him up at Arkham and be done with it. And Gotham's fascination with the Penguin, and willingness to even take him seriously as a mayoral candidate - baffles me.

The grossest, and maybe even the funniest, thing from the whole movie? Penguin's death. He picks out an umbrella with the intended purpose of using it as a gun against Batman, only for it to be one of the cute ones. And this is the gross, perhaps too much part: black 'blood' gurgling from his mouth as he dies and his bulbous thuds to the floor. Not the prettiest sight, and makes the character all the more pitiful. So Batman was all about revenge and our dark side, Batman Returns is about our duality and animalistic nature? Overall, no fault to DeVito, Penguin just didn't work for me.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman | A performance so damn good it nearly makes up for the abomination of that Halle Berry Catwoman [2004]. Almost. For the two scenes she's Ms. Dorkable, Pfeiffer sells it perfectly, a disheveled woman who has no social life to speak of, is consumed with her work, and not remotely appreciated by her employers. And what does she get for it? A near-near death experience. Thanks to a certain connection to a cat or a dozen, she gets a second chance. A rebirth, as someone entirely new. Complete opposite of the clumsy, mumbling Selina Kyle she was. Now she's a woman with complete control over her body, her attitude, and takes everything by the balls. No bullshit. Her taste in costuming is questionable, but with such a perfect performance - and chemistry with Michael Keaton in each of their scenes together - who am I to complain about her outfit? It works.

Notes, Quotes and Discussion |
  • The Bat Signal. Sure, it's cool and all, Bruce seeing the signal up in the sky and standing all heroically. But the downside of that is, it takes a bit of time to get everything on, go zoom zoom with the Batmobile, and then arrive at the scene of the crime. So, depending on where the crime is happening, hypothetically, Batman really wouldn't be there until, say, a half hour after the signal lights up, in which case there would really be no reason for his being there by that time. Thus, erm, I think it would be better if Burton just shot Batman already in Gotham, overlooking the people from one of the many gothic skyscrapers, cos that would make more sense - plus be very pretty!
  • Alfred: "Must you be the only lonely man-beast in town?" 
  • Does there really need to be so much posing? Ugh. Sadly, it's something that's not leaving anytime soon. I did find it a nice visual confirmation of Bruce's obsession, that he looks at the world in an orderly fashion, and picks out his identical rubber suit and boots in a seemingly orderly, meticulous manner. 
  • Bruce: "Security? Who let Vicki Vale into the Batcave? I'm sitting there working, and I turn around, there she is: 'Oh, hi, Vick, come on it.'" One brilliant line accomplishing both a fan service and just being hilarious (harkening back to Bruce's sense of humor, which seems to have grown loads since the first film). After all, that was a head-scratching 'huh?' choice on Alfred's part. Vicki knew something was up, but I wouldn't credit her with the wisdom to find out Bruce's deep, dark secret on her own. And Bruce's explanation of Vicki's being goneness isn't exactly completely satisfying, but, y'know, we got Selina now - see ya later Vicki!
  • Just a quick note, but I did appreciate how the movie seemed less filmed on studio lots and instead had a more expanded range, opening up Gotham City to more than just a few street corners. Amazing what a few establishing shots and new locations can do. Still, Gotham lacks the grandiose, gigantamus, industrial vibe it should, and we sorta get that in Batman Forever, but more on that later...
  • Penguins blowing up Gotham. Just want to, y'know, emphasize that plot point...
The Final Word | A commenter on the SuperheroHype! forums said not to look at Batman Returns as a action movie. After all, Burton isn't particularly skilled with choreographing and shooting the action to make it look nifty and fluid. But to look at the film as a simple character study. Bruce and Selina attracted to each other as broken creatures ("split right down the middle"), the similarities of Batman and Catwoman, and a hint of...I don't quite know...something between Batman and the Penguin ("Must you be the only lonely man-beast in town?"/"You're just jealous I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask!", "You might be right.") in the 'freak' department. It's a movie that definitely works in the script and the chemistry between Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer, but at the end of the day, Returns is a movie that just doesn't ask me to come back to it. The film's dark, sure, but it's not too dark in tone, just visuals. There's not too much here you wouldn't find in The Dark Knight, really.

Overall, good movie. But yeah, a tad over-rated. 6.5/10


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Demion Maia said...

So i decided to follow along with your series (mostly to get pumped for TDKR) and watched this one today. First question: How in the name of all thats holy wasn't this rated R? I mean, damn. Seriously, I liked this one more than Burton's first effort. Michelle Pheifer is a major upgrade from Kim Basinger, and Devito is a lot of fun even though Penguin is a trainwreck of a character. Spectacular art direction, as per usual for Burton, and a great sense of voice and style in service of the character.

Also, if anyone wants some quality lolz times, come follow along as I bash Twilight.


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