on 21 May 2012
I think of Batman Returns as a horror rather than a traditional superhero film. Its villain, a deformed, sewer-dwelling child killer, is straight out of a Stephen King novel (It, to be precise) and the themes are hauntingly macabre. This is a disturbed, intimate story about stolen childhoods, revenge and loneliness. Danny DeVito's Penguin is a pathetic freak, doomed from the moment he leaves his mother's womb as the film opens. A doctor rushes from the birthing room with a handkerchief over his face, the new father enters, and all we see or hear is his terrified scream through a door. When the baby, locked in a cradle-cum-cage (how did his parents come by such an object?), drags a cat through its window bars, Mr. and Mrs. Cobblepot decide they can't bear the shame, so dump him in a sewer.
From such beginnings, how else could this poor creature have developed? The Penguin is sad and pitiful. He raves like a rabid dog who should be put down for its own and everyone else's sake, and when sleazy businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) moulds him into a mayoral candidate, we start waiting for bedlam to begin.
Of course this Penguin, who has flippers for hands, bears no resemblance to the suave, sophisticated gangster he was in the comics, but I didn't care. This new Penguin was interesting enough that I didn't pine for the original. He's a tragic figure, a circus freak deprived of love, and thus determined to deprive others. His interactions with Batman (Michael Keaton) expose thought-provoking truths about both characters.
Michael Keaton is my favourite Batman. He's sexier and more mysterious than Christian Bale (who I think does a great job himself). There's a wonderfully erotic scene where Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) runs a hand down Batman's armour, implicitly ending at his crotch, which judging by the look on his face she must be good at pawing.
Speaking of Catwoman, her portrayal here is also my favourite so far (not that Pfeiffer's had much competition; we'll see how Anne Hathaway does). I liked her development from mousy secretary to twisted avenger. The film doesn't cop out with her character, but makes her truly morally ambiguous.
Shreck's character was considered unnecessary by Siskel and Ebert, but to me Christopher Walken's always great value and more scripts should shoehorn him in. He's delightfully odious as the conniving businessman, and I was fascinated by Shreck's willingness to sacrifice himself to save his son.
Batman Returns is a refreshingly adult Gothic horror film which mixes exciting action with a plot worthy of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King.
on 30 November 2013
In 1992 some silly, so-called Christian organization threw a bullying hissy fit at McDonalds for its Happy Meal deal tie-in with Tim Burton`s Batman Returns. McDonalds, true to form, prematurely withdrew its merchandising. Rumor has it that McDonalds issued a stern warning to Warner Brothers not to tap Burton for the next Batman film. For whatever reason, Warner Brothers caved into the golden arch and ,consequently, put its franchise into a decade long grave with the unwise hiring of director Joel Schumacher.
Only the fundamentalist mindset can associate Big Macs with a certain brand of morality. Looking at Batman Returns (1992), one wonders what the Christian organization was complaining about. The Bible is all throughout the film and, actually the good book itself has far more sex and violence than Batman, Tim Burton, Warner Brothers and McDonalds combined.
Regardless, Batman Returns remains the greatest cinematic comic book movie to date and one of Tim Burton's most uniquely accomplished films. Admittedly, I am not a fan of comic book movies, even if I did read comics some when I was kid, but then most kids I knew did. I was in the minority in preferring DC to Marvel, and I guess I am sort of looking forward to the new Green Lantern movie, mainly because the Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic was a favorite when I was a wee lad in the 1960s and 1970s. That was a comic that was delightfully of its time, a bit like Star Trek in espousing an ultra-liberal message with all the subtlety of a pair of brass knuckles. Even though Green Lantern himself was a bit too righteous and bland, I liked that he was obsessed with the color green and was rendered impotent by the color yellow. There was something surreal in that, and I find the insistence of realism in comics to be a huge oxymoron. Perhaps that's why the dark surrealism of Batman Returns did not bother me like it did mainstream audiences, comic book geeks, and militant pseudo-Christian organizations.
Even though I will acknowledge that Christopher Nolan`s Dark Knight (2008) was well crafted, it would not have worked without Ledger's performance holding it together. Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, however, pales compared to Michael Keaton's much more intense, internalized, subtle and complex Wayne. Finally, Nolan's film feels like it has one subplot too many. Comparatively, Tim Burton's Batman Returns is a genuine freak show, which is as it should be. This is the Dark Knight filtered through a young Tim Burton still channeling the influence of Tod Browning. It is an inimitable, energetically enthusiastic film which revels in its weirdness with a style and texture all its own.
The deformed Penguin is born to rich parents (Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger, both of 1985's Pee Wee's Big Adventure) who dispose of him in the sewer like Moses being dumped in the Nile (choreographed to composer Danny Elfman's wordless choral music). Penguins and circus performers rescue their potential deliverer, and the saga begins 33 years later (Christ allegory there). Characteristically, Burton propels us into a yuletide world, only this is a season as envisioned by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in the expressionist land of silent film forefathers. Fritz Lang, Guy Maddin and Jack Skellington know this Gotham.
Christopher Walken emerges as the beautifully ludicrous-wigged energy tycoon Max Schreck (named after the actor who played Count Orlock--AKA Dracula--in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu). Schreck lives in his Metropolis-inspired ivory tower and emerges to give a holiday speech to the crowd below. The infamous Circus Gang interrupts the proceedings via a giant Christmas present which literally rolls into the town square, shooting forth clowns on motorcycles, strongmen, fire eating jesters, and a machine gun wielding monkey.
Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) turns on the Bat Signal not a moment too soon, because Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) is alone in his mansion, getting ready to turn on "Blue Christmas." Batman saves Schreck's secretary, Selena Kyle (Michelle Pfeifer), from a killer clown with a tazer, but Schreck is nowhere to be found. That's because he has unwittingly stumbled upon the underground sewer abode of the legendary Penguin Man (Danny DeVito). The Penguin's lair looks like a cross between the Phantom of the Opera's cavern and Vincent Price`s Theater of Blood (1973).
This is not Burgess Meredith's Penguin (taking nothing from Meredith). Devito's Penguin is, by turns, empathetic, repulsive and genuinely threatening. With Schreck's help (via blackmail) Penguin intends to ascend to the world above, locate his parents (already dead, probably by the Penguin's hands) and take over Gotham as the new mayor. He also has a secret plan of revenge against the whole of Gotham by killing every first born male child (shades of Ramses and King Herod). Meanwhile, Schreck "kills" Selena by pushing her out a window after she stumbles upon some hidden files. However, Selena is revived by flesh-eating kitty cats. She returns to her Barbie doll apartment, turns "Hello There" into "Hell Here", fashions a black leather cat suit on an old sewing machine, and Catwoman is born.
Pfeifer, who can often be stoic, is amazing here. It is the best performance of her career and she is full of surprises. Like Penguin, she arouses empathy and she arouses Batman/Bruce Wayne as well. Not only is Wayne sexually attracted to her, but he senses a truly kindred spirit. In the first Batman (1989) Wayne's romantic relationship seemed a mismatch but here Wayne's falling in love with Selena/Catwoman is natural and understandable. You really want them to make it, although you know it is, as Catwoman predicts, "not a fairy tale to be."
Even the loathsome Schreck has a degree of empathy in his love for his son, which leaves us the character of Batman. Here, Keaton's Wayne is not saddled with the unfolding of his origin story, as he was in the previous film. Oddly, many critics of the first film commented that Keaton's performance paled next to the extroverted Jack Nicholson. Seen today, Nicholson's performance seems obvious while Keaton's has grown considerably in stature. Keaton's Batman is the eye of the hurricane. In Returns, Wayne's inner angst is already firmly established. Here, he suffers more from restlessness, lack of direction, his inability to connect, boredom, intense loneliness, and seasonal blues, which makes his unease with the world much more vivid. In the guise of Batman, Wayne is not above igniting one opponent and blowing up another (in fact he clearly enjoys it), all while lecturing Selena for wanting to kill Schreck. Keaton does not resort to a tried and true lazy playboy act. It is very apparent to all that Bruce Wayne is as disturbed as Batman. Batman/Bruce Wayne fully fits in this quartet of freaks.
When his collaboration with Schreck predictably sours, Penguin, with the help of rocket launching penguins and a henchman who must have taken kidnapping lessons from Robert Helpmann's Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), ignites his plan to mass murder the children.
The scene in which Selena and Wayne find out the truth about one another is well done and probably is the only time this plot element has worked in any comic book film (the uncovering of the `secret identity' did not work at all in the first Batman film, in Superman, or in the Spider-Man film). The boat ride in the sewer recalls Phantom of the Opera (1925), and the unmasking of Batman in front of Selena echoes Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin. Despite Penguin's terrible plans, his fate is a sad one.
Batman Returns erupts in a dizzying apocalypse straight from the theater of the absurd. This is a superhero burlesque as only Tim Burton, at this stage in his career, could have delivered. At the center of this burlesque are freaks we care about; only they are not really freaks, and the film ends with a bit of sad reflection and an urge to turn on "Blue Christmas."
* MY REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT 366 WEIRD MOVIES
on 3 December 2006
Nobody does Gothic better than Tim Burton, and his return to the Batman franchise is superior in almost every way to his first effort as well as being a hair's breadth behind the newest entry.
What makes the Batman films stand out (discounting Forever and Robin) is their dark nature which is as much about the inner conflict of both hero and villain. Keaton's Batman is different to Bale's; like him he is split, troubled and somewhat empty inside-the old wounds of his parents' death have not healed, and he finds it almost impossible to reconcile the two sides of his life. Unlike Bale's spoilt, tempremental, tantrum-figure, however, Keaton brings a more mature, calmer character, albeit with a deal of wit. The effect is to gain our sympathy and empathy for his dilemma in a tribute to Keaton's talent. Likewise, DeVito is quite excellent as the sadistic, destructive but again remarkably witty Penguin, and is suitably frightening and disgusting to boot. He's not quite as good as Jack Nicholson's Joker, but it's a very impressive effort. Perhaps the real gem is the brilliantly electric Pfeiffer, who totally brings Catwoman's duality to life and again gains our empathy. In particular at moments in Bruce Wayne and Selina's (her true name) interplay where Keaton flags, Pfeiffer shows a depth of ability that sustains her for the entire film and is vastly superior to Kim Basinger's lacklustre performance in Batman. Walken provides a further nemesis for Wayne that is understandably priceless.
One must not forget the many other elements that make this film; Burton's superb direction features a whole array of wonderfully dark shots of the city lit by twinkling lights which keeps the sinister atmosphere intact. The moody tone is of course interspersed with some great fight scenes that show a significant improvement of special effects from the original as well as giving the characters a good deal of more gadgets and weapons.
It's not really close to the comics, but the script is cutting-edge, the acting almost perfect and the result is an exciting, often moving, film with the sentimentality of other superhero efforts kept down and an ending that is most satisfying.
on 18 August 2006
I didn't like a lot the first Batman by Burton and I have to admit that I didn't like at all Val Kilmer and Clooney films, but I loved this one. Batman Begins is ok also but this one is great. Batman is brilliant and Catwoman is a character which is ambiguous and interesting. Burton creates a nice nightmare before Xmas Batman movie with all the snow and the amazing sceneries.
Batman and Catwoman's scenes are the best part of the movie, specially the ball scene when they dance under the mistletoe. I think she was great in this film, playing her a neurotic hard-working girl who is treated like mud till she gets her chance to show how strong she can be. She was a bit crazy but at least she showed that girls can defend themselves and that we do not need a batman to rescue us all the time.
I love the end, I do not want to spoil it but I have to admit that it is a fantastic ending, not the usual cheesy nonsense.
on 27 October 2005
Batman Returns was, before Batman Begins came out, my favourite of the movies. This remastered release is fantastic with a new transfer and DTS sound.
The extras are good and thorough, with an hour of behind the scenes material, and a half hour retrospective, plus trailers and music videos etc.
The only hitch is the lack of a director's commentary, as was promised on the box. A shame - apparently it had something to do with them cutting a shot for the R2 release and the Burton commentary then being out of sync. Either that or they forgot.
If you're really desperate for a commentary then hold back, but if, like me, you're a fan of the film regardless, there's plenty of extra stuff to justify the purchase.
on 14 December 2013
It's still, for me, the best Batman film, completely terrifying.
The blu ray is an excellent transfer and there are loads of extras on it. The documentry "The bat, the cat and the penguin" it's of VHS quality so you can see how amazing the blu ray film upgrade is.
I'm going to say something extremely controversial. Here goes... *deep breath*... Christian Bale was a rubbish Batman. Michael Keaton will always be the best.
on 21 November 2015
A haunting dark superhero film, with wonderfully effective visuals and music. On Blu ray from the opening shot of the interior of the mansion, detail and clarity are extraordinary for a film that's quite old now. The credit sequence that follows sets the tone perfectly as we follow the Penguin through the sewers and away from the Gotham City.
Catwoman 's character is probably the best take on her we've seen in film. Her quest for revenge is just that which sets her apart from Batman whose motives center around justice. Kyle at the beginning of the film is a woman in a man's world, unhappy, not taken seriously and genuinely pitiable. Her alter ego represents the repressed side of her personality set loose without boundaries, this includes an explosion of sexuality after her transformation.
I really feel the film captures the sense of divide between the rich and poor in this world, the costumes and fashion seem heavily influenced by the depression era 1930s fur coats and top hats for the rich, old dull looking clothes for the rest.
For A film called Batman Returns it's interesting that Batman is hardly in it and there is basically no character development for him. Burton seems more interested in the villains, the Penguin and the morally ambiguous Catwoman the later of which sort of goes through quite an arc over the course of the film. In a way I might have preferred a story focused more on the battle between Batman and Catwoman and cut out all the silly baby murdering, circus show, giant rubber ducks and flying umbrellas.
My main complaint about the film is the use at the end of it of 'rocket strapped commando penguins', the dark gothic tone was ruined for me at that moment, it just came across as a bit wacky and goofy. De Vito as the penguin though was a great choice and he's clearly having a ball with the role. The film also lacks the strong emotional connection which Bruce Wayne and Alfred have in the Nolan version, in this version though Bruce Wayne is more mature than the Christina Bale version and seems to need less emotional support.
The film really succeeds in capturing the comic book feel of Batman with the set design, haunting visuals, great lines and Wonderful villains. In an age now where Batman drives a tank and even Scarecrow wears a smart suit I still enjoy these earlier films so much the more.
The Blu Ray version I have also contains a look behind the scenes at the making of the film.
Overall I really recommend buying this film, the casting, music, visuals and tone were all spot on in my opinion.
on 4 February 2015
1st off, title relevancy-Batman Returns? The film makes it clear that he's stuck around doing hero stuff between the 1st film and this. So he hasn't been anywhere, not even to the corner shop for some bat cigarettes! But then plenty of films have used return to refer to the character returning to the cinema itself.
This is dark like the 1st film but more of a fairy theme. Christmas never seems to happen in this film but then I think director Tim Burton has a fascination for the magical anticipation of the run up to Christmas that is such a part of childhood-witness Nightmare Before Christmas too! Burton blends a number of myths and famous stories into this film- e.g. a bit of pied piper, Moses (Oswald Cobblepot being abandoned as a bay and put in a basket in the water) . It's a good basis for his take on the hero.
Batman is established as a hero by now but true to its comic book roots, it doesn't take much for doubts to resurface. The Penguin-Oswald Cobblepot is up to nefarious activites under the guise of being a people's hero and sabotages the Batmobile causing the Gothamites to begin to turn on the dark knight again.
There are some interesting hints about Bruce Wayn'e psyche too, as Alfred observes he is eager to see the Penguin revealed to be a fraud!
Michael Keaton is as good as in the previous film and works particularly well at the possible romance with Catwoman Selina Kyle. Although the Bruce/Vicki Vale relationship worked in the 1st film, the Selina /Bruce one clearly shows 2 people who are apparently well matched.
I haven't seen anything of Annette Benning except Mars Attacks so I can't say how she would have worked, but it's hard to imagine a better Catwoman than Michelle Pfeiffer, sexy, dangerous, vulnerable and damaged. No wonder in the wake of the awful Halle Berry movie people thoght back nostalgically to her!
J Pat Hingle and Michael Gough get some good moments as Commisioner Gordon & Alfred (e.g. Alfred's joke about where to repair teh batmobile "We can hardly take it to Joe's Bodyshop!" but naturally a lot of the best stuff goes to the villians.
A wonderfully cast Danny Devito plays a much more beast man grotesque version of the Penguin than featured in comics etc. there's a degree of sympathy for how he became what he is but otherwise there's nothing good about him.
A villain stepping perhaps more out of reality than comics is Max Shreck (*1) the wicked business mogul and again pitch perfect casting in Christopher Walken.
Well directed in all aspects from the giant set pieces with penguins on the march to quieter moments such as Selina's horror film creepy rebirth as Catwoman following a murder attempt.
The film has a good sense of humour to ready to joke about the 1st film as Bruce reminds Alfred he let Vicki into the batcave oncc and Cobbelpot rejecting a traditional comic book Penguion look when running for office.
The batsuit and Batmobile have ben redesigned and are still cutting the mustard, and the same for Gotham itself.
hugely enjoyable and I liked it more than the 1st film.
Extras incude Shadows of the Bat delving closely into all apsects of the filmp; Burton's doubt about doing a sequel, having to recast the Catwoman when Annette Benning fell pregnant (ironically Dick Tracy's fault as Warren Beatty was the dad!), redesigning Gotham city with Germnan influences, whether Michael Keaton should have warned Danny & Michelle about heavy costumes (he didn't!), how the whip Catwoman has is to symbolise a cat's tail & how proficient Michelle got with it and the surprising offer from Burton to direct a 3rd one!
Batman beyond shorts all look at individual aspects of the production. as with Batman there are a mixture of archive and newer interviews with key players.
There's also a promotional documentary shot at the time.
Sadly the promised Burton commentary is not there, so I knocked a point off for that!
All in all though, a great package for a good film.
(*1) surely named by Burton for the Nosferatu actor
on 17 January 2013
Following the massive success of 'Batman', Tim Burton decided to do come back for another film. Given full creative control, he really goes to work here by creating one of the most interesting superhero films of all time. Burton trades in the Neo-noir for gothic fariytale, and its better to accept the film as a twisted fairytale with hints of character study because that is what it is in effect. Batman Returns is by far the darkest, surrealist and saddest Batman film. These different elements come together to create a wonderful film.
The plot sees the Penguin's rise from the sewers lead to him running for mayor, while the birth of Catwoman makes a personal conflict for Bruce Wayne. The underlying themes are of outcasts and personal issues. The Penguin was abandoned and only wants acceptance, Batman is engrossed in his double life and Catwoman goes from meek secretary Selina Kyle to a sexual creature. It really is an excellent idea, and gets you to feel for the characters even if they are evil. Sure the villains are very different from the comics, but it works better that way for the film (personally i prefer this Penguin).
The performances are simply brilliant. Michael Keaton is fantastic again, his Batman is as mysterious and menacing as ever, while his Bruce Wayne a bit more assured. Danny DeVito gives the performance of his career as the deformed Penguin. He manages to convey Penguin as gruesome, funny and tragic amazingly well. Michelle Pfeiffer is great as the sultry Catwoman having great chemistry with Keaton. Christopher Walken is creepy as ever as corrupt businessman Max Shreck.
Returns is a fabulous visual treat, taking a fantasy gothic appearance that Burton likes. Danny Elfman's score is incredible, moving from triumphant music to sweeping strings brilliantly. There is also some great action pieces, Batman's battle with the Red Triangle gang is great. There are some truly breath-taking scenes. The chilling opening, Batman confronting the Penguin which is fantastic and the dance scene between Bruce and Selina is wonderfully done, while the stunning finale is beautifully sad.
Batman Returns is very different from the other Batman films, but its certainly one of the best and is a joy to watch.
on 30 September 2011
WARNING!! Review May contain spoilers...
Despite being told to tone down the darkness and violence in the sequel after all the criticism Batman recieved, legendary director Tim Burton ups the ante, the sequel decending further into the murky dephs of Gotham City and pulling out an absolute classic of the Superhero genre. Like it's predecessor, the villains get the most screen time and the best lines, whilst the eponymous vigilante is instead relegated to the background. But this is fine seeing as Burton again gets the villains pitch perfect.
The casting is, as in the last one, superb. Michael Keaton reprises the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, a brooding billionaire, who saw his parents gunned down as a child, and becomes costumed vigilante Batman. Danny DeVito plays The Penguin, a deformed man abandoned as a child, who has devious political aspirations. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Selina Kyle/Catwoman, a secretary killed by her boss, but returns from the dead unhinged and with Nine Lives. The final villain is Max Shreck, played by Christopher Walken, a Billionaire Businessman, like Wayne, but deranged and has plans to exploit the chaos of the City. On smaller notes are reprisals of the late Michael Gough, still playing Wayne's butler and closest ally Alfred with incredible grace, and Pat Hingle, who goes almost unnoticed as police Comissioner Gordon.
The plot plays second fiddle to the stylish design of the sets, which make the seething metropolis of Gotham come to life. The love story between the Bruce and Selina is beautifully submerged by their battle for Gotham as their alter-ego's, both Keaton and Pfeffer playing their respective role brilliantly. But DeVito and Walken, arguably the best things in the movie (bar Danny Elfman's terrific soundtrack) steal every scene, DeVito's Penguin brilliantly cold and Manipulative, whilst Walken plays Shreck subtle evil superbly.
A real triumph in terms of style over substance, Batman Returns is a terrifically entertaining, though unashamedly dark (wouldn't advise showing the youngsters) film. The Dark Knight Triumphant!!!