The Batman Films – Part 3 of 9: Batman Returns (1992)
After the runaway success of Batman it’s hardly a surprise that there’d be a sequel. So in 1992 Batman Returns was released to mixed reviews and slightly below expected box office.
Tim Burton returned as director. Danny Elfman returned to score. Michael Keaton returned as Bruce Wayne/Batman – and Michael Gough and Pat Hingle came back as Alfred and Gordon.
In addition to the returnees Danny DeVito was cast as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin, Christopher Walken as Max Shreck – and Michelle Pfeiffer in a career making turn as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.
It begins with the wealthy Cobblepots throwing their deformed baby Oswald into a river. His basket floats upstream where eventually he’s found and raised by (I can’t believe I’m about to type this)… penguins. So he becomes… The Penguin.
When secretary Selina Kyle snoops around a bit too much and discovers something she shouldn’t – her boss Max Shreck attempts to murder her. She survives the attempt and is rescued by cats. She becomes… Catwoman.
The Penguin blackmails Max Shreck to make him a tabloid sensation. Eventually Shreck will try to make him Mayor of Gotham City. The Penguin secretly has his gang of circus freaks terrorise the city – while Shreck hides his involvement.
Catwoman roams the streets looking for ways to take revenge against Shreck for trying to kill her.
Batman enters this chaos. As Bruce Wayne he romances Selina Kyle by day and as Batman fights Catwoman at night. Neither of them aware of the other’s true identity.
Batman, Catwoman, The Penguin and Max Shreck will all find themselves in conflict with each other in the battle to save Gotham City’s soul. That’s as best as I can describe the movie’s “story”.
Batman is a bad film. Batman Returns is even worse.
Batman is hardly in it. Danny DeVito totally hams it up. Christopher Walken just looks embarrassed. Michelle Pfeiffer is a rare highlight – delivering a performance which has a killer combination of seductiveness and vulnerability.
I dislike this movie for pretty much the same reasons I dislike the first one. Violent, nihilistic and just unpleasant to watch. In this movie and the last one – Batman kills people and I just hate that. OK they’re bad guys… but he doesn’t even feel bad about it!!!
I’m used to reading about a Batman who DOESN’T kill his enemies. It goes against his moral code. So you’d think the least the filmmakers could do is add some weight to the story by showing some kind of internal conflict in Batman for doing it. But no. He just attaches bombs to people and grins whilst throwing them into open sewers – then nonchalantly walking away whilst the bomb goes off. Then there’s another charming bit where he uses the Batmobile’s booster to burn one of the bad guys alive.
This is supposed to be a superhero?
Yet again it’s not faithful to the comics. At thirty nine years of age I have read a LOT of Batman comic books over the years. There was nothing in any of them about Oswald Cobblepot being reared by penguins nor Selina Kyle being resurrected by cats. I mean what the fuck is this shit?!?!
One gets the feeling that Tim Burton is trying to make this all feel like a weird fairy tale. Whilst there are some fantasy elements to the character’s general mythos it’s not the right approach. There’s no realism here. At least the first movie was set in a world we could almost recognise. This one seems to be set in a weird alternate reality where these strange occurrences are almost considered normal.
The biggest victim in all this is Michael Keaton. He’s a great actor and really could’ve been a great Batman. Yet these movies sideline him to make way for whichever superstar has been picked to play the villain. I don’t blame him for bailing out. After this the Batman villains became roles sought by all kinds of megastar celebrity actors. It’s painfully obvious with most of them that it wasn’t about the character – it was about the pay cheque.
However it must be said. Despite this film’s many shortcomings it does have one BRILLIANT scene.
Bruce Wayne has gone to Max Shreck’s fancy dress ball hoping to run into Selina. When she arrives the two dance together.
Earlier in the movie when Batman and Catwoman were fighting she overpowers him and kisses him under the mistletoe (this movie is set around Christmas). Batman tells her that mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it. She responds that a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.
So – they encounter each other at the ball. They’re the only two people who aren’t wearing masks. Yet they’re the only two people there who are REALLY in disguise.
Before Bruce and Selina dance, Bruce exchanges some terse words with Max Shreck. Whilst speaking Shreck removes his mask from his face. Therefore in this scene we only see the faces of people who’ve got something to hide. Bruce and Selina their other identities, Shreck his villainy.
As Bruce and Selina dance they again kiss under the mistletoe. Selina repeats Batman’s line about mistletoe’s poisonous properties. To which Bruce responds with Catwoman’s reply about how dangerous a kiss can be.
It’s then that they simultaneously discover each other’s secret. All whilst Siousxie And The Banshees sinister but beautiful song “Face To Face” plays in the background.
An apt song for such a scene. “The masks they slide to reveal a new disguise”.
It’s amazing that such an awful film can have one moment that is so undeniably great. It’s the best scene in the four movie series.
It illustrates the duality of a superhero. Which is the REAL persona?The masked face or the one without? How much of a conflict is there between two identities?
We never find out – it’s all fucking ruined by a huge explosion and the arrival of The Penguin in a large fucking duck.
The Man Who Saved Movies. Meow.