Thursday, August 16, 2012

Batman Returns (1992)

Title: Batman Returns (1992)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Danny DeVito


I watched Batman Returns back in 1992 when it first hit theaters and was wowed out of my skin by it; my teenage mind couldn’t take so much coolness! Watching it today, I still think it’s a fantastic film that is in many ways superior to the first one. And that was no easy task either, the first one has a magic all it’s own. But this sequel was a bigger production with a bigger budget. I mean for it’s time, this film was huge! For Batman Returns, the budget was doubled, which gave director Tim Burton an even bigger arena to play in then he had with his first take on the character in Batman (1989). This doubling of the films budget is understandable; it is actually standard operation procedure for Hollywood. When a film makes it ultra big (the way Burton’s first Batman film did) then Hollywood is programmed to automatically give audiences something bigger and better the second time around. An example of this would be Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), a film that ended up being bigger and louder then its predecessor; and this was certainly the case with Batman Returns, the sets they built for this film took up 50% of Warner Bros. studio lots! Taking in consideration how sometimes huge productions can become huge disasters as well, did lightning hit twice this second time around?

I’d say that yes, this film is as good as its predecessor, and maybe even superior to it. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Tim Burton was given way more creative freedom with this second film. Considering how well Burton did with the first film, and how much money it made, Warner Brothers let Burton do whatever the hell he wanted with this sequel. They even pronounced him full on producer. In fact, Burton accepted to work on this sequel only if his specifications were met, and they were. Whole characters were completely exorcised from the script and many re-writes were made. For example, the character of Harvey Dent (a.k.a. Two Face) was taken out and replaced by an entirely original character called Max Shreck, a millionaire tycoon/business man who wants screw Gotham City over. The inclusion of Batman’s sidekick Robin was supposed to happen on this film, but at the request of Burton he was taken out because there were too many characters on the film, a smart move on Burton’s part if you ask me. This could have easily turned into another Batman and Robin (1997) But under the able hands of Tim Burton, it was smooth trails for this film. By the way, did you guys know that Marlon Wayan’s almost played Robin on this film? He even tried the suit on, but eventually it was a no go and it was Chris O’Donell who ended up playing the character on Batman and Robin. Ultimately, these Burton made changes only helped the film, making Batman Returns the most ‘Burtonesque’ of all the Bat films.

Burton talks out a scene with Pfeiffer and Keaton

And that’s basically what sets this one apart, that it’s Tim Burton’s world, he effectively turned the Batman franchise into his own, gothic, dark, grotesque, slightly sexualized universe; all without forgetting that this is Batman were talking about here. We get the batcave, the batmobile and even a bat glider! Plus, there’s all those cool Bat gadgets! We also see Batman getting a new love interest. Apparently, Vicky Vale couldn’t deal with Bruce Wayne’s dual persona. But no worries! Bats is now interested in Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how Bruce Wayne deals with falling in love for someone who is a mirror image of himself. Selina Kyle also leads a double life; she also puts on a costume and fights evil, in her own twisted, angry way. Pfeiffer’s Selina is the voice of the angry woman saying “I’ve had enough!” And that’s one of the things that make Tim Burton’s Batman films so damn good; he always handled the villains so exquisitely well. They were always bigger than life; and were always, to a certain extent treated with sympathy. There’s no better example than Batman Returns to show this.

On this film Batman goes up against three villains, and though in the hands of a lesser director  this could have become a hindrance (Joel Schumacher?) Burton handled all three villains very well, giving each the screen time they deserved in order to become fully fleshed out characters. This probably explains why out of all the Bat films this is the longest one clocking in at 126 minutes. I say that’s no problem, I’d rather have a slightly longer film that truly fleshes out it’s characters, then a badly edited one where things apparently happen at a blink or you’ll miss it pace. Another reason why the villains in Batman Returns worked so well is because they were so well casted! Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, wow, I mean, many actresses were rumored to play the character, but I’m glad it was finally Pfeiffer who ended up donning the cat costume, she’s so freaking sexy on this film. In fact, she was part of the reason why the film got a lot of heat. The sexual innuendoes are all over the place on this one! At one point Catwoman tells Batman and The Penguin “You poor guys, always confusing your pistols with your privates!” Unfortunately the general population didn’t take a sexualized Batman film in a good way, so much so that McDonald’s had to put a stop to their Batman Returns promotional happy meals, which of course made all the sense in the world. After all, this was not a children’s film and neither was the first film for that matter, Burton’s films were made for adults. I mean, sure they were about comic book characters, but they had an adult like sensibility to them. This of course was something that the studio quickly changed for Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997) two films that were obviously aimed at a more infantile audience and were decidedly campier. It’s no surprise that these two films are the most despised in the whole franchise and the ones that killed it.

Catwoman steals the film; she’s the epitome of feminism. She’s the secretary who is stepped on (literally!) by her boss. She’s not paid enough; she lives alone, in an extremely crappy apartment, in a child like environment. The film comments on how women are treated in this world, and she’s a character that’s here to show the anger felt towards the machismo, the chauvinistic pigs of the world. She’s sexy yeah, but she’s not to be taken for granted! She matters! And she will be heard! “Life’s a bitch and now some am I!” Pfeiffer’s portrayal of this character was so successful that the studio squeezed in an extra scene in the last frames, where we see Catwoman re-emerging, still alive. The studio planned to give the character her own film, but it took then more then ten years to finally release Catwoman (2004), one of the worst films ever made. By then everybody involved with the first film had moved on to other things and so the magic went with them. The character would emerge again in TheDark Knight Rises (2012), portrayed by Anne Hathaway in a less sexy, yet still effective form. In my opinion, Pfeiffer’s take on the character is still unrivaled.

Then we have the awesomeness that is Max Shreck, a character brought to life by the one and only Christopher Walken, through this character Burton and his writers wanted to show that the “real villains of the world don’t always wear costumes”. Walken was the perfect choice for Shreck, scary, intimidating, yet completely diplomatic when he has to be. Reportedly Walken even scared Burton himself! This theme of costume less villains was a great theme to explore, the film was criticizing big money and how they often times sacrifice the interests and well being of the people in order to maximize their profits; a theme that is still relevant in our modern times, in fact, maybe even more so. Out of all the villains in the film, Shreck is the baddest of them all. He lies through his teeth; he portrays himself as a true Gothamite, while he stabs the city in its back with his proposed power plant that will suck the city dry! He has one of the best lines: "Who would have though Selina had a brain to damage? Buttom line: she tries to black mail me, next time I throw her out of a higher window! In the mean time I have bigger fish to fry!" Damn, so cold. Finally we have DeVito’s The Penguin, an outcast of society, who lives in the cities sewer system. And here is the villain whom we can feel some amount of sympathy for, he’s simply an angry man because everyone rejects him, even his own parents who have no problems in throwing him into the river. Interesting tid bit of information: The Penguins parents are played by Pee-Herman and Diane Salinger, two actors  who worked together before on Burton’s first film: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)!

Critics were divided by this film; some felt it was a combination of art film and film noir, while others felt it didn’t give enough screen time to Batman or that it was too dark or sexual. Some said that The Penguin was a poor substitute for Nicholson’s Joker. I say the film is a big budget art film, it is dark and sexual. It feels a lot like a big budget film noir. And it’s gothic, and grand in scale, and grotesque and all of these elements add up to a great Batman film that never bores. A gigantic dark carnival! Seeing all these great actors having fun together on the silver screen is fantastic and personally, I love the fact that it’s a Bat film that’s heavy on themes. I can agree with some critics that said that Batman/Bruce Wayne is a bit eclipsed by the villains of the piece, but honestly, the villains are so interesting and the world they inhabit so lush and gothic that I had no real problem with this. It does feel like the stars of the show are actually the villains, and that’s okay in my book because, hey, at least Burton and his crew had something to say through them, this isn’t some empty spectacle. In my opinion, Burton created two very unique bat films, he did what every director should do with their films, make ‘em their own.

Rating: 5 out of 5  


Manuel Marrero said...

Best Catwoman hands down, Whoever says that Anne whats her face is sexier than Michelle needs there eyes checked...twice.

Franco Macabro said...

True! Hathaway was good, but she was not sexy, and she didn't steal the film the way Pfeiffer did.

Unknown said...

Yeah, this is a stone cold classic. Love it, maybe even more than the first film. I just love the dark, gothic atmosphere, amped up even more thanks to Burton's influence, which, as you pointed out, was allowed free reign after the success of the first film. This really feels like a Burton film 100% whereas the first film maybe Burton at 50%. Too bad that he and Keaton couldn't have done another one. I know they wanted to but the studio became more interested in making toy-driven BATMAN films and that killed it for them.

Interestingly, Keaton did an interview recently where he said that with the third film he wanted to do something more closer to what Christopher Nolan has done with his BATMAN films.

Ah, if only...

Franco Macabro said...

Batman Forever and Batman & Robin only made money only because of the Batman name, but not because they were any good. I would have liked to see Burton and Keaton together again as well, but Burton has never been a fan of making sequels, he only made this one because they allowed him to truly make it his film 100%, and this is probably why it's the best of the old ones.

This movie is like eye candy for me, it has so many little details one can look at, also, I love the fact that they built these gigantic sets! So awesome looking! They give the film it's epic feel.

Alex said...

"A gigantic dark carnival" is a perfect way to describe this film! Good review, I agree with pretty much all of your points and I liked the background tidbits.

Although I think calling Catwoman "the epitome of feminism" is oversimplifying, I do love her character and Pfeiffer easily steals the show. Too bad she didn't get her own movie.

Franco Macabro said...

Well, her point of view is extremely feminist in the film, she's tired of men treating her like crap and not giving her the respect she deserves, so she takes matters into her own hands. Many of her comments are constantly analyzing the way girls see things or the way men see it, her character certainly explores defending the woman and her rights as a human being.

Love that bit where she has a neon sign in her room that reads "Hello There" but after she breaks a few of the letters it reads "HELL HERE" as if saying, her boring 9-5 job and entire lifestyle was hell for her.

But then she becomes strong willed, and makes the necessary changes, to be someone she can be proud of. And someone who will get her respect, even if she has to whip it out of you. I totally agree,she steals the movie!

In contrast to that, I re-watched The Dark Knight Rises last weekend and I noticed that Hathaway's portrayal isnt as important part of the film as Pfeiffer's. In Burton's film you could easily say that the film is more about Catwoman then it is about Batman, and the same can be said about the PEnguin. But in Rises, Hathaway serves as something of a sidekick for Bats, and thats it about it, though she does make a few points about class issues and how the less fortunate are suffering, in the end, she's a secondary character. Not so in Returns!

Batman Costume said...

I love batman and I had all the movies from Batman 1989 upto present!

Play angry Birds said...

My favorite character Batman...keep posting..


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