[Batman Day] Batman Returns (1992)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy

Screenplay: Daniel Waters

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup

 

On this day in which we celebrate the caped crusader, let’s take a look at the strangest, and dare I say, greatest, live-action Batman film, Batman Returns.

It’s Christmastime in Gotham City, and the rich businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can, Irreplaceable You) is showing his holiday spirit by secretly trying to get a power chemical plant built in the city. When he gets kidnapped by the sinister Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito, Matilda, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), a man more known by his moniker, the Penguin, Max sees a way for each of them to get what they want as he attempts to get Cobblepot into public office as Gotham’s mayor. It’s during this time that Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Dumbo) begins looking into Cobblepot’s background and see him as a threat to the city.

There’s a surface-level love for Batman Returns that springs out of the fact that it was my first experience with Batman of any level. I hadn’t read any of the comics when I saw the film, I hadn’t watched the cartoon, I hadn’t seen any of the other films. It was my first and most memorable experience of the caped crusader.

Michael Keaton has always been the actor I’ve most associated with the Batman and Bruce Wayne role, and I think he’s the actor that’s always embodied the conflict of the two roles and the sacrifice that he feels is necessary for him to give to Gotham for its protection. He’s better in this sequel than the previous film because here he’s even more conflicted about his role. He’s put through trials that test his commitment to Batman, most notably through his interactions with Selina Kyle and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray, Avengers: Endgame).

Director Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Beetlejuice) put a lot of himself into this film, more than its predecessor, and it’s especially apparent with the villains. Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman both have some altered history with their origins, and there are liberties taken with a lot of what makes them villains, and part of that is likely from Burton’s very obvious disinterest in comic books. While that can be a death knell for a film, I really like his take here, and I think he is able to juggle multiple villain arcs alongside his hero in a way most superhero films cannot.

There’s another accomplishment to Batman Returns that most reviewers and fans tend to overlook regarding its villains. Returns features a third villain, remarkably made from scratch, in Max Shreck. Yes, he’s just as much a villain in the film as Penguin or Catwoman, perhaps a little less zany, but a villain all the same, made by a terrifically unhinged performance from Christopher Walken. Without Walken, the film may not have worked at all. In fact, I would say that I remembered Shreck more than the other two as a child. He was frightening because he was very real, and the role he plays in both the Penguin’s master plan and Catwoman’s origin makes for an effective creepy character.

After the success of his first Batman film, Tim Burton was able to really explore his version of Gotham City and its inhabitants with his special visual blend of gothic and supernatural influences. This is a very arty Batman film, and that’s mostly due to Burton being at the top of his game here. He’s playing with his cinematography, he’s exploring the sound and music of Gotham, and he’s relishing in a classical costume design within the confines of this world.

Batman Returns is perhaps the most unique of all the Batman films in that it is really experimenting with its tone, look, feel, and world. It’s hard to find a flaw, but if there’s one, it’s that the film does take a little pushing at the beginning to get it moving, and in the modern superhero landscape, some of its zanier elements might seem laughable, but revisiting this film in honor of Batman Day has reminded me of how rich an experience Batman Returns is. I highly recommend a rewatch if it’s been awhile.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dumbo, click here.

[Batman Day] Batman (1989)

 batman1989b

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

 

Happy Batman Day! I think, in honor of the legendary Caped Crusader’s special day, we should look back on the 1989 Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) film, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton (Birdman, Minions) as the tycoon-turned-hero.

batman1989a

On the dark criminal-filled streets of Gotham, tough guy Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Shining, How Do You Know) has been betrayed by his boss, villainous gangster Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, The Swan Princess, Tango & Cash) and now, disfigured by a vat of toxic chemicals, he has donned a new persona, the Joker. Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle, The Land Before Time, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fanboys) are powerless to stop him, but there is hope in the guise of the near-mythical masked vigilante Batman (Keaton) to stop the incoming crimewave.

Batman is a strange but not entirely out of line choice for director Tim Burton, who had previously worked on dark horror-comedies like Beetlejuice and the short film Frankenweenie. Burton had a very tall order to deliver on, having a pantheon of stories to honor is his depiction of Bruce Wayne and his story, and fans were not too thrilled with the decision to cast Keaton in the role.

I think I can say wholeheartedly that fans were proven wrong. Michael Keaton kills it in this role. His decision to play Bruce as an unhinged man, fully committed to his insane lifestyle is what drives his performance home. He fits perfectly in Burton’s over-the-top occasionally overtly-goofied version of Gotham.

Add to that an absolutely bonkers portrayal of The Joker given by a perfect casting choice in Jack Nicholson. Nicholson almost passed up the opportunity to play the villain, but thankfully, due to a considerable offer, he signed on. This is also the first time ever that viewers received a Joker origin story. Up until that point, and in many subsequent versions of the character’s tale, we do not get the answers to why he is the way he is. This origin is perhaps not as powerful as the mystery surrounding the character, though.

Now, from a technical perspective, Batman is hit-and-miss. The set decoration, for which the film won an Oscar, is incredible, but from a sound perspective, I believe the film mostly misses the mark. The sound mixing is a real loss, and the idea of jamming a great theme from Danny Elfman (I can’t believe I just said that) with original music from Prince was a huge mistake.

I should point out that I do love the opening titles. How about that fantastic theme? Am I right? Another interesting tidbit from this film is in the sequence where an underground doctor is fixing up Napier after the incident with the toxic chemicals. The tools used to operate actually came from the Little Shop of Horrors props, which was remade from a 1960 film featuring Jack Nicholson way before being famous. Movies are fun, eh?

batman1989c

Batman wouldn’t have worked if it were made in a different time period. It is darker than the overtly campy 1960s iteration and yet still embraces the silliness more so than Christopher Nolan’s self-contained trilogy. I still find the film, despite its shortcomings (seriously, how do people not know who Bruce Wayne is), to be an interesting and enjoying piece of pop art, and it was a ton of fun to revisit.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

  

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑