Saturday, July 7, 2012

Batman Returns (1992 Review, 3rd review of 9)


       It’s a three way creature feature showdown between the bat, the cat and the ugly, in Tim Burton's 1992 squeal “Batman Returns”.



     This is a direct sequel to the last Batman film directed by Tim Burton and of all the entrees in the series, this one has gotten the most mixed reactions. There are some who love this film and call it one of the best superhero sequels ever, and then there’s just as many people saying they hate this film and that it’s the weakest of the series. Well, for me personally, there isn’t a single Batman movie that I hate (yes, that includes “Batman and Robin” but I’ll talk about that latter), there’s just some that aren’t that good and “Batman Returns” is definitely one of the weakest in the Batman collection. Now unlike latter installments, this film actually stays in continuity with the previous Batman movie, they even mention Vicky Vail, which is great but other than small things like that, it’s very self contained.



    After the success of the last film, Tim Burton returned to direct the sequel and this time he was given the approval to do whatever he wanted. As you’d expect, it has a dark yet strong atmosphere and Tim Burton gives it that same awesome artistic look and tone. The style and look of this film is amazing, every shot has some kind of fascinating set piece, elaborate location and if you look closely, there are several heads and faces carved into the backgrounds of several shots. One of my favorite scenes is when we first see the abandoned zoo, there are so many unique set pieces, bizarre statues and it just reeks of classic Tim Burton. It’s almost distracting because this is a Batman film first and it needs to feel like a superhero movie but the style goes a little to fare, to the point where this doesn't even feel like Gotham City anymore, it's just another Tim Burton world. 


         Well, for as nice as everything looks, there really isn't much substance in this film and the story is very hollow. The plot can be summed up like this, three villains do a lot of things to the city of Gotham, while our hero just weaves in and out of there plots. Batman is played by Michael Keaton for the last time in the series and honestly, he's the most overshadowed, great character in the history of cinema. I mean it was bad enough that the Joker upstaged him in the 1989 classic, but at least he got some attention. This film almost forgets that it's a Batman movie because it's so focused on the gallery of villains, and even their stories aren't that interesting. Heck, neither Bruce Wayne or Batman get a single line of dialog until 47 minutes in, no joke, that's how long it takes before our hero speaks in this movie. Now I'm all for making Batman a mysterious entity that lives in the shadows, but now that he’s the hero of Gotham City, the story should revolve around him and give him far more attention then all the bad guys. Well, Michael Keaton is still awesome in the part and it's a genuine treat to see him one last time. We also get a new bat vehicle, The Bat water glider, it’s always cool to see new Bat vehicles.


     Now as for the films dark tone, that also gets a little carried away with itself, in fact, it gets broodily dark at times, up to a point where it becomes depressing and strange. Seeing this movie as a 2nd grader was simply one of the most frightening, unsettling and depressing experiences I ever had. The opening was the most unsettling part by far, it’s a flashback on the birth of The Penguin, and that scene with the deformed monster baby locked in a cage eating a cat is something that kept me awake for weeks. One cool thing that can be said about this opening is that Paul Reubens, who played “Pee-wee Herman”, in Tim Burton’s “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, is the Penguins dad. Also I love the quire music that starts when the parents head to the park. Danny Elfman returned to compose the score for this film, he brings back the sound track from the first film and gives us more, I'd actually go so far as to say that this is one of the best instrumental soundtracks in the Batman line up. Now, this could have been another standard Tim Burton film about a darkly deformed character trying to fit back into society but when it comes to Batman, we need a balance between the hero’s and the villains and as I stated before, this film spends way too much time on not just one but three villains who are given more focus than the title character.


 

    As you’d expect from the opening, The Penguin is our main villain and played by Danny DeVito. This was another cast member who fit the part like a glove but the actual performance got a little to hammy at times. From the creepy opening, to the end of the film, Penguin is the center of attention, and I couldn't be more disappointed about that. Aside from being disgusting and creepy, Penguin is just a boring villain, there’s just nothing that exciting or interesting about his character. What's worse is that he actually had a lot of potential to be one of Batman's greatest foes. His plan is to win the hearts of Gotham and have all the people turn against Batman, which is a new and interesting motivation for a villain but it wears out its welcome really fast. After so many scenes of his grouchy voice, ugly features and exaggerated performance, you begin saying to yourself “please, no more Penguin!” Also, this clearly isn't the case of a sad and confused misfit trying to find his place in the world because under the noses of the people of Gotham, Penguin collects the names of all the first born children, so he can kidnap them and downed them, completing his vengeance on the normal people of the world that treated him so curly. So in other words, what could have been an interesting, even complex character gets reduced to being another bad guy for Batman to beat. All he dose are classic evil villain things like kidnapping and killing woman, framing Batman, scheming with the other villains, biting a guys nose off and even having back up villain plains if his first plans fail. 


    The biggest problem with this movie is our next villain, a corrupt businessman named Max Shrek, played by Christopher Walken. This guy decides to use the Penguin as a puppet to in-act his evil plans to drain all the power from Gotham, while Penguin uses Max Shrek as a puppet for his plans. So really, this whole movie is just one big, back and forth puppet game between these two, which is completely unnecessary. Just have a villain hatch a plan that the hero needs to stop. Now when it comes to corrupt business man like this, there's actually quiet a lot in the Batman universe including Rupert Thorne, Ferris Boyle, Roland Daggett and Boss Biggis but Max Shrek was made up completely for the film. The character again is kind of boring, with usual evil motivations but to Christopher Walken’s credit, he’s excellent in the role and naturally creepy just by whispering to people in that monotone voice and by looking at characters with that blank, empty stare of his. It’s just enough to save this character from being completely useless. Also, I can’t quiet put my finger on it but there’s something really odd about the way he looks, he’s almost looks like a mix between George Washington and Gomez Addams.



    Just when you thought there weren't enough characters to get more attention than Batman, we get The Cat-woman played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Once again, she fits the role and is really hot in that skin tight outfit but the character is beyond confusing. She begins as this really pathetic woman, than she was pushed out a window and survives through the power of cats crawling all over her and chewing on her fingers (this scene also kept me awake at nights as a kid). When she goes out into the night as cat-woman, she fights criminals and saves woman from muggers, so you might think she’s becoming a hero-vigilante too, but then in the next scene she’s blowing up buildings for no reason and she’s also scheming with Penguin to take down Batman for no reason, bottom line, she just dose whatever random thing the movie wants her to do. Now I do enjoy this portrayal of Cat woman on some level, she is fun to watch and she's got some great action scenes. One plot point about this character that’s especially confusing is that she actually has nine lives and the movie never explains how she got this supernatural power to cheat death, she just sort of get’s it automatically. Her relation with Bruce Wane is thankfully an improvement over their first relation in “Batman: The Movie”. This time she actually falls in love with him and the two can relate to each other because they both have duel identities. 


    Cat-woman quickly became one of the most popular characters to come from the series and has had several of her own spinoffs. There was a T.V. show that aired on the WB called “Birds of Prey”. In that show, Batman and Cat-woman have a doter who becomes a vigilante slash hero. Then in 2004 there was the movie “Catwoman”, staring Halle Berry and in all honesty, that was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, I’ll leave it at that because it has nothing to do with our history of Batman films and is something entirely different.

                                                                
      Now I know I’ve given this movie a lot of guff but it really isn’t terrible. there's plenty of action scenes to keep in entertaining and the battles between Batman and Cat-Woman are thrilling. It's a rare treat to see one of batman's enemy's put up a fight. The climax is okay too, with just enough destruction fist fights. This finally also features some really colorful moments, like when Batman rips off his mask for Cat-woman, I love that scene. Plus, this climax once again lead to another excellent villain death, in fact, I'd go so far to say that Max Shrek's death scene is the coolest villain death of the whole series. Cat-woman takes her revenge by electrocuting him, but he doesn't just get fried, Max Shrek get's frickin nuked in an electrical explosion, it's awesome. 


    There's also some nice little twists to common superhero clichés. Like when the penguin kidnaps the ice princess, you’d think that Batman’s just going to rescue her as always but she actually gets killed, no, she doesn’t just get killed, she gets pushed off a tall building and crashes into an electrical box. It’s always nice to see a film take risks like that, plus the film doesn’t have the same happy and triumphant ending of before. Now I always like a different ending then the usual hero triumph, especially in regards to Batman but this ending just leaves me feeling so empty, not sad, just empty.



     Overall, Batman Returns” can get overly dark, down beat and boring at times, the hero isn't given that much attention and the villains aren’t all that interesting. However, this is still a decent and enjoyable Batman film with an amazing art direction and your usual heavy atmosphere. So while it’s not great, I consider it to be the least good of the series, take that for what it's worth. I give “Batman Returns” 2 ½ stars.



    Fortunately, the next film will be one of my favorite entries in the series, so stay tuned for part 4, the art direction will be changing from the dark and depressing world of Tim Burton to the animated drawing board in “Batman Mask of the Phantasm”.                                       

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