Monday, September 23, 2019

Batman Returns

Unfortunately, my wife took ill on the made-up "holiday" known as Batman Day, so all the things we had planned to do were postponed. With her resting, I was left to my own devices. I had watched the Batman episode of Scooby Doo and Guess Who earlier in the morning. The TV was already on to my Saturday staple, MeTV, when I started flipping channels. TNT was showing 1989's Batman. It was the end, in the clock tower. Even though I had already watched the movie earlier this summer as part of the celebration of the film's thirtieth anniversary, I watched the end.

Batman Returns came on immediately thereafter. Why not? I hadn't seen it in who knows how many years. Michael Keaton gets top billing finally, and he really becomes a better Batman in this movie. I still love his version of Bruce Wayne, especially when Wayne initially meets with non-masked villain, Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), and lays out just how he, Wayne, is going to fight Shreck on the power plant.

Then the moment Michelle Pfeiffer's Selina Kyle walks in, Keaton has Bruce return to his scatterbrained self. Clearly that was a choice, but I wonder why? Is the what Keaton and director Tim Burton thought Bruce would do whenever he's around pretty ladies?

Keaton did a great job of dissecting the duality of what he does by being both Bruce and Batman. The next movie (Batman Forever) kind of puts that to bed for the most part, but here, Keaton tries to help Pfeiffer's Selina. She's just too far gone to take him up on his offer.

The Best Catwoman

Speaking of Pfeiffer, can we all agree she's the best Catwoman? At least in the modern age? I can't even remember who voiced her in the Animated Series [Just checked: Adrienne Barbeau] and I won't get into the 1966 series [yet; see below], so Pfeiffer wins. Oh, and I don't really count Anne Hathaway.

Look, there's no explanation for Selina's transformation. What, she falls out a window, cats lick her fingers and mouth so she's got super cat powers? And the first thing she thinks to do after this transformation is to fashion a costume out of a raincoat and prance around Gotham.

[Slaps cheek] Scott, it's a comic book movie! And in terms of it being a comic book movie, just take things at face value. And if you do that [you don't need to slap yourself], then just sit back and enjoy.

And I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Pfeiffer and Keaton are great together, especially outside of their costumes. Them on the couch trying to muddle their way through romantic talk is charming, but their ending dance/party scene when they figure out each other's identities is really well done. "Are we supposed to start fighting now?" Selina asks. Bruce, the more seasoned costumed character, tries to talk his way out of the situation but the Penguin crashes the party and we're left with the big finale.

I would have really enjoyed seeing a Pfeiffer Catwoman movie, or have her co-star in the third Batman movie. But the executives chose to go a different direction. Can you blame them, especially considering the big master plan of the Penguin was the murder of every first born son in Gotham.

An Interesting Penguin

By 1990 or so when the film's script was being written, I can remember any version of the Penguin that remotely matched what we got with Danny Devito's portrayal. I wonder if the original scriptwriter came up with this idea or if director Burton urged that interpretation. Nevertheless, that sewer-dwelling monstrosity of a boy abandoned by his parents to be raised by penguins is what we got.

Here's irony: I remember all the furor of the casting of Keaton as Batman. I don't remember any uproar about Devito prior to the movie, and I don't remember any complains after the film debuted of fans gnashing their teeth and bitching about "this Penguin isn't comic book accurate." Ditto for Riddler and Two-Face in Forever. Devito's Penguin was just a version.

Makes perfect sense when you consider Burton loves the outcast monsters. Of course Penguin would be a sexually desperate, borderline deviant. I was surprised at just how many sexual overtones (they barely try to hide it) there are in the film, especially the dialogue. "I'd like to fill her void," Penguin says. "I'd say semi-hard," Selina says to Bruce. And those are just two.

I'm fine with Devito's Penguin. For what that character is, Devito did great. I always (even at the time) preferred it when Devito had all his clothes on (i.e., pants, shoes, overcoat) versus him running around in long johns and that ratty robe. I also enjoyed the comic-book dialogue that clearly had its origins in the 1996 series. The wordplay was fun and it passed the threshold of over-the-top.

The Music

If you had any doubts about how this movie saw itself, then all you needed was Danny Elfman's music. There's a helter skelter vibe running through the entire movie. It starts with the flashback scene of the Penguin as a child, and it never truly stops. It, like the film, soar way past over-the-top.

And it's wonderful. I had the soundtrack back in the day. It's a different vibe than 1989's Batman.

The Verdict

Batman Returns is still a fun film. Still enjoyable providing you know you are watching what Tim Burton believes a comic book movie should be. But it's a dark film, both in tone and visually. Lots of night shots, and when there are daytime shots, it seems always to be overcast. Then there's the sewers. Lots of muted colors. Story-wise, when you have the villain aiming to kidnap and murder children, well, I can see where Warner Bros. wanted to go in a different direction. But at props to them for allowing Burton to make the movie he wanted to make. If it were made now, we'd get something akin to Justice League.

1 comment:

Bill O said...

BR made a lot less than the first. And DIDN'T SELL TOYS! Got Burton kicked outta the director's chair.What with the killing the first born, and general appearance, Pengy was accused of anti-semitism.