Batman Returns Review

WARNING!  MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Don’t like?  Watch the movie first.

Another movie I’m doing out of order in the series but there’s a reason for it this time.  Well, somewhat of a reason anyway.

Y’see, for a while there, I didn’t have my own computer.  So, because of that, I a) wasn’t doing any reviews and b) wasn’t able to watch what I wanted, when I wanted to.  Christmas was coming and, while I like the holiday, I don’t fangirl over it and I definitely don’t like the typical Christmas specials and movies.  Usually, my go-to movie for Christmas is Die Hard (fuck you, it’s a fantastic Christmas movie.)  But again, no computer of my own.  Now, there are backup movies I’ll watch.  Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas

And Batman Returns.  I happen to have that one on DVD (I got the 4 movie special pack with both Tim Burton Batman movies and the two terrible Joel Schumaker errors.)  So I sat my dad down to watch it with me.

This is the second of the Batman movies that Tim Burton directed.  And unlike the old 60’s TV shows, Burton made Batman dark and more for adults than kids.  This movie revolves around Batman defending Gotham from both the Penguin and Catwoman.  Really, you don’t need much more of a plot than that.  Penguin is highly deranged, having spent most of his life in Gotham’s sewers and when he emerges, a corporate baddy tries to make him into a politician.  When that fails, he tries to take over Gotham the old-fashioned way.  The corporate guy also has a hand in making Catwoman, as he’s the guy that kills Selina Kyle so she can be brought back to life by the cats.  Up to Batman to stop everything.

What really makes it more than the plot is the near-perfect casting.  Michael Keaton is Batman.  Many people still claim him as the best Batman (although Christian Bale is amazing in Nolan’s epic trilogy.)  He has the charming, playboy demeanor of Bruce Wayne just right, but he can definitely get angsty enough to be Batman and have you understand his motivations.

Danny DeVito plays Penguin.  The makeup team has to be given a huge applause for making the Penguin the ugliest looking baddy I’ve seen in a while.  I mean, Penguin is supposed to be a little nauseating, as he’s supposed to be a human with penguin-like features.  But this makeup team made those features much more pronounced.  Danny DeVito also does a good job with the character.  He has depth, he has motivations and he certainly has insecurities.  DeVito does a good job of letting you see these in the character and to also see the way he tries to make up for it, tries to act human and be exactly what he isn’t.

Michelle Pfeiffer makes one of the best Catwoman I have ever seen.  I mean, I know the older generation has a fondness for Julie Newmar, and Anne Hathaway did a fantastic job in Nolan’s latest movie, but Michelle is near-perfect.  She’s like the perfect amount of sexy and crazy.  Catwoman’s traditional origins are more like that of Nolan’s trilogy.  She’s just a misguided, sexy woman who turns to crime to support herself.  Tim Burton gave her a backstory that was more…interesting.  Burton’s origin is that she was killed by an employer and the cats she loved brought her back to life.  She gets cat-like reflexes, etc and nine lives.  But because being brought back from the dead by cats can fuck with you, this Catwoman goes on a crazy revenge spree, which both annoys and entices Batman.  (Okay, I may have a little idolization of Catwoman going on.)  Michelle Pfeiffer was probably the best to play this kind of Catwoman, next to maybe Helena Bonham Carter (but she wasn’t Mrs. Burton then and therefore was not on his movie roster.)  She is totally sexy (even in her older age, by the way) and when she wants to be evil or crazy, her sexy factor is upped.  It’s easy to typecast her into these kind of roles, because she’s fantastic at it.

Last but not least, the cast includes Christopher Walken as the criminal mastermind of the story.  He’s the one behind the Penguin and is also the one that kills Selena Kyle.  His whole plan is to build this power plant that will actually drain Gotham of electricity and put it under his sole control.  It would help if Bruce Wayne would just go along with the idea but he won’t so Walken’s character (his name is Max Shreck but you’ll only be able to think of him as Christopher Walken anyway because….that’s Christopher Walken!) hatches this whole “Penguin as mayor/frame Batman” thing so he can get his power plant.  Needless to say it doesn’t go so well for him.

So it’s a stellar cast, and it’s a very not-typical Batman movie for the time.  Up until Burton did Batman, all you really had were the cheesy 1960’s TV show and stuff like it.  It was aimed at fun.  Burton made Batman okay for grown-ups to like.  So the movie is dark and creepy but not in a horror movie fashion.  It totally screams Tim Burton to anyone that watches his movies.  Meanwhile, it’s set during Christmas time so it’s also very bright and cheerful, which actually makes everything seem kinda creepier.  Imagine a Batman/Nightmare Before Christmas crossover and you pretty much have Batman Returns for atmosphere.  Aaaaand Danny Elfman scores it so you have a….It’s hard to describe.  It’s like Nightmare Before Christmas music but not with the same catchy sing-a-long lyrics.  You can tell the movie atmosphere/soundtrack are a Burton/Elfman collaboration.  You’ll kinda recognize it immediately.

Also, as I said before, great props go to the makeup team for this and the costume design was pretty awesome.  They gave a great range of umbrella weapons to Penguin and although he was uglier than the comic book, he was also very close to the comic book in terms of costume.  The Catwoman one is absolutely amazing because it looks like a homemade costume without being a bad costume.  There are more tailored looking Catwoman costumes out there that suck and this one is totally sexy while being totally hand-crafted.  Also, we thank the Gods that there are no bat-nipples in this costume.

Final Thoughts:  If you can’t tell, I like this movie.  I actually think I like it better than the first Burton Batman movie.  So I really think this movie deserves a whole 5 stars for the amazing cast, director, atmosphere and music composition.

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