Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Batman Returns (1992)

Seen: On my parents' tv while visiting, on one of their many movie channels.

So I've been on kind of a Batman-related kick lately. I didn't love The Dark Knight Rises, but it motivated me to pick up some Gotham-universe comics (specifically Batwoman: Elegy and Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum), as well as revisit some of the older movies and the 60s tv show. I'm also knee-deep in Catwoman drawings right now as I work on an art series for the character (hopefully finished by Friday, but for now keep an eye on my twitter for art updates). When I saw Batman Returns was on tv I was beside myself with excitement: I've been wanting to sink into Michelle Pfeiffer's movie-stealing performance since TDKR. Tim Burton's second visit to Gotham City pits masked crimefighter Batman (Michael Keaton) against two new villains: the irascible Penguin (Danny DeVito) and the mysterious, seductive Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Powerful businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) is roped into helping Penguin (now going by Oswald Cobblepot) run for mayor, both intent on turning the city against Batman by framing him as a crazed murderer. Meanwhile Selina Kyle, Shreck's assistant, is pushed from a window by her sociopathic boss and miraculously survives, reawakening as the vengeful Catwoman intent on destroying Shreck's life.

For me the Batman property has always been about the villains. I don't especially care about Batman himself- he's stiff and serious and he dresses funny- but I love love love his Rogues Gallery. Watching Batman Returns for the first time in many years, I realized that the best thing about it is its focus on the villains. Batman is barely the star of this movie, it's an ensemble piece really, and Pfeiffer, DeVito, and Walken are KILLING IT. And Keaton's a nice touch too, naturally. The overall story is a bit cluttered, but there are so many awesome moments that I definitely didn't care. Between Selina's dead-eyed transformation into Catwoman (which involves both utter destruction of her apartment AND a frenzied sewing project), Penguin's awesome cadre of circus performer henchmen (including Vincent Schiavelli AND Doug Jones), and every word out of Christopher Walken's mouth, Batman Returns has got something for everybody who likes to root for the bad guys (which is often me). Batman gets to drive around in a fancy car and fantasize about Michelle Pfeiffer, so he's having a good day too. Seriously, this movie is all about her, she's just amazing. So perfect a badass anti-hero, I can even forgive her costumers for making her wear stilettos (though if you look closely at her cartwheeling/flippy moments, her stunt double's wearing flat boots). Most importantly, she's extremely anti-victimization of women. You go, lady.

This film is so much more Tim Burtony than I remembered, which is actually really nice since it serves as a reminder of why I always loved his earlier works. Stylistic details stuck out to me like the messy stitching on Catwoman's costume, the grayscale palette for Gotham's architecture, and of course Elfman's distinctive score. I realized that the misshapen Penguin looks exactly like one of Burton's Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy drawings. It's nice how he was able to merge his own very recognizable aesthetic with a comic-book world so engrained in the public consciousness to create a perfect blending of the two. It's campy and fun but also appropriately dark and unpredictable. I feel weird saying it, but this might be my favorite Batman movie? Like, historically I have a real thing for Batman & Robin and obviously I think The Dark Knight is excellent but in terms of a film I would pick above all others as the coolest and most re-watchable, it's probably this one. Just took me a really long time to realize it.


Pair This Movie With: Aw man I don't know, anything with more Michelle Pfeiffer, I guess? Or another Batman movie makes sense too, god knows there's enough of them.



  1. I recently saw the first two Batman movies again and had the opposite reaction to you, but then I've never been a fan of Tim Burton I'm afraid. Do you know about the Sean Young begging to be catwoman on Letterman video? That's my favourite part of this whole movie.

  2. Strange...I just reviewed this one as well! Agree its one of my favorites, in fact, I think out of all of them, this is my favorite one too. Catwoman steals the show for sho!