Friday, July 20, 2012

Batman Returns

My main memories of Batman Returns revolve around a lot of the hype that preceded the film's release.  I remember watching behind the scenes moments with Michelle Pfeifer talking about how she had accidentally hit Tim Burton with her whip in one scene.  Despite not really caring about the first film, I was pretty excited for this one.  Batman The Animated Series was probably the main culprit.  And while this film is probably just as ridiculous as Batman is, for some reason I remember it much more fondly.

While both Burton films are remembered for being dark, this one definitely takes a much grimmer turn than the original.  Only Tim Burton can start off a Christmas film by showing parents throw their baby away.  (I'm sure everyone knows by now that it's Paul Reubens playing the father, but I still grin whenever I see him here.) The film is primarily about its villains, with Batman/Bruce Wayne taking more of a backseat role, and that probably explains just how twisted it is.  In a lot of ways this movie is all about the Penguin, with just a side story for Catwoman that intersects at certain points.

Perhaps that's why I don't really care for Michael Keaton as Batman.  After watching both of these films, I have to admit that he barely has any real screen time as Batman where he isn't just fighting or driving one of his vehicles.  As such, I see no true distinction between his two personas.  We're mostly told about his issues with duality far more than we ever see it.  He's also absolutely terrible at concealing his identity, though Alfred isn't helping either.  The way Alfred just let Vicky Vale into the batcave last film really bugged me, and I like that we get a throw away line here to point that out.  But then of course Bruce goes and rips his mask off right in front of Max Shreck at the end, so he has no room to talk.

Speaking of Alfred, there wasn't too much in the movie last time for me to really mention him, but Michael Gough is just awesome in these movies.  He's witty, he's a concerned father figure, and he's quite technically adept for a man of his age.  I don't know how you couldn't love this version of Alfred, really.

After having such a cookie cutter female in the last film, I really love that we swung in the opposite direction this time around with Selina Kyle.  She starts off so timid and weak, but she still has this wonderful sense of humor when she's alone that you can't help but like and sympathize with her.  She then goes through being killed and somehow surviving, and to this day I always get this big smile on my face when she changes the sign from "Hello There" to "Hell here."  Sure, it's obvious and why would anyone have "Hello There" in neon hanging in their room to begin with, but it's such a simple action that shows her current state of mind.  She's too cruel toward the female victim in the alley that she saves, but I think it's easy to see that she's mad at her old self and therefore projecting it onto that woman.  I also can't give enough props to Michelle Pfeiffer here for portraying Selina's divided emotions so perfectly.  That scene under the mistletoe where she gives out that crazy laugh is just great, and her sad "Does this mean we have to fight now?" really gets me.

The movie is entirely absurd and has no logic for most of its situations.  Somehow, a bunch of cats walking over her and licking and biting her manages to give Selina nine lives, or at least make her really hard to kill.  The penguin somehow manages to hack into the batmobile security system and rewire it, and he's got plans hanging on the wall as if he could just pick up a batmobile blueprint at the store somewhere.  He also managed to secure tons of missiles and develop little mind control devices for his many penguin friends at the zoo.  But I'm willing to overlook all this because the film is fun in its own dark twisted way and never feels like it drags over its running time.

The Penguin is just so weird and so disgusting.  His oddly shaped body, his flipper hands and jagged teeth, and apparently his saliva and blood are green besides.  The Penguin I'm familiar with from the cartoon was a very polite individual, but this one doesn't hesitate to bite off the nose of a guy who makes fun of the way he looks.  He's incredibly over the top, but Danny DeVito plays him with such sincerity that you really believe it.  That moment at the end, when he comes out of the water and slowly heads toward Batman, and Elfman's music swells and then he's dead with that sudden choking gasp and the penguins escort him back into the water... I really hope I'm not the only one feeling a little sorry for him at that point.

I think I prefer this film so much more than the previous because they really fixed a lot of the previous one's errors.  There's no cheesy music added to the soundtrack, the romance actually makes sense given the two characters involved, and beyond the Penguin's tech, we see enough about both villains to understand their motivations and capabilities.  This isn't a great film, but it's a fun film and therefore one worth watching.

6 comments:

  1. You're right about Keaton getting the short end of the stick, especially in this installment. I have to give him props for stepping outside of his comedic persona and trying to do something different, but he found himself working with a director who was increasingly disinterested in that character, so Keaton's ability to really showcase himself are severely limited. I think a lot of the praise and fondness for him come from people feeling a bit bad because they can see the potential (I can, at least), but he didn't get to flesh it out as much as it can.

    As for the film as a whole, it's not a great Batman movie. The villains have very little to do with their comic counterparts, the tone is all over the place, and, as mentioned, Batman himself is so heavily under-explored. That said, I think it's a great Tim Burton movie, where he just ran with things in his own direction and instead made it a showcase for his sensibilities and the tragically grotesque characters he likes to explore. Yeah, it's totally the Penguin's film, and while this Penguin isn't the Penguin of the comics, he's totally a character, from birth to death, plucked straight out of Burton's brain.

    The Catwoman, though, she's an odd beast, and writer Daniel Waters was trying to use her as a satirical look at feminism, which he explored even further in his mind-bogglingly bizarre unproduced Catwoman script, which is worth a read just to see how crazy things could have gotten before other writers came in an toned his themes down a bit.

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  2. It's frustrating because we basically get one line toward the beginning of both movies where Bruce Wayne says something awkward or silly (In this one it's "You looked familiar, but then I realized I was someone else") and then he just plays it straight. I think Keaton could have really done a lot more with the silly Bruce Wayne, because that kind of comedic timing was his strength. But instead we get a guy who falls in love and broods a little. Ah well.

    It's hard to compare Batman characters to their comic counterparts at this point because even the comic versions have changed dramatically over the years. Not to mention that we even have some members of his universe that started in the televison show or animated series first, so which do you consider the true version? Which is all just to say that I'm not focusing too hard on how accurate any of these movies work as an adaptation, because I kind of see Batman as on par to something like Alice in Wonderland, which has seen so many adaptations that I think they all have their own merits in one form or another. But I can certainly see what you mean in terms of this being more a Burton film than a Batman film.

    Considering how much I absolutely adore Heathers (and Demolition Man and Hudson Hawk), it makes sense that I also love this Catwoman. I totally just grabbed that script, because I'm dying to know what he had planned for her.

    Also, I sort of mentioned it on Twitter but I'll say it here too since you brought it up: I am not reviewing the Catwoman film as it contains no mention of Batman and only barely mentions Selina Kyle. As far as I'm concerned, that is a completely different cat + woman creation.

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    1. Absolutely, yeah. The new Catwoman is a completely different animal altogether. The Waters script, though, was meant to be a direct spinoff, Michelle Pfieffer and Burton (who was planning to produce) both liked it, but the studio just couldn't wrap their heads around it. I'd be very curious to hear what you think. I'm a huge fan of Dan Waters, and while I don't think it's his strongest work, it's definitely interesting, unexpected, and so absolutely him.

      And speaking of early drafts, Vicki was supposed to carry on to this film, and early drafts have an odd triangle of her appealing to Bruce and Catwoman appealing to Batman, but they couldn't get Basinger back and Burton decided to cut it altogether instead of recasting. Shame, because that probably would have fleshed Bruce out a lot more and better explore the various facets of his character.

      That's a great point about expectations when it comes to adaptations. Even comic originating characters like Clayface and Mr. Freeze were so heavily redefined by the animated series that its interpretation of them crept into and took over the comic cannon. Burton's films are almost more Burtonized adaptations of the West/Ward tv series than they are the comic, with Penguin, Catwoman, and Joker showing clear stylistic ties to those earlier portrayals, albeit more grotesquely exaggerated. Even smaller parts like Alfred and the Commissioner feel like the old tv counterparts, and it must be said that Robin was intended to be in both films, but the studio and Burton could never agree on how to do it (he wanted Marlon Wayans - seriously) so it kept getting axed.

      I remember reading somewhere Burton saying he doesn't like comic books and the only issues he read in prep were Miller's Dark Knight Returns and Year One, some moments of which show up in the first film. I know when he was working on Superman that he'd actually bragged about having never once read an issue of the comic.

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    2. I totally didn't realize that Blogger lets you reply to specific comments now. Nice!

      That Vicky angle is interesting though I think that might have made the film a little too cluttered. At least it sounds like it has the possibility in going in a Spiderman 3 too many characters at once type situation.

      I read about the Marlan Wayans Robin. They were clearly going to go with a more Jason Todd-like Robin, and I have to admit I don't entirely hate the idea, though obviously execution would be everything. And of course, once again, I don't think there's any room for additional characters in this film.

      I also heard that Burton doesn't like comic books, and honestly that sort of surprised me. It seems right up his alley anyway. I have to admit, there's part of me that's fascinated by his Nic Cage crazy Superman film that never was, but that may just be because I don't really like the character anyway and I don't care if people mistreat him.

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    3. I remember him saying he found comics frustrating because he couldn't understand the page layouts and didn't know what parts of each panel to read in what order. Which is... odd.

      If Vicki had been put in the film as it is, yeah, one element way too many. But in that draft, Penguin was more a typical criminal mastermind and didn't yet have the backstory, the mutations, and the plot of running for mayor, so she filled in those gaps. The main story in that one tied into a conspiracy hatched by the founding fathers of Gotham, including Bruce's grandfather, and Penguin trying to expose it for some kind of redemption.

      Sorry I'm using up so much of your comment section to gab. This is one of those things my head is filled with useless trivia about. :)

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    4. So basically someone handed him a badly laid out comic and he just gave up? :P

      Hm. It's hard to say if I would have liked that film or not. I can't say "more" because the zaniness of this one + nostalgia pretty much guarantees it would come out on top for me.

      Dude, what else are comments sections for but discussion? I enjoyed reading it and I know I can't be the only one who will come to this page to feel that way.

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