Friday, September 27, 2013

#1,138. Batman Returns (1992)

Directed By: Tim Burton

Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

Tag line: "The Bat, the Cat, the Penguin"

Trivia: The Batman costume weighed 55 lbs

A sequel to his runaway 1989 hit Batman, director Tim Burton again returns to the dark world of Gotham City, which, in this movie, seems more ominous than before.

It’s Christmas in Gotham, though the nights are anything but silent. Having already subdued the Joker, Batman (Michael Keaton) now finds himself facing off against two arch-criminals. 

First on the list is Oswald Cobblepot, better known to the world as The Penguin (Danny DeVito). Born with a deformity, he was discarded by his parents (Diane Salinger and Paul Reubens), who tossed him into the sewers when he was an infant. Instead of meeting his doom, however, Oswald was raised by a flock of Penguins! Ready to rejoin “normal” society after decades underground, he turns to corrupt millionaire Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) for guidance, and before long, the Penguin is well on his way to respectability. In fact, he even decides to run for Mayor!

Next up is Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfieffer), the meek secretary who, after being pushed out a window by Shreck (her boss) and falling several stories into an alley, changes her entire persona. Donning a homemade costume, she becomes Catwoman, and plots her revenge against her former employer. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when Selina falls in love with Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne.

The Gotham of Batman Returns is every bit as dark as that of Batman (the opening sequence, where we flash back to Oswald’s birth and eventual abandonment, is appropriately disturbing). But while the look and feel of the city remains essentially the same, the set pieces this time around are more elaborate, with larger buildings and even a sprawling sewer system, giving the characters plenty of room to spread out. 

As for the villains, DeVito disappears behind his grotesque make-up, bringing an animal-like intensity to the Penguin that makes him completely unpredictable (in one scene, he bites the nose of an assistant hired to work on his campaign for Mayor). Pfieffer is deliciously seductive as Catwoman, slinking around in tight black leather, while Walken’s shifty performance as Max Shreck (gotta love the name!) adds another effective baddie to the ranks. Keaton is again strong as Batman, but as with the first film, the caped crusader takes a back seat to his adversaries, who are the real stars of the show.

Burton would leave the series after Batman Returns, turning the reins over to Joel Schumacher, with mixed results (1995’s Batman Forever, while not up to the standard of the first two movies, has its charms, though Batman & Robin is damn near unwatchable). 

Yet, despite what followed, Batman and Batman Returns are solid films, and just as entertaining today as when they were first released.

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