Friday, March 31, 2006

Return to Batman Returns

I saw "Batman Returns" the other day; you know, the one with the Penguin and Catwoman.

It's not as bad as I thought.

Now, caveat emptor et prende cum grano salis; I'm the guy who loved movies like Sky Captain, the Punisher, the Hulk, and Dude, Where's My Car? I own my own copy of Coneheads. Really.

And, yes, the entire film limps horribly from a painful infection of Tim Burton's childhood obsessions with Toys, Christmas, and Feeling Freakish and Alienated. And, yes, it seemed like they hired the Penguin to play DeVito, rather than DeVito to play the Penguin.

But...

When the Penguin is in full "running for mayor" mode and in Pengy drag, the character nicely straddles the ridiculous/threatening divide. As one should, one feels both contempt and pity for the Penguin. Having Oswald's situation with his parents mirror Bruce's is a nice touch connecting the characters. If the essence of the Penguin is a man who wants the finer things he feels he deserves, but shows himself unworthy by his willingness to take shortcuts to get them, then the film capture that, too. On the whole not as fabulous as Burgess Meredith, but what's being attempted in the portrayal is a heckuva lot more complex.

The film even nicely incorporated of the some of the basic elements of "the Penguin myth" from other media, including "Penguin Runs for Mayor" and "Penguin Gets Control of the Batmobile".

As for Catwoman, well, the film did use most of her Golden/Silver Age origin; an amnesiac woman who was not so much evil as simply self-centered, more amoral than immoral.

While the first movie (the one where some old actor played the Joker) showed the reins of power shifting out of the hands of mobsters and into the hands of villains, the second film showed white collar crime (Schreck) also losing its grip on the city in the face of its larger than life Mego Action baddies. The film even had the wisdom to make fun of some of its predecessor's greatest stupidities.

Maybe I search too hard for left elbows in films (particularly comic book ones). But it's better than simply throwing out the baby with the bathwater every time a film doesn't live up to my hopes....

19 comments:

DCUBoy said...

Batman Returns is actually the movie that got me into Batman and then latern into comics as a kid. So it can't be all bad right? I certainly loved it.

Marcos said...

I agree, Batman Returns was a worthy entry in the franchise. Perhaps not as good as Joker . . . er, I mean, the first Batman, and certainly no Batman Begins, but still right up there. Much like Superman, there were two good movies before things took a sharp downward turn in the third that hadaccelerated dramatically by the fourth...

Hm. My verification word is "gkgwk". I feel like Quagmire. Giggity giggity!

Chance said...

I loved that crack about the Penguin playing DeVito.

Iron Lungfish said...

"Batman Returns" is actually my favorite of the Batman films - at least it was until "...Begins" came out. If it has a fault, I think it's that it tries too much, but what it gets right in the trying it gets right so well. It manages to juggle its three villains rather admirably, and makes each one a different distortion of a different facet of Batman himself. But then, I liked "Sky Captain," "Hulk," "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Coneheads," too (never saw "Punisher").

Anonymous said...

Both of the Burton films suffer in extreme from Burton's typical inability to actually tell a story. The guy is a great art director with a fantastic eye and a conceptual genius, but he does really have a problem with frills like beginnings, middles and ends.

In Batman Returns, this manifests in terms of some of the stupid turns and twists in the story, a few of which simply make no sense even within the nightmare framing of Burton's take on Batman and Gotham, which are there strictly because Burton likes the visuals that come to mind. The other thing that specifically is a turn-off for me with this film is that DeVito's Penguin occasionally crosses the line into being such a gross-out that the film stops being entertaining. That's a minor problem; the major problem is just that the movie is a number of absolutely fantastic set-pieces stitched together by some absolutely incoherent stuff.

totaltoyz said...

One clever bit of imagery I liked in Batman Returns was when Batman played back the Penguin's own words and his adoring public turned into an angry mob chasing him out of town. After a brief taste of acceptance he is cast down again into loneliness and isolation...and he jumps off the same damned bridge that his parents had thrown him off years ago.

Anonymous said...

Within that very scene (which is well-intentioned and seems apt, I agree), you suddenly get the Bat-rapper scatching the CD playing the Penguin's words. It was funny because unexepected, but it's jarring, totally out-of-character, and not even mechanically possible!

Bryan-Mitchell said...

I hated Batman Returns and I still find it nearly unwatchable. It is also responsible for the stupid trend of having two villians in every film which I detest and simply don't understand. Even Returns fell victim to this with the Scarcrow and Ras a ghul (However his name is spelled).

Darth Krzysztof said...

I'm one of about twenty people in this country who liked Returns better than the first one, though not as much as Begins.

And I'm one of about twelve people who actually saw Mask of the Phantasm in the theater, which to me is still the best Batman movie yet.

Celephais said...

Darth, make that twenty-one. I'll take Pfeiffer and Devito over Nicholson any day (though Walken is a bit much for me in this film).

What do I know, though? After all, my film litmus test is Big Trouble in Little China.

Franny said...

Darth, Mask of the Phantasm remains my favorite Batman movie. (I assume you caught the Phantasm in the Batman Beyond epilogue episode of last season's JLU. I definitely said "squee" many times there...)

totaltoyz said...

I think it's possible to have two villains in a film and it turn out good; just as long as you don't let Joel Schumacher within 500 yards of the studio while filming. (All that was missing from Batman and Robin was SOCK! BAM! POW-EE! on the screen.)

Steven said...

(All that was missing from Batman and Robin was SOCK! BAM! POW-EE! on the screen.)

Also missing were plot, characters, or any semblence of sense, but I digress...

I'm with you Darth. Batman Returns is my favorite of Michael Gough movies, because it is so clearly a Tim Burton movie. I'd like to see more directors with ideosyncratic styles tackle mainstream superheroes.

And while I enjoy Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Begins more than Batman Returns, I think we can all agree on which is the best Batman film evah.

Justin said...

There are just some days you can't get rid of a bomb, indeed!

"Batman Returns" was the first Tim Burton movie where I stopped worrying about the gaping plot-holes, and deus ex machinas that permeated his movies and let the man tell me the story, without my brain trying to interrupt.
"But WAIT! He wouldn't do that, if..." "BUT, why is he suddenly..."
"Okay, whatever, get on with it..."
It made the penguin army that much more enjoyable, and I got to appreciate the imagery even if it was torturous to watch the moves Burton had to make to get there.
My new tolerance policy couldn't save his "Planet of the Apes," however. Nothing could.
Still, his Batman movies were positively grounded in reality compared to the Schumacher horrors.

LtFlux said...

i love batman returns. i think there's a certain something that makes it work. something that i don't think was in batman begins, which i had to rent three times to make sense to me. what i think makes BR great is that it seems to get down (to a fucking T) what makes batman and catwoman tick. especially when they're dancing to that siouxsie and the banshees song. and penguin was pretty good, too. i think that movie made me want to read the comics more (even though i already was). blah blah blah.

halben said...

Any movie with Bat Shark Repellant is a winner in my book.

Jon said...

Batman Returns is one of my single favorite movies of any kind, and narrowly edges out Superman as my favorite superhero movie.

It's got a menacing Penguin ("things change"), a fantastic Catwoman-Batman pairing, and Christopher Walken ("Bruce Wayne? What are you doing dressed up as Batman"). I couldn't ask for much more.

Snoops said...

All I really remember about it was thinking that they didn't need the Penguin character at all, that between Catwoman and Schrek they could have taken care of the whole story and not been so constricted on time.

That, and laughing uproariously at the Penguin funeral scene. And getting really nasty looks from some of the more serious fans for doing so.

David M said...

I liked the Joseph Campbell jokes about the Penguin's origin- carried away in a basket like Moses,Oedipus,etc. Also the way everyone's parents messed them up one way or another- Batman, Penguin and Catwoman, but Max Schrek, despite being an otherwise despicable human being,puts himself in harm's way for his son. His son had earlier saved his life. I took it as a swipe at the whole "families values" noise coming out of the US at the time. They had the only family that worked, but still were the authors' of most of the misery in the story.