Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Batman Returns

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I sit and blog about one of the movies I own.  I'm doing something I always wanted to do...plowing my way through the Batman franchise.  Next up on this list, Batman Returns.  This is originally in my notes at April 17, 2016.

Continuing our journey through the Batman franchise, with the second of Tim Burton's films, Batman Returns.  This is the one that inspired this sojourn, as my friend declared it the worst of the franchise.  Well, his original point was that it felt more like the camp of the 1960s than what came before.  Even Kevin Smith has made that comment, that while we thought the Burton films were gritty and realistic at the time, we had no idea what was in store for us with regards to the Christopher Nolan trilogy.  And, as some have pointed out, "Penguin runs for mayor" was a plot of one of the 1960s episodes.  But that didn't have a sub-scheme involving child murder. 

So, is it really that bad?  Well...I don't think so.

Tim Burton's first Batman, as I said, has a strange energy to it.  It feels more like the fantasy films of the 1980s than the action films.  It was very stylized and very heightened.  But Batman Returns is a very identifiable energy.  It's a Tim Burton movie through and through.  There are far more of Burton's trademark flourishes on display, from the design and the staging and the shots.  Hell, the score even sounds more Danny Elfmany.  We hear that Batman theme we all fell in love with, and then when the children's choir starts providing a counter-melody...it's vintage Elfman.  Hell, half the score sounds like his rough drafts for The Nightmare Before Christmas, which came out a year later.  And that's no accident.  As they say in the Blu-Ray bonus features, in order to lure Burton back to the director's chair, they granted him far more creative control than he had on the first film. 

And some of Burton's choices were...questionable.  Like the Penguin.  No more just a dapper crime boss who's short in stature with a thing for birds and umbrellas.  Now he is a very literal penguin-man.  Born resembling some kind of half-man/half-penguin, he was abandoned in the sewers, where he was taken in by the circus and made a sideshow attraction.  Now, he struggles to find his identity.  Is man or penguin?  Upper crust or underworld?  Where does he fit in?  Of course, he decides that it'd be easier to just wreak bloody havoc on the whole city.  And for what it's worth, Danny DeVito does look to be having a good time chewing the scenery as the Penguin.  He's a very sardonic villain, full of cruel wisecracks. 

This also began the trend of having two villains in every Batman movie, as we also get Michelle Pheiffer as Catwoman.  Oh, that Catwoman outfit.  Sad, lonely, 15 year old Mark was grateful for it.  The urban legend always was that it had to be made by some upscale sex shop, because they were used to working with such fabrics for such outfits.  You have to admire the detail in that costume, too.  Without the resources of Batman to constantly get a new costume, the Catwoman outfit gets beat up after every skirmish, and is nothing but shreds in her final battle.  It's also very symbolic of Selena Kyle's deteriorating mental state.  Watching it again this afternoon, this portrayal of Selena Kyle/Catwoman almost comes across as a female Tyler Durden, gleefully striking back at the patriarchy, standing up to her sexist jerk of a boss who tried to have her killed.  She pulls off the dual identity struggle better than Penguin, as she tries to find her place as the modern career woman she's supposed to be as Selena Kyle, but the anarchic freedom she has as Catwoman.

People kind of forget that, technically, the film has three villains.  There's also Christopher Walken as Max Shreck, kind of an evil Bruce Wayne who runs Gotham's biggest department store.  He's Selena's cruel boss, and the target of her wrath when she becomes Catwoman.  He first comes into contact with Penguin when Penguin attempts to blackmail him to help him with his scheme, but Shreck soon turns the tables and is grooming Penguin into a mayoral candidate...a mayor that he'll control.  This was, at least for me, the first really big mainstream role that I saw Christopher Walken in.  Kinda like Al Pacino these days, Walken seems to have descended into a certain degree of self-parody, but here you really buy him as a sleazy businessman, before he got all Walkeny. 

And of course, Michael Keaton is back as Batman.  We also get some good Bruce Wayne action as well, as we see him battling Shreck's machinations in the board room.  As Bruce Wayne's, he's originally sympathetic to Penguin's plight, but Batman soon begins working, and starts uncovering Penguin's greater plot.  Keaton gets a little more time to shine and a little more to do this time out, feeling more like an equal to our villains, rather than second fiddle. 

This was my birthday movie in 1992.  I missed the first Batman in theatres, I was not going to let that happen again.  My brother wasn`t as passionate for Batman this time out.  He was in high school now.  He had a girlfriend, so his passions were elsewhere.  He brought his girlfriend along, actually, when we went to see it.  I remember loving it.  My mother declared it "too morbid," something I ribbed her about...well, to this very day. 

And you know what?  It is morbid.  Penguins secret plot, that he unleashes at the end of the film, is killing children.  I mean, I know our villain has to do something despicable, but that's just super evil. 

Turns out I wasn't the only one that thought it was a little too morbid, and that's why Tim Burton was told that his services would no longer be required for #3.  If my friend thought that Batman Returns veered too  closely to the 1960s camp, wait until Joel Schumacher took the helm.

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