So, five days in and my second Tim Burton film. Like Edward Scissorhands, this was also a summer time release, which is more due to its blockbuster nature than its subject matter. It is also Burton’s only sequel so far – and unless he gets his Beetlejuice 2 idea straightened out, it will probably be the only one he does. As much as the end teased a return, people aren’t exactly clamouring for another Dark Shadows film. Anyway, on with the review!
And today it’s…
4th November, Day 5
Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992)
After the success of Beetlejuice, Tim Burton finally got the greenlight to make Batman, and despite some controversy over the choice of Batman, the film was a huge success. Three years later, Michael Keaton returned to the cape and cowl, having dispelled almost every complaint with an excellent performance as Gotham’s dark knight, and Burton was granted even more control over the sequel by the studio.
Batman Returns starts at Christmas, with a rich couple, the Cobblepotts, throwing their son into a river after his animalistic and dangerous behaviour upsets them. He is rescued by a colony of penguins, and raised by them. Years later, he leads a group of criminals in an attack on seemingly respectable and powerful business Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), and blackmails him into helping the now adult Penguin (Danny DeVito). The Penguin wants to reclaim his standing, and that of the Cobblepott family, as a leading light of Gotham.
Shreck in the mean time, is trying to convince Bruce Wayne (Keaton, obviously) that his plans for a new power station will safeguard the future of Gotham City. Wayne is suspicious and will have nothing to do with Shreck ‘s plan, which we learn is actually a way to gain full control of the electricity of the city. This is a plan that is also discovered by Shreck’s secretary, the quiet and nervous Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), leading to Shreck throwing out of a window to her supposed death.
Seeing a chance to further both of their causes, Schrek persuades Penguin to run for Mayor of Gotham. After a well-received publicity stunt sees Penguin rescue a baby, he becomes the front runner, and begins moving forward with his own way of getting revenge on Gotham’s elite – killing the first borne of each family. With Shreck’s plan moving forward, and Kyle reborn as Catwoman, Batman faces enemies at every turn. Can the Caped Crusader save Gotham – and himself?
For all its obvious comic book trimmings and nineties sensibilities, there are times when Burton’s Batman is far darker than the later Nolan version. Selina’s descent into madness is chilling, and although there’s the camp moments – cleaning herself, the fetish wear – her story is truly heartbreaking. Anne Hathaway did a very good job in The Dark Knight Rises, but the doomed relationship between Selina and Bruce gives this one the edge for me. Similarly, Penguin’s plan goes far beyond anything Joker or Bane thought up.
One issue a lot of comic book fans have is when a film invents a new character, rather than use one of the many already created. But if that’s what it takes to get Christopher Walken in your film, I’m all for it. And throwing in a Count Orlock reference can’t be a bad thing either! These sort of films don’t have to be straight adaptations of stories, they sometimes need new characters to hang together properly, and that’s what Max Shreck is – a proper film villain, balancing nicely with Penguin and Catwoman.
There’s something about Burton’s world view – or at least the cinematic worlds he creates, it’s not like I know the man personally – that fits very well with the aesthetics of Christmas. So many of our Christmas traditions come from the Victorians and the writers of that era, and clearly Burton is influenced by the same. Here, he pushes the already dark Gotham of the first film (remember those floats filled with gas) even further by adding familiar seasonal elements. The ideas of family have already featured heavily in this countdown, and here Penguin’s need to be a Cobblepott again makes him a sympathetic character – a least until the child killing.
Batman Returns is tied to Christmas throughout. Using Christmas to heighten the… shall we say more unusual aspects of Gotham and its characters is a masterstroke that wouldn’t work with many comic book franchises, but the mixture of hope and alienation at the heart of Batman (at least in my opinion) is served very well. It’s a film I like a lot.
Overall, I give this
That’s two days in a row!
Have a good Bonfire night tomorrow, I’ll be back with Christmas-lover Shane Black’s directorial debut KISS KISS BANG BANG!
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
PS Here’s my list so far: