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July 17, 2012

Batman Returns

by Franz Patrick


Batman Returns (1992)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A rich couple had a baby boy but due to the child’s birth anomaly, they decided to throw him in a canal that led to the sewers. Thirty-three years later, Penguin (Danny DeVito), with the help of a businessman named Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), decided to ascend from the depths of Gotham City, find his parents, and assimilate. If Shreck refused, Penguin would reveal to Gotham citizens the toxic byproducts produced by his factory which would surely compromise Shreck’s bid to open a power plant. Although “Batman Returns,” based on the screenplay by Daniel Waters, did not quite allow the audience into the mind of Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) beyond the surface level, it gave appropriate gravity to the motivations of its antagonists so the story was engaging. Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), Shreck’s lowly assistant and eventual Catwoman, was the most interesting character because Pfeiffer injected her with the right dosage of fragility and danger. Whenever Selina was on screen, my attention focused on her like a laser: the way she slinked her body from one point to the next while delivering one memorable line after another, so full of attitude and guile. Although Selina’s alter ego was swathed in leather sass and wielded a whip, there was a constant sadness in her eyes. The motif involving “freaks” being misunderstood provided the film’s center. When I was around five or six years old and watched the film several times over a span of a week, although the “freaks” were creepy, they didn’t scare me. I was curious about them. For instance, as monstrous as Penguin was at times, I found it difficult to consider him as a true villain. Any child who had been abandoned and left to die but somehow survived could end up not quite right in the head. The screenplay acknowledged the similarities between Penguin and Batman as well as Catwoman and Batman so I was very curious as to why it didn’t delve into their relationships as outcasts in a more meaningful way. One of the main weaknesses of the picture was it had two or three unnecessary action sequences especially toward the beginning. The pacing would have been much smoother if the screenplay took its time to build its characters’ intentions before finally releasing the pressure. I did, however, love the scene where Penguin’s henchmen, the Red Triangle Circus Gang, hijacked the Batmobile which led to Batman being unable to control his car during an escape from the Gotham police. It was fun and funky but it didn’t lose the darkness it accumulated prior to that entertaining chase. Another element that proved impressive was the relationship between Selina and Bruce. It wasn’t boring not because we knew that she was Catwoman and he was Batman but they weren’t aware of each other’s secret identities, but because Bruce was turned on by Selina’s in-your-face kinkiness. What they had wasn’t some hackneyed romance but a partnership of needs in a purely sexual nature. “Batman Returns,” directed by Tim Burton and wonderfully scored by Danny Elfman, was ominous, darkly funny, and uncompromising with its vision. I argue that the true villain was Shreck and it was smart to relegate him as an ordinary man instead of making him an obvious megalomaniac. After all, the greatest evils and evildoers tend to go undetected.

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