(US); 1992; Rated PG-13; 126 Minutes
Michael Keaton: Bruce Wayne/Batman
Danny DeVito: Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin
Michelle Pfeiffer: Selina Kyle/Catwoman
Christopher Walken: Maximillian 'Max' Shreck
Michael Gough: Alfred Pennyworth
Produced by Holly
Borradaile, Ian Bryce, Tim Burton, Robin D'Arcy, Denise
Di Novi, Larry Franco, Jenny Fulle, Peter Guber, Benjamin
Melniker, Jon Peters, Michael E. Uslan; Directed by
Tim Burton; Screenwritten by Daniel Waters and Sam
Hamm; based on the characters of Bob Kane's "Batman"
by DAVID KEYES
frigid, wintry images found in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns"
are at the heart of the Batman comic books, in which the
city felt more alive than the actual characters.
In the original movie, and Joel Schumacher's later efforts,
Gotham City was colorful but climateless, giving us an environment
pleasing to the eye but futile in realism. Here, Burton
hands us a place filled with chilly temperatures and heavy
snowflakes, underscoring the cold impulses of three superhuman
characters who play in the shadows like children on a playground.
Of all the "Batman" pictures, this is the most striking,
atmospheric and effective.
Burton's prior entry into the series, "Batman Returns" offers
us a story of two clashing forces; in one corner, we have
the infamous Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman), who fights crime
and swears justice in the vast Gotham city; and in the other
corner, we are given the Penguin, a deformed, lopsided mutant-like
man who lives in the sewers and finds companionship in his
web-footed friends. In the movie's first shots, we see the
desperation and fear from his parents, who witness his dreadful
birth and later watch on as he ingests a live feline. They
are confused, tormented, ignorant to the disfigured child,
and as a last resort (I guess), they throw a basket into
the river, which is carried down into the sewers where he
is eventually found by penguins.
the movie enters the present, this child has grown into
a mastermind, contemplating Gotham's respect for Batman,
and his potential success in the world above. All of his
ideas and plans are eventually put into motion by the diabolical
Maximillian Shreck, who is called Gotham's Santa Claus for
obvious reasons. Using some of the antics of his intelligence
arsenal, Shreck turns the Penguin into a media event, in
which we see viewers pity his disfigurement and shed tears
for his broken heart. "I want to find my family," he says
on camera. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, his mind is more
at work with dispatching Gotham's admiration for the caped
course, all of this would not be possible without the help
of a love interest for Batman. Her name is Selena Kyle,
and she is played by Michele Pfeifer. She begins her role
as a simple, lonely and "say-all-the-wrong-things" girl,
and later evolves into a serious, more subtle personality.
What Bruce Wayne, and Batman, don't know, however, is that
Selena Kyle also carries the trademark of Catwoman, a viscous,
sexy woman who is hidden behind a tight black costume and
priceless stolen goods. Pfeiffer gives us a penetrating
and observant performance, one which actually overshadows
those of Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton. Her eyes tear
through the screen like a cat's claws, her voice shrewd
and calm, her body language aroused with attractiveness.
She and Batman have some of the most interesting chemistry
I've ever seen on screen, not because they're essentially
made for each other, but also because they are on opposite
sides. One cares about the city, the other cares about herself.
Try picturing a romantic scene between the two which ends
with Catwoman being thrown down into a sand truck.
the eyes always come back to Gotham city itself. Visually
striking and evocatively textured, here is an environment
of dark, creepy colors and steep buildings that feels limitless
for these characters to travel around in. The arctic-like
conditions that engulf the metropolis are additional virtues,
allowing us not only to see the city, but to feel it.
succeeds in visual richness, however, can be brought down
by the film's one missing link: a convincing main villain.
DeVito is transformed miraculously into the Penguin, but
when he is on screen, ranting about the need to be mayor,
it seems more like he's rehearsing his lines rather than
trying to bring his character to life. And Christopher Walken,
who is famous in the movies for his fearsome character roles,
is a little less convincing here, basically standing off
to the side while the Penguin takes all his credit and fame.
the eye seems more important here than the mind. I award
the movie three-and-a-half stars because of its style, and
not substance. This is one of those rare occurrences when
we pay more attention to the images rather than what happens
in front of them, simply because the foreground would lose
its effect without the background. In any case, visually
and thematically, "Batman Returns" is a triumph.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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