movie film review | chris tookey

Batman Returns

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  Batman Returns Review
Tookey's Rating
5 /10
Average Rating
5.79 /10
Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer
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Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters

Released: 1992
Origin: US
Length: 127


Batman (Michael Keaton, pictured, below) takes on Penguin (Danny De Vito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, pictured, above).

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Director Tim Burton has a wonderful eye, and in Batman Returns he winks it at us. The film is an eclectic mixture of visual styles - Victorian gothic, 30s expressionism, 40s film noir, 50s comic strip, 80s Science Fiction (particular influences seem to be Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Terry Gilliam's Brazil ). Somehow, Burton moulds these disparate styles into a coherent whole. The film is thrilling to look at.
Burton also makes amusing use of his enthusiasm for old movies . The opening shot of a mansion is a parody of Citizen Kane; the scenes in an underground sewer and a disused zoo owe much to The Phantom of the Opera; the first above-ground appearance of The Penguin (Danny De Vito) mimics The Hunchback of Notre Dame; the Penguin's last words ("I am not a human being! I am an animal!" ) are a parody of The Elephant Man. Even the name of the secondary villain, Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) is a reference to the leading actor in Nosferatu.
Another good thing about the film is Michelle Pfeiffer. A fall from a skyscraper transforms her from Selina, Max Shreck's dowdy secretary - a woman frustrated both sexually and professionally - into Catwoman, a whip-cracking, feline fetishist avenging herself on men. The closest the film comes to any emotion is in the relationship between Batman (Michael Keaton) and Catwoman. They are attracted by each other's schizophrenia. "You've got kind of a dark side, haven't you?" he asks. "No more than you," she breathes. There is a weird, but perversely erotic moment when, instead of kissing him, she licks his face. Pfeiffer is such a good actress that she endows the part with more pathos (and sexiness) than it deserves.
So why did the movie leave me annoyed and dissatisfied? Well, for a start, it lacks a comprehensible story. A plot line about Schreck trying to drain Gotham City of all its power is laboriously set up, for example, only to be abandoned. In similarly cavalier fashion, there's no attempt to explain how Selina's fall endows her with amazing powers of acrobatics and martial artistry, or why she's sometimes Catwoman and sometimes Selina. Part of the problem is the soundtrack: much of the foreground dialogue is drowned out by music and effects.
Secondly, there is no one to care about. Batman does not seem ethically superior to the dark forces he is fighting: he just seems a bit more repressed. In the first movie, Michael Keaton fought a losing battle against Jack Nicholson's overacting: here, he manages to be less interesting than his own car.
Thirdly, the verbal wit of Daniel Waters's screenplay doesn't compare with the inventiveness of Burton's visuals. Danny De Vito's lines are disappointingly crude. On seeing Catwoman, his response is all too predictable: "Just the pussy I've been looking for!" For a few brief moments, his bid for the mayor's job in Gotham City looks like a satire on the likes of Ross Perotís attempt on the Presidency, but again this never really comes to anything.
Fourth, there is hanging over the film a fog of self-satisfied pretentiousness. Take, for example, the biblical references. The Penguin is, as a baby, compared to Moses (he is abandoned to float down river in a wicker basket), then to Christ (33 years later, he is "born again" and has his ascension), and finally to Herod (he orders a massacre of Gotham city's firstborn). Clearly, he is meant to have mythic resonance, but what does he amount to? Not a lot, in my opinion: the character's a myth-mash.
Batman Returns was praised as "a multi-million dollar art movie". It resembles the worst kind of art-house movie in the way it allows style to overwhelm plot and character development. Burton was at his artistic peak with Edward Scissorhands, directing a modern fairy story which fused his visual brilliance with some emotional content. It's an ironic, and not altogether flattering, comment on cinema audiences that Burton's most gentle, humane film remains his one commercial flop.
Batman Returns is a detached, sadistic movie with a facetious, mean-spirited view of human nature. Its less critical admirers proclaimed that it was innovative and original. To me, it looked like a cynical mixture of some pretty ancient forms of entertainment: circus (even those characters who don't wear clown make-up are forever levitating, cracking whips, performing acrobatics or making explosions); gladiatorial combat (the violence is excessive, and you don't care what happens to any of the protagonists); commedia dell'-arte (most characters wear masks of some sort, and their inner life is formal and sterotypical); and masque. The film is a a massive spectacular - and a spectacular mess.

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