After the movie Batman made the world at large ridiculously obsessed with a violent billionaire punching a mentally ill man in white-face, director Tim Burton was asked during an interview if he’d be up for a second tour of duty through Gotham city. “I’d rather stick an ice pick in my head.” was Hollywood’s kookiest filmmaker’s infamous reply as the restraints placed on him by the money men, plus the stress of the workload was too much for him to tackle again so soon.
Well, by 1992 Burton must have found himself the sharpest, frozen water utensil he could find because he found himself helming a sequel to his bat-suited opus but with one major change.
Way more freedom.
The main fallout from this, mainly was McDonald’s being pissed they now had to try and sell Happy Meal’s off the back of a film that prominently features attempted infanticide and a baby mauling a cat all within it’s first five minutes, but while Burton may have delivered a Batman film that isn’t particularly Batman, he DID turn in a eye-popping Tim Burton film. Burtman Returns, anyone?
The plot is 90’s comic book movie bobbins, with deformed and perpetually horny crime boss The Penguin (aka Oswald Copplepot) emerging from the sewers and launching a crime spree on the hellish city of Gotham in order to pull off a murderous scam placing himself as a beloved saviour. Swooping in to capitalize on this is blackmailed, yet ruthlessly psychopathic, industrialist Max Shreck who pulls strings to try and get Penguin elected as Gotham’s new mayor in order to push through his own aims. A victim of Shreck’s brutal negotiation tactics is Selina Kyle, an introverted doormat of a secretary who is shoved from a window after uncovering some her bosses dirty laundry but instead of succumbing to numerous, massive internal injuries she is reborn as the ferocious Catwoman, a bull whip wielding threat poured into PVC catsuit who targets her would-be murderer for vengeance.
If it sounds like I’ve left out mentioning the main character in his own movie then I guess that’s something me and the screenwriters have in common as a returning Michael Keaton as both Bruce Wayne/Batman has little to offer except some fun civilian flirting with Pfeiffer and reacting to the trio of intertwined trouble makers while they get to have all the fun (paying Batman in the 90’s was somewhat of a thankless role; just ask Kilmer or Clooney). Danny DeVito disappears under layers of prosthetics and costume to deliver a pitiful creature way more of a deviant than Frank from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Michelle Pfeiffer with her purring speech and fractured personality is still the greatest screen Catwoman there has ever been and the incomparable Christopher Walken lightly dances away with the film while fixing everyone with a reptilian glare from under a grey fright wig, it’s no surprise Keaton didn’t return.
In fact for such a great movie, it’s truly surprising how many flaws the movie actually has with the relative sidelining of the hero with one of the main problems being that the citizens of Gotham are portrayed as gullible, easily led, fickle mouth breathers who seem genuinely undeserving of their flying rodent themed saviour. Also vexing is Catwoman’s choice to team up with Penguin who here is portrayed as the high standing, monstrous sex offender in-waiting recent history has revealed is all too common in the likes of Harvey Weinstein and his ilk. Why the fuck would Hollywood’s version of a feminist extremist have ANYTHING to do with a man who routinely gropes young female voters? It’s a point taken even further later on in the film where an enraged Penguin tries to kill Catwoman when she spurns his super-creepy advances; she takes pot shots at Batman and physically assaults a mugging victim for “being too helpless” but seriously doesn’t predict that a man who owns his own themed criminal army (the exquisitely realised Red Triangle Circus Gang) would instantly fly off the handle if she rebuffed him?
While other facts may rankle long term Batfans, not least among them Batman sporting a body count of such a cold blooded nature it would make even Zack Snyder stop and say “blimey” (immolating a fire breather with the exhaust of the Batmobile being a eye widening highlight), Batman Returns may sport some of the most luscious, cinematography, costume and set design of any film ever (it’s probably my favorite batsuit) plus it’s most likely Danny Elfman’s best score to date, merging the various themes of the three animal-based characters as they circle each other before the fiery climax.
Fearlessly ridiculous – penguin mounted missile launchers and penguin pallbearers are trotted out as if you see them every day – yet playfully brutal – the death of a ditzy beauty queen is a bold but misjudged choice because what point is there of Batman if he doesn’t save people – Batman’s sophomore movie is by both turns stubbornly ghoulish and mischievously sexy with the two main villains injecting huge amounts of vitality into a very odd movie and making it soar like it’s underused hero just high enough above the flawed element populating the dank streets below.