Despite the addition of unnecessary fantasy-like elements into Batman Returns, the film still entertains audiences with its great cast of heroes and villains, as well as its engaging drama and good action sequences.
In Batman Returns, Michael Keaton returns to don the mask and to face off against adversaries Penguin and Catwoman. Set during the winter season, the story follows businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) as he tries to persuade the mayor to support his power plant project. This project would supply enough power to Gotham for many years; however, what the mayor doesn’t know is that, Shreck’s plan to create the power plant is part of his undisclosed agenda. During a Christmas town meeting, Shreck addresses the crowd and finishes his speech. Soon after that, a disturbance happens where “circus members” attack the people of Gotham and the businesses. Running for his life, Shreck hides in an alley, but he is caught by Penguin (Danny Devito)—who is responsible for the attack on the city. Brought down to the sewer, Schreck meets the rumored Penguin, who was abandoned by his parents and thrown into the sewer when he was a baby. Later, Penguin blackmails Schreck to form a plan, so Penguin can smoothly arise out of the sewer and join human civilization. When Penguin is in the land of the living, he is seemingly a respectable individual. However, what people don’t know is that Penguin has devious plans that are going to affect Gotham in a major way.
Meanwhile, Batman comes across the alluring Catwoman. Catwoman, a sexy villain who is hellbent on causing chaos, poses a challenge for the caped crusader, for he is torn between fighting her and developing feelings for her. With these new villains, does Batman have a chance to take down not only the intelligent Penguin, but also the deadly, seductive Catwoman?
Stepping again into the director’s chair, Tim Burton follows up his successful first film with a fun, dark, and emotionally-powerful sequel. The director once again nails the character of Batman, giving us great action sequences featuring the Caped Crusader. While Burton does successfully provide viewers with an engaging sequel, he falters by incorporating new elements into the film. When Burton was going through the process of making Batman (1989), he wasn’t given a lot of creative control. Since studio executives wanted to ensure the film was a success, they restricted Burton from modifying the script or adding any of his unique ideas. After the release of Batman (1989), the studio executives were satisfied with how Burton handled the production, which in turn, helped him gain more creative control for Batman Returns. With more creative control, Burton added weird things to make Returns feel differently compared to the first film. Thus, Burton used the circus members as supporting villains for Penguin. This in a way heightens the theatricality aspects from the first film and kicks it into overload in this film. While these scenes may be different and fresh, they feel out of place in this dark film.
As for as the editing goes, there are a few scenes with continuity editing errors. Not to speak poorly of the editor Chris Lebenzon, because he does a good job of compiling everything into a complete whole. The blame should be placed on Burton who directed these scenes—primarily the ones featuring Catwoman. Firstly, Catwoman vandalizes Shreck’s store and seems to switch shoes magically. In the store, she does cartwheels. In the cartwheel scene, she wears flats. But, in the scenes following that, she wears heels. Aside from the scenes featuring continuity errors, the rest of the film looks good and flows at a nice pace.
Michael Keaton, who played Batman in the first film, knocks it out of the park again. He plays Bruce Wayne/Batman with care and respect to the comic book character. It takes a talented actor to capture all the complexities of Batman. Keaton, in scenes, subtly shows how lonely and detached Bruce Wayne is, as well as hiding his broken side when he is around people. This performance combined with his other performance surely puts him in the top 3 Batman actors list. (The other two Batman actors are up to you to decide)
Danny Devito is perfectly cast as Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot. Devito captures the insane side of Cobblepot, and he manages to convey human emotions through his layered makeup. From his performance, viewers will easily sympathize with him and understand his brazen motivations. Thanks to writers Daniel Waters and Sam Hamm and director Tim Burton, they created one of the best cinematic Batman villains.
Michelle Pfeiffer also turns in a memorable performance as the sexy, damaged Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Like Keaton, Pfeiffer must portray the multiple sides of her character. Thus, she successfully depicts Kyle’s meek, promiscuous, and homicidal personalities throughout the film. Her duality and complex tendencies are completely believable; moreover, in another actress’ hands, the performance wouldn’t have translated well. As Catwoman, she is a magnetic presence on screen. The movie is better with her in it. However, her storyline points back to an earlier statement: Burton uses his creative control to add fantasy elements to this film. In the film, a life-changing incident occurs where a group of cats come to Kyle’s aid and perform a ritual to give her life. When she awakens, Kyle discovers that she now has nine lives. The nine lives’ facet plays a part in the film as it progresses. As a result, it becomes a distraction. For those who watched Batman (1989), remember it for its grounded tone and drama. In Returns, Burton goes in a different direction by adding surreal plot elements to make the film more theatrical. The film suffers from this storyline and could have been done better. Nonetheless, viewers won’t be distracted for long, due to Pfeiffer’s magnetic screen presence, as well as her great onscreen chemistry with Keaton.
One interesting storyline that may entertain viewers is the romance that develops between Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne. Scenes of them talking about their personal demons show us two complicated people who are just trying to make sense of the world they live in. This romance between the characters is believable thanks to the great performances from Keaton and Pfeiffer. Through body language and exchanged glances, they both subtly show how their characters fall for each other. Because this romance is well-portrayed, their storyline is one of the best elements in the movie.
Other supporting actors Christopher Walken (Max Shreck), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), and Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon) embody their characters and make their presence known, especially Christopher Walken. Walken, who is known for his Academy Award performance in The Deer Hunter (1978), handles and succeeds at playing the devious Shreck. Schreck is a complicated character to play; firstly, an actor must play a convincing business-man like figure, while also hiding his evil and conniving motivations under the surface, and with an actor like Walken at the helm, Shreck becomes a memorable villain of this film as well.
Despite the addition of fantasy-like elements into Batman Returns, the film still entertains audiences with its great cast of heroes and villains, as well as its engaging drama and good action sequences.
Rating: 3.6 out of 5
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