Twas the Dark Knight before Christmas! Batman Returns
Y'know, when people often mention what are their favorite Christmas movies, the usual cherry-picked titles such as A Christmas Story, Gremlins, Home Alone (Overrated shit and I never cared for that rat faced brat Colon" McCauley. Bah humbug!) or to liven things up, Die Hard!
Me being the contrarian bastid that I am, forgo all these films in favor of my personal pick and that is 1992's Batman Returns!
The sequel to 1989's box office phenomenon Batman (once again, directed by Tim Burton ) adds not one, but three main villains (That's if you count Max Schreck-played brilliantly by Christopher Walken!) whose intentions are far less than noble.
The film's narrative reeled me in the minute upon watching the prologue which somewhat details the Penguin's origin followed by a great opening title sequence.
Said prologue offers credence of the main antagonist's motivation of revenge via terrorism, acumen and most of all, deception. During the Holiday season, Oswald Cobblepot resurfaces and despite his hideous appearance, Cobblepot's public reception is more than welcomed. However, "appearances can be deceiving" or perhaps, not.
Max Shreck-a very unscrupulous businessman that he is, sees this as an opportunity to overthrow the Mayor via convincing the lowly sex crazed degenerate, Cobblepot to run for Mayor of Gotham City while at the same time, securing his shady plans for his power plant that will suck Gotham dry.
Who can put an end to this "visionary alliance"?
Why, Batman, of course.
Batman Returns is a more well-conceived Batman film than its predecessor. The plot and storyline are more grounded. The dialogue has memorable quotable lines and plenty of humor to be found via quirky moments. However, this time, Batman goes into much darker territory with a more gothic tone, a bit of melancholy, very nihilistic and if that wasn’t enough, there’s scenes of an attempted rape electrocution, shootings, slashings, burnings, bombings and even a shocking revelation between the Penguin and his Red Triangle gang!
Do these events make Batman Returns mean spirited? Not quite, but if you're expecting a campier, family friendlier take on Batman, well there's always Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin!
This sequel is more on par with Frank Miller's version than say Adam West's therefore you should know what you're in for! Michael Keaton returns as the titular character but is more brooding than ever. There's one minor but amazing sequence with Bruce Wayne's trance like state when responding to the Bat signal. It's minor scenes like this that made me really appreciate this sequel.
But yeah, there were a bit cringeworthy moments when Keaton went over the top with his facial expressions underneath the cowl. Batman's fight scenes are sparse but whenever action occurs, its well received. Batman goes full "James Bond" when heavily relying on an assortment of gadgets- from a Gameboy homing batarang to an audio frequency analyzer that plays an integral part during the 3rd act!
Danny Devito is excellent as the Penguin who at first garners sympathy of the tragic deformed outcast that is, until we learn of his devious master plan. If he's not making overt sexual innuendos like "French flipper trick" Penguin's wrath and rage makes this villain a far cry from the Burgess Meredith archetype from the 60's TV series!
I for one, loved his theatrical motivational war speech prior to using the missile carrying aquatic birds as death drones. And let's not forget about that antisocial justice warrior -Catwoman played by Michelle Pfeiffer who delivers a spectacular performance as Selena Kyle, a once bitten twice shy Secretary transformed into a femme fatal force to be reckoned with!
"As I was saying, I'm a woman and can't be taken for granted. Life's a bitch, now so am I"!
Selena's dialog free transformation to Catwoman is a fantastic scene when you witness how the meek and often taken for granted Kyle encompasses her buried rage and contempt for society and men in general as she trashes her apartment prior to her "rebirth".
Catwoman is cunning, savvy and owns her sexuality when manipulating as mesmerizing both Batman and Penguin. Also, her fighting choreography even has Batman taken back or if not that, it’s her sexual charisma. I enjoyed the chemistry between Wayne and Kyle as potential love interests and there's that poignant moment where Bruce bares his soul to Selena, only in vain.
Shreck's ballroom scene was another highlight of BR thanks to subtle emphasis on duality with both Bruce and Selina arriving at the masquerade ball sans costumes while the rest of the partygoers are dressed in disguised. This was self-explanatory as the pair's true identities are exposed on the surface, yet appearing in disguise as normal civilians. This leads to a to the confrontational moment between Selina and Bruce and where each one's viewpoint of dispensing "justice" while Siouxsie and the Banshees’ emotionally driven song, “Face to Face” is appropriately playing in the background.
The film’s conclusion is one shock after another and then there’s the WTF ambiguous ending!
While on the subject, I thought the "pallbearers" sequence was beyond ridiculous and more than likely, it was Producer Jon Peters' concept. With 25 years under its er, "Utility belt", Batman Returns is still an enjoyable film thanks to its stellar cast, set designs, cinematography, storytelling, psychological character study and other nuances. Its legacy can be seen in future animated DC series and films as well as a damn good videogame produced by Konami for the Super Nes.
Not only is it defined as my favorite Christmas movie but in my opinion Burton's best film as well. Tim has done the impossible when it came to trolling the moviegoers and Batfans who were expecting to see a campy or lighter toned adaptation of Batman. From the critical reception, many were left with a rude awakening while others can appreciate the bold direction that Burton has taken DC's most venerable hero.
Merry Christmas and goodwill to all Men....and women.