Batman Returns (T'was The Dark Knight before Christmas!)
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!
Well, 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!
This 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 for revenge, terrorism, 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"? ↓↓
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 albeit a gothic setting ripe with a melancholic, if not a very nihilistic narrative! (Feeling that "Christmas cheer, so far?) And if that wasn’t enough, there’s scenes of attempted rape, electrocution, shootings, slashings, burnings, bombings and even a devious plan between the Penguin and his Red Triangle gang to murder the first born infants of Gotham City!!
Does this make Batman Returns a mean spirited film? Not quite, but if you're expecting a campier, family friendlier take on Batman, well there's always Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin!
Returns is more on par with Frank Miller's vision than say, Adam West's therefore you should know what you're getting into the second you see the Warner Brothers logo and of course Danny Elfman's intro theme! Michael Keaton returns as the titular character and is more brooding than ever. Despite my misgivings about Keaton's casting, he stepped his game up beginning with that 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 more optimistic of the actor playing the most iconic Superhero ever!
With that being said, there were a bit cringeworthy moments especially when it came to Keaton's facial expressions underneath the cowl. Batman's fight scenes were sparse but whenever there's a opportune moment for action, its well received! However, i'm not too comfortable when it comes to Batman relying heavily on technology when he's seen as the greatest detective and an exceptional martial artist. Instead,it's Batman going full "James Bond" when using an assortment of gadgets- from a Gameboy homing batarang to an audio frequency analyzer that plays an integral part during the 3rd act! Speaking of audio, that CD scratch moment-fucking hilarious!
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!
My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It's okay to be scared; many of you won't be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish *all* God's children! 1st, 2nd, 3rd *and* 4th-born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!
I for one, loved his theatrical motivational war speech prior to using the missile carrying aquatic birds as death drones. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention 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 the then great 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. When you factor Selena's loneliness, and feeling depressed by her Scrooge boss, as well as Cobblepot having disdain for the well to do elite society within Gotham, while he is seen as a pariah during the most "wonderful time of the year," there are many who can emphasize with their story, especially those who are more saddened during the holidays, which has the highest suicide rate. It's meta albiet unintentional, strikes a chord.
Tim has done the impossible when it came to trolling both moviegoers and fans, who were expecting to see a lighter toned adaptation of Batman. And judging by it's critical reception, many were left with a rude awakening while others have appreciated the bold direction that Burton has taken DC's most venerable hero. So as a Comic aficionado and self proclaimed "Professor of Pop Culture", fuck yes Batman Returns is the Christmas Movie to watch!
Merry Christmas and goodwill to all Men....and Women.