Saturday, June 25, 2011

Batman Returns - 3.5/5

With the success of the 1989 film version of Batman, it was a wonder that it took Warner Bros. any time at all to throw out a sequel. Not that it took them all that long, but the sheer merchandising rights and fanbase for the character might have sped them up more. Nonetheless, "Batman Returns" did come about with Tim Burton returning to helm it. Although not quite as good as the first film, this sequel has plenty of oddities to love about it and it remains one of my favorite underrated films.

With Gotham on the road to ridding itself of crime and evil with Batman's (Keaton) help, it was only time before a new villain arose to the fill the void left by the receding crime. From the sewers, a grotesque half penguin man, The Penguin (DeVito) finds himself set to partner with an evil business man Shreck (Walken) to create a powerful duel foe. Batman is set to find the secret's to The Penguin's life as he tries to stop the corruption from spread into Gotham. To add to his troubles, a distraught secretary (Pfeiffer) of Shreck's is handed a new split personality when he tries to kill her for knowing too much. Her new persona, that of Catwoman, battles the same traumas as Batman, but her animal side seems out to shred anything in her path. Can Gotham survive when three animalistic people collide?

"Batman Returns" sits rather oddly with most people. It's tone is very similar to the original, with its dark character studies highlighting the film and setting it apart from other comic book films at the time, but with Burton's greater creative control it also happens to be a lot nuttier with little reason for it. It tries to be more than the original in every sense and despite some great moments, it's also hindered by this ideology.

Personally, I love the darker tone of the film. Although critics initially panned it for being 'more violent' and 'too adult' in tone, I happen to think it really works. Some of the sexual innuendos (blatant as they are) can be creepy, but the added violence brought to light by The Penguin and Catwoman adds flair to the film. It makes it even darker and less childish, despite its more over the top designs. This partnered with Burton's nightmarish style and the films snowy black-and-white landscape give the film a very chilly vibe. Visually the film is quite impressive and even the odder more Burton design moments (Catwoman's suit, the look of The Penguin's old zoo lair) fit perfectly for the atmosphere and style of the film.

Just as with the first film, the casting here is more than superb. DeVito nails the creepy and sadistic animalistic tone of The Penguin with relative ease and Pfeiffer's transformation from coy Kyle to Catwoman is a well executed 180 of character. Just watching her do the flicking eye thing as she returns from her fall still sends shivers up my spine. Keaton returning as Batman is a well embraced move. The only one I thought was questionable was Walken as Shreck. His cheesy look and over the top acting didn't quite vibe as realistically as the others and it makes him the weakest casting choice of the film.

Yet, despite the wonderful visual atmosphere, darker tones, and casting choices, "Batman Returns" is quite flawed. Mostly due to its writing. It's impressive that they crafted a relatively solid origin story for The Penguin and the character studies of the three leads are well balanced (the split human/animal qualities is well executed), but at times the dialogue is pretty atrocious. The writing is just not as tight and with all the focus on our two villains, Batman gets the shaft with his character arc. There are just too many characters here that are all trying to the share the lime light. The film also falls to pieces in the third act. There are some great political undertones running through the film, yet as the shit hits the fan, The Penguin...get this...sends missile packing penguins to destroy Gotham. What?! The film takes a very sudden turn straight into wacko-ville here and despite some interesting visuals, just doesn't justify that this is where the film should have ended.

All in all, I still love this movie. Yeah, its pretty significantly flawed with its writing and overcrowded character arcs, but the more violent and darker tone works in spades. The Penguin is still one of my least favorite villains in the Batman universe, but they did him justice here. Don't quite take the film to the level of impressiveness as the original one had and I'm sure you will have a riot watching this one too. Just get sucked into the atmosphere and visual charisma and "Batman Returns" can be a lot of fun even with its flaws.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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