Holiday Movie Month!: "Batman Returns" Review

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Holiday Movie Month!: "Batman Returns" Review

Rating: PG-13 (brooding, dark violence)
Length: 126 minutes
Release Date: June 19, 1992
Directed by: Tim Burton
Genre: Action/Fantasy

Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), also known as Batman, is back in "Batman Returns," and this time he has much more than just Jack Nicholson's manic Joker to contend with. His first challenge is Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), a tycoon who has nefarious plans to build an energy-zapping industrial plant that would leave Gotham City without power. When his secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) finds out, he kills her, but she is brought back to life by cats and becomes Catwoman, who vows revenge on Shreck and anyone who gets in her way. She sews together a shiny, skintight costume for the ages and begins causing mischief around town, though her crimes pale in comparison to what Shreck is about to unleash on the city.

Meanwhile, in the sewers of Gotham City, the Penguin (Danny DeVito) festers like a bad wound, furious over the fact that his parents abandoned him as a baby. He hatches a plan to join the ranks of the citizens above ground, using Shreck to help him run for mayor. Once mayor, he can rule Gotham City and take revenge on his parents and other cruel humans, while giving Shreck permission to build his plant. It's a win-win for the bad guys, except that they forgot about Batman, who will die before letting them take over his city.

Not only is Batman up against both the Penguin and Shreck but he also has to contend with Catwoman as well, who remains ambiguous about her loyalties. All this happens as their alter-egos, Bruce and Selina, begin to fall for each other. Their complicated feelings for each other threaten to upend Batman's plans to eliminate the threat of Shreck and the Penguin, which means that Gotham City and all its residents are at risk. Once they both know the other's secret identity, can they put their feelings aside and save the city, or will Catwoman become the third person that Batman has to battle?

Tim Burton returned to direct this sequel after helming the megahit first film in the franchise. The first movie was slightly dark, but when judging by Burton's standards, it was positively mainstream. "Batman Returns" feels more like a true Burton movie, because it goes very dark in some areas, especially in dealing with the Penguin. Gone are the vivid purple bow tie and top hot that Burgess Meredith donned in the campy 1960s TV show; in their place is stark black and white, and a Penguin who is grotesque both physically and psychologically. More than any other character, DeVito's Penguin signals a change in tone for the series from moody yet light to moody and dark. The stark contrast between the moods of the films shocked some moviegoers, while others embraced it wholeheartedly.

No matter which mood viewers prefer, the one thing that nearly all of them can agree on is that Pfeiffer is electric as Catwoman. She commands the screen in every scene, even the ones where she is the meek Selina Kyle. The best scenes though are the ones where she gets to chew scenery in full cat garb, cracking her whip with such command that even Indiana Jones would be jealous. Though Batman is the star and the Penguin has a huge impact on the plot of the film, this is Catwoman's movie from start to finish. In fact, Batman almost seems like a supporting player in comparison, even though he gets more screen time than Kyle/Catwoman. Some fans may have a thing for Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt from the TV show, and others may even prefer Anne Hathaway's slinky take on the character from Christopher Nolan's epic "The Dark Knight Rises." Pfeiffer's take is wholly her own compared to her predecessors and followers, and ranks at or near the top of Catwoman performances.

Following "Batman Returns," a new director took over from Burton to steer the franchise back to a more mainstream and lighter mood. This means that the film stands alone in the series as a nightmarish comic book fairytale that showed exactly what Burton could do when he had a huge budget and unlimited access to talent and resources. It may stand alone and stick out among the other films, but that is to its credit, because it is even more fondly remembered this way. In fact, critics have been kinder to the film over time compared to initial reactions; and by today's standards it is actually pretty tame. But in 1992 when it first came out, "Batman Returns" entertained and frightened in equally fun measures.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5