1992 • 126 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.
Cast: Michael Keaton, Michele Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken
Screenplay: Daniel Walters
Producers: Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi
Cinematography: Stefan Czapsky
Awards & Honors
Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
Nominee: Best Makeup
Nominee: Best Make Up Artist
Nominee: Best Special Effects
A kiss under the mistletoe. You know, mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.
But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.
Batman continues protect the people of Gotham in the second installment of the Burton/Batman franchise. This time Batman has to deal with a double threat. First, The Penguin, a hideous circus freak that has managed to gain the popularity needed to run for mayor of Gotham City. Adding to his troubles is the sexy but dangerous Catwoman, who is out for revenge on the man who tried to have her killed.
The direct sequel to the 1989 box office mega success, Batman Returns takes a decidedly darker turn. Most of the cast/characters return. Gone is Vicki Vale and Harvey Dent. Replacing Vale as the love interest is Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, also pulling double duty as one of the film’s two top-billed villains. The other heavy is Danny DeVito as The Penguin. The two baddies team up to destroy the Dark Knight.
What frustrates a lot of hardcore comic book fans about this film is the change to the backstories of the characters. Selina Kyle in the comics is a cat burglar. In this film, she is the bumbling secretary of the shady Max Shreck, a corrupt Gotham businessman. After stumbling onto something she shouldn’t have, Max shoves her out of window of a high rise office building. Selina is then resurrected and seemingly possessed by a swarm of alley cats and she is reborn as Catwoman. While this is indeed a drastic departure from the comics, it is nonetheless meaningless when compared to Pfeiffer’s fantastic performance. Her Catwoman is one of the best, and sexiest, portrayals of the character on screen. She oozes sexuality, sin and danger… everything that the character is supposed to represent.
The four-color version of The Penguin is that of a sophisticated mob boss dressed in tuxedoes. Batman Returns turned him into a much darker character. Abandoned at birth by his parents after he was born a deformed freak, he was raised in the Gotham sewers and grew up in the world as a sideshow freak. He has revenge on his mind to kill all of Gotham’s children, when he gets sidetracked into sabotaging Batman’s reputation and running for Mayor. DeVito hams it up as The Penguin, but he never goes to far. Instead of mimicking Jack Nicholson (unlike Tommy Lee Jones a few years later), he took the character in its own twisted direction.
Keaton is back as the Caped Crusader for what would prove to be his last run at the character. While many might disagree, I would argue that Keaton turns in a better performance here than he did in 1989. By this point he has the character’s mannerisms, voice, mood and psychological process down.
I’m a big fan of the film’s look. The entire film is blanketed in darkness, I don’t believe there is a single shot in the day time. I have to wonder about the decision to place this movie in a Christmastime setting. You have three incredibly dark characters (in both look and tone) set against the background of holiday cheer and freshly falling snow. It’s a fantastic contrast that goes unnoticed by many. Danny Elfman’s score adds to it, mixing the original Batman theme music with just a tinge of holiday sound. The (Oscar-nominated) make up is particularly well done, especially on DeVito’s Penguin who just has the look of someone who has been dwelling in the sewers for most of his life. Catwoman’s costume was a departure from both the comics and the TV show, but it works. A pleather one-piece that looks like it was stitched together by a madwoman.
Although the film was a big success critically and financially, the darker mood proved to be distasteful to some, which is why it is heavily theorized that Tim Burton was not chosen to direct the next installment. But more on that later…
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