Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review #6

Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
#6: Batman Returns

In 1989, Director Tim Burton saved the legendary Caped Crusader from an eternity of campy stupidity with the Warner Brothers release of “Batman”. After raking in $43.6 million on opening weekend and eventually grossing over $250 million, the studio and the fans wondered how Burton and company could follow up with that. The answer came in 1992 with the release of “Batman Returns”, starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Pat Hingle, and Michael Gough.

The movie starts with a baby being born to the wealthy Cobblepot family. But this child is clearly deformed and somewhat animalistic. Out of shame, the parents (played by Paul Reubens and Dianne Salinger – both from Burton’s “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”) hurl the caged baby basket into the river, thinking that the child would drown. Instead, we see the basket floating down the sewer and towards a group of penguins.

Thirty-three years later, Gotham City is awash with tales of a mutated “Penguin Monster”, and its Christmas gala, sponsored by millionaire Max Shreck (Walken) is besieged by a demented circus troop. This forces Commissioner Gordon (Hingle) to fire up the Bat-signal, alerting Bruce Wayne (Keaton) to race to the rescue as Batman.

While Batman is cleaning up the streets, Shreck is kidnapped and brought down into the sewers, where we learn that the carnival gang is being run by that grown-up mutated infant who now calls himself the Penguin (DeVito). Penguin convinces Shreck to help him in his grand scheme, especially after telling the industrialist that he knows about every piece of dirty dealing Shreck has ever done, and has the evidence to prove it all. “You flush it,” he says, “I flaunt it.”

Penguin uses Shreck’s help to get himself out of the sewers and into the media limelight, revealing that his real name is Oswald Cobblepot. While the media buys his story, Batman notes that Penguin is spending a lot of time going over the city records.

Meanwhile, scatterbrained secretary Selina Kyle (Pfeiffer) discovers that Shreck’s plan to create a new power plant would actually drain energy from the city rather than provide it. Shreck shoves Kyle out a window and seemingly to her death. She is brought to life, however, by a group of stray cats, and the shock of her resurrection forces her to change into a more cat-like being. Soon she is wearing a skin-tight leather outfit with claws and a whip and calling herself Catwoman.

When the mayor refuses to give Shreck the green light for his power plant scheme, Shreck convinces Penguin to run for mayor. When Catwoman’s one-feline vendetta against Shreck crosses paths with the Penguin’s orchestrated riot, Catwoman finds herself in a rooftop fight against Batman and falls one more time, this time into a truck full of kitty litter. Catwoman then meets with Penguin and convinces him to join forces to destroy Batman.

Meanwhile, Kyle finds herself being attracted to Bruce Wayne, not knowing why the two of them have so much in common. This leads to the predictable awkward moment when the two of them kiss and both struggle to hide the scars that their alter-egos gave each other earlier on the rooftops.

I would say more about this, but that would give away the ending.

The movie certainly was a big box-office success, bringing in $45.69 million on opening weekend and a total world-wide gross of $266.83 million. But not everyone was happy with the overall violence and sensuality of Catwoman and her “resurrected” alter-ego.

In terms of a hero movie, this certainly has all of the right elements. You have a clear iconic hero (Batman), you have two clear villains (Shreck and Penguin), and one anti-hero (Catwoman). You can’t really call Catwoman a “villain” in this movie, especially since her character is more of a traumatic victim seeking revenge than an actual “bad girl”. Plus you have the return of actors Michael Keaton (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), and Michael Gough (Alfred) to keep the same feel going for this movie. And this time around, Burton left Prince’s music out of the sequel and stuck with the instrumental score by Danny Elfman.

DeVito and Pfeiffer followed Jack Nicholson’s trend of going over-the-top with their portrayal of their characters, which worked perfectly for Pfeiffer’s role as Catwoman, but DeVito’s Penguin delved more towards the rank of camp, which is NOT something you want to bring into a Batman movie.

What this pundit did find strange was seeing this movie with a clear Christmas theme be released in JULY. Executives at Warner Brothers really got their calendars mixed up on that one. But then again, this was really before studios hyped Christmas-day releases.

Sadly, Director Burton also increased the surrealism in this film, and that had an effect on the cheese factor. The sewer waters that looked cleaner than most public pools, a revolver that could still fire even after being left underwater, an army of penguins carrying missiles striped like the North Pole, Wayne and Alfred acting like MC Bats, and, as Penguin would later exclaim: “Why is it that someone always brings eggs and tomatoes to a speech?” And you would think that after the first movie, someone would figure out that you don’t send a giggling clown to take on Batman!

Sadder still, this would be the last time that Burton and Keaton would put their names to the Batman series. The cowl would be handed over to Val Kilmer, and although Burton would stay on as producer, the series would left in the directorial hands of Joel Schumacher, where it would die of embarrassment two movies later. BUT… those would be reviews for another time.

In all, this is a good hero movie to watch, especially around the holidays. Just be careful of the cheese.

Capes: Good iconic characters. Gotta give it all 5 capes.

The added surrealism right from the start bumps up the cheese factor to Cheddar (3).

Books: A good story with a developed resolution. Sadly the cheese factor affects the quality of the story, so I can only give it 4 out of 5 books.

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