The Caped Crusador (Michael Keaton) is pitted against the demented, ravenous Penguin (Danny DeVito), a pitiful, orphaned psychopathic freak who once went on a baby-killing spree, and a "power" hungry capitalist villain Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). As the two criminals plot to gain domination over Gotham City, BATMAN must plot to stop them. Cat Woman (fearlessly and fabulously played by Michelle Pfeiffer). She is the slinky, sharp-clawed alter-ego of Shreck's secretary Selina. Batman must overcome his own dark past, and his present love entanglements, to rid Gotham of it's evil enemies.
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People who like this movie seem to like it because it screams Tim Burton left and right. Some people who absolutely hate this movie, hate it because it’s not Batman. I may be the only person who sees both sides of the light.
The Story: Now one who’s a hardcore Batman fan can see where this was once a Batman story. And in some ways, it still is. The Penguin is on a quest for political power through means of intimidation, greed and corruption. Max Schreck is a capitalist helping the Penguin lie his way to the top. All Batman fans knew that originally that was going to be Harvey Dent and that Selina’s kiss of death at the end was supposed to scar the corrupt D.A. into two-face. I’d say the only down fall from the story is that there is no real arc for Bruce/Batman and there’s a bit too much focus on the villains as opposed to Batman (a problem that seems to be inevitable in Batman sequels.) That and Catwoman’s creation…..that was little much. Getting licked back to life by cats is a little too “I wanna kill the Spider, you wanna kill the spider” for me.
Acting: By my opinion alone, I think this is some of the best character acting in a Batman movie up until Ledger in The Dark Knight. Keaton does a great job as the distant, brooding Bruce/Batman yet gets some spunk in his life with Selina. Pfieffer does a great job at contrasting her before and after transformation as the sexually explicit Catwoman. She’s by far the most accurate of portrayals in the whole film. And Danny DeVito threw so much of himself into the freak Penguin that he scared a monkey shitless (no lie.). Christopher Walken, get this, actually acts in this movie. There are very little Walken-isms in this film and I’m still amazed at his actual ability when I watch this.
Directing: Ok Tim, here’s where you catch some heat. The sets are amazing, the story is alright, the direction of some of the characters…….not so accurate. Batman, as highlighted in Christopher Nolan’s series is not a killer. Yet, in this film, he sets a man on fire and throws a man down a shaft with a bomb attached to him. Can you say “oopsie?” You got away with it in Batman ’89 because the killing of the Joker was accidental and not intentional but this time, it was intended. Now the heat you catch for “freaking” the Penguin, in my opinion, is unwarranted. Chris Nolan can un-permawhite the Joker and get away with it, but if you add an elongated nose and disabled flipper hands, it’s a bastardization? That’s unfair in my opinion. And it fits well into the Gotham that Burton has created.
Cinematography: Perfect fit for the Burton Gotham. Stark black and whites. Shadows all over the place (some great throw backs to the Batman 60’s TV show at one point) and it’s wonderfully covered. Not too many close ups, not too many wide shots. It’s just well shot.
Production Design: Again, amazing. Not as perfect as the Batman ‘89’s Gotham, but still ranks up there higher than the newer franchise at capturing the “gloominess” of Gotham. Everything is just a bit too “new” and clean and shiny. That’s the only problems with it.
Editing: Well edited all around. There wasn’t a point where I felt it was choppy or out of place. Everything is covered well and truth be told you never really get bored with anything that’s going on. The marks of good editing in my opinion. Score: Danny Elfman does it again. Expanding on his original Batman score, he really hits a high point with this one. Gloomy, dark, and gothic. It doesn’t get any more Batman than that.
Special Effects: Where there special effects in this one? I can’t really tell. I mean the make-up department does a fantastic job. But as far as the rest of it goes, a lot of it is so well masked that you really think everything that’s going on is real. Explosions, bat-boats, and giant rubber duckies. It works.
In closing: Batman Returns catches a lot of heat because of it’s stylistic differences from both the comics and the original Batman film. But in Burton’s defense, he’s an artist trying to create his own original piece of art. It works as a Batman movie on some levels and on others it fails. Same as Chris Nolan and Joel Schumacher’s entries. It’s just the way adaptations work. I think some great additions were made, and some essentials were left out. But overall, I can sit back, watch Batman Returns and be entertained. It may not be perfect in what people hoped it would have been, but it is one solid piece of work. Burton committed himself to his own originality, which in turned, made him a greater film maker or the bastard director of Batman. You be the judge.