After just returning from Bowling Green’s Humans vs. Zombies Summer Invitational, I find myself physically and mentally exhausted after the long two-day event. So when I got home and sat in front of my computer screen, I decided it was time to tackle something old, nostalgic, and a little easy on the mind. So I looked to my shelf and found my answer, the answer to Tim Burton’s 1980 superhero film Batman, the much more out there and bizarre Batman Returns. I’ve mentioned before that I have a love hate relationship when it comes to Burton and his style of films, some of them I find enjoyable in their own special Burtonesque kind of way like Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, while other movies like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland have left me with nothing but a taste of hatred and disdain. So where does Batman Returns fall into this category? Well a little bit in the middle. Just like his interpretation of Dark Shadows, Batman Returns is one of those movies that could have been something special if it hadn’t been for too much creative control. I commend Burton for having a very unique eye for cinema and a unique aesthetic. But whenever it is left unchecked, you are bound to get some wild results.
Batman Forever is the second installment in the original Batman movies directed by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. After the first movie saw the end of the Joker, Batman is still fighting crime for the city of Gotham. Now instead of just one villain, Gotham has to deal with a slew of villains for the caped crusader to best. The first of which and some would say the central antagonist of the movie is Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). He is a sleazy underhanded business man with some amazingly well quaffed white hair, whose business is trying to construct a power plant to drain the energy from Gotham. Along side him you have two of the more colorful and iconic Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the Penguin (Danny DeVito). Our black knight, played by Michael Keaton must save Gotham City once again from Shreck’s dealings, Catwoman’s various schemes, as well as the disgusting, and crude Penguin.
This movie is not only loaded with some of the biggest and best names in Hollywood, but this is also a movie where these character do not at all sleepwalk through this film. With a cast that includes Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Keaton, and Christopher Walken it is easy to say that this is quite a collection of very talented people. Not only is Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Keaton often considered two of the greatest actors to play Catwoman and Batman respectfully, Danny DeVito and Chris Walken always put forth strong performances and do a great job as the disgusting Penguin and distasteful Max Shreck. I may have some problems with Burton’s direction and his designs, but I certainly can’t fault the actors or the casting for hitting the nail when it came to the characters.
Say what you will about Burton, he can direct a movie with a good villain or anti-hero. Burton is in his comfort zone when he has a protagonist or a set of villains that are a little complex. They aren’t just bad for the sake of being bad, there is a tragic back story that lead to their horrific ways or being misunderstood as a monster when really they just need a hug. So naturally a superhero movie is a place where Burton can find that nice sweet spot.
While Max Shreck comes across as being evil for the sake of evil because corporations are bad. Catwoman and Penguin are both very tragic and sympathetic characters. Penguin was simply a deformed child who was locked in a cage by his parents and eventually tossed into the sewers where he was rescued by a group of penguins that were left behind when the Gotham Zoo was closed and a gang of what appears to be circus carnies. He grows up in the sewers, away from society, and struggles to survive. So you can see why he is as bitter and hateful towards the world as he is. Catwoman or Selina Kyle was nothing more than a quiet and introverted secretary for Max Shreck who is unlucky in love and unlucky in life. She doesn’t seem so bad, just a quiet woman who wants that perfect life with a husband and a loving family and who has instead found solace in her large collection of cats. So when she is nearly killed by Shreck, it is easy to see why the woman goes the way she does. It isn’t so much that Kyle has died and become resurrected or become mutated, the woman has finally snapped under the pressure of life and has evolved into a twisted version of the woman she always wanted to be. It is very well thought out and one of the best interpretations of the Catwoman character. Villains or misunderstood characters are one of Burton’s strong suits and it shines in this movie.
Batman is Almost Non Existent in His Film
Just as I praised the film for its portrayal of the villains of Batman Returns, I find major fault when it comes to the way Tim Burton attempts to portray heroes such as Batman. It is obvious that the one character that Burton has the least interest in actually fleshing out is Batman himself. With the exception of Bruce Wayne feeling lonely and wanting someone to cuddle with at night when he isn’t beating up baddies, we see and learn very little of Batman and instead find ourselves constantly focusing on the Penguin and Catwoman characters. We know all about Selina Kyle and Oswald Cobblepot, who they are, where they come from, why they are the way they are, but we learn nothing new about the caped crusader, his struggles, and his problems. Christopher Nolan and even Joel Schumacher do a great job in giving Batman problems he needs to face, challenges, and desires that go beyond the cape and cowl. It seems past fleshing out who Bruce Wayne is in the first movie, Burton said ‘great now I don’t have to focus on him anymore, I can now focus on the fun characters.’ It is a shame when the character that the film is based on fills like a filler in his own movie.
Too Much Burton Aesthetic
This is what happens when you give someone like Tim Burton too much control of a movie that is not his own little baby. After thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that when it is Burton’s idea and Burton’s personal pet project he does really well. Thus you get movies like Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas. But when you give him movies with a previous story and source material like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Batman, his aesthetic just does not blend well.
Gotham City does not feel like a city and the people do not feel like people, I would almost say that Burton’s Batman Returns is almost more cartoonish as the Schumacher movies, just with a darker tone. It becomes too dark, strange, and cartoonish that it separates itself from the others Batman movies in existence.
Batman Returns seems to straddle the edge between bad Burton movies and good Burton movies. The Burton aesthetic is very distracting in this movie and the focus seems to be misplaced when it comes to the Batman character in a Batman movie. However due to the work put on the villains and the amazing acting from an all star cast, it is saved from being an absolute Hollywood train wreck. It is probably the only Tim Burton movie I an safely say I’m ‘eh’ about.
Final Score 2.5/5
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