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In anticipation for Christopher Nolan's final entry into his Batman trilogy, we here at Cinema Blend are revisiting the caped crusader's earlier film outings to see how they hold up and speculate on how each may contribute to The Dark Knight Rises. Yesterday Eric stepped us through 1989's Batman, and today I'll tackle its 1992 sequel Batman Returns.
When the call went out, I was quick claim this particular Batman vehicle. Even though Batman purists who love their Dark Knight brooding about the methods of his vigilante approach to justice generally sneer at this freaky and often over-the-top flick, it's by far my favorite Batman movie.
I won't argue it's the best. I know that structurally it's a mess, leaping from Batman's plot to Penguin's to Catwoman's and back again, calling into question who is the film's protagonist. I've heard it argued that it may be the Batman movie where the titular superhero gets the least screentime, and devoted Batman fans—including my husband—say Batman Returns doesn't capture the true spirit of its title character because in it Batman kills Penguin's cronies without a second thought, a very un-Batman action I'm told. But neither these arguments nor the countless other slings I've seen thrown at this unapologetically theatrical Batman tale have had any impact on my unadulterated love for Batman Returns.
Tim Burton weaves a weird world where the emergence of one self-styled superhero has inspired others to don costumes of their own creation and take to the streets of Gotham to exact their own brands of vengeance-fueled justice. For the Penguin, this means reclaiming his birthright and the place in high society he feels he's entitled to. For Catwoman, it means exacting revenge on the man who not only forced her to confront the glass ceiling but essentially threw her through it! (Yes, technically it was a window, but you get the idea.)
Burton embraced the inherent absurdity of Batman with gleefully corny wordplay ("I was their number one son, and they treated me like number two!"), gothic campy costumes, and surreal set designs, then urged his cast to big and bold performances that by contrast make Bruce Wayne seem the most well-adjusted citizen of Gotham. It's so weird it's wonderful, and still holds up as strange yet satisfying entertainment.
How Does It Lead To The Dark Knight Rises?
If asked to boil down my adoration for Batman Returns, it'd be easy to blame it on my love of Michael Keaton, or my early obsession with Tim Burton, but I think the real reason Batman Returns is my favorite is best summed up in one word: Catwoman.
Personified by Michelle Pfeiffer, Selina Kyle went from being a bullied secretary—I'm sorry, a bullied assistant—to a fierce femme fatale. No longer a mousy damsel in distress, Selina becomes a self-realized and fearless heroine of her own making. While the men jockey for power over Gotham—be it through money (Max Schreck), manipulation and maniacal clowns (Penguin), or mystique and incredible crime-fighting machinery (Batman)—Catwoman's only real interest is taking all these self-important dudes down a peg.
She was distinctly feminine, subversive and invincible, and while many awesome actresses have stepped into this criminal's catsuit, for many moviegoers Pfeiffer defined the role. And in light of this recent Bruce Wayne/Selina Kyle still resembling a memorable Batman Returns scene, I'd argue that Christopher Nolan would be counted among that group.
Everything we've seen about his Catwoman makes it clear Nolan is seeking to redefine her just as he did The Batman. Burton's Catwoman wore a BDSM-inspired costume that exuded sex and danger; Nolan's Catwoman costume is far less fantastical, favoring a utilitarian style—aside from the clichéd stiletto-heels, favored by super-powered females for all time. But the greatest contrast to Batman Returns' Catwoman is clear with his casting. While Pfeiffer was a well-established sex symbol when she signed on to Batman Returns, Nolan chose one of the reigning queens of romantic comedy to play his Catwoman. That's not to say Anne Hathaway's not appealing or sexy, but by casting a girl-next-door type, Nolan made it clear his Selina would be worlds away from the slinky sexpot we're used to.
Will this mean his Selina will be more in tune with the earlier incarnations? Will she be a cat burglar? A socialite? Whatever the backstory Nolan has selected it seems sure to be a contrast and thereby comment on what Burton and Pfeiffer established.
And A Few More Things…
Best Cameo Paul Reubens, star of Tim Burton's feature debut Pee-wee's Big Adventure, appears in the sequel's cryptic opening as Penguin's bad dad.
Best Quip Alfred scolding Bruce about his research on Gotham's weirdo of the moment, "Why are you now determined to prove that this Penguin is not what he seems? Must you be the only lonely man-beast in town?"
Best Moment That excellent yet inexplicable moment where the Bat-signal triggers a chain reaction at Wayne Manor that reflects his symbol on the wall where Bruce muses alone in the dark. As the light hits him the Batman theme swells, and Keaton stands and raises one eyebrow to top off a truly iconic moment.
Worst Moment When Penguin's delivering a big speech, Bruce and Alfred hack the PA system and play the villain's anti-Gotham diatribe to the baffled crowd. There's an insane shot where Bruce scratches the CD DJ-style , which one, wouldn't work like that, and two shows the Batman logo is applied even to his CD player. Even to me, this Batman Returns moment is embarrassing.
Do you think Batman Returns holds up?
To hear me further defend my love of Batman Returns and Michael Keaton—who will always be my Batman—check out my special guest spot on the Wrong Opinions About Moviespodcast later this month.