Gotham streets are still awash with crime and the police force is relying on Batman to deal with the criminal element. Keaton dons the cape again with Tim Burton directing, and this time he is joined by Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Salina Kyle aka Catwoman. Plus Christopher Walken as Max Shreck.
You know how a lot of sequel just suck balls??
The first film establishes the world, characters, and gives struggles for our heroes to overcome plus makes a fuck-ton of money. More often than not producers see that something was successful and simply bash out a quick follow up that adds nothing more to the lore, the characters and is designed to do nothing more than make more money…did Batman Returns fall into this trap??
Let’s take a look…
A deformed child is dumped into the sewers by his horrified parents, where he is rescued and raised by penguins (…it could happen…) it is here that he spends his life and grows up to become the Penguin (DeVito) a man who knows nothing about who he truly is.
Cut to 33 years later, it is Christmas and during an attack on the Christmas tree lighting ceremony the Penguin decides that he has been in the sewers for too long so he kidnaps corrupt businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) and blackmails him into helping him discover who is real parents were.
After “rescuing” the Mayor’s baby the Penguin emerges from the sewers. As the Penguin’s tragic story begins to make him a media celebrity and his desire to uncover who he is even makes Bruce Wayne (Keaton) sympathise with him, later he is pressured by Shreck into running for Mayor. In spite of his claims of innocently looking for his identity Bruce Wayne starts to believe that he might have been behind the attack on the tree lighting ceremony, could have engineered the kidnapping of the Mayor’s baby to make himself a celebrity and believes him and his gang to be responsible for the murders of several children.
Meanwhile, Shreck pushes his secretary Salina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) out of a window after she discovers that his new power plant will be draining power from Gotham instead of producing it. She is somehow resuscitated by cats and after returning home creates a costume in order to become Catwoman so that she can seek revenge against Shreck for trying to kill her.
Matters for the Dark Knight become increasingly complicated when Catwoman and Penguin team up to rid Gotham City of Batman for good.
Sequels seem to be bashed out soon after a film has comes out if that film has done well. It tends to be the trend that the studio is just interested in cashing in and have little to no concern about the story or character development. The Nightmare on Elm Street films or all the American Pie sequels (especially the ones which didn’t contain the stars from the original film with the exception of Jim’s Dad) are good examples.
Batman Returns reunited Michael Keaton as Batman and Tim Burton directing. As before Burton knows exactly what he wants to do with the characters and has cast actors that are perfect for their roles. Keaton is still the brooding hero, this time romancing the sexy Salina Kyle. Wayne makes a reference to Vikki Vale from Batman but it is not revealed where she is or why they aren’t together but it is implied that Wayne’s life as Batman was the reason their relationship did not last. DeVito is also well suited to play the grotesque Penguin, who chomps down raw fish, and has a variety of weapons that look like his trademark umbrella. Once again the realism of the characters in the gothic Gotham City is what makes Batman Returns so enjoyable to watch.
Being familiar with The Animated Series I was curious to know how well these two characters would transmit onto the big screen, would it be possible to make the Penguin and Catwoman appear in the gothic Gotham that Burton created or would they look completely out of place…take a look and judge for yourself…
Pfeiffer’s portrayal of both Salina Kyle and Catwoman shows the audience the struggle between her normal life as she questions why she runs around the city at night, and her desire to get revenge on Batman and Shreck (both of whom killed her). She also looks very attractive in the skin-tight cat suit. However, in the comics Catwoman was a cat-burglar, and was something of a grey area, with her sometimes helping Batman and sometimes hindering him. Here she is portrayed as a woman out for revenge which might set the comic book fans against her. However, once more Burton seems to be concerned with his own take on the Batman universe rather than following the comics.
Whilst the Penguin does not have the sheer madness of the Joker, DeVito still proves to be a match for the Dark Knight and has schemes that are a little more downplayed but no less sinister than the Joker. I love the line in which the Penguin says to Batman that “You’re just jealous because I’m a genuine freak, and you have to wear a mask!” Another dark, and gritty criminal to share the familiar streets of the dark and depressing Gotham City that Batman works tirelessly to save.
Both Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon (Michael Gough and Pat Hingle reprising their roles) feature again. Alfred once again serving as Batman’s ally, and this time Gordon is seen to have a rapport with Batman.
The overall feel of the film, along with the reoccurring locations and vehicles (Batman has the same Batmobile seen in the first film), allows the audience to believe that this is the same Batman seen in the first film. He may have partially dealt with his personal demons (namely Jack Napier/Joker) in Batman but he is going to continue to protect his city as his masked alter-ego.
Whilst I don’t consider this to be as good as 1989’s Batman it is still pretty damn good and serves as a reminder that film sequels don’t have to be shit, if a decent amount of time and effort is put into them then they can be great in their own right. I am giving Batman Returns a Thumbs Up because whilst prior knowledge of this Batman world is useful it is not essential plus this carries on the more adult themed Dark Knight that has not really been seen since.
7.5/10 - The excellent cast make Batman Returns a worth addition to the franchise and was the last gothic film (and realistic) adaptation before Joel Schumacher was given directing responsibilities. It is a shame that we don’t have as diabolical a bad guy as the Joker but DeVito portrays a more humane villain that ultimately turns on humanity after he is rejected by them just as he was rejected by his parents.