Saturday, July 14, 2012

Batman-a-thon Part 3: Batman Returns (1992)

[Note: These links will be available as the reviews are posted: Batman (1966)/Batman Prime, Batman (1989), Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), Batman Awards Blog]

[Note 2: Sorry to those readers on the Batman review yesterday if the look of the page isn't as clean. The visual part of blogger that I usually write on was messed up, so I wrote part of it in HTML. I'm pretty sure something is messed up, but I won't know until I have time to compare other posts. Hopefully this one works better.]

I will say this about Batman Returns: It is not boring. It makes no sense much of the time, but it is not boring.

This film is as polarizing in my mind as it is in the fan base. I am simultaneously entertained and horrified at the film. It is both more disturbing and less disturbing than The Dark Knight's universe.

TDK was horrifying because it makes you think. It puts you in situations of warring philosophical ethics. Batman Returns is horrifying because it is actually horrifying and grotesque for the sake of being grotesque.

For the first of only two times, I have to review a Batman film that is an extension of an already-established film, so I'll start with Michael Keaton's performance.

As I said in the last blog, Keaton is by-and-large an excellent Batman. He's got a gravel voice but is completely coherent (looking at you, Bale). He's got the brooding, the action, and when he does speak, the dialogue is well-done.

Where I have a little more issue with his performance (and the film in general) is Batman seemed a lot more sadistic. There is a scene where Batman shoves an active bomb in a henchman's pants and throws him down a hole where he is blown up. I didn't pay super-close attention to the henchmen, so I'm not sure if he's seen again, but Batman had so many potential kill shots that I almost felt like I was reading a Golden Age Bat-book.

Where I killed Keaton before was his Bruce Wayne, but this go-around was far better. I'm not sure I'd call it great, but I bought him more as a person here and he fit the contrast to Batman better.

The good news was that Keaton was a completely well-rounded character who had awesome banter with Alfred. The bad news is that he's not even close to being the focus of a film called "Batman Returns."

This film opened with Oswald Cobblepot being kept in a cage as a baby and ultimately thrown into a river. He is then spouted out to a zoo where he is raised by penguins.

... Ok ....

WHAT. THE. F***?

I'm sorry, but did the Penguin really NEED this rewrite? And why are his hands like flippers? And why did he eat a cat? Who let Tim Burton use this crap?

And HOW is there no "It just raises too many questions" video on YouTube?

But we'll get to Batman Forever tomorrow. For now, we have a Batman film that has 5 minutes of Batman in the first 45 minutes.

This movie epitomizes why origins in film are a challenge to do well. On one hand, there's the Penguin's botched insanity. And then there's Michele Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

The early part of this film simply shows one of the most painfully dull human beings on the planet be painfully dull until, inevitably she uncovers an insidious plot of her boss - played by Christopher Walken - who proceeds to shove her out a window.

Apparently, she dies, and a slew of cats bring her back to life... Yeah it didn't make sense in the Catwoman film and it doesn't here either.

Funny thing is, she is actually a compelling character afterwards and was actually an excellent Catwoman. Her relationship to Batman is pretty close to source material and the intervening time where Selina and Bruce are interested in each other is a legitimately interesting romance. I'd even say it's on par with Batman Prime.

Actually, if you can make it through the slew of WTF moments in the first half of the film, it actually becomes a really good storyline - except for the fact that Selina's boss' plan to steal all of Gotham's energy for money is kind of nonsensical. He's freaking rich, there needs to be a greater dimension than pure money.

But it does evolve into a power trip, as he thinks he can use the Penguin becoming mayor to his advantage. However, it is clear that Penguin is really in charge, as once his plan to turn the city against Batman (by auto-piloting his Batmobile into civilians and framing Batman for the murder of the tree-lighting bimbo), he goes all King Ramses on Gotham and threatens to kill the first-born sons of aristocrats.

I haven't yet commented on Danny DeVito's Penguin: He does respectably once he gets into his plans, but his backstory and demeanor is so beyond low-class that he doesn't feel like the true Penguin. Burgess Meredith did a far better job with the character in my view.

Once Penguin is ousted as a psychotic and loses his bid for mayor, he unleashes his plan and mind controls a bunch of penguins into shooting off a bunch of explosives.

Batman stops this and Catwoman tries to kill her old boss. Bruce, who has been exposed as Batman to her by repeating dialogue in both civilian and hero form, appeals to her better nature. This fails, as she goes completely psychotic, takes four gunshots to the body before kissing her boss with a stun gun, killing him.

Penguin by this point is so wounded that he wanders around with black blood coming out of his mouth until he makes a noise and dies. Penguins then walk him to his grave, and Bruce drives off with Alfred as it becomes clear that Catwoman is still alive.

Oh, and on one last note, all of this happened during the Christmas season.

On the whole, I hated the changes to the characters here. What I came to realize is that, Alfred excluded, every character has a serious mental problem. They're either a psychotic murderer or they're dumb as all hell.

It really says something when the second-most normal person in a film is an orphan who dresses like a bat to scare criminals and blows up henchmen with crotch bombs.

At the same time, this film is entertaining from the midway point onward. Keaton was good in both his roles. Pfeiffer was amazing in her role after a dull start, and DeVito did well in his role if you discount the excessive acts of complete disgust.

But that's the problem. In order to get to the great parts of the story, you have to wade through a lot of insanity. And despite being a Batman movie, it's really a story about Penguin and Catwoman. There was no need to plan a Catwoman movie because it already exists here.

(That would have also saved us from seeing that awful Halle Berry abomination.)

Tim Burton went over the top to the point that his film is simultaneously the most disturbing and one of the most unbelievable and goofy in the Batman series. (Batman and Robin's insanity will definitely compete, though.)

Overall, I'd love to score this higher because there was a lot I liked, but I can't give a good score when I disliked half the film. Sorry, Burton, but you'll have to settle for 2.5 out of 4 stars and a 6 out of 10.

It's a passable film, and it's impossible to become bored watching it. But like the kid in school who answers the prompt and gives an apparent argument amid mostly complete nonsense, minimal pass is all I can give.

Get ready for Batman Forever tomorrow!

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