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Film Review: Batman Returns
In 1992, Tim Burton released Batman Returns, based on the character appearing in DC Comics created by Bob Kane, a sequel to the 1989 film. Starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, and Michael Murphy, the film grossed $266.8 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup, as well as the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, the MTV Movie Awards for Best Kiss, Best Villain, and Most Desirable Female and the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor, Danny Elfman won the BMI Film Music Award and the film itself won the Saturn Award for Best Make-up.
Some time after the events of the first film, Gotham City needs Batman once more as three new villains arise. The Penguin rises from the sewers to join with the corrupt corporate executive, Max Shreck, who tries to make him Gotham’s new mayor. Meanwhile, Selena Kyle seeks revenge on Shreck and becomes Catwoman to enact it.
Like the film before it, Batman Returns is a good film, but it’s only decent as a Batman movie, continuing to give the hero a body count. The most notable, and the most jarring, is during the first fight Batman has with the Red Triangle Circus Gang. He sticks a bomb on the strongman while smiling and tosses him into the sewer, walking away as it blows up. The scene almost feels like he’s enjoying blowing the gang member up and is a pretty disturbing out of character moment because while he did kill in the previous film, he didn’t really show any enjoyment in doing so. However, it does show how Batman grows in his efforts to keep Gotham safe. In the previous film, he had a more natural looking Batsuit and in this film, it’s much more armored. This makes sense because he was originally feared and though of a giant bat and literal monster, but when the crooks got closer, they realized he’s a human wearing body armor. But now that the city knows he’s a human, he created a better suit with sculpted muscles that is much more utilitarian, offering more protection.
As for the villains, they interestingly demonstrates different facets of Bruce’s personality, though in a much darker tone.
The Penguin is Bruce and Batman in that they’re both orphaned freaks, the former having been born that way and the latter choosing to don the cowl and fight crime. And Danny DeVito’s interpretation of The Penguin perpetuates the freakiness of the character where other portrayals play up his wealth and underworld connections. It’s an interesting interpretation as it allows DeVito to make the character more monstrous and odd, choosing to destroy Gotham City after Shreck’s offer to make him mayor failed simply to justify his miserable existence. But he was clearly a monster to begin with as there is the implication that he had been killing children even before the film started and the film shows that he initially reemerged into society just so he could gather census data and further his scheme to kill the firstborn child of the city’s wealthy families.
What’s more is that DeVito’s portrayal has a lot of similarities to Killer Croc. The both of them have physical deformities that make their appearance animalistic, were both in freak shows, and they reside in the sewers. It really feels like Burton originally wanted to make Croc the villain, but chose Penguin as he’s much more well known.
Then there’s Catwoman, who is the antithesis of Batman’s vigilantism. Like Batman, Selena decides to take the law into her own hands, but in her case it’s to seek revenge against Shreck after he pushes her out of a high window and leaves her for dead. And unlike Batman, who dons the cowl in order to help the citizens of Gotham and fight for peace, Catwoman’s vigilantism is for herself and her work destroys.
Finally, Shreck is the counter figure to Bruce’s billionaire playboy persona. Bruce uses his position and power to build Gotham, doing what he can’t do as Batman in the dark as Bruce Wayne in the light. But as far as Shreck is concerned, the money and power are used to scam the citizens of Gotham. He constructs unsafe buildings, dumps toxic waste into the environment, kills people in cold blood and his first scene in the film shows his schemes to build a power plant that would be used to drain electricity from the power grid and stockpile it for his own gain. This gives him an ironic death as Catwoman kills him by electrocuting him.
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