This is probably one of, if not the most star-studded Batman movies we have seen to date.
Since the cultural explosion that was the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, the Tim Burton movies have fallen by the wayside. I think that is a shame, because these movies have a lot going for them. Interesting plots, scenery that looks like it has been ripped straight from the pages of a comic book and the definitive Batman theme song. Plus, Michael Keaton is my mom’s favorite Batman, so what is not to like?
Here is a rundown of the plot for posterity. 33 years before the main events of the film, two Gotham socialites throw their deformed and unruly child into the sewer. He will be important later. In the present (Christmastime 1992), Max Schreck played by Christopher Walken, another of Gotham City’s prominent billionaires, is attacked by a gang of your traditional circus “freaks.”
Batman tries to save him, but Max is kidnapped and taken into the sewers. There, he is met by the result of the abandoned child at the beginning of the film, Oswald Cobblepot played by Danny DeVito. Mr. Cobblepot, now going by “the Penguin,” basically blackmails Max Schreck into helping the Penguin return to the surface world.
While this is happening, Schreck’s secretary, Selena Kyle played by Michelle Pfeiffer stumbles upon a plan by Shreck to drain Gotham of all its electricity. Shreck then attempts to kill her but is then magically revived by a pack of stray cats, thus becoming “the Catwoman.” Throughout the events of the film, Batman juggles the corporate espionage of Shreck, the mayoral campaign of the Penguin and the double life of Selena Kyle.
Why are we talking about this in the context of a Christmas movie? Well, because it takes place during the advent season, of course. Here, the setting of Christmas seems more coincidental than anything. It makes for some nice settings, in the snow and in front of the Gotham equivalent of the tree of Rockefeller Square and all that. Christmas isn’t a plot point so much that it is a set dressing, but it is a good enough excuse to review “Batman Returns.”
In terms of the quality of the film, I think it is quite good. Better than the first “Batman” (1988)? I wouldn’t say so. The difference between the films is razor-thin, though. It is a difficult task to recreate the magic of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the first Batman, but I think that Christopher Walken, Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer do a very good job here.
Michael Keaton as Batman and Bruce Wayne is just as good as his first run at the role, though it stretched a bit thin at times because the character is asked to do a lot in this story. Typical of most of Tim Burton’s fare, the film is quite visually vivid. Cartoonish skyscrapers, dreary streets and bright lights really give a unified visual language of what could be called a gothic comic book.
As a Christmas movie, “Batman Returns” isn’t really bringing anything to the table. Though, it is not to say that it doesn’t make for a good change of pace. It really does shake things up trying to see Danny DeVito try to blow up a metropolitan area with explosive penguins.