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Batman Returns

May 27, 2019

Batman Returns (1992)
Director: Tim Burton
Actors: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

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Synopsis: The Penguin (Danny DeVito) rises from the sewers to wreak his own subtle brand of terror on the citizens of Gotham City. At the same time, Selena Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), escapes a near-death experience to morph into the Catwoman, providing Batman (Michael Keaton) with another problem to manage while he deals with the Penguin.

Review: You can read my thoughts on this film in more detail over at One Room With a View, but, in a nutshell, this is the apotheosis of the Tim Burton brand – coming in the middle of his run of stellar hits (BatmanEdward Scissorhands, and Ed Wood) that thrust him right into the middle of the Hollywood firmament.

It’s perhaps even, alongside Edward Scissorhands, Burton’s most definitively realised version of his famed fairytale gothic aesthetic, and though it always seems to come out favourite in most Batman aficionados’ lists from the Burton-Schumacher period, there are some elements that with retrospect do look a tad dated.

It is unbelievably kitsch, and to those who associate Batman’s camp period as starting with Schumacher, you really need to look at this film again. It features a lovely, game performance by Michelle Pfeiffer, but Burton never really seems to work around just how absurd her character is. Everything – from the origin moment for the Catwoman, to her lame, timid dialogue, and questionable gaining of incredible physical prowess – reeks of cheese.

Far better is the pitch-perfect opening to the film, surely some of the best work Burton has ever put on film. Where the origin story for Catwoman is risible, the Penguin’s is ingenious – an opening sweep with a fish-eyed lens superbly characterises the grotesque, gothic horror of his birth as a human child many years before. Then, when his mortified parents drop him into Gotham’s river one chilled winter evening, the subsequent opening title sequence as the cot enters the sewers is as thematically brilliant as any Bond opener. It acts as a concise, eloquent metaphor for the underworld life the Penguin has been consigned to. This is rounded off in the very next sequence by that most Burton of motifs: an outsider (in this case the Penguin with his deformed hands clamped onto the sewer railings) gazing out at the world that has rejected him. (May 2019)


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