Excesses of Successes
Twelve years before Daniel Radcliffe unleashed the phenomrnon that became the Harry Potter franchise; and nineteen years before Twilight unleashed and empowered twelve-year old girls, Tim Burton's Batman starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson was a success at the box office. In spite of a few glaring missteps, both involving The Joker. If you've seen the movie, you might have an idea of what I'm referring to. If not, see the movie, and decide for yourself. Me, I'm not so sure it was a good idea to pull from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, and give him an origin, or an identity. It takes away - rather than adds to - the final act, the climactic battle between the two. I'm also not a big fan of The Joker's fate at the end of the film. In the long history of Batman in comics and his conflict with The Joker, what happened in the first film has never happened. It just feels like ego to leave a mark on the character and the direction of a film franchise. But, hey, Tim Burton has made some incredibly successful films and proven himself as a formidable story-teller. The first Batman movie, even with it's weak interperetation of Bruce Wayne, was successful.
Three years later, on a budget of $80 million, Batman Returns opened with Michael Keaton's Batman faced Danny DeVito as The Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Christopher Walken as Max Shreck; along with Andrew Bryniarski as Chip Shreck, Michael Murphy as The Mayor, Christi Conaway as The Ice Princess and Vincent Schiavelli as The Organ Grinder, the head of The Penguin's Red Triangle Circus Gang. Pat Hingle and Michael Gough return as Comissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth respectively; and there's a pretty cool cameo by Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens.
I don't own this movie on DVD or Blu-Ray as yet. I had it on video cassette.
The Good -
Even though Michael Keaton seemed like an unusual, unorthodox choice for Batman, he grew on me. The movie opens with The Penguin's Red Triangle Circus Gang unleashed on the lighting of the Gotham City Christmas Tree, and Gordon calling for the bat-signal to be lit, and reflectors at Wayne Manor bathe Bruce in the signal light, which is impressive.
The Samm Hamm - Daniel Waters story manages to move along pretty well, balancing all the different characters and concepts.
While Catwoman's origin is completely new here, it is pretty impressive.
The original Anton Furst sets for Gotham return.
The cameo by Paul Reubens
The Bad -
Where do you start with this one? Sequels are incredibly difficult to meet success. By the time Batman Returns reached theatres, Superman II was the one, lone super-hero sequel to surpass the original (according to Siskel and Ebert - if you've seen the Donner version you know what a monster it could have been); The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were monster hits; but only the even numbered Star Trek films were doing well. These were the exceptions to the rule. The James Bond franchise has been pretty much hit or miss. Most people are divided on which ones work and which ones don't. Most sequels just don't work. They're made quick, cheap and to capitalize on the success of the original. Like trying to capture lightning in a bottle a second time.
First, both Anton Furst and Warren Skaaren had passed away following Batman. Fortunately, the were able to use Furst's sets, but Batman Returns may have been a series of missed opportunities. I think it is a victim of it's own success. One of the missed opportunities was that along with Furst and Skaaren, gone was Billy Dee Williams and Harvey "Two-Face" Dent. Whether he - either Tim Burton or Billy Dee Williams - didn't understand the character, or it just wasn't working, Batman II, or Batman 2, featuring Two-Face could have been something.
Instead we got a Daniel Waters re-write of Sam Hamm, recycling a plot from the '60's Adam West TV series. Another missed opportunity is drawing from the source material for The Penguin as a crime boss that wants to be a socialite. What we got was an Edward Scissorhands freak approach to The Penguin, among other characters.
I'm not a Christopher Walken fan. Never have been, probably never will be. If you are, I'm sorry to be a buzz kill. His presence here does nothing but forward a recycled plot. An extra recyled plot.
Believe it or not there are three - THREE! - yeah, that's right, three rogues in Batman Returns. The Penguin, Catwoman and Max Shreck. Four if you count Max's son Chip Shreck and the crime he commits just by wasting film. I'm not sure if this is Superman IV, or Batman: The Movie.
Catwoman's origin. Without Shreck, she doesn't have one. Without Christopher Walken in this movie, it just falls apart. To me, he just feels like a writer's conceit.
While Michael Keaton's Batman works, his Bruce Wayne doesn't get any better. If possible it gets worse - mainly because there's more of it!
The Ugly -
The Penguin is just freakin' creepy. Not only is he an evil, unnatural freak of nature, but he's a creepy lech and pedoiphile. The lech part is funny, but to quote Harvey Korman, "Mmmm, too Jewish." DeVito's dialogue is just awful. I get this isn't Shakespear, but his dialogue is awful.
I'll just say it again - Christopher Walken.
The ending. What is it with the super-hero genre of movies that has to Hollywoodize the story with the traditional, stock Hollywood ending? This villain is so vile and so bad - -
The Conclusion -
Okay, don't get me wrong, I like Batman Returns. I was surprised that I don't have it on DVD. I'm probably just get it on affordable Blu-Ray. I like it a whole lot more than Batman Forever or Batman & Robin. There are some really good parts of this film. Most of them between Batman and Catwoman; and, Selina and what should be Bruce Wayne. Keaton's Wayne really doesn't click until the third act...but by then it's too late. As good a Batman film - or - as good a film as it is, it just can't carry it's own weight. I bet if you check, none of Tim Burton's films have generated sequels. This is probably the first sequel he's ever made. It wasn't a bad sequel.
But, as we all know, Batman Returns did not generate another sequel with the same director - actor combo. After this movie, Tim Burton became producer and Michael Keaton moved on to other things, and the franchise sank into a deep, dark Schumacher abyss.
Still, it's a Batman movie. It deserves a place on the shelf next to the first one and the Nolan films.