Batman Returns is a masterpiece. Many, many people misunderstand it. You can't simply look at it as a typical superhero action adventure. Here are some reviews I've found on the web which give some insight: tedg ([email protected]) What Burton brings to the table is a quirky design sensibility. All other elements of his films are conventional Hollywoodisms. But when he hits a sweet spot with that situational and production design, it works. At least it works as a voyage to another planet. His first Batman film was a disaster in this respect: it visually lacked both imagination and control. He knew he screwed up, and this time he fixes nearly everything that was broken the first time around. He still has that dead melodramatic third act, but everything else is great. The city bears some similarities to the Gotham of the first, but he lives in this one. It has a perverted life, rather than the carcass of the first. He literally places his camera among architectural elements of the city this time. The batcave is completely reinvented to be more jagged, dark and schizophrenic. The contrasting ice cave really does contrast: it has light and color and movement and life of a twisted sort. The chemical factory and cathedral of the first was just a set of large props. Someone paid attention: the `world' of the city is blunt industrial, an anti `Metropolis,' largely broken. Michelle's apartment is modeled after the building in Welle's Kafka movie I think. (You can visit that building today.) The cave has organic roughness, a completely different world altogether. This craftily sets the `two-world' theme of Bruce's mind in which we presume this all happens. But the clever introduction of a third design consciousness is what makes this really fly. The ice cave is part sewer and part 1964 New York World's Fair. The structural elements here are so radically different in conception that I can only think that three different talents created these three architectural notions. (Incidentally, we saw these structural elements revived in the recent interiors of the ice cave in `Die Another Day.') Keaton does change character depending on the forces of the surrounding built space. This is a fantasy that perhaps only an architect could appreciate: a visual drama of dual forces within the mind. Even Elfman's honking is better. The `girl' in this one participates in the split world dynamics as well. Very clever writing, this. Michelle's architecture is what she wears, which is another element of the genius in the art design. The problem is that something happened -- I do not know what -- and the effect was messed up at the end when they changed the costume all around. This was in the days when Michelle still had something to offer, and because I have hit her hard on some other films, have to note some informed work here. Most of the body acting is by doubles of course, but her face shots in costume use a knowing device: in `real' life, she acts with her eyes and as Catwoman, she acts with her mouth. That mouth is borrowed from Helena Bonham-Carter. (In fact, when a film actress makes something work, many lessor actresses appropriate it. Its part of the game, and one can have some fun with Michelle's later films guessing who she's imitating.) DeVito is one of our most intelligent actors. Not as an actor, but in his understanding of reflexive notions in humor: his `Momma' was based on Nabokov! As with the Joker before, he's just a disgusting prop here. Esther Cobblepot is a redhead. ---------------------------------- Maurice van Turnhout ([email protected]) A more than worthy sequel, that elaborates on the themes and visuals motifs of the first movie. Gotham City is besieged by the Red Triangle Circus Gang, until the hideously deformed, disowned Penguin (Danny DeVito) emerges from the sewers to restore order. Batman (Michael Keaton) discovers that Penguin is actually the leader of the gang, and that he's conspiring with evil tycoon Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) in a bid for regional power. And there's also a sultry, leather-clad lady called Cat Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), who might be a friend or a deadly foe to Batman. Batman Returns performs 1920s German Expressionism in the same way German Expressionism used to perform high art: Penguin is a look-a-like of Dr. Caligari, Shreck is named after the lead actor of Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, and the shadows and settings just ooze the atmosphere of Gothic Romanticism. All is captured in a vivid post-classical camera style, with director Tim Burton also liberally employing Surrealist motifs, to create a surprisingly edgy horror fairytale. Beneath the deceptively sugarcoated backdrop of Christmas, 1940s Americana and childhood dreams, lies the palpable lure of the dark side: the fracturing of identities, kinky sexual phantasies and a vision of corrupt corporate power structures. When Penguin mentions that `this is all just a bad dream', we're not entirely sure what he means: is the false safety of the surface the nightmare, or what lies beneath it? The recurring motif of bars and cages is a double-edged knife: they may represent the threats of the netherworld, but they also stand for a society that has consciously locked itself up in a world of make-believe. Keaton still cuts a sharp figure in the title role, although the complex villains, etched like grotesque gargoyles, again take center spot - Batman is hardly in the first half at all. DeVito's blackly comic Penguin is a literate character, a man perceived as a monster, struggling for respectability while at the same time possessing a weakness for raw fish. He represents the need for respect, for acknowledgment of his humanity: an Elephant Man or Phantom of the Opera let loose in the city zoo of Gotham. It's obvious that not only Batman but also director Burton himself can relate to this outsider; Penguin even has a touching death scene, akin to Edward Scissorhands. Despite him being a revenge-minded super-villain, the ending feels more like a tragic conclusion than a traditional showdown between good and evil. Pfeiffer is mesmerizing as she moves from cute wallflower bullied by men (albeit with a sadistic streak) to a sexually `liberated' creature of the night. In two fun scenes, she demolishes her own pink doll's house, and beheads a window dummy with her SM whip. Walken exudes cool menace as Shreck, who in the end turns out to be using Penguin and emerges as the true manipulator. These four leading characters all mirror each other in some way, meeting in the end at a masked ball - where Shreck, the `respected monster`, ironically is the only one to wear a mask. Danny Elfman's brilliant musical score uses choirs, circus tunes, and Wagnerian operatics to full melodramatic effect, and Bo Welch's production design gives Anton Furst a run for his money. Welch even gets the smallest details right: the Penguin campaign posters for instance, are obviously inspired by Nazi poster art; `They've lost faith in old symbols,' the Penguin claims, referring to Batman's attempts at upholding the law. Is Burton, like the Expressionists, showing an America ready to embrace Fascism or anarchism, or is he merely trying to entertain? Anyway, Batman Returns is a cinematic spectacle as far removed from the daft 1960s television series as possible. ------------------------------------------------- Ethan Hunt ([email protected]) This film noir has great imagery, psychological depth and funny, sad and outright dark black quotes plus brilliant, gothically deranged visuals. Also, four other characters represent the character 'Batman' in the movie. Max Shreck-the millionaire businessman, Penguin-the orphaned outsider, Catwoman-the costumed vigilante, and Bruce Wayne-the awkward, concealed identity of Batman, though his exact opposite, and the characters are all written to hint at it in the film, but it won't hit you over the head with it. The characters that are alive at the end of the film speak it's main character's current mental health state. The films plot concerns a character abandoned, literally thrown away in his childhood because of being born with his irregular hands causing him to look like a Penguin. Out of what he sees as vengeful justice, he becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, gradually assuming the role of the horrible monster that he always looked like. He is reluctantly accepted when he returns to society and is given another chance. He decides somewhere along the way that he does not want to return to this city for some reason (or was it planned all along, while looking at the record list when he was supposedly searching for his human name, did he write down the first born sons of Gotham? Later Catwoman remarks that he already has an 'enemy list' before staying long in Gotham). He 'forgives' his parents but is secretly blaming the city for his woes. Penguin tries to live there but he cannot fully, he finds his sense of belonging seemed like an illusion (like most Tim Burton films portray), he then, self-destructively gives up, betrays their trust and bitterly attempts to murder the innocent before his mayoral bid can be won. Gotham City represents a lot of evil in this picture, Batman is a brooding, anti-hero and he's one of the only good people in the town -in film noir there are no heroes, this is the essence of Gotham. There's a consistent motif of having the Penguin character see everything he can't have through bars, if you look you'll find him eyeing his parents (as the camera) behind bars and Catwoman (through the bird cage) and later after she rejects him, etc. yet he never enters a jail cell. Penguin reminds me of an evil man from 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', he later wants to drown infants. When the actress portraying Catwoman/Selina Kyle is making the cat costume, she opens a drawer with about four different colored scissors, on Edward Scissorhands, Burton explained having scissors in his films "is about, trying to touch someone, and not being able to." That was established, as one of Catwoman's many problems, no real love life. We know why she destroys the Shreck building, because he is guilty of crimes and she cannot prove it, she sees this as revenge, like Penguin does. In 'Batman Returns' there are no situations that have a black or white answer, like film noir. Burton also said that dressing up changes every character. I recently saw this on cable today and afterwards there was a special on Batman Returns, which is where I am getting Tim Burton's comments. As well look at how Burton depicts colorfully clothed overly happy people as stupid, fake and annoying, without really changing much of anything about people we know, this harsh contrast is obvious right before the Penguin agrees to be mayor. Max Shreck is a murderous businessman but in the ballroom scene he shows that even he loves his child, unlike Penguin's parents, proving he does not deserve to die. The star character hardly gets shown as often as the others do (therefore, so the villains represent Batman?). The song 'Super Freak' is in this movie as an instrumental during the masked ball, I think that must say something about Batman! At the end with when the car stops, a sign reads 'Super Drug'. It all is clothed a very unreal, hazy, dreamlike quality. The image at the cemetery where the Penguin looks down at the ground with a gravestone cross above him and the first time we see Bruce, staring out the window reflecting the bat signal are my favourite parts. In the sewer, close to the finish, Batman/Bruce admits with Penguin, Shreck, and Catwoman there, that he is Bruce Wayne, and that 'we're the same, split right down the center'. He rips off his mask, and at that moment a thread in Catwoman's mask breaks open to reveal her blond hair. With a sad, though satisfying Christmas-time end to it all, the movie didn't make as much money as I thought it did. Still, I think it's genius and is one of my favorite films.