Director: Tim Burton
Running time: 126 minutes
Synopsis and Evaluation
The problem with reviewing book and comic book adaptations is that people expect you to compare the movie with its source material, decide which is better or if the big screen version gave justice to its origins. People, especially fans of these series/novels, expect to see what they have read on the books — nitpicking every difference and detail missing. In the end, they feel disappointed or dissatisfied with the final output.
I’m not an avid reader. The obvious drawback of that is, I’m not exposed to a lot of things. I’m confined to my own, self-made thinking. But if there’s an advantage to that, it allows me to evaluate things within my own standpoint — no biases, no bases of comparisons. It allows me to look at movies (or things in general) objectively and with a sense of individuality. I believe that every movie should be reviewed as it is… meaning, it should not be compared to anything else. Or if you insist, movies should be compared only to other movies… not to books, not to literary writings. Books and movies are like apples and oranges. What’s the point of making a film if people would just insist of making a carbon copy of what they have read in the books? This is how I approach evaluating book/comic book adaptations — with a clean slate of mind and no expectations.
Superhero movies are a bunch these days. Just like any type of movies, some are highly successful critically and commercially (e.g. Spider-Man, Iron Man) while others have been languishing on the murky depths of oblivion (e.g. Elektra, Catwoman, The Punisher). The highly successful ones, at least commercially, spurn a bunch of sequels, “three-quels,” until they reach the moment where quadrilogy boxed sets are on the horizon. One such follow-up is Batman Returns released in 1992, three years after its predecessor Batman was viewed by the general public. Michael Keaton reprised his role as the wealthy Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman. Joining his Gotham City parties this time are Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Penguin (Danny DeVito).
The plot is fairly simple: Gotham City is again experiencing chaotic times brought about by the Penguin who craves for attention and respect that he is looking for his whole life because according to him, nobody respects him because he is different. He was sent down the sewers by his parents when he was born. He was betrayed and wants to get back at the city that cast him away. Helping him to do this is Max Schreck, a wealthy businessman whose image and reputation far exceed his inner devils. He wants to build a power plant that would usurp power from Gotham and use it for his personal gain.
Batman Returns has that striking, gothic and dark look and feel that perfectly blend with the state Gotham City is in. It’s visually appealing, a Tim Burton trademark (e.g. Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edward Scissorhands). The plot is pretty straightforward with a predictable ending. This film is one big shout-out to the way politics is run on most nations — lots of blackmailing, under-the-table deals, corruption, greed, deception and insincere motives. These are represented by the insidious ways of Max Shreck.
One of the things I like about this film is the way the Catwoman character was handled. Pfeiffer exudes charm and confidence and the emotional emptiness of Catwoman. She has nine lives but none of it has been joyful or interesting. Yes, it has relevance but for other people’s sake, not hers. She is a lonely woman who was burnt many times before and is afraid to let it all out — just like Bruce. They are perfect for each other but an invisible gap prevents them from staying together. It’s an enigma, a mystery that was beautifully delivered.
I also think that Penguin’s motives are far more pressing than Joker’s in Batman. This is a half man-half bird who was deprived of respect and attention all his life. He just wants somebody to see and listen to him when he speaks. Unfortunately, he also wanted revenge directed to those who have not done anything to him. He’s a deranged creature, blinded by his past experiences. He is a more sympathetic character than Joker (in Batman at least) because I can feel his hatred and sadness inside unlike the latter which is one big psycho from the beginning. DeVito was great as Penguin portraying him as a ruthless and blinded bastard with a subtle hint of mourning and poignancy. This is not saying that Jack Nicholson’s Joker was inferior. In my opinion, they are both great and have sort of stolen the show from the main protagonist — although villains are normally more interesting and developed character-wise than the hero who’s trying to stop them.
The Final Word
Batman Returns, while not deep and thought-provoking, is a very entertaining movie. Its cinematography and production values are competent and admirable. This is better than its predecessor. Just don’t expect a great film.