Honey, I'm home. Oh, I forgot. I'm not married.
MikeInMotion - wrote on 08/14/12
At the beginning of production for Batman Returns, Tim Burton originally didn’t want to return (heh!) to direct the film. He had mixed feelings about the first film, and he wanted the sequel be something more than what he felt Warner Bros. would allow. Luckily, the studio gave him much more creative control, and he agreed to comeback and helm the second film in the Batman franchise. You can tell from the get-go that he has much more power this time around, because the film has a much darker atmosphere and some of the characters have very dark backgrounds. This is a double-edged sword, as some of this new control results in improvements over the first, while others hamper the overall product.
As we return to Gotham we watch a scene of an infant being thrown into a river by his parents. We understand that the boy was born horribly deformed, and the parents were frightened and decided to get rid of him. This child, named Oswald Cobblepot (AKA The Penguin) lived in the sewers of Gotham for 33 years. He has a twisted plan for Gotham, so he wants to return to the city and become a powerful figure so he can follow-through with it. He sets the wheels in motion by kidnapping a man named Max Shreck, a millionaire industrialist, to help reintroduce him to the city. Shreck agrees, and The Penguin quickly becomes a well-known and respected figure in Gotham. This eventually leads to him running for mayor of Gotham, but Batman suspects he has bad intentions and tries to stop that from happening. However, Batman’s quest becomes complicated when a new vigilante in town, Catwoman, whose true alliance is a mystery, enters the picture.
With the time it takes to introduce and establish the villains, it takes a while before you get to see much of Bruce Wayne/Batman. He has continued to be the guardian of Gotham since the events of the first film, waiting for the bat signal to appear in the sky. He gets less screen time this time around, but it’s necessary to flesh out the new characters. It would have been nice to have more Bruce Wayne, but that’s not as big of a deal as some of the other problems. Besides, we learned much about him in the first film, so the less screen time doesn’t hurt ones understanding of him. All you need to know is that he vows to stop psychos like the ones in this film from getting what they want.
As far as atmosphere goes, Batman Returns is bursting at the seams with it. The city of Gotham is even more sinister and creepy than it was before, which results in an even more engrossing and interesting setting. The villains involved this time around are equally as creepy, with Max Shreck, The Penguin, and Catwoman joining the fray. They are all very complex characters, to the point where their true intentions can be vague. Christopher Walken is fantastic as Shreck, being a stoic, yet frightening person who always appears to be scheming. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is much more psychotic in a theatrical sort of way. Her character arc is the most interesting in this film, as she was the one most rooted in reality before becoming insane.
For all of the enhancements in atmosphere and villains, this film does have its faults. One of the problems is The Penguin. His back-story is quite interesting, and he is played well by Danny DeVito, but I felt he goes too far in terms of some of his actions and dialogue. It gets to the point where I am just disgusted by the character, rather than afraid of him. You have no question that he is evil to the bone, but when you have a villain so filthy and repulsive you sometimes wish the camera was on someone else.
The other problem is that the overall narrative is not as tight this time around. Most of the additional characters are interesting, but at certain points the story drags a little as it tries to juggle their different plot points. It spends a good chunk of time establishing these characters, and as a result it takes a while for things to truly get going. There’s also some continuity issues, such as Batman’s “no killing” policy, as he seems much more willing to kill this time around. I understand this is a darker film, but it’s the same character, and you can’t just change that aspect of him without a valid explanation for it.
Even though Batman Returns isn’t as good as the first film, it’s still a worthy addition to the series. We are introduced to some fantastic villains, an even more dark and foreboding Gotham, and plenty of action to keep you entertained from start to finish. Some of Tim Burton’s ideas go a little too far, and could have used a little trimming or toning down, but I’d much rather have an ambitious film that misfires a little than a lazy cash grab that hits its mark.