You didn't invite me, so I crashed!
Beyond Chaos - wrote on 06/12/10
In anticipation of re-watching Batman Returns for the umpteenth time, I popped in the bonus material disc and peered into the making-of featurettes. There are quite a few tasty tidbits worth sharing (which I'll get to later).
I'd first like to point out that given the richness and scope of the film, I'll only be pointing out some of its highlights.
Tim Burton was reluctant to make a second Batman film; not only for the obvious reasons but also due to how he proclaimed (rightfully so) that the first had several boring patches. The studio captured his interest by suggesting he make a "Tim Burton film" instead of just another sequel. He decided to go to extremes, not feeling beholden to the comics. This resulted in a visually stunning, thematically dark yet hilarious picture that is truly the black sheep of Tim Burton's oeuvre. All four original Batman movies fail as Batman movies but this is the only one of the lot that succeeds as a movie movie. Its terse script provides pitch-black, hysterical humor and psychologically dense principal characters.
In particular are the Penguin and the Catwoman, played by two of my favorite actors: Danny DeVito (always brimming with energy and serving up heaps of laughter) and Michelle Pfeiffer (a captivating woman whose natural beauty seems immune to age).
Being a moderate fan of the Batman comics, I've never found the Penguin or Catwoman very interesting or intimidating. One is an aristocratic buffoon, the other a glorified thief. Yawn.
Tim Burton transforms both into ghoulish, frightening, stark and legendary figures who've stood the test of time. To this day they remain memorable cinematic adaptations of two very popular super villains. Danny is completely unrecognizable (and gives one of my personal favorite performances by any actor) and Michelle takes feminism to an absurdly funny level. For me, these are the definitive versions of both members of Batman's rogues gallery. Purist comic book fanboys (and girls) will scoff at this opinion but I'd rather have an entertaining, non-canonical take than a faithful, boring one. For this reason I hope neither villain is reintroduced in the next Batman movie (no matter who directs it).
The proverbial fourth leg of the table is Max Shreck, played with unabashed scene-stealing creepiness by none other than Christopher Walken (whom Burton initially didn't want to cast because - in his own words - "he scares me"). I relish this ultimate Walken role, with his mad scientist hair and trademark cadence.
I quote this movie all the time (especially the Penguin's lines), so to do so in this writeup would end up with over half the screenplay referenced. I strongly recommend taking a peek at IMDb's 'memorable quotes' page.
Finally, some behind-the-scenes trivia. One of the crew members attended several theatrical exhibitions and sadistically enjoyed some of the audience's reactions: children crying; people feeling like they had been punched in the stomach or mugged; parents angry at what they had just seen. Despite the merchandising frenzy, this Batman entry was never truly intended for children. I share in his amusement. As a matter of fact, Burton attended a meeting with Warner Bros. execs to discuss ideas for the next installment of the franchise. After awhile he straight-up asked, "You don't really want me to make another one, do you?" The meeting ended soon after.