If, like me, you grew up with the Batman movie franchise*, you’ll understand why I have a hard time being objective about these movies. I will go on record as having LOVED the horrible Joel Schumacher one that came out a couple of years after this one back when I was fourteen or so, and my brother and I went to see the infamous Batman and Robin in the theater (that was when I finally began to question the infallibility of the Batman storyline). So going back and revisiting any of these movies is a dicey proposition for me — I already know it won’t live up to what I remember from my easily-entertained childhood, so why open up that can of worms?
So with that long disclaimer out of the way, I still think there’s a lot to love about Batman Returns. First of all, Michael Keaton: WHY is he such a good Batman? Whose idea was it to cast him, and why in god’s name does it work so well? He was never an action guy — you don’t look at him and think, “Ah yes, there’s my next strapping superhero.” And I guess this sort of thing happens a lot nowadays (see the two Green whatevers currently in theaters), but I feel like this casting was at least as big a jump as putting Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Bigger! But somehow he instantly becomes studly and reassuring as soon as he dons that mask. Yes please!
Also: Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman = AWESOME. They don’t give her much to do other than look hot and cause mayhem, but do you really need more than that from your Catwoman? The scenes of her brush with death and subsequent mental unraveling are some of my favorite in the movie — I still found them genuinely creepy. I also like her weird ambiguous double-agent role, though I wish they’d bothered to give her something resembling a motivation for being anything but an ally to Batman. They have a common enemy, Max Shreck, and the added bonus of having their alter egos fall in love, so why exactly are they trying to kill each other? Why not join forces against the myriad other bad guys?
Oh yeah: there’s about seventy-five villains running amok in this movie. Not that any of them are badly cast or deliver bad performances — Christopher Walken was born to play a comic-book bad guy with a pompadour and sinister black gloves, and Danny Devito is obviously having a blast playing the Penguin. But none of them is anything more than an adopted persona with lots of cartoony quirks to distinguish him or her from all the other villains cluttering up the joint. I know this is hard to do in a movie adaptation of a comic book, where the line between good and evil is always a mile thick, but I need bad guys who actually have something driving their bad behavior. They can be as sane or as unhinged as the director wants, just so long as we know the character is doing what he or she thinks is best under the circumstances. But these bad guys and girls, for the most part, are just bad for the sake of being bad. Yawn.
Oh, don’t get your panties in a twist. I still liked it! Like all Tim Burton movies, it’s fun to look at, and Keaton and Pfeiffer have great chemistry. I just wish the story gave all these heavyweight actors a little more to do.
*I’m disregarding the Adam West silliness. Have you seen it? That’s right, you haven’t.