Dir: Tim Burton, 1992, USA/UK, 126 Mins
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken
“I am Catwoman, hear me roar”
Purrs Pfeiffer in Burtons second Batman movie, perfectly summing up the focus point of this sequel and the character that makes it shine brightest amongst the films of this recently revived franchise.
It is the nature of Batman (Keaton) to be lurking amongst the shadows, brooding and mysterious as he awaits the Bat signal calling him to arms, a stage for the villains to perform on; he is the backdrop, the setting, Batman IS Gotham.
Burton adheres to this logic by making Batman a supporting character, but permeates every single scene with his presence, he haunts the city and, like the citizens of Gotham, we know he watches over every street and alley akin to a semi-mythic deity.
Just as the Joker took centre stage in the prequel, screaming LOOK AT ME as he attacked societies pre-conceived ideals of what it means to be beautiful, it is this film’s villains who steal the limelight, and it is Catwoman (Pfeiffer) who this time attacks societies view of the role of women.
Pfeiffer is delightful as Catwoman, instilling depth, pathos, vulnerability and femininity into a comic book creation that has become one of cinemas greatest feminist icons. Catwoman becomes the female Batman, a strong and playful anarchist that skips and cartwheels through the streets of Gotham, strong enough to carry the film and clearly an inspiration for the misguided Catwoman film that eventually followed. Penguin (Devito) is catalyst for plot development, shunned as a baby due to his deformity, he returns to Gotham with a quasi biblically inspired plan to kill all of Gotham’s rich and powerfuls first born sons. One of the joy of the Batman movies is that once talented actors get behind a mask they really let themselves have some fun and deliver performances which, in the Penguins case, are extremely unsettling. This slimy, black sludge oozing, sexually repulsive creature is a joy to watch and the perfect antidote to Catwoman’s lithe sexual charm.
Corrupt business man Max Shreck (Walken) diverts the Penguin from his plan of first-born slaughter in a scheme to make him the Mayor, which confuses the Penguin who feels that he had no place in the beauty dominated society.
Whilst the Penguin lacks a mask and a secret identity, he does have difficulty coming to terms with who he is, at times ranting that he is Oswald Copperpot, a human being worthy of love, and yet other times shrieking that he is the Penguin, depending on how well his plans are going.
Burton creates a sequel that does not cash in on the first film, but takes the franchise further into even darker realms of nightmare akin to a gruesome fairy tale. His use of gothic imagery, combined with regular collaborator Danny Elfman’s music, creates a hallucinatory tale of fetishism where characters have to wear costumes to prevent them being devoured by the scenery.
Burtons trademarks litter the film, whether it be the exploration of the outsider, the freak, whose tattered costume is symbolic of the frayed personality that hides within, or his frequent use of clowns and Christmas or his visual use of checks, stripes and dots. Burton certainly has a distinct style, and it is with this film that he had the budget and freedom to really let his imagination take us on a weird and wonderful rollercoaster ride. Keaton is also a regular feature of several Burton films, and is considered by many to be the consummate Batman. He has the enigmatic presence of the masked anti hero, and yet incorporates the geeky, fragmented charm of Bruce Wayne, a feat accomplished by none of those that would follow in his footsteps. Vitally, in this sequel, he sizzles with sexual tension with Pfeiffer, in both their masked and unmasked personas. They are the perfect match, lost in a world of injustice in which they strive to make sense of a world gone mad.
As stated by Smith and Matthews in the Virgin book Tim Burton, this film is:-
“the only blatantly psychoanalytical , pseudo-expressionistic S&M art film that anybody has ever sold to McDonalds as a summer blockbuster for the kids, Batman Returns is magnificent!”
Region 2 Special Edition DVD extras include:
Audio Commentary by director Tim Burton
The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin – Cast and crew members recall the making of this equally spectacular sequel
Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight
Part 4: The Dark Side of the Knight
Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery
Gotham City Revisited: The Production Design of Batman Returns
Sleek, Sexy and Sinister: The Costumes of Batman Returns
Making up the Penguin
Assembling the Arctic Army
Bats, Mattes and Dark Nights: The Visual Effects of Batman
Face to Face Music Video by Siouxsie and the Banshees
The Heroes and The Villains Profile Galleries
Released by Warner