Countdown to 2012′s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’: Part 3 of 11 – ‘Batman Returns’
If you missed it here is Part 1 of 11: Introduction to Batman âThe Giftâ
And here is Part 2 of 11: A look Back at Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’
A few months ago, I was sorting through a hodgepodge of old baseball cards. That is of course the general term Iâm using to describe them, much like people use âXeroxâ to describe making a copy or âKleenexâ to ask for a tissue. They were a variety of trading cards, ultimately. The vast majority were from the four major North American sports, but there were some non-sports-related cards as well. It was fun to discover old relics from my youth. Some werenât from too long ago, like a box of Simpsons Inkworks cards I purchased about a decade previous, but some went as far back as before my time. I just got a hold of them somehow through the years. In the middle of the pre-me through semi-recent spectrum of this collection was a grouping of cards from Batman Returns. There are 14 of them total, which means I probably purchased one pack once upon a time and that was it. As youâve read previously and youâll continue to see though my write-up on Batman & Robin, I owned some item related to each of these Batman installments. The cards are the only piece of memorabilia I have/ever had relating to âBatman Returns,â which is kind of shame as itâs certainly my favorite of Warner Brosâ first attempt to bring the character to screen.
After the failure to be of requisite age according to both the MPAA and my parents to see Batman in theaters, I naturally aged three years in between the release of the initial film and Tim Burtonâs follow-up. I still hadnât reached 13, but neither did I see the movie with the restrictions of my parents. My Grandma (not the one whoâd bestowed the original Batman figure to me) took me and because of this I was always a little uncomfortable with Michelle Pfeiffer dropping the line, âLifeâs a bitch. Now so am I.â But Grandma didnât seem to mind and watching the movie again now, I canât imagine what she thought of the strangeness her grandson dragged her to back then.
Thereâs no mistaking that Batman Returns is a Tim Burton film. It carries all of his trademark oddities and youâd think this would make for a bizarre pairing when viewing the world of Gotham through the lens Christopher Nolan has now painted it, but Burton and Batman meshed so spectacularly in this film itâs actually a wonder what the heck could have turned Warner Bros to pairing up with Joel Schumacher for the next two installments, but weâll get to that starting next week.
The film opens on a tone which Burton would make familiar in all of his subsequent work. The camera rises up over the gates encircling the luxurious Cobblepot estate like the first frames of Citizen Kane, descending into the home in time to witness a disturbing event. An expectant mother exerts the stressful sounds of childbirth and the newborn immediately takes up painful cries of its own, resounding in a chorus of horror. The midwife is sent scurrying out of the room. The delivery doctor follows suit, almost certainly never having brought forth such agony and despair into the world. These are the circumstances in which Oswald Cobblepot, a child soon to be dumped into a river and raised by penguins, was born.
Itâs a fantastic opener for the movie and one that provides an insight into what monstrosities make up the main foe this time around and gives motivation for his moves when he attempts to resurface after suffering in a sewer with his flightless brethren for a few decades. Penguin is a man in search of the parental love he never received even from his first few agonizing breaths. His abandonment and his parentsâ subsequent deaths prior to him returning to the streets of Gotham remove reconciliation from the possible equation and heâs then driven to selfish revenge. He decides that if he canât bask in the light of unconditional love, then no one deserves that ability. And so, he plots to kidnap the first-born son of all Gothamites.
After the release of The Dark Knight, rumors swirled about who the next villain(s) would be in a potential sequel. The prevailing unsubstantiated-by-anything-whatsoever tidbit came in the form of Johnny Depp as The Riddler. Fake posters were made. Obviously this never came to fruition. Outside of Catwoman (which did come true and weâll touch upon below), the next most frequently cited idea was hiring Phillip Seymour Hoffman to inhabit The Penguin. Like most everybody, I love Hoffman in everything and any acting talent required to portray any role is something he has in spades, but I donât think it ever could have worked (and like The Riddler, didnât anyway).
Part of the reason anybody was clamoring to see The Penguin in another Batman film is due to the success of the character as played by Danny DeVito in Batman Returns. However, Nolan has veered from the typical superhero film by grounding his franchise with a sense of realism. When stripped to his essence, The Penguin is such a cartoonish character. Heâs a man whoâs raised by penguins and eats fish. His body-type is oval. God may have made man in His image, but Penguin was modeled after Humpy Dumpty. Itâs all of those qualities that make him a perfect Tim Burton character and gave him experience with roly-poly body-frames for when he chose to make Alice in Wonderland with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. I just donât think the character could have been perfected elsewhere more so than in the hands of Hollywoodâs posterboy for miscreants.
Penguin may be the deeply onyx-colored jewel in the Batman Returns crown, but Catwoman is the character that would have wings of âHot Topicâ dedicated to her had the store existed back then and had her good name not been sullied in 2004 by a guy named Pitof. Everything about Selina Kyle in this movie oozes âoutcast.â She wears huge classes, nervously interrupts business meetings only to chastise herself mockingly afterward and she sleeps with stuffed animals. In short, sheâs a cat lady. Which of course ends up being her saving grace.
In Batman, the titular character was given a love interest and that part of the story seemed to be the quicksand inhaling all of the quality forestation around it. This time around, the film kills two birds with one stone (or with one cat) by making a combination villain/love interest. It tightens things up so much more than the first film and youâre much more thankful for it.
Selina is a peon. She knows it and we know it. And she hates herself for it. Her arc takes her from boot-kicked to boot-kicker through meeting a man of duality, surviving death, being reanimated by her feline friends and finding an inner strength due to just plain craziness that sheâs never able to fully overcome. I have a feeling the Nolanâs Catwoman storyline wonât carry the same tone. The flirting about with Bruce will assuredly remain, but I doubt the psychological damage will. Only two more months until we find out for sure.
Itâs somewhat interesting to note the villainous similarities between Burtonâs films and Nolanâs. Nolan used the Joker in his second installment, which Burton used in his first. And Nolan is bringing back Catwoman for his third go-round, whom Burton brought to his second. They can almost be seen as parallels to each other, as long as you view the use of Scarecrow in Nolanâs Batman Begins as some kind of âBatman: (negative)1â prequel Burton never had the chance to direct. And like Nolanâs second attempt at a Batman story so far being the superior of his two, so is Burtonâs. It makes me wonder why I never bothered owning the movie and even more, why didnât I buy at least a second pack of cards to commemorate it? To the eBay-mobile app.
Next week: Joel Schumacher picks up the torchâŚ and drops it, burning everything in sight.