Batmania Part 4: ‘Batman Returns’ – the beginning of the end

It’s not that Batman Returns is a terrible movie by any means. (In fact, I saw this ten times in the theater. I worked at a movie theater when this came out, so don’t judge, haters.) It’s even more stylish than its predecessor and has some pretty good dark humor. But we see the ground work being laid for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, two of the worst sequels of all time.

Posters from 1992.  Back then I thought these were so cool.  I still do!

Posters from 1992. Back then I thought these were so cool. I still do!

What’s it about? It’s Christmastime in Gotham City, and Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito), the rumored “Penguin Man” of the sewers, wants local businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to atone for his sins of polluting the city.

Shreck’s frumpy executive assistant Selena Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer, who couldn’t be frumpy if her life depended on it) has found some incriminating info about her boss that would kill any chance he has to build a new power plant. So for her years of loyal service, Shreck pushes her out of a skyscraper window.

Left for dead thirty stories below, Selena is resurrected by stray cats (it’s silly, I know) and takes up a new persona as Catwoman. Is she good? Is she bad? Does it really matter? The answer is, no. But hey, she looks hot in that outfit.

Penguin hates Shreck. Catwoman hates Shreck. Everybody hates Batman. (Oh yeah, Batman’s in this movie, too.)

What’s good about it? With all of Tim Burton’s movies, style takes place of substance. It’s another feast for the eyes. Pfeiffer is particularly good as Selina/Catwoman–she has fun with the role. DeVito is in Jack Nicholson-Joker mode, chewing the scenery (and, in one scene, sombody’s nose).

What’s bad about it? As with most sequels, producers feel that everything has to be bigger, louder, and cost twice as much. Batman Returns is no exception. The film has three villains (including Shreck), and Batman–the titular hero–gets pushed aside. (No wonder Michael Keaton didn’t return for the third film.) Where Spider-Man 2 and the Jason Bourne sequels succeed is that they’re not trying to outdo their predecessors; sometimes more of the same is better. Had Batman Returns only featured the Penguin or Catwoman, we probably would have had a more solid film.

And thus is the beginning of the end of the Batman films. The third and fourth installments of the franchise buckle under the weight of their own excess. But more on that later.

Perfect for: Super hero movie fans, who undoubtedly have already seen it.

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