The monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito), who lives in the sewers beneath Gotham, joins up with wicked shock-headed businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to topple the Batman (Michael Keaton) once and for all. But when Shreck’s timid assistant, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), finds out, and Shreck tries to kill her, she is transformed into the sexy Catwoman. She teams up with the Penguin and Shreck to destroy Batman, but sparks fly unexpectedly when she confronts the caped crusader.
The movie is the best of Tim Burton before he became a Hollywood fad. He brings us back to the gothic city that we fell in love with, in Batman (1989). More than that, he gives our pointy-eared hero a very different threat. It the first time (of many ) that the hero will face off multiple enemies. Burton manages to fully explore both Gotham and its weird inhabitants in a very real way. There is Selina Kyle who is the epitome of a woman in a corporate world. Her arc is more woman empowering than most movies today. While her thieving antics from the comics are cast aside, her strong, individualism and refusal to play second fiddle in a man’s world shines brighter than ever.
Then there is Shreck who is clearly a symbolism for Corporate America, a weasel of a man who will do whatever it takes to further his own goals. Rounding off the bad guys is Penguin, whose journey brings him full circle. His arc on this surface seems rather one dimensional, but it’s really a euphemism for politics and politicians. Behind it the illusion, there is always an agenda. Batman himself is fantastic with his clever banter in that monotone voice. But more than that is Bruce. Bruce Wayne is carved out a little more. He is portrayed as a brilliant businessman who can see through all the bull.
There are elements that simply do not work though. While Penguin got a full-on origin, and one that partially makes sense. But Catwoman, her transition from dorky assistant, I mean secretary to femme fatal feels a little contrived. The movie does make up for it as it goes along by strengthening her both mentally and emotionally. (read above).
The movie really does bring you aesthetically into the comics, a feat very few movies were able to replicate. But Tim Burton masterfully crafted a world where a Batman could not only exist but could live in. And having the Christmas aurora in its backdrop simply created a world we wish could be revisited.
Test of Time
For the most part, the movie really does hold up against father time. I think this is in part to the film being slightly ahead of its time back then. The themes addressed in this movie still hold up today, for the most part anyway. Having watched it in remastered HD, the cinematography still works as a very gothic time period piece. The score still gives us goosebumps and Selina is still sexy as ever. The movie was very ambitious for its time, and while it did hurt it a little back then, it is paying dividends decades later.
Batman Returns scores a Still Fresh in our first ever Throwback Review.