This is the Batman movie that I have the stronger childhood memories of. Like I said in my introduction and actual review of the first film, even though it has become my absolute favorite and was indeed a part of my life from ages four to five, after a while, despite the fact that I owned the VHS, it sort of just disappeared. The VHS may have gotten damaged and was unwatchable or I may have lost it but, for whatever reason, I didn't see that first film for a very long time until I rediscovered it as a teenager. Batman Returns, on the other hand, I much clearer memories of from ages five to maybe even seven. In fact, the summer that it came out, my family and I were on our yearly vacation in Florida and my mom took me and someone else (it may have been my older sister) to see it. Of course, I was only five years old and I slept through some parts of it (waking up at one point to see the Penguin bite that guy's nose off) but it was one of my earliest move theater memories. I ended up with the VHS of this movie as well and watched it quite a bit, much more so than the first film. And even though I went through that period where Batman wasn't part of my life for the latter part of my childhood and into early adulthood, the film's images of Gotham City, as well as the characters of Batman, the Penguin, and Catwoman, stuck with me, not to mention the sense of just how strange a film it was. As I mentioned in my introduction, I rediscovered the film during my senior year in high school and it got me back into Batman full blast. After watching it more and more as an adult, I've come to the conclusion that, while it's not my favorite incarnation of Batman and I feel it does have its fair share of flaws, it is an interesting and memorable viewing experience nevertheless.
Since Batman was one of the biggest movies of 1989 (having been beaten only by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in terms of worldwide gross), Warner Bros. was eager to make a sequel straightaway and they wanted Tim Burton to direct again. After his experience making the first film and his mixed feelings about the finished product, however, Burton wasn't too keen on returning to the world of Batman. Eventually, though, Warner Bros. hooked his interest in the same way that they hooked Joe Dante for Gremlins 2: The New Batch: they told Burton that he could do whatever he wanted. With that opportunity, as well as producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber, with whom Burton had clashed with constantly during the making of the first film, taking a large backseat in the film's production, Burton decided to do the sequel. Little did Warner Bros. know what they were getting themselves into by giving Burton free reign. Apparently, they hadn't seen Edward Scissorhands yet because, if they had, they would have known that Tim Burton was a now different filmmaker than he was when he made the first movie. Personally, I've always seen Tim Burton's filmmaking career as having two distinct phases: pre-1990 and 1990 onward. With his short films at Disney and his first three movies, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Batman, Burton was still trying to carve out his own style and find his voice. Edward Scissorhands in 1990, to me, was the first taste of what would become Burton's recognizable style and vision: very Gothic, fairytale-style storytelling with quirky characters and a vision that's colorful in some spots and yet, dark and strange in others. With few exceptions, those are the trademarks that he, for better or worse, has brought to all of his movies since and is what he brought to this. In fact, here's how I view Burton's two Batman movies: Batman is a Batman movie that was directed by Tim Burton, whereas Batman Returns is a Tim Burton movie that just happens to have Batman in it. If you've seen both films, you should know what I'm talking about.
Everyone says that in the first movie, Batman was of second importance to the Joker but, if you've read my review, you probably sensed that I don't entirely agree with that and that I feel the movie was equally about both characters. Batman Returns, on the other hand, is the film where I feel the title character is relegated to a supporting role while the villains take center stage. It was cool that they got Michael Keaton back but he really isn't given much to do here as far as Batman goes. He still looks cool and intimidating as all get-out in the suit, he fights well (Keaton was able to do more of the action scenes because the Batman suit was much less restrictive this time), and he has some great moments but he still feels of second importance to the film. (The title doesn't even make sense when you think about it. Exactly where or what has Batman returned from? He doesn't seem to have gone anywhere.) Case in point: a major subplot involving him being framed by the Penguin for murder and mass-destruction is forgotten about fairly quickly and never mentioned again. In any case, though, he's still very much a silent creature of the night and has fully settled into his role as Gotham City's protector. One bit that I like is when he's patrolling the streets of the city late one night. I like the idea that, even when there's no immediate threat, he's out there making sure he can take care of any before they escalate. One last thing I have to say about Batman himself is his suit this time around. While I still like the suit in the first movie best, the one here is another knockout. It's so well designed and sculpted, looking very nicely sleek and polished. It's much more angular in the details of the mask and the musculature on the body armor section but it still looks great. The cape especially is very cool-looking. Oddly, the Bat symbol on the chest is much more traditional than the slightly altered one on the original suit. Another interesting aspect is that, whereas in the original film there was only suit that was kept in a small chamber in the Batcave, Bruce Wayne has apparently found time to make dozens of spare suits, boots, masks, and gloves that he now keeps in a big walk-in closet in the cave. When did he find the time and materials to pull that off?
Keaton has a much more juicy characterization to bring to Bruce Wayne this time. The basic portrayal is still the same, in that Bruce is a charming but eccentric millionaire and a bit of a recluse, but, to me, there seems to be a darker feeling of brooding to him here. That could be due to the fact that, as you find out, the relationship between Bruce and Vicki Vale from the first film fell apart due to his alter ego and his inability to deal with it. It was the first time he'd ever had a real relationship and it didn't work. In fact, the first time you see Bruce, he's sitting in the darkness of his mansion, doing nothing but brooding. It gives us a look at how even more tortured, dark, and lonely his existence has become. This is why he's so attracted to Selina Kyle, whom he can tell is another tortured soul with a dark side. Keaton himself even stated in an interview that Bruce sees something of himself in Selina and, therefore, when the two of them learn of their alter egos, he realizes that, other than slight differences in their respective paths, they are very much the same. He even says that to her as Batman: "We're the same. Split, right down the center." Moreover, in the scene before the climax where they're dancing at Max Shreck's ball, Bruce mentions something about taking off their costumes and while it's first meant as a sexual statement, Selina says, "I guess I'm tired of wearing masks," to which Bruce responds, "Me too." (Also, at that moment, Batman and Catwoman are the only ones not wearing any costumes, making it a complete reversal of how their usual circumstances.) This motivates him to try to convince her to come and live with him,
hoping that this relationship will work out since, unlike Vicki, she
can totally relate to him and, given their shared fatigue of their alter egos, they could try to reconcile their issues with duality together. Unfortunately, as it always goes, it ends up not being meant to be.
Not only does Bruce see something of himself in Selina Kyle, he also briefly sees something in Oswald Cobblepot a.k.a. the Penguin. When the Penguin first appears on the news after revealing himself to the world, he mentions his desire to find his parents and ask them why they abandoned him as a baby. Given what we know of Bruce's parents, it's not too hard to understand why he would be affected by that and why he would say, "His parents... I hope he finds them." However, he soon finds evidence to doubt the Penguin's sincerity, coming across newspapers suggesting that he controls the Red Triangle Circus gang. His instincts turn out to be right, naturally. That's another thing I like: you see a lot of the thinking side of Bruce Wayne here, in that he's just as much of a detective out of the suit as he is when he's in it. I know it was shown in the first movie as well but I like the idea of him not only doing it in private but sharing it with people other than Alfred. My example of that comes when he meets with Max Shreck about the latter's proposed power plant deal. Bruce makes it clear that he doesn't trust Shreck as far as he can kick him and knows he's up to something. I like the part where he tells Shreck, "I've already spoken with the mayor," whom we saw wasn't fond of Shreck's plan either, "and we see eye to eye." He adds later that he knows that the Penguin controls the Red Triangle Gang and that Shreck must know that as well. It's hard to explain but I like the idea that Bruce isn't just brooding all the time when he's not Batman and is trying to make a difference without his alter ego just as much as he does with it. Speaking of his alter ego, there's a moment in this film that I don't think you see in any other live-action incarnations of Batman: the idea of it simply being Bruce Wayne in the suit. What I mean by that is the moment after Catwoman jabs Batman in the side and we later see him in the Batcave, wincing from his wounds. After he pulls out the claw that was left in there, he calls Alfred and tells him to bring him some antiseptic ointment. He's not doing the low Batman voice but is actually talking normally, as he does as Bruce Wayne. That's what I meant when I said it's Bruce inside the suit. Now in other movies, there have been shots of Bruce in the body of the suit without the mask (particularly in the Christopher Nolan movies) but this is the only time I can think of in the live action depictions where we see a scene like this. It's also interesting to see that he can easily shift between the two identities given the situation and circumstances (something they would do quite often in the animated series).
What most people take from this movie character-wise are the villains, for good reason. You have not one but three: two from the comics and one created specifically for the film. The one I remembered the most as a kid was the Penguin, played by Danny DeVito. It's ironic that the Penguin is usually portrayed as one of Batman's more sophisticated and high society-oriented adversaries because in this film, he couldn't be farther from that. He may try to integrate himself into Gotham's upper crust by running for mayor and by dressing in fancy clothes and so on but, in reality, he's a disgusting, perverted slob of a character. I've heard that some find him to be kind of sympathetic but I've never felt bad for him in any way. I know he was dumped into the sewers by his parents when he was a baby but it wasn't just because of his ugly appearance. Even as a baby, he was a monster. He made these freakish squawking noises instead of crying, especially when he was born, and at one point, he pulled a cat into his cage and, we can surmise, ate the thing. You could say that if his parents had kept him around and taught him about right and wrong (with emphasis placed on understanding that eating cats is definitely wrong), as anybody would with their kids, he may have turned out alright. Maybe but I think it would have been much easier for me to sympathize with him if he had been portrayed as deformed but still acting like a normal baby and that his parents got rid of him simply because of his looks. But nope, he's a monster from the start. He grows up in the sewers of Gotham, is raised by some penguins that are living in this old abandoned zoo, and becomes the leader of this mobster Red Triangle circus gang. That's when he kidnaps Max Shreck and blackmails him into helping him emerge and become part of Gotham's elite.
The Penguin claims to Shreck that he wants to be respected as a human being by the citizens of Gotham and to reclaim his human identity by finding his parents. Okay, his monstrous demeanor when he was a baby aside, I could sympathize with him here as having grown up into a deformed but intelligent misfit who is then used and corrupted by Shreck. The problem is that he's not sincere in this at all. Not only did he have his men terrorize a Christmas tree ceremony in Gotham in order to kidnap Shreck, as well as have one of his men kidnap the mayor's baby so he could "rescue" it and become loved by the people, we learn at the beginning of the movie's last act what his real plan was all along. After revealing himself to the world, he goes to the city's hall of records in order to, we assume, learn who he really is. Instead, we see him writing down a bunch of names and later in the film, after his reputation among the city is soured, he reveals what the list is: the names of the first born sons of Gotham City's aristocrats whom he plans to kidnap and drown! That's why he wanted to emerge and become a citizen of Gotham: to enact some sick revenge against his long-dead parents (the stark opposite of Bruce Wayne's lifelong ambition). He probably would have done it a lot sooner too had Max Shreck not distracted him with the prospect of becoming the mayor. Even if he had become mayor, I don't doubt that he would have still had his men carry out his initial mission since, at that point, there was nothing to tie him to the gang. On top of that, what does he do when Batman foils that plan? Decides to destroy half of the city, determined to kill some innocent people no matter what. Speaking of Shreck's offer of becoming mayor, even though it wasn't his original plan, he still finds the prospect of having his men cause destruction and chaos in the city a "fun" idea and really gets into the idea of being mayor because, as he says, "It's not about power. It's about reach out to people. Touching people. Groping people!" That's another thing. Not only is he a vengeful psychopath who likes the taste of the power he gets as a mayoral candidate but he's a pervert. He says stuff like, "I'd like to fill her void," when referring to this one woman who was meant to be an image consultant for him, pinning a button on this other woman's chest and clearly fondling her in the process (the woman's too stupid to realize it, as well), and there's no doubt that he wants Catwoman (but then again, who wouldn't?) The part where she tells him that they have something in common and he says, "Naked, sexual charisma," just puts the worst image in my head each time. I know Burgess Meredith played the Penguin as having a thing for Catwoman back in the Adam West show but that takes it to a whole other level of perverseness.
Besides being a nasty character internally, the Penguin isn't that pleasant to look at from the outside either. Stan Winston and his team did a great job of turning Danny DeVito into a hideous, disgusting super villain. He's so short and extremely fat, with a long nose, sharp teeth, bald on the top with stringy hair in the back, webbed hands with claws on the fingers, and extremely pale skin. What's worse is when he's dressed in this disgusting, one-piece outfit that looks like pajamas to me. Not a pretty sight at all. As if that wasn't bad enough, he's constantly spewing some sort of purple/green stuff out of his mouth. At the end of the movie after he's been injured and has fallen into the water, it comes out of his mouth in big streams. To this day, I have no earthly clue what that crud is supposed to be but I remembered it vividly from back when I was a kid. While we're on the subject of his final moments, I will say that when he finally dies and those penguins slide him into the water, I do feel sad. Not for him, mind you, but for the penguins, who you can tell are very sad that their master is gone. Danny Elfman's music adds to the sadness there as well. I give them props for making me feel sympathy for him during at least one scene. There's a much earlier scene in the film that also tries to make me feel sympathy for him but it more confuses me than anything else. It's the moment where the Penguin visits his parents' grave in the Gotham cemetery. Now, we're supposed to feel bad for him since he's now discovered that he will never have a chance to settle with his parents and he does seem sad that he never knew them, placing roses at their grave and so forth. But since he goes ahead with his plan to kill the first born sons of Gotham as an act of revenge, I assume he's just playing his sadness up because there's a crowd of people watching him. And if he really does feel sad, then his decision to go ahead with that horrible plan makes even less sense. Also, Batman mentions that he thinks that the Penguin already knows who his parents are and is using it as a cover-up for another plan (which he is). Does he mean that the Penguin already discovered in the hall of records who his parents are and yet, is still there doing something? Or does he mean that the Penguin knew all along who his parents were and if that's the case, how did he find out? Maybe someone else can explain this to me but I just don't quite get it. With everything I've said, you're probably thinking that I hate the Penguin in this movie but I don't. He's a great villain and DeVito plays him very well. I like the fact that he goes through an arc of becoming human by entering high society, dressing in fancy clothes, and so on but once he's revealed for what he is, he retreats back to the sewers (jumping off the same bridge that his parents threw him off, in a great visual twist) and sheds the fancy clothes that he's been wearing. Upon arriving in the sewers, he angrily corrects a clown who calls him Oswald, while earlier in the film he corrected someone who called him Penguin. He even does an inverse of the famous line from The Elephant Man, yelling, "I am not a human being! I am an animal! Cold-blooded!" He is indeed a great, memorable villain but, again, that if they expected me to sympathize with him, they blew that big time.
The villain in the film that I do sympathize with is Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. I feel bad for her from the beginning when she is Max Shreck's mousy, beaten down, overlooked secretary who is so oppressed in her position and subdued in her behavior that when she's mad at herself, she can't refer to herself as anything worse than, "You stupid corndog!" Not only does she act like the most timid person imaginable but she doesn't look all that appealing, with her hair tied up and a pair of big coke bottle glasses on her face. Shreck even refers to her as a cat from the beginning but in the most demeaning way, saying that she's not properly housebroken when she tries to add something to a business meeting. That all changes when Shreck finds out that Selina has discovered that his proposed power plant will drain electricity from Gotham City and pushes her out of the office window to keep her from talking. What happens after she hits the ground is something that I've never been able to quite understand and I don't think a lot of other people have been able to either. Suddenly, her black cat finds her body, followed by all of these other cats coming out of nowhere and crawling all over her, with one chewing on her fingers, and then she regains consciousness (after a very creepy moment where her eyes blink and twitch crazily and then flutter open). There are two ways to interpret it. There's the realistic way, that she survived the fall despite its height (the tarps she fell through on the way down possibly softening her landing) and it caused a psychotic break within her mind. And then, there's the supernatural way, that she did die and that the cats somehow brought her back to life. Whichever way you want to look at it, much like what happened to Jack Napier when he became the Joker, the old Selina Kyle does die in that fall and the person that awakens is a whole other persona. She comes home to her apartment in a daze, eventually snaps after playing phone messages that, in one way or the other, have to do with people that have repressed her (her judgmental mother and Shreck), destroys her apartment (which, as we'll get into later, is another manifestation of her repression), and creates the final component for the birth of Catwoman, i.e. the suit, out of a black leather coat that she finds in her closet.
As has been portrayed in other incarnations, in this film, Catwoman is characterized as being very much like Batman in a lot of ways. In fact, even though the mousy, repressed Selina Kyle is gone, there is still very much a dual personality with this character, as there is with Bruce Wayne. As Catwoman, she's a vigilante who comes out at night like Batman but, unlike him, her agenda is quite different. I've heard some people say that they're not exactly sure what she wants since she teams up with the Penguin temporarily and yet, plots to destroy Shreck. I think her motivation is quite simple actually. Since we can assume she's been used and abused by men her whole life, Selena uses Catwoman to last out at all men, much like Batman is Bruce Wayne's way of lashing out at the criminals who took his parents from him. The first thing she does as Catwoman is scratch up this man attempting to rape a young woman and from there, she goes on to do everything possible to destroy Shreck, blowing up a department store of his and so forth. She then runs into Batman, whom she sees as another oppressive man, one trying to end her crime streak, and decides to destroy him as well. While she teams up with the Penguin, it's only as a means to an end in order to destroy Batman and she has no interest whatsoever in fulfilling the Penguin's disgusting desire for her (who can blame her though?) She also uses the way she dresses to draw oppressive men out. Let's face it, she is incredibly sexy in that skin-tight, shiny, black leather body suit, and with that whip, she seems like a dominatrix (look at the scene where she sits on top of the dazed Batman when he's lying on the ground and, instead of kissing him, licks him across the mouth). That ploy does work in that scene where the aforementioned would-be rapist tries to take advantage of her and when the two security guards come across her trashing Shreck's department store joke about her sexuality, with one saying, "I don't know whether to open fire or fall in love." The only difference between her and a typical dominatrix is, as those guys find out the hard way, she's intent on giving men pain without any pleasure whatsoever. She also has no sympathy for women who can't help themselves, glaring at that woman whom she saved from that rapist, "You make it so easy, don't you? Waiting for some Batman to save you." The reason is because she probably sees the woman she used to be as having been weak like that. That said, she does have her limits. She's not intent on killing any innocent people, as per her anger and disgust towards the Penguin for causing the kidnapped Ice Princess (the woman who turns on the lights of the Christmas tree in Gotham Plaza) to fall to her death.
So that's Catwoman. On the other side of the personality, we have Selina Kyle, who is now markedly different than she was as Max Shreck's secretary. She's now much more openly sexual and ballsy, particularly when she walks in on the meeting between Shreck and Bruce Wayne. She claims to not know what happened to her (although Shreck isn't fooled) and acts much bolder towards her boss, at one point, in response to Shreck repeating her name in disbelief at her still being alive, saying, "That's my name, Maximillian. Don't wear it out or I'll make you buy me a brand new one." She takes an immediate attraction to Bruce, eventually having dinner with him one night and is intrigued when he tells her that his previous relationship with Vicki Vale didn't work out because of his trouble with duality. Like he does later on, Selina sees a bit of herself in Bruce when she hears that statement. Much like Bruce, Selina, despite her actions, is also having trouble in coming to grips with her dual personality. At one point, Bruce finds her looking at her reflection in a store window, asking herself in a meek voice, "Why are you doing this?" When they're dancing together at Shreck's ball and Bruce becomes alarmed when Selina shows him a gun to kill Shreck with, he asks her, "Who the hell do you think you are?" Selina, with tears in her eyes, answers, "I don't know anymore, Bruce." When Selina instructs Alfred to tell Bruce that he makes her feel the way she hopes she really is, there's a little bit of hope that they're going to get together and work out their differences, particularly when they each discover who the other really is. In fact, the way the relationship between the two of them evolves is very similar to the conflict between Batman and the Joker in the first film in that their various identities cross paths throughout the film. They first meet each other as Batman and Selina Kyle when he saves her from one of the Penguin's men at the beginning of the movie. They then meet as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Shreck's office. That night, they meet as Batman and Catwoman when they battle each other on the rooftops. Except for Bruce Wayne and Catwoman, every possible combination occurs, leading up to when they discover the truth about each other. It's another meeting of the freaks at the end, only this time, instead of a confrontation of two mortal enemies, it's a meeting between two would-be lovers, one of whom is willing to let the other live with him so they can work through their issues of duality. It's quite a heartbreaking moment when Selina admits to Bruce, who has just ripped of his Batman mask, that she would love to live with him but when Bruce tries to touch her, she slashes him across the face, saying, "I just couldn't live with myself, so don't pretend this is a happy ending." She can't quite cope with her alter ego the way Bruce has managed to. But there is a nice touch at the end with her apparently leaving Bruce her cat as a reminder of her.
Remember when I said that Selina's resurrection as Catwoman could be supernatural? Well, by the end of the film, you do start to wonder if she is more than human. During her final confrontation with Shreck, she declares that she's lost three of her supposed nine lives: one to Shreck when he pushed her out of the window (before that, he even said to her, "What did curiosity do to the cat?"); another to Batman when he punched her off the building and she landed in a truck full of kitty litter; and a third to the Penguin when he put the handle of his flying umbrella around her neck and sent her flying through the night sky, eventually falling through the glass of a greenhouse. That statement is correct when you stop and think about it (though I think anyone could have survived falling into a pile of kitty litter). In any case, she asks Shreck if he's got enough ammo to finish her off and proceeds to shoot her twice at point-blank range. She doesn't go down, though, so he shoots her two more times. Though she does seem to be hurt by those shots, she still doesn't die. We know that she made her Catwoman outfit out of a black leather coat and it has no body armor like the Batman suit, so how is she surviving being shot like that? On top of that, with two lives left, she decides to save her last one for next Christmas and uses the other to kiss Shreck with a taser, frying him to a crisp and destroying what was left of the Penguin's lair. Bruce, in shifting through the wreckage, finds no sign of Selina and the movie ends with him seeing what appears to be her shadow in an alleyway. While he doesn't find her when he investigates the alley, he does find her cat and takes her home with him. The final shot of the movie proves that Catwoman is, indeed, still alive when she stands up in front of the camera to look at the Bat Signal in the sky. Maybe there was more to Selina than just a dual personality after all?
This is the movie that introduced me to Christopher Walken. For a long time, whenever I would see him in a movie, my reaction would always be, "It's the Batman guy!" Some may find his character in this movie to be unnecessary and over-complicating towards the plot but he's so awesome that I don't care. Max Shreck is one of the ultimate examples of the evil of corporate America. Like the other characters in this world, there are several sides to him. One is the side he shows to the citizens of Gotham, which appears to be a generous businessman who truly wants to make the city a better place. When he makes a public speech with the mayor at the beginning of the movie, you can see that he revels in the attention, giving a peace-sign to an unseen person in the audience who cheers him and throwing random presents into the crowd before starting his speech. When he's having meetings with the mayor or Bruce Wayne, he still acts like he truly wants to help the city, but when they can sense that he's up to something else, that demeanor starts to crack and he gets extremely tough and threatening towards them. He tells the mayor that he has enough influence to get him recalled and asks Bruce, "You think you can go fifteen rounds with Muhammed Shreck?" He especially picks on Bruce when he spots him wearing a simple tuxedo at his masquerade ball and says, "Ingenious costume. Let me guess: trust fund goody-goody." When Bruce admonishes him for almost having made a horrible creature like the Penguin Gotham's mayor, Shreck says, "I am the light of this city, and I'm it's mean, twisted soul. Does it matter who's mayor?" Bruce says, "It does to me," to which Shreck responds, "Yawn!" That brings to light the third and actual person who Shreck is: a truly evil, power-hungry, and psychotic business mogul. He tells Bruce in their business meeting, "One can never have too much power. If my life has a meaning, that's the meaning." He makes it clear that those words are ones that he lives by. He wants Gotham City in the palm of his hand and doesn't care at all what he has to do or who he has to hurt (or kill) to achieve that dream. Not only does he push Selina Kyle out of the window when she discovers his evil schemes but, as the Penguin showed us, he murdered and dismembered an old business partner of his at one point.
It's fitting that the character is named Max Shreck. Anybody who's a horror movie fan should know that Max Shreck was the name of the actor who played the freaky vampire Count Orlock in the 1922 German silent film, Nosferatu, and, when you think about it, the character in this film is kind of like a vampire. He plans to build a power plant that will actually drain electricity from Gotham City, sucking the life out of it much like how a vampire sucks the life out of a living person. By the end of the movie, with that cape and tuxedo-like suit he's wearing because of his costume party, he's almost dressed like the popular image of Dracula. (On a side-note, my mom constantly gets him mixed up with Christopher Lee name-wise.) Despite the horrible things he does, Shreck says that he doesn't consider himself to be a monster. Like I said, he considers himself to be the embodiment of the good and evil in the city, which is how he makes excuses for what he does. He's always thinking about how to further his hold on the city. The only thing standing in the way of his proposed power plant is the mayor and so, when the Penguin blackmails him into helping him become part of the city, he decides to back him as a new candidate for mayor so as to ensure his power plant. With his influence, Shreck is able to make someone as repulsive as the Penguin seem like a decent person as well as a great mayoral prospect, especially when he asks the Penguin to have his men create more havoc in the city so as to further damage the public's confidence in the current mayor. Once the Penguin's true nature is made known to the city, Shreck drops him like a bad habit and seems confident at his masquerade party that he will still be able to get by. You have to wonder, though, wouldn't the fact that he backed the Penguin damage the public's trust in him? I guess he could make the excuse that he didn't know that the Penguin was really such a horrible creature but I wonder if the people would buy that (but, then again, they all went to the Joker's parade in the first movie even though he had poisoned many people beforehand, so there's that). I know one thing, though: Shreck dies one of the most gruesome deaths I've ever seen in a comic book movie. Not only is he electrocuted to death with Catwoman "kissing" him with a taser but Bruce, while digging through the rubble of the resulting explosion, finds Shreck's charred remains, which looks really horrifying! Definitely a memorable death for a memorable villain.
One last thing about Max Shreck is that, as evil and psychotic as he is, there's one person that he seems to genuinely care about and that's his son, Chip. In the scenes where Chip is threatened, Shreck looks concerned for him. After the explosion that the Penguin causes at Shreck's masquerade ball, he immediately goes to Chip and holds his face in his hands with a worried expression on his own face. And, of course, when the Penguin tries to take Chip down into the sewers with him so he can kill him, Shreck pleads with the Penguin to take him instead, which he eventually agrees to do. You could make the argument that the reason why Shreck cares so much for his son is so his legacy will be carried on. He even tells Selena that the power plant will be exactly that when he leaves it behind for Chip. So maybe his influence over Gotham passing from one generation to the next means more to him than his son actually does but I personally still see the look of a genuinely concerned father in those moments I mentioned. As for Chip himself, there's not much to say really. Andrew Bryniarksi (yes, the guy who would later become a drunken asshole at horror conventions and declare himself to be the best Leatherface ever) doesn't have much screentime and when he does, all he's doing is doing a bad imitation of Christopher Walken's memorable accent and trying to exude the tiniest bit of his attitude. It doesn't really gel.
As I said in my review of the first film, I really like Michael Gough as Alfred and that extends to this film as well. His first appearance in the movie, where he tells a newspaper boy that the story in the papers he's trying to sell is rubbish, speaks volumes of how awesome he is. I also really like the interactions between him and Bruce Wayne this time around. There's that great moment when he brings Bruce some sort of porridge (I can't remember what he called it) while he's working in the Batcave and when Bruce comments that it's cold, Alfred dryly tells him, "It's supposed to be cold." I also like Alfred's comments on Bruce suspecting that the Penguin is not the kind-hearted person he seems to be, saying, "Must you be the only, lonely man-beast in town?" Alfred, however, does come to realize that the Penguin is, indeed, a hideous creature, calling him a "ghastly grotesque" at one point. There's also the much beloved exchange when Alfred is talking to Bruce about the security issues about having the damaged Batmobile repaired and Bruce says, "Who let Vicki Vale into the Batcave? I'm sitting there working and I turn around and there she is. 'Oh, hi Vick. Come on in.'" Alfred just sort of rolls his eyes at that, as if he's saying, "Will you let that go?" There are some other good moments like when Bruce, in a very sporadic, rambling kind of way, asks Alfred to tell Selina that he apologizes for skipping out on her and when he tries to relay the message, Selina tells him to deliver a similar one to Bruce, which causes Alfred to get a dumbfounded expression on his face. One moment that no one talks about is when Alfred presents Bruce with an invitation to Shreck's masquerade party and Bruce responds, "Not interested," to which Alfred follows through by ripping the invitation apart. But then Bruce says, "Although, Selina Kyle might be there." Alfred then looks at the ripped up invitation with an exasperated expression. I like little moments like that. Alfred takes an active part in his master's crime-fighting this time. He helps Bruce expose the Penguin's evil intentions to the people of Gotham City by playing a recording of some horrible comments he made over a PA system at a speech and later, he helps Batman by using a signal to turn around a bunch of penguins that are armed with rockets to blow up the heart of the city. Finally, I like what he says during the movie's final moments in seeing that Bruce is brooding over his inability to find Selina: "Well, come what may, Merry Christmas, Mr. Wayne." It's those kinds of moments that make me love Alfred a lot in these movies.
Michael Murphy plays the beleagured current mayor of Gotham City (I don't think he's ever given an actual name) and he's another person whom you feel for. Like Mayor Borg before him, he's trying to retain some semblance of order in the crime-riddled hellhole that is Gotham and get it back on its feet. However, he himself isn't too convinced that he's doing that great of a job, constantly having to make apologies and declarations in public speeches that are never followed up on and probably can't be in a city like this. He's also dogged by Max Shreck, whom you can tell he doesn't trust and is doing what he can to keep him from building his proposed power plant. Ultimately, we never find out what happened to the mayor. He's never mentioned again after the second act but, since the Penguin's bid to take over his position fell through, we can guess that he continued with the job. As he would in the other entries in this initial Batman series, Pat Hingle returns as Commissioner Gordon but he has basically no role here at all. The only significant thing he does is disbelieve that Batman had anything to do with the Ice Princess being kidnapped, even though one of his Batarangs was found at the scene. He says that the evidence is completely circumstancial and later, when his men open fire on Batman, he angrily yells at them to hold their fire (he's a bit late on that score though). Despite his reduced role in this instance, though, it's still good just to see him again. Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) and Diane Salinger (who appeared with Reubens in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure) appear briefly at the beginning of the film as the Penguin's horrified parents and supposedly, Elizabeth Sanders, wife of Batman creator Bob Kane, has a cameo as a citizen of Gotham. One last character I have to mention is a reporter who appears in the scene where the Penguin visits his parents' grave. He's pushing against the police officers trying to hold him back and he asks the Penguin some questions in a very fast manner. He also appears when the Penguin makes his first public bid to become mayor, speaking on the phone with his somebody (his editor, probably) and telling them of the situation. I sometimes wonder if this is supposed to be Alexander Knox. The character is never given a name and it's not Robert Wuhl but rather an actor named Erik Onate but, nevertheless, his personality, which is that aggressive, determined to get a story mentality (he's even credited as Aggressive Reporter) does feel like Knox. I hardly hear anybody mention him since he's such a minor character but it's an interesting question to ponder.
Not content with simply reusing the same designs for Gotham City that he had in the first film, Tim Burton had art director Bo Welch create a completely new vision of the city, this time even darker and gloomier than the previous one. The film is set at Christmastime and while Gotham does look beautiful covered in snow, especially at dusk and night, it's in stark contrast to the conditions the citizens are living in. Not only is there still the air of rampant crime permeating it but the city itself has an even more unpleasant look to it. Welch brought in elements of Fascism, German and Russian architecture to create a very oppressive-looking city. There are statues and carved faces everywhere, including two big statues on opposite sides of Gotham Plaza (with the city's Christmas tree sitting between them) and there's even a face carved randomly on the side of the wall next to this alley where Max Shreck falls through a trapdoor and is brought to the Penguin's lair. One thing I forgot to mention in my remarks on Gotham City in the previous film were the narrow streets, which are carried over to this film. The vehicles have barely any room on the small roads that they're forced to drive on and, because of the tight nature of the sidewalks, streets, and blocks, the buildings and statues are constantly looming over the various citizens of the city. Even though it's not as prevalent here as it was in the first movie, there's still steam rising out of the sewer vents here and there. The part where the city seems the gloomiest to me is in the movie's final moments when Bruce is being driven home by Alfred. The alleyways look completely empty, with no signs of life whatsoever, and during the final shot where the camera pans upward through the buildings, Gotham City just looks absolutely drained of life, with the only real light being the Bat Signal that appears in the sky. It feels like the city and its people have been beaten down by all that's happened and the future seems very bleak and hopeless.
Two sets in the film that look very similar are the Cobblepot mansion at the very beginning of the movie and Wayne Manor. They both have a fairytale quality in their look, especially the latter with the exterior shots of it sitting up on a hill, set against the dark, winter sky. The insides of them both look similar with the warm, yellowish light, the long hallways, the Christmas trees, and the fireplaces. Something about the interior of the Cobblepot mansion intrigues me, with the design of the wallpaper, the way the door to the room where Mrs. Cobblepot gives birth to the Penguin looks, and I especially like the contrast of the warmth of their living room with the horror that's going on with the baby Penguin killing the family cat. We don't get to see as much of Wayne Manor this time around but the interiors are still well designed. When we first see Bruce, he's brooding in the most appropriate place: a big, dark room that appears to be some sort of study or library. It accentuates his mood perfectly and it's only when the image of the Bat Signal (reflected by various remote-controlled mirrors) shines into the room, and onto him, that he comes to life. We see other parts of the mansion like a large living area where the TV and fireplace are, with a big Christmas tree in the hallway behind it. Bruce also has an interesting way of getting down to the Batcave: he pushes a button on a model in the fish tank which opens up an iron maiden that he steps into whose spikes retract and he slides down into the cave. Not surprisingly, Alfred remarks, "I think I'll take the stairs." Speaking of the Batcave, while it was quite a dark and dreary place in the first film, here it seems to have a glow, as if it's bathed in blacklight or something. It's quite beautiful to look at.
One environment that plays well into the opening of the movie and the credits sequence is the sewer system. The Cobblepots dump the Penguin's baby basket over a little bridge in a park where it falls down the drain and travels through the sewers. It makes for a really good opening title sequence with the basket traveling through the sewers, accompanied by various shots showing the frozen vents and walls of the system, all while Danny Elfman's eerie, atmospheric music adds to it perfectly. Eventually, the basket ends up at the area underneath the abandoned zoo which later becomes the Penguin's lair. Since it was a zoo, and this area is referred to as Arctic World, we can surmise that it was probably where shows featuring penguins and other types of arctic wildlife were put on. It's an amazing set, very amusement park in the way it feels with the pool where the penguins swim having a green/yellow color to it, an enormous ceiling, and the long table where the Penguin and his minions eat. There's an igloo-designed space where the Penguin's poodle lady minion tells him the status of his rocket-equipped penguins' attack on the city, some stairs that lead to the outside, big air conditioning machines to keep the place cold, and even a big cage where the Penguin keeps Max Shreck prisoner during the climax of the movie. The Penguin also mentions that there's an entire lagoon of toxic waste from Max Shreck's supposedly clean textile plant nearby, which is where he later plans to drown all of Gotham's first born sons. This also serves as being the instrument of the Penguin's death after he falls into it (although I've never understood how the penguins were able to swim through it and not be harmed at all). We don't see much of the actual zoo but it looks very surreal with its attractions and exhibits (like a big crab model and a big structure shaped like bones) covered in a blanket of snow, topped off with a polar bear statue on the section that served as Arctic World.
The most normal-looking sets are the offices owned by Max Shreck, which look like any typical business office, with his main one having a big window overlooking the city. There's an interesting dichotomy of the temporary home Shreck gives to the Penguin. The downstairs is a normal office space and upstairs has a bizarre look that suits its current occupant. Shreck's department stores are a little odd looking themselves, with neon signs on the outside and the decorum inside being almost entirely black and white, particularly the floors. One interesting note is that the symbol of his company is a big, grinning cat's face. There's a big, turning model of it atop his main office building, a clock with that design that we see briefly, another model hanging from the ceiling at his masquerade ball, and the design is even drawn on the windows of his department stores. As far as symbolism goes, it can't be a coincidence then that his attempted murder on Selina Kyle gave birth to Catwoman. Speaking of her, Selina's apartment is this tacky, cramped, overly pink place full of girly things and a bed that she has to pull down out of the closet. It suits her repressed mindset very well and, like I said, after she recovers from being pushed out of the window by Shreck, she snaps and tears the place apart, which leads to her making the Catwoman outfit (I'll go into more detail about that scene later). Not only did the apartment represent her original, oppressed state of mind but after she gets through destroying it, it's now a manifestation of the chaos and turmoil her mind is in now. There's also this little cemetery where the Penguin visits his parents' grave that is straight out of a Gothic fairytale (I know I'm using that term a lot but that's the best way to describe a lot of these images). The overcast sky with just a hint of sunlight peaking through, the design of the tombstones and the gate leading into cemetery, as well as just the presence of snow on the ground gives the scene a storybook quality that Burton is the master at creating. Finally, I have to mention Shreck's ballroom where he has the dance in which Bruce and Selina realize each other's true identities. It's bathed completely in a golden yellow light, with a glowing, lit dance floor. Except for Bruce and Selina, everybody else is dressed in costumes, some of which are quite unusual. As I said earlier, one of those Shreck Industries cat-heads is hanging from the ceiling. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Tim Burton, love him or hate him, knows how to create images and places that feel otherworldly and, if nothing else, are memorable.
As I've said many times already, especially in my above description of the atmosphere of Gotham City, Batman Returns is one of the darkest comic book movies ever made in my opinion. I can understand why many people, both at the time of its release and still to this day, are put off by it because it's not a movie you want to watch if you're overly sensitive or easily depressed. When I say it's dark, I don't mean in as intense a way as something like The Dark Knight but rather that the whole film has a feeling of doom, dread, and gloom to it. The fact that it's set against the backdrop of Christmastime, which should be a joyous, wonderful season for people, makes it all the more disturbing. Even around this time, the citizens of Gotham have to live in fear, whether it be from a hideous deformed man-beast trying to take over their city, a corrupt businessman who plans to suck electricity from their home like a parasite, or evil, psychotic circus performers, which normally should bring laughter and happiness, kidnapping their children so their boss can enact a sick plot of revenge against high society. The Penguin's plan is truly horrifying, as I've said. It's so horrific that one of his own minions is shocked by it, which leads to him getting shot dead and his body kicked into the deep pool in the Penguin's lair. (Again, I just don't see how I'm supposed to pity this hideous creature.) The feeling that the city itself, with how it looms over the citizens, just adds to the doom-filled atmosphere. Like I said, during the last moments of the movie, the city has an air of hopelessness about it after all that's happened, that things are not going to get any better even with Batman around to protect it, a far cry from the triumphant, satisfying ending of the first movie. It all makes for a gloomy, dark film that feels more like a very bizarre film noir rather than a comic book movie. I know the first movie had a noir feel to it as well but it's cranked up to ten here. Oddly, not everybody seems to see it that way, though. Tim Burton often talks about how some people actually thought it was lighter than the first movie, while others did, indeed, think it was darker, and even some critics had such polarizing views of it. Like Burton, I just find that to be really strange. Speaking of Burton, he himself feels that this is lighter than the first one, although I'm willing to bet the reason he feels that way is because of the markedly different experiences he had in making the two films; one in which he had to bow down to studio pressure and deal with a constantly changing script and another where he had complete control. No disrespect to Burton but, knowing what I know about the productions of the films, I feel that those experiences, not the films themselves, influence Burton's opinions.
There are plenty of interesting gadgets that both Batman and the Penguin use in the film. The Batmobile looks the same as it did in the first film, the only difference being that it looks much sleeker and more polished; otherwise, it's still the same cool vehicle, with some new gadgets. It has these shin-breakers that spring out of the sides, Batarangs (at least, that's what I think they are) that fire out of a side-mounted ejector, and a contraption that would deploy from the bottom of the car and allow it to do a 180 degree turn. Inside it actually has a CD-recorder, which Batman uses to record the Penguin's ranting about the people of Gotham to later reveal his true nature, as well as a device that he uses to find the controller that the Penguin's men have planted on the car. The Batmobile could also change into a secondary mode called the Batmissile, where the wheels retract inward and the sides of the car shoot off, turning the vehicle into a slim, torpedo-like shape that can squeeze through tight spaces. Batman uses this mode to drive through a narrow alleyway in order to escape the pursuing police during the sequence when he's framed. Batman himself also has some new toys here. One is a type of computerized Batarang which he uses to home in on a number of targets, like when he's faced with a bunch of the Penguin's goons in one scene (and they all just stand there like idiots and let the thing knock them out). This weapon is taken by the Poodle Lady's dog and is later used to incriminate Batman in the kidnapping of the Ice Princess. (Rather convenient that the dog just happened to snatch the Batarang so it could be used later when the Penguin and Catwoman decided to frame Batman, wouldn't you say?) He has some sort of liquid-filled device that he hits Catwoman in the arm with, leaving behind a nasty, rash-like wound. His suit also has a new built-in feature where his cape can become a rigid, hang-glider type mechanism and revert back to normal when he makes his landing (you can clearly see the normal cape get pulled away when he deploys it, though). It's kind of a precursor to the capabilities of the cape in the Christopher Nolan movies. In the Batcave, he has devices that he can use to jam frequencies and play something over PA systems in the city, which he uses to let the people of Gotham hear the comments the Penguin made about them earlier (that thing must have quite a range!) He uses that same device to jam the frequency used to control the rocket-carrying penguins and also makes use of a hand-held version of it. We get a new vehicle too, the Batboat which he uses to find the Penguin's lair. It's basically a big, black ski-boat whose skis can also use the sides of the sewer tunnels to slide across in order to avoid hazards. It has a sonar device that it uses to locate the Penguin's lair and, apparently, a compartment to keep live bats in. Batman still has his grappling gun and he has a smaller version of the zip-line gun from the first movie. His utility belt seems to be automated because devices tend to slide across it whenever he needs them.
The Penguin's most notable weapons are his many types of umbrellas: several serve as machine guns, one is a flamethrower, one has a blade that comes out of the tip, one has a black and white spiral pattern on it (a Tim Burton trademark), one is like a mobile with toys hanging out of the tips and plays music as well, and finally, there's one that serves as a miniature helicopter. He himself also has a vehicle, which comes in the form of a big, smiling, yellow duck that serves as a boat, can lift itself upward on a large mechanism not unlike what mechanics use to check under a car, and can actually sprout little wheels and act like a car, all the while making a funnily loud engine noise (it's funny to me, anyway). Being a crime lord, though, the Penguin has a number of minions, which can be described as nothing less than the circus troupe from hell. They're mainly made up of crazed clowns, some of whom are very acrobatic, some who use weapons like swords, bombs, guns, bazookas, and, in the case of one clown, the taser that Catwoman eventually uses to kill Max Shreck; others are geniuses when it comes to electronics, able to create a device that the Penguin can use to take control of the Batmobile, even building a little ride like you would see outside of a grocery store for the Penguin to drive the car with. Other members of the Penguin's gang include the aforementioned Poodle Lady, who really doesn't do anything; an organ grinder (the late Vincent Schiavelli) whose organ has a mini-gun inside of it; a sword-swallower whose sword Batman pulls out of his mouth; a big tough guy whom Batman plants a bomb onto; a guy in a devil outfit who acts as a fire-breather and gets set ablaze by the afterburner of the Batmobile; some guys with over-sized skull masks who ride on motorcycles; and even a guy on stilts with a hideous face (I really hope that was a mask). In their first appearance, these guys burst out of an enormous red and green present-designed vehicle that they drive up to a bridge overlooking Gotham Plaza. When they're kidnapping the children of Gotham right before the film's climax, they use a brightly colored and patterned circus train full of animal cages that they use to house them, creating a dark, perverted inverse of what normally would be something inspire happiness in kids. On top of his troops, the Penguin has an army of penguins, ranging from the small African species to the large King variety, that he straps rockets and missiles onto and uses high-frequency to instruct them to blow up half of Gotham City. There are also a couple of penguins that act as guards in the tunnels leading to their master's lair who fire missiles at the approaching Batboat but Batman, of course, dodges them.
Like its predecessor, Batman Returns has many examples of great effectswork. Besides the well done makeup job on the Penguin, there's also a lot of great miniature and modelwork, most of which you probably don't even realize are special effects. The exterior of the Cobblepot mansion at the beginning of the movie is a model which you would swear looks like a real location and the entire opening credits of the Penguin's baby basket traveling through the sewers is nothing but minatures, as well as the shots of the zoo, the exteriors of Wayne Manor, and the Batboat scenes are. There are also some great physical effects and stuntwork done during the sequence where the Penguin takes control of the Batmobile and goes on a rampage through Gotham. There's some early use of CGI in the film too, mainly in the case of the Batmobile's shields when they activate and deactivate as well as some computer-generated bats and penguins. Those effects are very brief and, in the case of the bats and penguins, are sometimes very far off shots, but in any case, they do look convincing for the most part, including the shields, which you see in big, detailed closeups. There are some occasional hokey-looking shots of those shields but for the most part, they look good. The most impressive mix of effects have to do with bringing to life the enormous amount of penguins that the namesake villain keeps around his lair and uses to try to destroy Gotham. Besides the real penguins and the brief CGI versions, there are also a mixture of convincing animatronic puppet penguins and little people in penguin suits for shots like when the King Penguins slide their dead master into the water at the end of the movie. The effects work in the film was so great that it was nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar as well as the one for Best Makeup.
There's quite a bit of action in the movie. The first action scene actually comes not long after the opening credits, when the Red Triangle gang attacks Gotham Plaza in their attempt to kidnap Max Shreck. It's pretty chaotic, with the crazed clowns smashing into the Christmas tree, the masked motorcycle guys smashing and toppling things over, the organ grinder shooting up Shreck's speech podium with his mini-gun housing organ, and the strong man taking a sled away from a street Santa and tossing it through the air, it landing on Commissioner Gordon's cop car. That's when Gordon tells his men to signal Batman, who eventually arrives in the Batmobile and begins taking out the goons. While Shreck tries to escape, two of the motorcycle goons try to grab him but he fights them off and we then see the rather disturbing sight of the red devil guy kicking open a toy store and setting the stuffed animals inside of it aflame. Batman then arrives and he uses the Batmobile's shin-breakers to topple over some guys on stilts, knocks out some of the motorcycle goons with the Batarangs that he can shoot from the car's hood, and sets ablaze the red devil guy with the car's afterburner. My favorite part is when two guys land on the hood of the Batmobile and try to shoot through the glass but Batman speeds up and eventually hits the brake, sending them flying. Batman pulls the car over and gets out in time to see the clown with the taser take Selina Kyle prisoner. He marches towards them, beating up a motorcycle goon in the process, and upon hearing the clown's threat to kill Selina with the taser, he pulls out his grappling gun and shoots it at the clown. It instead hits the wall behind the clown and when he gloats that he missed, Batman pulls roughly on the line, jerking out a piece of wall and knocking the clown out cold. Batman and Selina then have a strange exchange of looks, with Batman turning and walking away without saying a word. The scene ends on a funny note with Selina picking up the taser and trying it out on the unconscious clown. She yelps at the guy's body jerking from the tasing and then laughs at how her scream actually echoed because it was so loud.
This isn't an action scene per se but I had to give it its own section here because it's such a memorable and important moment in the movie: the scene where Selina Kyle comes back to her apartment after being pushed out of the window by Shreck. She repeats the same lines and does the same stuff she did the first time we saw her enter the apartment (turning on a light, pouring her cat some milk) but this time, she's in something of a daze. She topples over the lamp and pours the milk all over the floor before proceeding to drink it right out of the carton. After her bizarre "resurrection" by those cats, we know that there's something not quite right about Selina now. When she checks the messages on her answering machine, she hears two messages from her mother, who left a message in the previous scene in her apartment and was being very condescending towards her, and then we hear another message from a telemarketer talking about a type of product that, before, said, "It makes women feel like women and the men don't have any complaints either" and is now saying that it will make her boss ask her to stay after work for a private meeting for two. That, coupled with the message saying that the product can be found exclusively at Shreck's department stores, causes Selina to snap and she throws the milk carton at the machine while screaming before ripping it out and smashing it. She proceeds to then destroy everything about her apartment that represents something that's oppressed her. She puts a bunch of stuffed animals in the garbage disposal unit and shreds them apart (something that disturbed me as a little kid), smashes a bunch of pictures on the wall with a frying pan (they were probably of her parents and her supposed boyfriend who said that he was going on a trip without her), sprays black paint in streaks across her walls and then proceeds to open up her closet and spray this girly shirt with kittens printed on it. The whole time this is going on, her cat and some of the cats that found her in the alley enter into the apartment and watch her as she goes on this rampage. In that closet, she finds the black leather coat that she later sews into her Catwoman outfit. After dragging it out, she walks into her bedroom, smashes two letter of the neon sign on the wall, sprays and smashes a little doll house and then proceeds to begin to sew her suit. After everything's said and done, we get an outside view of the apartment, with the stairwell in the foreground covered with cats, and then see Selina walk into view as Catwoman for the first time, albeit in a far off, darkly lit shot, saying to her cat, "I don't know about you, Ms. Kitty, but I feel so much yummier." The bit that sums it up is the neon sign on the wall. It used to say, "Hello There," but Selina smashed the O and the T, making it now read, "Hell Here."
The next real action scene is when the Penguin's thugs go on a rampage in Gotham in an attempt to make the citizens lose confidence in the mayor. They blow up several stores, some using bazooks and the Poodle Lady using her dog to carry a grenade into one store. After the window of another store is smashed open, we see two goons assaulting this innocent man that comes running out and that's when Batman enters the scene, grabbing the goons and bashing their heads together. He then engages in a fight with some of the acrobatic clowns and proceeds to mop the floor with them in a pretty good street fight. He then uses that computerized Batarang on several of the goons and, as I said, it gets taken by the Poodle Lady's dog. After that, Batman pulls a sword out of a sword-swallower's mouth and uses it to cut off a bomb strapped to another clown's chest, which he takes with him. He's soon faced with the big strong man, whom he punches across the face but the guy is so buff, it doesn't even faze him. Then the guy looks down and sees that Batman strapped that bomb to his chest, with Batman proceeding to smile menacingly at the guy and throw him down a manhole, where he blows up. The whole time this is going on, Catwoman breaks into one of Shreck's department stores and proceeds to trash the place. She beheads some mannequins with her whip, smashes open some jewelry display areas, threatens and scares off some security guards, and eventually breaks open a propane tank, puts four cans of hairspray in a microwave, and cranks the thing up. After that, Batman has a little confrontation on the street with the Penguin and then Catwoman does some acrobatic flips up to them. The store she sabotaged blows up behind her and the Penguin makes his escape with his flying umbrella. Batman pursues Catwoman and faces her on a rooftop. They have a scuffle up there and Catwoman really gives Batman a run for his money with her acrobatic skills, with him even looking genuinely freaked out about what he's facing in one closeup. He proceeds to strike a blow on her and knock her down, to which she exclaims, "How could you?! I'm a woman!" Batman leans down to help her up while apologizing and Catwoman uses that opportunity to kick him over the roof. She allows him to grab onto her whip and she taunts him: "As I was saying, I'm a woman and can't be taken for granted. Life's a bitch, now so am I!" Batman throws some type of liquid-filled device on her arm, causing her to let him go. After that, he rescues her when she starts slipping down the side of another roof. That turns out to be another mistake, though, because, while talking softly to him, Catwoman finds a weak spot in his armor and punctures it, forcing him to knock her off the building and into a passing truck full of kitty litter.
There's a lot of action in the section of the movie where Batman attempts to rescue the Ice Princess. Batman does manage to find the Ice Princess but just as he's about to untie her, he's ambushed by Catwoman and the two have another fight. This time, Batman makes no qualms about hitting her and headbutts her at one point. Catwoman, however, grabs the ears of his mask and then knees him somewhere in the chest, which had to have hurt. He gets a chair thrown at him and then Catwoman takes the Ice Princess onto the roof. Batman tries to save her after she's left on the edge of the roof but the Penguin throws an umbrella that lets loose some bats which fly at her and cause her to fall to her death (notice Batman's rather blank expression as he watches her fall). After she hits the ground, the Christmas tree in Gotham Plaza explodes into a bunch of bats, which further incriminates Batman. Before he can do anything, the Penguin escapes and he's then attacked by the police, who shoot him off the roof and onto another section. Catwoman finds him and proceeds to sit on him and taunt him. After she jabs another claw into his chest plate, he shoves her off, pulls the claw out of his chest, deploys the glider feature of his cape, and flies over the panicked crowd back to the Batmobile. This is when the real action starts. The Penguin takes control of the Batmobile after Batman gets in it and goes on a rampage with it. He smashes into other cars, sending them flying, runs over fire hydrants, causes some pursuing police cars to crash, and so on, all the while taunting Batman and laughing evilly. It's an exciting sequence and one of the most action-packed scenes in any Tim Burton film. There's a funny moment where you see a shot from the outside of the trailer where the Penguin is controlling the Batmobile and he's so into the havoc he's causing that the entire thing is shifting back and forth. Batman eventually manages to find the device the Penguin is using to control the Batmobile, deactivate it, and stop the car right before the Penguin drives it into a terrified old lady. Once the Penguin realizes that he's lost control, he yells angrily at the screen, forcing Batman to punch it so he (as well as us) doesn't have to listen to it anymore. Batman now has to evade the police and to do so, he uses the Batmissile. There's a bit of suspense and humor when he activates the switch but nothing happens. He tries it again but still nothing. He says, "Alright, now I'm a little worried," and then tries it yet again and this time, it deploys and he manages to drive through the narrow alleyway and escape, while the cop cars crash in the middle of it and create a pile-up.
Most of the last act of the film is an action sequence. After Batman rescues the children of Gotham from the Penguin's goons, the enraged villain sends his pet penguins, armed with missiles, to blow up half of the city, to punish all of the children as he says. As the penguins swim through the sewer system and arrive on the surface, Batman seeks out the Penguin's lair with the Batboat. At the same time, Alfred is preparing the program to change the electronic frequency that is controlling the penguins. It's really odd to see all of these penguins, with missiles and rockets strapped to their backs, running around the streets of Gotham and finally converging on the main plaza of the city. Like Danny Elfman said, I don't think I can recall another movie with an action sequence consisting of nothing but penguins. In any case, Alfred jams the signal and forces the penguins to turn around, while Batman closes in on the Penguin's lair. The Penguin, furious at his plans being spoiled as well as troops abandoning him by slipping out of the lair, makes his own escape by getting into his duck vehicle and driving it to the surface. Batman, seeing on his radar that the Penguin is escaping, pilots the Batboat upwards though a dry tunnel and comes crashing onto the surface, destroying the Penguin's vehicle. After exiting the Batboat, Batman is attacked by the Penguin and the two of them have a little scuffle. While being threatened by the Penguin's bladed umbrella, Batman uses his remote control to attract the penguins to the spot. The Penguin, enraged at the sight of Batman having control over his babies, attacks him, knocking the remote out of his hand. Batman knocks the Penguin down with his own umbrella but the Penguin grabs the remote and has his pets fire their weapons. However, during the explosions, a bunch of bats suddenly pop out of the Batboat and attack the Penguin, forcing him to fall through the window of his lair and into the water. As the lair blows up, Max Shreck, who had been held captive by the Penguin, manages to escape the cage he was being kept in but is attacked by Catwoman. He falls into the water but manages to grab a pistol from the body of the clown that the Penguin killed earlier for questioning his master plan. Catwoman pulls him out of the water and prepares to kill him but Batman intervenes, trying to convince her to let the police deal with Shreck and that then, they can go home together. After Catwoman rebuffs the offer, Shreck takes the opportunity to kill both of them. He shoots the now unmasked Bruce Wayne and then turns his gun on the similarly revealed Selina Kyle. That's when, after having been shot many times at point blank range, Selina kills Shreck by kissing him with the taser, causing the AC machines in the Penguin's lair to overload and explode, with Bruce using the suit's cape as cover. Afterward, he tries to find Selina but only finds Shreck's charred corpse and then, the mortally wounded Penguin rises from the water and tries to kill him but picks the wrong umbrella. He keels over and dies, prompting his penguins to send his body into the water.
Like its predecessor, Batman Returns has some really odd and quirky moments that tend to come out of nowhere, don't make any sense, and seem to be there just to make you wonder what the point was. In this case, however, they're even more bizarre and sometimes, downright disturbing. The one that immediately comes to mind is the one I woke up to when I was a five-year old kid in the theater. Shreck has the Penguin meet with his image consultants and while he's slightly taken with the woman, the man clearly gets on his nerves. The Penguin and the two of them start laughing at a joke the guy made and he says, "Still, could be worse. My nose could be gushing blood." Just as you're wondering what that meant, the Penguin suddenly swings around and bites the guy's nose, causing a spray of blood and panicking everybody in the room. I have no clue what the point of that was. Maybe it was to show how unpredictable and vile the Penguin is but that was just crazy! (On a side note, the Penguin's reaction to Shreck telling him that one of the benefits of being mayor would be, "unlimited poon-tang," always makes me snort in laughter.) Similarly weird is the first scene between the Penguin and Catwoman in his living area. After some talk about framing Batman and the Penguin wondering whether he should trust her, Catwoman randomly opens up this bird cage, takes out the bird, and then puts it in her mouth. At the same time, the Penguin starts petting her cat and then threatens her with his bladed umbrella. Catwoman then lets the bird fly out of her mouth, the Penguin lets the cat go, and then they continue on plotting about how to destroy Batman. Again, what was that? I think the reason the Penguin threatened the cat was so Catwoman would let the bird go but why did she put the bird in her mouth in the first place? Was it because the Penguin called her a, "screwed up sorority chick?" (Apparently, Michelle Pfeiffer actually put that live bird in her mouth and held it there several times in a row. That is commitment to your craft, I must say.) Going back to when the Penguin bit the guy's nose, there's a moment afterward where the Penguin starts weighing the benefits of being mayor to himself, eventually saying, "I need you, Oswald. I need you now! That's the biggest parasol I've ever seen." Do I even want to know what he's talking about? Another one is in the scene where Batman is recovering from the wound Catwoman inflicted on him. He pulls out the claw that she left in his side, looks at it for a bit, and then says, "Meow." Um, okay. Also, during the scene where Bruce and Alfred play the tape of the comments that the Penguin made about the citizens of Gotham, there's a quick shot of Bruce's hand doing a record scratch on the disc like a DJ. Huh. Speaking of that scene, after learning what the Penguin really thinks about them, the people in the crowd starting throwing vegetables at him, which is very stereotypical and random, with the Penguin himself even commenting, "Why is there always someone who brings eggs and tomatoes to a speech?" I may like Tim Burton as a filmmaker for the most part but I really think he likes putting weird stuff in his movies just so he can have weird stuff in his movies (I know, it's old news, right?)
In addition to the visuals, the element that really gives the movie its mood is the music by Danny Elfman. He knows just how to bring out the emotions that fit with Burton's visuals, and just like how Burton had established his recognizable filmmaking style by this point, so too had Elfman in terms of how he scores for Burton. Whenever I think of the combination of this director and composer, I always think of a choir of people vocalizing, coming across as very whimsical and fairytale-like. Even though there was a bit of that in Batman in the Descent Into Mystery track, Elfman really established that sound in Edward Scissorhands and he continues it here, only giving it a darker and more doom-laden vibe. Even though the familiar Batman theme is used quite a bit here, it never reaches the heroic, triumphant sounds it hit in the first film. You do hear it for the first part of both the opening and ending credits but, again, it's much less rousing than before and both times, it slips into much darker, gloom-laden music. The very first track you hear, Birth of a Penguin, perfectly accentuates the feeling of what should be a joyous occasion, the birth of a couple's child, being turned into a nightmare. The music that plays in the scene where Max Shreck first meets the Penguin is very memorable and strange and I really like the loud, bombastic music that plays when he crashes Shreck's costume ball. The music for the scene where Selina Kyle snaps and becomes Catwoman is very eerie and tense-filled, slowly building on harsh, slow strings and culminating in a beautiful but, at the same time, disturbing track that mirrors her psychotic mindset. There's also some great touching music, like in the scene where the Penguin visits his parents' grave and in the scene where he dies and is laid to rest by the penguins who raised him. It actually almost makes me feel bad for him, if only briefly. The reason the film ends with you feeling empty and depressed is because of the melancholy sound of the music in that last bit. You hear a sad version of the Batman theme after Bruce finds Selina's cat, signifying that he will probably always be a lonely soul and the music remains hopeless throughout the rest of the scene, during the pan upwards through the rooftops of Gotham and even though the Batman theme begins the ending credits, like I said, the score soon goes back to having a depressed, tortured sound. It all plays a very big part in why most have always felt depressed and sad after watching the movie, both at the time of its release and now. Also, since he had complete control, this time Burton didn't have to bow to any studio demands to hire a popular musical artist to write songs for the film, which I think was for the best since that would not have worked with this particular movie at all. There's a brief, instrumental version of Superfreak during Shreck's costume ball but the only real song in the film is Face to Face, performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees, that plays during the latter part of the ball scene and also closes the movie during the ending credits. It's an okay song and does fit with the tone of the movie but other than that, it's never left much of an impression on me.
Batman Returns is definitely a comic book movie that's not for everyone. It's extremely dark, gloomy, depressing, gross at some points and downright weird at others. It's mainly about the villains and Bruce Wayne and, while the actual stuff with Batman is good when it's there, there are long moments in-between his scenes. But, as I've said, if you really look at it, there is a lot going on with the characters beneath the surface and Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Christopher Walken play their parts very well. In addition, the art direction, particularly with the wintertime backdrop, is gorgeous, the atmosphere is palpable to say the least, and Danny Elfman's music is moody and haunting as ever. Ultimately, the best way to look at it is as a Tim Burton film rather than as a comic book movie: it's a dark, Gothic fairytale that just happens to have Batman and aspects of his mythology in it. It may not be Burton's best film, and the amount of darkness and disturbing content may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I do recommend seeing it at least once. Whether you actually like it or not, I doubt you'll ever forget it.