Friday, June 11, 2010
Bonus Round!: Why I Don't Like Batman Returns (a movie that everyone else likes)
As an extra special sequel to yesterday's cracking post, I decided to outline why it is that Tim Burton's sequel to his 1989 Batman movie (one of my favourite films of all time and something I have watched upwards of seventy or eighty times) only serves to annoy the bejesus out of me. I was originally just going to post this as part of yesterday's article, but seeing as how I have a LOT to say, I figured I'd give it its own existence.
First of all, I should give you a bit of background on my relationship with this film. I first saw it when I was very young (in and around five years old) when my Dad very thoughtfully saw fit to tape it for me because he knew how much I liked Batman (at that point I was watching the animated series or the Adam West repeats at least once a day and Batman Forever had just been released and had taken over my life). Unfortunately, the taping was about ten mintues into the film and the very first frame of the film I saw, was the Penguin brandishing a bloody, dismembered hand at Christopher Walken's character.
So...yeah. Even from an early age, it was pretty obvious to me that this was a pretty sick film.
To be fair though, I did love this film as a child and it never really actually scared me (which was one of the biggest complaints parents had about it when it was first released); especially considering how much the 1989 film did when I eventually saw that a year or two later.
Over the years, it was the Batman film that was shown on television the most, for some reason. Maybe it's because it's the most "user-friendly" of the Batman films, maybe it's because (for a while at least) it was the darkest and the least childish of the Batman films (at least from a superficial point of view) or maybe because it's just a typical Tim Burton film. It used to be shown on Sky One a lot, especially during (of all things) World Cup time, where they'd show what they described as "manly action films" when there wasn't any matches on.
Personally though, having rewatched it a lot over the past few years, I've really grown to hate it. First and foremost, the main problem with this film is that Batman is not the main character in it. He makes practically no growth in the film, whatsoever and really only exists as an observer and a right-wing, straight-laced antagonist for the schemes and plots of the other characters in the film (Catwoman, Penguin and Christopher Walken's Max Schreck). Even worse, Batman kills a bunch of people in this film. To be fair, he killed people in the last film (the Batmobile machine-gunned two guards, Batman fought a black guy to the death after nearly being killed by him and he kind of killed the Joker at the end), but those killings were nothing compared to what he got up to in this film:
I mean, that entire sequence is played for laughs and is never even mentioned again. One of the main aspects of interest where Batman's character is concerned (at least in the comics and the animated series) is that he does not kill. When you so casually disregard and aspect like that, you're really holding your middle-finger up to the fans.
Anyway, the whole "Batman killing" thing has been discussed to death on other forums. The other problem I have with this film is the production design. The film lacks the grand scope the first one (and the later ones) had. Instead of the chaotic, dystopian urban Hell that Anton Furst created for the first film, all we are treated to is a cramped, miniature suburban village. I might be able to accept this sort of look for a TV show, but this is a blockbuster film. Gotham City needs to look vast and incomparably massive (*cough* The Dark Knight *cough*).
The film's third act sees Batman (aboard his made-to-sell-toys "Bat-Ski-Boat") de-activate a bunch of penguins with rockets on their backs. Yep. That's the plot of this film. The movie is also severely lacking in actual action. The first film wasn't great in this regard, but it definitely had its moments and at least showed Batman moving around a lot more. When Batman is seen in this sequel, he is relegated to walking stiffly around and occasionally throwing a gadget or an awkward punch or karate kick. It's really uncomfortable to look at and only furthers the obviousness of how awful that suit must have been for Michael Keaton to wear (which is strange because the suit in this film looks a lot lighter and less cumbersome than it did in the last film). The only really cool action scenes in this film involve the Batmobile and the various things it can do.
When discussing Batman Returns, you have to talk about the villains. I still can't really make my mind up about them, to be perfectly honest. Both Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer do a fantastic job as far as acting is concerned (and they are given an awful lot to do), but Tim Burton's choices to portray the Penguin and Catwoman as weird, gothic almost vampiric villains always leaves me scratching my head. I guess he felt there wasn't much else he could do other than to completely revamp them. Also, I really, really don't get how people find/found Catwoman so hot in this film. I find her completely repulsive and quite sickening to look at, throughout and is absolutely the last femme fatale in cinema I would ever fantasise about (I take that back, as Helena Bonham Carter's played some mingers in her time as well. Who's she married to again?).
The villains pretty much epitomise what's wrong with this film. It's not a "Batman" film. It's a Batman-flavoured Tim Burton film. Part of the negotiations that took place to convince him to make the film involved giving him more creative control. The producers even suggested that the film be "A Tim Burton film as opposed to a Batman film". Fail.
There are some things I do like about this film, though. Christopher Walken as Max Schreck is awesome in a cheesy way. He's basically playing generic-villain-played-by-Christopher-Walken and has his usual array of imitable lines. Pretty much any time he says "Power Plant!" is awesome and warrants an impression by someone watching the film. Probably my favourite line in the film is "Bruce Wayne...what are you doing dressed up like Batman?".
Danny Elfman's musical score is also top-notch in this film and he really does a great job of continuing the Batman themes he established in the first film. At times they're a little bit more overblown and cartoonish in this film, but they're never too over-the-top. I particularly love the opening credits, which is probably the most powerful opening credits to a Batman film (even if the camera is on the damn Penguin for the whole thing and not Batman!)
Also, on a superficial level, while Batman isn't given much to do in this film in the way of action, he still does some pretty damn cool things when he does show up (which isn't very often). It can be argued that this film portrays the "hyper-competent know-it-all" Batman the most. In his few short appearances, we see him jamming Penguin's speech with his superior DJ skills (don't ask, it's just cool), transform the Batmobile into a Bat-missile, blow a fat guy up (see above) and use the Batmobile's exhaust to set fire to an arsonist. Badass. The batcave and its various entrances are also explored in greater detail and I always get a kick out of watching Batman use an ancient Samurai casket as an emergency hatch into the batcave. That shit is real.
Also, there are a bunch of really definitive shots of Batman like this one:
So, even though I consider this to be the second-to-worst Batman film, I should stress that Batman at least looks cool in it. Which is something that cannot be said about the worst Batman film which came five years later:
So in conclusion, I'm not a fan. I guess I understand why people are, especially Tim Burton fans; but my allegiance is to the Dark Knight first and wacky filmmakers a very distant fifth. I'd never go as far as to say that I "hate" the film, but it really is a chore to watch, compared to the first and third of the original Batman movie series.