Last week’s not so joyful venture into the vault got me thinking about other, hopefully better Christmas movies not released during the holiday season. My thoughts immediately turned to the legacy of the Batman and how it’s very merry sequel was released in the summer of 1992.
All cutthroat businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) wants for Christmas is for the mayor of Gotham to back his power plant project, but no one’s interested in more power aside from him. Well, except for the elusive ‘Bird Man of the sewers” who nabs Shreck, seeking his help to claim his birthright. After dispatching his curious secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), Shreck aids the Penguin (Danny DeVito) in becoming a hero of Gotham. Oswald’s good guy routine doesn’t fool Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton). As Batman digs up dirt on the Penguin, a rattled, but still alive Selina, takes to the streets as Catwoman. Shreck realizes the newly named Oswald Cobblepot could be not only a mayor the people would follow, but someone who’d approve his power grab. With Batman trying to stop both Penguin and Catwoman, the two team up against the caped crusader. In the words of Catwoman,it’ gonna be a hot time on the cold town tonight.
Batman Returns is one peculiar film. I say that because it’s not only a summer blockbuster Christmas film, but its story completely twists two of Batman’s iconic enemies, but spins it so compellingly you can’t look away. Penguin may be gruesome and deformed, but his ugliness is his evil spirit. Catwoman is about as much crazed as she is cunning, but yet she is also the sultry, independent vixen that has Batman instantly smitten.
Those changes may bother Batman canon purists and I admit a part of me squirms a bit over their theatrical incarnations, but watching the Bat, the Cat and the Penguin is always fun. Maybe it’s because it has director Tim Burton’s creative stink all over it. Batman Returns, the only sequel he has ever done, is a dark tale penned by Daniel Waters and rewritten by Wesley Strick to tweak its sinister edges. The resulting film is best suited for a crowd of at least PG-13 age. The attempted murder and mistreatment of children, obvious sexual undertones and a violent army of clowns and penguins can be too much for young minds. For older viewers, we can’t consume it fast enough. Not only is it full of thrills and chills, but the writing is nicely layered to bring all the seemingly disjointed elements together for added cinematic punch.
Pfeiffer looks phenomenal as she slinks around in her latex, even if it nearly suffocated her every moment she wore it. DeVito is unrecognizable as the vile and gleeful psychopath. Joining their great performances is Christopher Walken who is chewing up every minute with his mane of gray hair, his killer smile, and his ability to drop the word ‘poontang’ into conversation with an air of ease.
Oh yeah, eventually Michael Keaton shows up as Batman with his usual array of wonderful toys. He spends more time as Bruce Wayne, denying Shreck his power plant or wooing the troubled Selina Kyle. Most likely his limited time in the suit was due to his reluctance to reprise the role even if the cape and cowl were crafted to be a little more bearable the second time around.
I hand’t watched Batman Returns in years, but it’s still an impressive installment in the franchise. Fearsome, fun, and a little bit freaky, it delivers a little something for everyone during the holidays.