Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Visually Splendid "Batman Returns" is not Wholly Splendid

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 33 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Batman Returns (1992)
Running time: 126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
WRITERS: Daniel Waters; from a story by Sam Hamm and Daniel Waters (based upon the Batman characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger)
PRODUCERS: Denise Di Novi and Burton
EDITORS: Bob Badami and Chris Lebenzon
COMPOSER: Danny Elfman
Academy Award nominee

SUPERHERO/CRIME/ROMANCE with elements of action

Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli, Paul Reubens, and Diane Salinger

The subject of this movie review is Batman Returns, a 1992 superhero film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne. It is a sequel to the 1989 film, Batman, which was also directed by Burton.

When The Penguin (Danny DeVito) rises from the sewers of Gotham City, Batman (Michael Keaton) must battle him and as nefarious cohorts, the conniving industrialist Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) and the feminist empowered Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), as they help Penguin run a very popular candidate in the Gotham mayoral race.

Unlike his first Batman film, Tim Burton had more control over Batman Returns, and it’s quite obvious. Stylistically, Batman Returns is closer to Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands than Batman is, which was Burton’s first film after Beetlejuice. However, Batman Returns has more rank humor than the original, and the sexual innuendo ranges from juvenile to forced. Batman was sly and occasionally witty; it was dark but not morbid as Returns is.

Still, the combination of Burton and screenwriter Daniel Waters (a writer with a darkly humorous and imaginative sense) create a Batman film like no other. This one is a dark fairytale immersed in issues of identity, empowerment, abandonment, class privilege, social and gender discrimination, and sexual politics. The story has a lot of nice ideas, maybe too many. It flits from one to the other, leaving one half developed or dismissed, only to be cobbled up later and still make little sense. It’s as if Batman Returns needed a rewrite or received too many in an attempt to make it less complicated and more like the summer blockbuster geared towards selling merchandise that it was supposed to be.

I like it more now than I did when I first saw it in 1992, when I thought it was an over produced mess; now I think it’s over produced and a bit messy. The production designs of Bo Welch (Beetlejuice), art decoration by Rick Heinrichs, and set decoration by Cheryl Carasik look beautiful and exquisite, everything from the abandoned zoo to Gotham’s many store fronts, each one of them decorated for the Christmas season. The cinematography by Stefan Czapsky (He would later shoot Burton’s masterpiece Ed Wood) is drenched in gorgeous blues, luminous white light, and slinky shadows that cover the town like sensuous drapery. Batman Returns looks like a children’s storybook painted by a master.

But in the end, Batman Returns is clunky in spirit and execution. It doesn’t flow or have a rhythm, and the acting is also too hit or miss. That goes for everyone, especially the villains. Burton publicly acknowledged not really caring for the Batman character, and it shows. For much of his film, the hero is an afterthought or merely window dressing, only there because the studio demands it. How else can you sell Batcrap if Batman’s not in the movie. Oh, well. I’ll look at this as a beautiful misfire and a brilliant mistake. I’ll watch it again, if only to pine away at what could have been.

5 of 10

1993 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Effects, Visual Effects” (Michael L. Fink, Craig Barron, John Bruno, and Dennis Skotak) and “Best Makeup” (Ve Neill, Ronnie Specter, and Stan Winston)

1993 BAFTA Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Make Up Artist” (Ve Neill and Stan Winston) and “Best Special Effects” (Michael L. Fink, John Bruno, Craig Barronm, and Dennis Skotak)

1993 Razzie Awards: 1 nomination: “Worst Supporting Actor” (Danny DeVito)


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