Batman Picks up a Penguin
I liked the first of the 80s/90s "Batman" movies as it delivered a mix of drama, comedy and action with a bit of Tim Burton quirkiness. It's a shame that I can't say I liked the first of the sequels "Batman Returns" as much. For me "Batman Returns" is a flawed movie as it tries to introduce two major characters which end up dominating the movie leaving the character of Batman to be an almost supporting character. It's also darker and quirkier which unfortunately doesn't deliver the same amount of laughs generated by the first movie. And this means that whilst Michelle Pfeiffer maybe sexy as Catwoman and Danny DeVito menacing as the Penguin it just doesn't quite come off.
33 years after being abandoned by his parents to live in the Gotham sewers the Penguin (Danny DeVito - The Jewel of the Nile) comes to the surface a bitter deformed character looking for revenge and answers. After manipulating crooked business man Max Schreck (Christopher Walken - Balls of Fury) to help him become the Mayor of Gotham they set out to make Batman (Michael Keaton - Beetlejuice) into a hate figure. At the same time Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer - Frankie and Johnny), Schreck's secretary who he murders for snooping through his private files, is brought back to life by a group of cats and turns herself into Catwoman, looking for revenge for what Schreck did for her. This means that not only does Batman have to battle both the Penguin and Max Schreck but also deal with Catwoman who finds herself in the middle of all the trouble.
The storyline to "Batman Returns" should be about Batman taking on the Penguin and also Catwoman finding herself in the middle of things. As such it's got to introduce two new characters that of the Penguin and Catwoman and so needs to give us the history to how these characters came about. This is a major problem because for nearly the first half, the first hour of "Batman Returns" it is all about these two characters. Yes Batman and Bruce Wayne crop up a couple of times but every scene is dominated by these two characters. The fact this takes up half of the movie is just too much and in my opinion needed to be mixed with more Batman action.
Get this over long introduction out of the way with and "Batman Returns" does become more of a "Batman" movie as we watch the Dark Knight battle not just the Penguin but also Catwoman as she finds herself caught in the middle. Making this side more entertaining is also the whole romance between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle as they are unaware of each others alter egos. But again despite bringing in more Batman action as the Penguin tries to besmirch his name it is still dominated by these two new characters. It does mean that "Batman Returns" is a movie less interested on building on the character of Batman but introducing other well known DC Comic characters.
One of the things which disappoints me about "Batman Returns" is that the humour which weaved its way through "Batman" is seriously reduced. There are a lot less humorous scenes and a lot less of the amusing dialogue making it not so much a more serious super hero movie but one which is exploring a different tone. It makes "Batman Returns" a much darker movie, not to the extent of the more recent "The Dark Knight" but one which has a more gothic feel about it. And with the darker side comes a more violent side and whilst I would never say that "Batman Returns" is a brutal movie the scenes of action and violence have an almost nasty side as they deliver a few unexpected shocks on a visual level.
Because "Batman Returns" is more interested in the new characters it does have a knock on effect of reducing Michael Keaton to almost a supporting actor. It feels like he gets very little screen time either as Bruce Wayne or his alter ego Batman and so whilst we get the humour and charm of Keaton it feels restrained and almost at odds with the dark tone of the movie.
But "Batman Returns" is really all about Catwoman and the Penguin and you have to say that both Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito do brilliant jobs. This may sound harsh but it feels like Pfeiffer was cast not just because she could act but because she would look good in the latex/leather cat suit and in all honesty she does. But at the same time she manages to deliver that cat like prowess beautifully especially in the flirtation scenes between Selina and Bruce. Then of course there is Danny DeVito who behind some nasty looking make up and a padded costume does make the Penguin not so much an evil genius but a seriously bitter character. It is a much darker Penguin than the one which Burgess Meredith created in the TV series but it is in fitting with the dark tones of the movie being filthy and disgusting. Plus with an array of gadget filled umbrellas he does have this almost gangster like feel about him as he happily opens fire on crowds of people.
What this all boils down to is that "Batman Returns" is an entertaining movie but because it spends so much time on the characters of Catwoman and the Penguin it feels slightly wrong. And add to this the darker tones and the reduced amount of humour and it feels distinctly different to the first "Batman" movie. I am sure some will find it entertaining for more than Michelle Pfeiffer squeezing into her Catwoman outfit but for me it failed to entertain me in the same way and at the same level as "Batman".