Batman Returns

Those poor penguins.
"The Bat, the Cat, the Penguin"

Hello everyone, welcome back to The Tagline! Tonight I thought I would warm up for the big day by doing a Christmasy movie, and what says 'tis the season more than an army of subterranean penguins rising to the surface to murder all the firstborn children? Nothing, that's what, so I'm going to be following up on my earlier post covering Batman and talking tonight about Batman Returns (which for all you folks wondering, IS also on Netflix, for your viewing pleasure). This movie was the tumultuously produced sequel to the 1989 film, and was very nearly nothing at all like it ended up being, for a variety of reasons. For starters, Tim Burton, cinematic genious and master of the new and inventive (I'm being sarcastic!) was very hesitant to make another Batman, having been dissatisfied with the results of his first outing. He said he would only return if the movie offered something "new and exciting", though that didn't seem to be an issue when he made the Corpse Bride. OTHERWISE he said it was "a most dumbfounded idea." which is funny because that's not what that word means. There's a Princess Bride joke in there but I can't be bothered to make it, I'm sure you can all do it for yourselves. Anyway, despite his lukewarm feelings on the matter, after directing Edward Scissorhands, Burton came around, once he was given more creative control, which allowed him to make this movie feel a lot like Edward Scissorhands. As much as I think Tim Burton is a tool who basically hasn't made a movie OTHER than Edward Scissorhands since like 1993 (when he made The Nightmare Before Christmas) Batman Returns is probably one of the most original and excellent things he has ever done. Maybe not as profound as he might like to think (wow really the real villains are corporations?) but still great. It almost wasn't great though. It was almost about Penguin and Catwoman searching for a buried treasure or some bullshit like that. That sounds like some Adam West-era garbage. Also they considered the Penguin trying to make Gotham colder (a thing they actually DID in Batman & Robin god help us) but Tim Burton correctly demanded a rewrite with a plot that was less stupid, so I am at least grateful for that.

She wants to eat that bird.
So about the movie that ACTUALLY happened, Batman Returns features Michael Keaton reprising the role of the Batman, this time squaring off against the machinations of the Penguin (Danny DeVito, being gross but still not as gross as in Its Always Sunny), who is attempting to seize power and murder babies. He actualizes this plan by gaining support from the corrupt business mogul Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) whom he is blackmailing. This situation is further complicated by Selina Kyle, Schreck's former secretary that he tried to murder. She returns, goes a little bit coocoo for cocoa puffs, and assumes the identity of Catwoman, a crazy lady with a whip and stun gun who will scratch you and do weird cat stuff. This role ended up going to Michelle Pfeiffer, but it was originally Annette Benning, which I just can't picture, and after she dropped out it was contested pretty fiercely. Among those in the running were Madonna, Susan Sarandon, and also Cher, which I think might've been the weirdest of all. Sean Young really WANTED the part, and having seen her in Blade Runner I think she could have done it. Still I'm glad it went to Michelle Pfeiffer, it's tough to really imagine anyone else having played that role at this point. Originally the movie had plans for Harvey Dent and also Robin, but these were mercifully scrapped, as that would have been a seriously over-crowded movie.

Maybe not a stable option for a girlfriend Bruce.
The movie itself is one of my favorite Batman movies, and certainly my favorite of the original Warner Bros movies. It has the Tim Burton weirdness and style to it, without being overly self-indulgent as I feel like a lot of his later movies were. It has Michael Keaton being the smart, kind of disturbed Batman I enjoyed in the first movie, and a Selina Kyle who is equal parts vulnerable and violent (well maybe more violent but still an interesting character). Danny DeVito plays a really vile but also shrewd Penguin, who fits the amoral psychopath archetype very precisely. Speaking of Christopher Walken is also accomplished in that role, a schemer right until the end. The movie succeeds in evoking a real sense of atmosphere throughout, and in particular there's some real bonkers architecture on display. I like to rewatch it around Christmas to remind myself that I should be grateful for a lack of insane murder clowns attacking me on the street under a giant statue of a weird stone man pulling a lever.

Then again... maybe appropriate.
Warner Bros was apparently disappointed with the performance of this movie though. They spent 80 million on it. It made back around 267 million. That was admittedly a lot less than the first movie (a mind boggling 411 million) but still a huge success, so maybe greed was getting the better of them? POSSIBLY?! Parents in particular found the movie too dark, and I think that while it is dark (and I like that about it) it is actually less so than the first movie. While it still bears some of Tim Burton's hall mark eccentricities, I find Batman Returns to be one of the most coherent and restrained films he ever directed, and that was definitely to its benefit. Ultimately this was the last we'd see of the Burton/Keaton pairing however, as Warner Bros took the franchise in a lighter direction, creating Batman Forever and eventually Batman & Robin. A potential Catwoman spin-off with Pfeiffer reprising the role went into development hell, and when it emerged from that dark place was no longer recognizable as anything but evil.

That's it for today folks! Join me again on Thursday, as we creep closer to my Christmas surprise.

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