Sunday, May 06, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Batman Returns (1992) **½

PG-13, 126 min.
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm, Bob Kane (creator)
Starring: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeifer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Andrew Bryniarski, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli

I watched this movie as recently as last December, and I continue to struggle with a definitive opinion of it. Is it good? Not really. Is it unique? Yes. Director Tim Burton takes this second Batman film to make the characters his own.

Frankly, he changes the Batman mythos in “Batman Returns” to match his own strange ideals. Burton seems to have an obsession with Christmas. It’s strange to set a Batman movie at Christmas. Batman’s not really a cheerful hero. Why the holiday of cheer? My wife observed that there are more people getting thrown into Christmas trees in this movie than probably any other movie in existence.

Burton’s Bruce Wayne isn’t entirely with it. His Catwoman isn’t a thief, which has been kind of a defining trait of her persona throughout the years. His Penguin is not some aristocratic mad man; he’s a monster out of a ‘B’ horror flick. His real villain is Max Shreck, a character created just for this movie and almost entirely defined by the casting of Christopher Walken in the role. Walken is already a Burton character. All he needed was the design team to give him some crazier hair.

I think that essentially gets to what is wrong with Burton’s vision of Batman. It’s all on the surface. His notions of the character and even the mythology of Batman are black and white, extremes, and exaggeration. What really makes Batman an interesting hero, however, are his grey areas. He’s a vigilante who breaks the law in order to ensure it is upheld. He wears a mask, but it is Bruce Wayne’s past that defines the Batman. Burton wants to make a case that Wayne is the mask when neither Wayne nor Batman is. It’s not his motivations that are in question; it’s his deeds.

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