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Batman Returns
1992 - PG-13 - 126 Mins.
Director: Tim Burton
Producer: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfieffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken
Review by: John Ulmer
   
There’s a certain something about “Batman Returns” that doesn’t quite fit. Perhaps it’s the mix of film noir with superhero—after all, isn’t film noir the opposite of the notion of a superhero? Film noirs are about an Everyman in an odd situation, thrust into something he can’t possibly stop; comic book superheroes are those who choose a life of salvation, who give something away voluntarily. Tim Burton’s “Batman” was a good comic book adaptation; one of the best. It blended film noir with action hero, super-hero-type stuff. Very risky, but it paid off. “Batman Returns” fails miserably.

The Dark Knight always was a bit darker than his other superhero friends, such as “Superman” or “Spider-Man.” If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Batman: The world he lives in is darker, and he is much more identifiable than someone who is extraordinary; Batman is just a guy tired of the bad life, much like Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver, who once said, “Here is a man fed up with the crime on the streets…” Batman is, in a way, a sort of Taxi Driver.

But director Tim Burton, whose other director outings have included the colossal hit “Batman” and “Edward Scissorhands” (both very dark films), fails to seamlessly blend film noir with superhero. The two are contrary, Batman living in a 1940s-era Gotham City always worked, but there’s something wrong with this Gotham City. It was the start of more bad sequels, which would all lose the classy vision the original sustained. Things started getting darker and yet, at the same time, much brighter. Dialogue started getting cornier. Situations started getting ludicrous. “Batman Returns” was the start of this; I keep repeating myself but I’m not sure how to explain what feeling this film gives me. In a way, I love Tim Burton as a director for the Batman series; in another way, I don’t. In a way, I like the dark look of Gotham City; in another way, I think it’s too dark. In a way, I loved the original; in a way, the sequels all suck.

Batman (Michael Keaton), a.k.a. Bruce Wayne, is once again called out to stop the unstoppable Penguin (Danny DeVito), who is trying to take control of Gotham City with the help of Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Christopher Walken (what’s his character’s name in the film? Who cares.)

Many villains followed, many sequels followed, and they all stank. “Batman Returns” makes the mistake of turning the Penguin, a very dark creature (from what I can tell as I never read the comics very much at all—barely ever, in fact), into an overly creepy, corny character who speaks a lot of clichés. He doesn’t convince; Danny DeVito is the perfect casting choice, but his character is too weird to like, or even have fun watching. There’s a certain joy in watching Jack Nicholson parade around as the Joker in the original “Batman”—and though he was the bad guy, I myself kind of felt sad when he died at the end, knowing he would never be seen again (unlike the comics and television shows where he always appears to have died, only to come back again). Danny DeVito is great, but the things his character does, and the way he is captured on screen, is almost too dark to enjoy. This film is essentially much darker than the first, something I never imagined possible for a Batman film. Burton really pushed the envelope on this one.

I must admit I have, on occasion, viewed the “Batman” television show; not the 60s one (though I’ve seen that, too), but the cartoon show. It’s splendid fun; it’s a lot like Tim Burton’s sequel but actually captures more of what the original film had. The villains, especially the Joker, are great fun to watch. I recommend the cartoon over this film, as Batman fans will find it much more respecting to the comic-strip, and regular moviegoers will actually find it a lot more fun to watch.

“Batman Returns” tries a lot of things, but it doesn’t get away with them like the first film did. How are we supposed to enjoy watching creepy villains that aren’t any fun to watch? To be honest, I don’t care. I gave up on trying to solve this after the third film, which though truly terrible, was even more fun to watch than this film (don’t ask me why). The fourth was unbearable, but that’s another story.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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