Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken
“If you ever had an iota of a human feeling, take me instead.”
“I don’t. So no!”
-Max Schrek and The Penguin, respectively
You remember the first Batman movie in 1989, with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson? It was a great movie, wasn’t it? I love the subtle wit, I love the classic, romantic styled action and direction, and I love the dark, seedy style of the whole thing. It was an all time classic. So what would you do if somehow, the same people who made the first one came back to stomp all over it, break it into a million pieces, urinate on it and then set it on fire? Well, we still wouldn’t have as big a disappointment as the colossal fuckery of the sequel, Batman Returns.
I mean good god. What happened, Tim Burton? What went so wrong in only a few years between these sequels? The contrast between them is like night and frigging day. Where the first one was elegant and graceful, this one stumbles around like a drunken lout. Where the first one was serious and treated the viewers with dignity, this movie is just annoying and godawfully horrendous in every way. You know what this is like? It’s like that annoying friend who you used to have in elementary or middle school, who you and the rest of your friends put up with because you felt sorry for them. It’s the friend that would come over and poke you repeatedly, eat all your food and talk about shit that nobody cared about, and generally bring down the mood. That’s Batman Returns.
This aborted abomination of cinema is just so painful that it’s hard to put into words. It starts out okay, with a family in the early or mid 1900s abandoning what we can infer is the child that will grow up to be the Penguin. It then flashes forward 33 years, because that’s not a weird and random number, into Christmas time in Gotham. Christopher Walken is playing a businessman named Max Schrek, who apparently only has one mode of emotional discourse: stoic, brusque businessman. His secretary named Selena Kyle is played by Michelle Pfeiffer, and this is the movie’s first huge shitstopping moment, because honestly I cannot think of a worse movie character short of Mila Kunis in American Psycho II and Gary Oldman in Hannibal. But we’ll get to that later…I know you’re looking forward to it.
Outside, Walken gives a speech about why he’s glad to be in Gotham and a bunch of other boring shit, and then the town is attacked by annoying multi-colored circus rejects. Yes, not even 20 minutes in and the movie lost me. They jump around a lot and cause a lot of chaos over the movie’s overly bombastic and irritating soundtrack, and it’s more like something you’d see on a pre-school animated TV show than a Batman movie. And look at Gotham; it looks like a fucking snow globe or something. This isn’t the Tim Burton who delivered the stylish and classy Batman world of the first film. This is the Tim Burton who all the Hot Topic kids worship like a deity. Absolutely no substance and quite a lot of meaningless faux-gothic melodrama. Yergh.
And then we cut to Michael Keaton reprising his role as Bruce Wayne, and…he looks so damn bored that I’m surprised he even took this role. This isn’t the Michael Keaton that delivered the subtle, charming and secretive Bruce Wayne performance in the first movie; this is the Michael Keaton who stumbled like a zombie through White Noise. Ugh. He goes and stops everything and saves Selena Kyle, who is grateful…and we don’t see him again for at least a half hour. I am dead serious. The next thirty-odd minutes are filled up with Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny Devito. Good fucking god. A Batman movie without Batman. It’s as stupid as it sounds.
Oh yeah, Danny Devito is in this movie too! And he’s as annoying as nails on a chalkboard – literally; just listen to that godawful voice. Apparently he kidnapped Christopher Walken to get him to help him out in the real world, and he blackmails Walken into agreeing. And…oh, fuck, he’s annoying. I mean, couldn’t you have at least tried to make him intimidating or villainous? Just watching this fat, ugly blob stumble around the set makes me want to put a boot through the screen. His voice is like audible AIDS; goddamn, shut the hell up! He wants Walken to help him find out his birth parents. He does that, gaining popular support when people start to find out his life-of-the-underdog story, but it blows WAAAAY out of proportion when he is actually positioned to become the new mayor of Gotham. I’m sorry, what? Seriously? That thing? Even in the most liberal bleeding-heart places in the world, there is NO WAY that someone who looked and talked like that could ever gain popular support in such a short amount of time. I mean, it was seriously like less than three days. What were the writers smoking when they made this up? And he’s ALWAYS. ON. SCREEN. They’re going for a similar thing like they did in the first film with the Joker getting most of the spotlight, but here it doesn’t work because someone apparently instructed DeVito to chew up the scenery with as much gusto as he could manage. He’s always snarling and showing his teeth and being over-dramatic, and he just doesn’t work at all. He's about as charming as an abusive redneck inbred father who wandered onto the set at random.
The other half of this movie’s debilitating cancer is Michelle Pfeiffer, who gives honestly one of the most grating, painful performances I’ve ever had to sit through, in anything. So she plays a wimpy, passive secretary who wants a man in her life but is too nerdy to get one. Her house is filled with weird shit like a neon sign for her room and a dollhouse mounted on a table by her window, and she has cats, and phone calls that advertise ways for her to ‘become a better woman.’ She goes back to the office one night and discovers the conspiracy behind the whole thing, right before Christopher Walken throws her out a window. But does that stop her from getting up, painting everything in her house black and stitching together a costume out of garbage bags to go fight crime? Fuck no! That would be plausible!
…no, seriously. No explanation for how she survived the fall and was actually able to walk around? Nothing? Okay then. This character is just so weird and annoying that it’s hard to really describe. It’s really disgusting to watch her be all awkward and kooky before her accident, and it’s annoying to watch her as Catwoman after when all she does is croon in that ultra-silky voice that might as well be a parody of movie women in general. There’s just no subtlety or class to her. Painting her house black? Could you possibly get any more over the top silly? That goes for the whole movie really. It’s a very blunt, obvious film, and the bright colors and goofy characters make it really hard to take seriously even for one minute.
The next fifteen or twenty minutes are mostly filler. We get to see her return to work with an entirely new personality and flirt with Bruce Wayne when he comes to visit, and we get to see Walken dressed like fucking Beetlejuice and talking about mostly nothing, with that damn bug-eyed look all the damn time. Selena Kyle dresses up as Catwoman and gets into a fight with Batman, but only after doing cartwheels through a museum..ugh. And Batman actually gets thwarted by a POODLE. A goddamned poodle! I couldn’t make this up if I tried. So sad that it’s actually funny again. And we see that Batman is not above tampering with the sound system at the Penguin’s rally for mayor and playing tapes that reveal him for the wad of ass that he really is. Can you believe that the townspeople actually throw tomatoes at him? I really hate this movie…but let us continue. He retreats to the sewer where he reveals that his next plan is to…kidnap the first born children in Gotham and murder them all? Sheesh, where the hell did that come from, movie? Pretty extreme about-face turn there, don’t you think? It’s like, “Oh, I can’t become the mayor! What to do, what to do…hey, I think I’ll KILL ALL THE LITTLE CHILDREN.” It’s so out of nowhere and random. It’s practically ad-libbing it, for Pete’s sake.
Or as I like to call it, horrible, heinous writing.
So Bruce goes to Walken’s party where he wants to find Selena Kyle. They dance and trade flirts for a bit until she starts laughing like a hyena at the suggestion that she’s here for Walken. Then she pulls out a gun from under her dress and says that killing him will solve all of the city’s problems. It certainly wouldn’t solve all of this movie’s, though. They start to walk out when the floor explodes and miraculously doesn’t harm anyone that severely! The Penguin comes out riding his fearsome yellow rubber ducky float – yes, I’m serious about that – and announces in a truly hammy and embarrassing moment that he is taking Walken’s son away, oh no! Walken persuades him to take him instead, so he does.
What happens next is…just so flat out weird that it’s hard to believe what you’re watching. Brace yourselves: Batman saves the kids and sends a message through the Penguin’s pet monkey (???). The Penguin starts to rally his army of pet penguins to go marching through the streets of Gotham as Alfred informs Batman what’s going on. Apparently the penguins are marching to the center of the city with rockets strapped to them to blow up the city and kill thousands of people. So…they’re suicide bomber penguins. Will somebody please kill me now?
They stop the penguin-bombs very easily, the Penguin rides around in his giant rubber duck on wheels (….ugh) and Batman confronts the Penguin, who delivers this wonderful gem of a line as he holds up his umbrella gun: “But when it all comes down to it…who’s holding the umbrella?” Batman gives him a look that’s a mix of confusion and reprimanding, which I believe should be the universal reaction to this whole movie. He thwarts the Penguin, has a showdown with Catwoman who is trying to kill Christopher Walken, and the whole thing ends rather tragically with a nice, white winter backdrop as Bruce and Alfred ride off into the night.
Phew. Boy, this was annoying. I mean, the crowning failure of this whole thing was the fact that the last ten minutes were actually pretty good. Finally we got to see some dark, intriguing story and some shots that weren’t filled with Danny DeVito squawking and over-acting like a moron and Michelle Pfeiffer doing cartwheels and over-acting like a moron. The movie really seemed to get its act together for the final climax of the whole thing, but it’s really not worth sitting through two hours of awful crap to get to it. If the climax is a golden egg, the one hour and fifty minutes that come before it are like wading through a mine of shit to get there. I know I’m in the minority when I say this, but Batman Returns really sucks. And that’s all there is to it. Avoid, avoid, avoid!