FFlashback: Batman Returns (1992)

The Bat, The Cat and The Penguin go at it in the weirdest Batman film ever: Batman Returns…

 

The One Where: It’s Christmas in Gotham City, but dark forces are at work. The hideous Penguin manages to make himself a leader in the mayoral race, thanks to corrupt businessman Max Shreck. Meanwhile, lowly secretary Selina Kyle is mysteriously reborn as Batman’s nemesis and true love rolled into one, Catwoman…

Star Turns: It’s fair to say that Michael Keaton (great though he is) is a supporting character in his own film here, as the trio of villains on show are played so brilliantly. Christopher Walken is at his most Walken-y as Shreck, while Danny DeVito is so utterly disgusting as The Penguin. Absolutely stealing the show, though, is Michelle Pfieffer, as the thoroughly damaged Catwoman. Going from repressed and mousy to sultry and psychotic, it’s a breathtaking performance.

Best Scene: As Batman Returns is much more of a character piece than the usual action-orientated superhero film, its standout scene is a small-scale, but key, moment. At Shreck’s masquerade ball, Bruce and Selina are the only guests not wearing masks. While there they find out each others’ identities – thanks to a familiar phrase: “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it. But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.” Beautifully-acted and thematically-rich.

Verdict: You might not like the lack of Batman screentime or the kooky tone, but you can’t deny that Batman Returns is an endlessly fascinating film. Easily the superhero movie with the most going on under the surface, Returns deliberately sacrifices a clear plotline to become a character-driven mediation on the freaks of society and the duality of the self. Fittingly for a film obsessed with the significance of masks, Batman Returns is a psychosexual gothic fairy tale masquerading as a popcorn-munching blockbuster.

Holy interesting trivia, Batman! Pfieffer was such a hit that a Tim Burton-directed Catwoman spin-off was immediately planned. Unfortunately, it got stuck in development hell for so long it eventually became the infamously awful 2004 movie starring Halle Berry.

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