Marvel vs. DC:
Batman Returns, 1992
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy
The animal kingdom is in chaos as Batman/Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton, Batman) battles The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and Catwoman/Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer, mother!). After Oswald Cobblepot as born with a deformality and abandoned by his parents, he was raised by penguins and soon became the leader of the Red Triangle Circus Gang and begins terrorising Gotham, only to be talked into running for mayor by businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter), soon he allies himself with Catwoman (Max’s secretary who is murdered by him before becoming Catwoman) as they share the common goal of killing Batman.
While it may have gotten the same scoring, in my opinion Batman Returns is superior to its predecessor; with DeVito’s Penguin a brilliant character alongside Keaton’s more settled performance as the titular hero. The Penguin’s journey is also really well executed, turning from a deformed, feared villain to a public hero to a mayoral candidate before finally revealing himself as the villain Bruce Wayne always suspected him to be. Accompanied by Catwoman, who is just as skilful as Batman at fighting and plays off her gender to gain advantages in fights, and Batman has his hands full at almost every junction. The film also has the right tone of darkness, with baby’s being threatened and lives being discarded at will; this is the Batman I enjoy, not the campy, colourful version that will be seen in a few film’s time.
Visually the film is really effective, too, with The Penguin’s costume looking very impressive (a few times it’s noticeable that it’s a body-suit but those are few and far between in an otherwise visually stunning appearance), and the visuals of The Penguin’s destruction are really well presented, too. And while I don’t have many criticisms, the only negative I do have is with its writing. It scores relatively solid because the film is nicely paced and there are a few really nice moments (such as Bruce and Selina finally realising who each other is after dating), but a lot of The Penguin’s dialogue came across as a bit confusing. One moment he’s a sex-crazed pervert (but if he’s been living in the sewers would he have naturally behaved like this?) the next a skilled writer (who has taught him to write?) with money to burn (where has he generated all this money from and how hasn’t anyone noticed him before?). The best written villains are those whose entire biography is detailed, however subtly or obviously, but with The Penguin there are some mysteries and confusion about the 33 years that separated his abandoning and his crime-boss-esque dominance. And a few of his lines: ‘Just the pussy I’ve been lookin’ for’, ‘Why is there always someone who brings eggs […] to a speech?’ and ‘You gotta admit I played this […] city like a harp from hell’ all don’t scream like the dialogue of a man secluded from society for over three decades (even being in a circus, which is alluded to in his past, wouldn’t have necessary drummed up the references and the jokes he uses.
But, again, that’s just me looking for at least one moment of critique in an otherwise thoroughly entertaining film that was a brilliant combination of darkness, brutality, comedy and action, with a well-paced story (it could have even done with an extra 10 minutes at parts) and a battle that it did make you question ho Batman would save the day, and those questions, when asked in a superhero film, really reveal the quality of the film the filmmakers have produced.
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