I caught part of Edward Scissorhands (1990) the other day, and it reminded me that Tim Burton made some really great films in the 90’s. On a whim, I decided to roll out an old favorite from Netflix instawatch.
The summer that Batman Returns came out I definitely had Batman fever. I was a little too young for Batman (1989) (seven years old) to fully grasp how awesome Batman was, but at age ten I was fully able, and willing, to consume any and all Batman related products, including: Batman action figures, collectible Batman cups from McDonald’s, a Batman t-shirt and Batman pajamas, and some kind of Batman bath foam which probably was at least partially toxic to humans.
As a twelve year old, I was barely aware of the dialogue, plot, acting, or anything that I now overanalyze. Watching the film again, the acting is pretty over the top, with Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito practically twisting their mustaches at points. Michelle Phiffer’s Catwoman is needlessly killed and brought back (the character never appears and, to my knowledge, is never mentioned again in any films).
One aspect that I never really noticed: Michael Keaton’s Batman is not only kind of wimpy, but he’s not ever really the main focus for action within the plot of the film. He’s almost like a side note, only brought in to advance or complicate the dual narratives of Catwoman and the Penguin. At the time, the film might have served as more of a set piece for the big name actors inhabiting their roles, but it generally served to take away from the foreboding personal struggle that is Batman. Ebert speculates in his review that the movie is too much about the curse of being Batman and that the action is too herky jerky to provide much continuity to the plot. I agree partially. The subplots are mostly unnecessary, and this movie started us down the path of three plus villains where two might easily do. As far as the curse of Batman is concerned, he has practically passed into martyrdom in recent films.
As anyone would say, this was the finale for 90’s Batman in all respects as the final two films in this run, directed by Joel Shumacher (see the credits for St. Elmo’s Fire, ha ha ha ha) were essentially shameless cash grabs designed to capitalize on earlier franchise success (look no further than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze). In any case, if you have nieces or nephews who are of the movie watching age, this movie and the original Burton classic is something that should be shown proudly as the precursor to what hopefully will continue to be a great series of films. Also, the villainy is a little less disturbing than recent films, so you won’t have to read six bedtime stories to a frightened child after a viewing.
9/10: Watch for the part where Bruce Wayne scratches and spins a CD/R like a vinyl record–solid gold