ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Batman Returns’ (1992), Part Two
Each week, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri take a look back at one of the most successful and influential comic book movie franchises of all time, in ComicsAlliance’s in-depth retrospective on the Batman films.
David: Welcome back to Remedial Batmanology as Chris Sims and I tackle the second half of 1992’s inexplicable summer blockbuster, Batman Returns, in which Batman returns! When we left off with Part One of our review last week, we’d tackled the major plot instigators of the film: Penguin’s running for mayor, Max Shreck is Christopher Walken, Selina Kyle is now Catwoman and trying to get her revenge on Shreck and his department store, and everybody’s completely forgotten about the magical capacitor power plant that was supposedly Shreck’s big villainous plot.
Chris: To be fair, I think it does get one more mention. Maybe even two! Right now, though, all that matters is that everything’s in place for the Penguin and Catwoman’s war against Batman’s reputation. So let’s move on with Batman Returns, or as I like to call it, Frank Reynolds Begins.
Chris: When we last left off, the Penguin had, after being led to it by Christopher Walken, just decided to run for Mayor. And while we glossed over it in our initial recap, this leads directly to one of the more famous scenes in the movie.
David: Which, the one where he first enters his electoral station and tries hitting on every female in sight like, well, Danny DeVito in Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
Chris: No, the one where we find out that no one in Gotham City has been able to suss out that the guy who lives in the sewer with a bunch of circus criminals is dangerously psychotic, which leads to one of his new publicists insulting his appearance. And, let’s be honest here, rightly so, because this is about the point of the movie where Danny DeVito’s fat suit becomes a really obvious as a terrible bit of costuming.
David: I honestly didn’t notice the fat suit, largely because all the prosthetics on his body were hilariously obvious. But yes, he totally does bite a dude’s nose off for making a joke about the fact that he looks like a freak. I always wondered about the message this movie sent – it’s okay to look like a freak! except it isn’t, you’re probably a complete psychopath. Like, how many bullies felt justified beating the crap out of Different Kid X after seeing this thing?
Chris: Different Kid X was my favorite character from the Morrison/Quitely run on New X-Men, but you’re right. And it’s done as a really inept moment that’s trying so hard to be social satire that I genuinely hope Tim Burton cut a royalty check to Paul Verhoeven.
David: I’d get that reference, but I’ve never seen RoboCop. I know.
Chris: Wait, what?
David: You heard me. Read me.
Chris: You’ve never seen RoboCop, American cinema’s greatest achievement?
David: Nope. We just figured out what we’re doing after Remedial Batmanology, didn’t we?
Chris: Could be! I mean, I haven’t seen RoboCop 3, so it could be an experience for both of us. Anyway, back to the movie we’re actually getting paid to talk about: Penguin chomps on the publicist’s nose and we get a total schoolyard gross-out moment, which is ironic, since any sort of physical violence is way less disturbing than the Penguin looking at Saturday Night Live‘s Jan Hooks and talking about how he wants to “fill her void” and “show her the French flipper.”
David: That’s where I recognized her from! Who played Josh, The Guy Whose Nose Got Bitten Off? Because he looks like Matthew Lesko.
Chris: Steve Witting, who according to the IMDB is best known for… Batman Returns.
David: Poor guy.
Chris: The Penguin then agrees to run for Mayor on the platform of “Christopher Walken’s Master Plan is Hilarious Insane,” but then frumps off to start in on his own master plan to discredit Batman. Last week, you called the movie out for its completely jumbled-up portrayal of the Penguin, and that’s really evident here. He goes directly from a scene where he’s so socially inept that he’s walking around in a horrible gray union suit and a Tuxedo ruff, shoving raw fish into his mouth and biting off a dude’s nose and bragging about the size of his parasol to enacting this seriously complex master plan to manipulate the public.
David: I also wish this movie even attempted to explain the Penguin’s umbrella obsession other than “it’s what the Penguin in the comics used.”
Chris: It’s really a movie that wants to have it all ways but doesn’t want to actually work for any of it.
David: The first movie at least provided in-film explanations for the Joker taking up the entire Joker motif, his playing card obsession and everything, but this one just … I guess Selina is resurrected by an ancient cat spirit, and the Penguin … grew up with penguins … and collects umbrellas? One of the great things about Batman’s rogues gallery isn’t just that they’re colorful psychos, it’s that they’re colorful psychos with tragic raisons d’etre. They get the “psycho” part right, but this movie is far from colorful, and the Penguin’s motivation changes depending on which scene you’re in.
Chris: Fortunately, it’s a lesson the franchise learns full well by the time Mr. Freeze shows up. You will never doubt for a moment that he is a dude way into cold stuff.
David: Does the Penguin want legitimacy? Does he want to get revenge on his parents’ memory? Does he want to control Gotham crime? Does he want to become mayor? Does he want to bang a lot of chicks? Does he want to get revenge on Batman? It’s all or none of the above depending on which script revision the scene you’re watching came from.
Chris: Much like the cast of High School Musical 3, he wants it all.
David: The Penguin: the Zac Efron of the ’90s.
Chris: So step one of his plan is to just send his gang of carnies out into the street so that Batman can beat them up, and… Look. this movie is already over two hours long, but I really, genuinely wish there was a scene put in where he explained this to them. “Look: You’re going to get the crap kicked out of you, and since this is Tim Burton Batman, some of you are probably going to die. But when I, the 4’9″ nose-biting sewer-dwelling sociopath, win the Mayoral election…”
David: Aren’t there easier ways to get a Batarang? Also, the preprogrammed Batarang is stupid. So stupid.
Chris: Ah yes. Batman is confronted with four evil circus folks, and decides that the best way to take them all out is to use this Batarang that he apparently made out of a Tiger Electronics handheld game.
Chris: That’s some serious technology back then.
David: There’s really no question that the Batarang is smarter than Batman could ever be.
Chris: It’s also a pretty good example of how much this Batman sucks. Yes, I know. David and I are pretty attached to the Batman of the comics, and this is certainly not him. But c’mon, Batman can’t just throw batarangs at three four dudes? He has to use his doofy Gameboyrang? And he still screws it up?
David: He gets owned by a f***ing poodle.
Chris: I mean, if that’s your Batman, you’re welcome to him. Also, it’s pretty important that a key aspect of the Penguin’s plan involves Batman using a Batarang, which we have yet to see him do in this film. Why does the Penguin know that he’s going to use one? And why doesn’t Batman bother to get it back after the Poodle Woman just casually walks away?
David: “Go confront Batman. He’ll throw a really dumb Batarang at you. Steal it so we can frame him later.”
Chris: While all this is going on, Catwoman skips down to Shreck’s department sore so that she can commit some vandalism, which at least sort of makes sense.
David: Where did her whip come from? Did she make it herself? It would have been pretty great if she just walked into the department store and ganked it from Shreck’s Fetish Sports Section.
Chris: I’d also wonder where she got good enough to snap mannequin heads off with her whip. even my Scarface crossover idea doesn’t explain that.
David: Shreck’s also has these rotating cat clocks on the outside, with like no frame of reference as to what the hands are pointing to. They are the worst clocks in the world. Since not only are they hard to read, they’re a flat clock surface over something spherical, and… oh, to Hell with it, some commenter will call me dumb and semantic for harping on the clocks. We’ve also got the dumb security guards going “hahaha look it’s a woman committing vandalism! Haha, a woman. That’s adorable.”
Chris: But then she defeats them! Grrl Power! Anyway, we cut back to Batman, just in time for him to flat-out murder a dude who looks a heck of a lot like Bam Bam Bigelow.
David: And Batman straight up smirks after he kills a fat clown.
Chris: Yeah, he’s seriously happy about it.
David: There was no reason for this dude to die, other than Batman being lazy.
Chris: That’s the thing: Batman cold plans this. He takes the bomb away from one of the Penguin’s goons who is apparently a suicide bomber — I’d really like to see the scene where he convinces that dude that this is going to work out — and then carries it around until he finds soemone he wants to murder with it. Our hero, everybody!
David: It would be a badass scene for basically any other action hero ever.
Chris: Fair enough. If John Matrix had done this, it’d be awesome. But, and I think this is a key point that we need to establish, Batman is not John Matrix, even when he’s being written by Jeph Loeb.
Chris: So Catwoman blows up Shreck’s with hairspray in the microwave, giving kids all over the world a handy intro chapter to the Anarchist’s Cookbook, and then Batman meets up with the Penguin, who is back in Mastermind Mode.
David: It would really be one thing if the movie showed us Penguin’s erratic behavior was a front, but … look, Oswald’s character makes no sense. I just need to deal with this fact.
Chris: After they have a little chat where Michael Keaton tries his best to make his lines sound cool and badass by whispering them — the classic Baldwin/Arnett technique — Catwoman does some gymnastics at them. Then, I swear to God, she starts looking around like she can’t remember what her line is, and just settles on “Meow.”
Chris: I mean, I have no doubt that that’s what was in the script, but the way she looks, it’s that sort of apprehension like “what do I say again?” Or in Michell Pfeiffer’s case, “Do I really have to say this?”
David: The dialogue in the next few minutes is some of the most atrocious ever, though, including in a Batman film.
Chris: If you look closely, you can see them mentally counting the zeroes on their paycheck.
David: Penguin also goes “I saw her first! Gotta fly!” like he’s going to go after her, and then disappears from the scene.
Chris: Now, that’s when he turns his umbrella into a helicopter, right?
Chris: And this is what people are telling us was the serious, mature take on the Batman mythos?
David: The Adam Westeries aren’t over yet, man. Batman and Catwoman fight it out on a rooftop, and Catwoman totally fakes out by going “I’m a WOMAN! How COULD you?!” And Batman falls for it.
David: Dude. It’s not like this lady just showed up and fake-fought you out of nowhere, which would be dumb enough. She just blew up a goddamn department store. Hell, even the Adam West Batman would mercilessly mace her. Keaton just goes to help her up.
Chris: I’ll admit that Michael Keaton kind of stumbling over his forty-pound costume and trying to apologize is pretty damn charming. Like, Keaton’s a really good comedic actor, and I really wish the movie would’ve gone all out with it instead of this crazy halfassed mashup of camp and the Dimestore Dark ‘n’ Serious nonsense they’re throwing into it.
David: Keaton isn’t a bad dramatic actor, either. I’m pretty sure that with a good script, he would have killed this role. Hell, he DID kill the role, considering the material involved. I bear no ill will towards any actor in this movie. They all did their absolute best with what they were dealt.
Chris: Unfortunately, what they’re dealt is a script with lines like “Life’s a bitch… now so am I!” and “Who’s the man behind the bat? Maybe you can help me find… the woman.. behind the cat.”
David: Yeah. Yeah, readers. Those lines are actually spoken. And they’re terrible.
Chris: Also, I’d definitely like to point out that Batman goes from blowing up a dude with a bundle of dynamite to feeling bad because he karate-fought a woman to then throwing a vial of acid at that same woman.
David: Using up one of her mystical nine lives, which are taken as an actual plot point in this movie.
Chris: This movie is dumb.
David: Like, it’s not an illusion, the subtext of this film is that Selina Kyle was resurrected by some sort of cat totem goddess and given nine lives. Oh, and let’s not even get into the fact that Batman punches her onto a roof, presumably to her death, except that she falls into a dump truck of kitty litter that Batman doesn’t bother going after at all.
Chris: This is followed by a scene of the Penguin groping a young lady’s breasts, and… remind me again why we’re doing this?
David: “You’re the coolest role model a young person could have!” “And you’re the hottest young person a role model could have.” Daniel Waters, what the hell is wrong with you?
Chris: Don’t forget that when he meets Catwoman, he says “Just the pussy I’ve been looking for.”
David: After she’s introduced by a random clown hanging out in his attic apartment with disheleved blinds as “some body’s here to see you.” Note that space: he goes “some body,” not “somebody.” Becuase she’s got a sweet body. Get it?!
Chris: How anyone watched this movie and didn’t just sit there slack-jawed for two hours in shock at the fact that someone got paid a dumptruck full of money to write this stuff down on a piece of paper boggles the mind. This scene is stupid, so we’ll get through it quick: Catwoman has decided that she hates Batman, and she wants to help the Penguin discredit him, but for some reason these two people who have the exact same goal are trying to blackmail each other. By which I mean Catwoman literally tries to eat the Penguin’s pet bird.
Chris: Because she’s a cat. GET IT?!
David: Penguin also reveals his master plan to “disassemble the Batmobile and turn it into an H-bomb on wheels,” which is funny because A) there’s nothing nuclear about the Batmobile, and B) he’s somehow gotten his hands on the blueprints to the Batmobile. Also, Penguin accuses Catwoman of being “some screwed-up sorority chick trying to get back at her daddy,” which ones again displays a level of societal insight that Penguin doesn’t display whenever he’s actually dealing with people. THIS MOVIE MAKES NO SENSE.
Chris: It doesn’t make sense at all. There’s no reason for the Penguin to have the plans for the Batmobile at all. They just show up, as if by magic, and if there’s a scene where they reveal that the Penguin is actually a wizard, maybe they should’ve left that in.
David: And Catwoman “gives herself a bath,” licking herself like a cat. God. Then, Batman watches more television.
Chris: This movie, man. This f***ing movie.
David: And then, Batman invites Selina to the tree-watching ceremony at his place, except that she has to leave to frame Batman and he has to leave to keep it safe. Why Bruce is interested in this chick makes no sense to me.
Chris: Well, I mean, she is Michelle Pfeiffer. She’s a good-looking young lady.
David: Yeah, but they go out of their way to make her look as unattractive as possible, even after the accident. She’s got this deathly pallor and frizzy hair disaster.
Chris: To be fair, trying to make a beautiful Hollywood actress look unattractive always just lowers her down to, like, well above average. Besides, it was the early ’90s, man. Frizzy hair and deathly pallor were way in. It all leads to a scene where they hang out on Batman’s couch and he basically paints her a gigantic sign saying “NO SERIOUSLY I AM ALSO BATMAN.” Meanwhile, the Penguin kidnaps the Snow Princess and leaves the stolen Batarang that he randomly acquired in order to frame Batman for it.
David: I love how nobody in the entire city goes “hey, isn’t this entire operation way too amateur hour for Batman? Why would he leave a Batarang?” Like, not only does Batman suddenly turn criminal, he does it with astonishing incompetence. I guess he was just as bad at being a hero, though.
Chris: Dude, this is the same Batman who let a f***ing poodle walk away with that Batarang 20 minutes ago. For that guy, this thing makes perfect sense. It makes slightly less sense, however, that the Penguin’s goons are able to break through the Batmobile’s impenetrable bulletproof shields, but I guess when you’ve got the blueprints and a wizard on your side…
David: Hey, now! We’re skipping over Batman discussing with Selina how things didn’t work out with Vicki, because he “couldn’t deal with duality,” which makes absolutely zero sense. Also, they both freak out about the time and make awful excuses to Alfred to bail.
Chris: Then Batman fights Catwoman, and we get another one for the Bad Dialogue Hall of Fame:
“Did someone say fish? I haven’t eaten all day!”
“Eat floor. High in FIBER.”
Chris: And then the Penguin shows up:
“Lawn dart! Bats with wings, do your thing!”
David: THING RING, DO YOUR THING!
Chris: And then Catwoman shows back up:
“Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.”
“But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”
Chris: Anybody still want to tell me that this movie’s script is any better than the next two? Because you can, but you are objectively wrong.
David: I also love the TV image of Gordon holding the Batarang in a GCPD evidence bag. Because I guarantee you that Batarang cost more than the entire GCPD’s yearly salaries.
Chris: It has over two kilobytes of RAM!
David: I wish that was actually printed on the batarang.
Chris: So Batman escapes by using the hang glider cape that he suddenly has now that looks super awkward and gets back into the Batmobile, which now has a gigantic jawbreaker stuck to the bottom so that the Penguin can play, I s*** you not, a custom made Batmobile arcade game.
David: The custom made Batwoman arcade game is just …. how does that make any sense? Why would Penguin have the money to manufacture this, even with Shreck’s resources? And even if he did, why go through all the trouble of making it actually look like a Batmobile?
Chris: I’m actually willing to let this slide, as it’s exactly the sort of thing that would happen in Batman ’66 or even in the comics, though it’s more of a Joker gag than a Penguin one. Does that mean it makes any sense to do it here? No. No it does not.
David: Maybe the original idea is that it’s a reprogrammed racing game from the circus Penguin was supposedly in in what we assume was an earlier draft?
Chris: Or maybe he just magicked it into existence. I’m sticking with this whole “Penguin is a Secret Wizard” thing from here on out. Penguin also broadcasts himself onto Batman’s dashboard TV, and Batman has the foresight to put a blank CD in there so that he can record the Penguin saying this movie’s greatest line, “I played this stinkin’ city like a harp from Hell!” I hope you guys like that line as much as I do, because we’re going to be hearing it again. And again. And again.
David: Just a second, let’s rewind for a second: this is 1992. Batman has a fast enough CD burner to record video at real time in 1992? In his car?
Chris: Well. He is Batman. Sort of. Besides, if you’re going to get on them for the use of CD technology, we’ll have plenty of time for that in a minute.
David: Ha, this is very true.
Chris: But first, Batman finally escapes by turning the Batmobile into what I can only describe as a rocket-powered phallus.
David: I had this toy! …wow, okay, that came out wrong.
Chris: It’s only in the movie for about ten seconds, but I remember this being a way bigger deal than it actually is, because it was the focus of the toys. I had this one thing, I want to say it was from a Happy Meal, that you pressed the button and the little Batwang shot out of the larger Batmobile.
David: Happy Meal? Dude, that was the expensive-ass Kenner car that I begged my grandparents for.
Chris: No, this one was little. Like, palm-sized. A tiny little wang-shaped Batmobile you could fit in a child’s hand. … Well, there goes my last happy childhood memory. Hope you’re happy, Tim Burton, David Uzumeri and Laura Hudson.
David: At least it’s not the Bruce Wayne Custom Coupe.
Chris: Oh, I totally had the Custom Coupe! They rereleased that thing for ages. I think once it was even Clark Kent’s car, which.. C’mon. Clark Kent drives to work? Get outta here with that.
David: My favorite Batman Returns toy was the Batcave/Penguin’s Lair combo, which was actually the Batcave/Axis Chemicals combo repainted with new stickers.
Chris: I love that Bruce Wayne figure that came with the Custom Coupe, too. Straight up wearing a turtleneck with a little Batman logo on the pocket. I like to imagine that he goes to work like that. Just daring anyone to say something.
David: There was also the Bruce Wayne figure that came with the attachable Batman costume! Man, those toys were way cooler than the movie.
Chris: No joke!
David: Anyway, this is when Alfred decides to lecture Bruce on the importance of secrets, and Bruce finally counters by pointing out that Alfred let Vicki Vale into the damn Batcave. He then takes an Iron Maiden that retracts the spike and has the floor fall out so that he falls down a slide. Seriously, this is the dream of home of a ten year old.
Chris: That is pretty awesome. But then the Penguin goes to give a speech, and Batman decides to flip the script and discredit him by playing the audio from when he was driving the Batmobile and looking to run over old ladies.
David: He does this by placing the CD he recorded into an open CD reader (wouldn’t this hurt his eyes even more than they already are?) and then DJ record-scratching it. Really.
Chris: And it’s a Batman brand CD player too!
Chris: This is, after Max’s plan, the second dumbest thing in this movie. And not coincidentally, it’s my second-favorite thing about this movie.
David: Absolutely. Penguin then fires into the crowd from his umbrella, stage dives, tackles a dude, and runs off, eluding cops by jumping into a river because, apparently, Gotham cops can’t swim.
Chris: Would you want to jump into a river that was currently being turned into Penguin Tea on their salary?
David: I’m pretty sure being a cop means doing a lot of things you don’t want to do.
Chris: Whoa. You just got all Film Noir on our asses. But it’s worth noting that in this movie’s ham-handed attempt at plot symmetry, it’s the same river he’s dumped into by his parents, which he now returns to after having been rejected by society.
David: “having been rejected by” = “attempting to criminally dupe and then firing a machinegun into”. That’s the thing: everyone accepted Penguin, even with his bizarre, misogynistic, antisocial, violent behavior.
Chris: I did not say it was a good attempt. Anyway, the plot makes the first of several attempts at climaxing by turning to Christopher Walken’s “Max-querade Ball,” in which Bruce and Selina are the only people not wearing masks, because metaphors.
David: Also, everyone’s dancing to a crappy muzak version of Superfreak.
Chris: Or possibly, considering the time, “U Can’t Touch This.” No wait. A sax comes in for the Rick James vocal part. You’re right.
David: Either title has the same awkward attempt at metaphor.
Chris: Selina reveals that she’s going to try to shoot Christopher Walken in the face, but then she and Bruce swap the same bit of dumb dialogue they said when they were in their masked identities, and lo, they have figured each other out!
David: DIDN’T THIS JUST HAPPEN IN THE LAST DAMN MOVIE?
Chris: It also happens in Batman Begins! It’s a trifecta of hackery! Anyway, the Penguin bursts through the floor in yet another reference/tribute to Batman ’66 and announces his master plan to kidnap and murder the first-born sons of every family in Gotham City, or at least the fifty or so people who are at this party. This is the plot that the movie has been building to ever since it forgot about the Evil Reverse Power Plant like an hour ago, and guess what? It lasts about thirty seconds. But that’s fine, because suddenly the Penguin has a THIRD master plan out of f***ing nowhere.
David: An army of trained rocket penguins!
David: You also missed “So, no hard feelings?” “Well, semi-hard feelings, really.” Get it? Batman has a boner!
Chris: According to Wikipedia (so, you know, grain of salt), the rocket penguins were added because producers didn’t think the Penguin had a clear, coherent master plan. Which was true. He just had two other incomprehensibly dumb ones, which are now further complicated by a third, which is even more dumb. Hollywood, everybody!
David: That’s pathetic.
Chris: Batman solves the kidnapping plot in like five seconds (seriously), marking the first competent thing he’s done in this entire film franchise. And of course, this happens completely off-screen.
David: No, we actually see him interrupting one of Penguin’s death trains rolling down the streets of Gotham, completely unpatrolled by cops or people.
Chris: Right, and then his shadow shows up and we cut to a monkey delivering the Penguin a script note about how that’s not the plot anymore. So, like, 90% off-screen, then?
David: Yeah, that’s totally accurate.
Chris: So Batman takes his boat down into the sewer while Alfred tracks the penguins via radar, which doesn’t make any sense because they’re like two feet tall, but whatever. When you’re going to go so far as to suddenly have rocket penguins show up at the 1 hour, 41 minute mark, who am I to figure out your logic?
David: “Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown SKY HIGH!”
Chris: “They wouldn’t put me on a pedestal, so I’m layin’ ’em on a slab!”
David: All while Christopher Walken hangs out in a giant bird cage. I bet he wishes he’d get eaten by Michelle Pfeiffer right about now.
Chris: So then, Alfred hacks into the rocket penguins’ mind control helmets. Let’s go through that one more time, shall we? Alfred hacks into the rocket penguins’ mind control helmets. I’m not even complaining. I just genuinely enjoy writing that sentence, and experiencing the dark, mature themes that it brought to the cinematic experience of Batman Returns.
David: They really get a lot of mileage out of jamming frequencies in this movie.
Chris: Then Batman fights the Penguin, which is actually pretty thrilling since Michael Keaton is only two or three inches taller than Danny DeVito, and even though Batman suddenly has a remote control for the mind-controlled penguins that he got from God knows where, the Penguin disarms him, and then some bats show up for some reason and the penguins shoot their rockets and blow up the abandoned zoo and the Penguin falls through a skylight into an aquarium that’s actually underground now and holy s*** am I on peyote or is this movie actually happening?
David: It is actually happening. This was released into theatres, and people took it as a Serious Movie.
Chris: I have said this before, and I will say it again: I cannot wrap my head around people thinking that things start to get silly when Joel Schumacher takes over. He just added lights so that you could actually see it. That’s all.
David: Big, glowing neon lights.
Chris: So Catwoman shows up — again, out of nowhere — and starts harassing Christopher Walken with her whip, and then Batman shows up and he speechifies at her about the importance of the law. Batman. Who blew a dude up with dynamite while wearing a Dracula costume. He also offers her some of that sweet, sweet Keaton, then takes his mask off, and we get the single best line of the movie.
David: That WAS an absolutely fantastic line, and kudos to whoever of the myriad script doctors came up with it. But yeah, Batman’s a gigantic hypocrite. And then Walken starts shooting Catwoman while she spouts dumb nursery rhymes about how many lives she has left.
Chris: Then Catwoman kisses him with a tazer, and then everything explodes, because… hell, I don’t even know anymore.
David: In an earlier draft of the script, I figure Max’s electrocution was intended to be some sort of dramatic end to the entire stealing-power plotline. Then again, in earlier drafts Max was apparently Penguin’s brother and also Harvey Dent, so who knows.
Chris: Also the Penguin shows up again and dies because the explosion knocked out the air conditioning and the movie forgot that he’s not Mr. Freeze.
David: I’ve really almost run out of things to say. Catwoman survives, Batman saves the day by being ineffectual, the movie concludes.
Chris: And the last line of a movie released on June 19 is “Merry Christmas, Alfred. Goodwill towards men… and women.”
David: That’s what Bruce Wayne learned: Women are different than men. Well done, Bruce.
David: Christopher Walken. Max Shreck is awesome.
Chris: Yes, he is. And yes, gentle reader, we do know where the name comes from. But that’s the thing about this movie, though. Nobody’s actually bad in it, they just have a truly abysmal script to work with. Keaton, Pfeiffer, Walken, DeVito, they’re all really good. Given a better script, DeVito could demolish as the Penguin. But that doesn’t happen. There are flashes of really good stuff in the script, like Shreck’s reaction to seeing Bruce Wayne with his mask off, but the movie spends no time at all making Bruce Wayne act any different than Batman. There’s no reason for anyone to not believe that when they see it.
David: The thing is, Bruce Wayne barely gets any time in the movie as it is. At least he got to kind of strut his stuff in the first flick, but here all he does is almost make out with Selina twice and watch a whole lot of television with his glasses on.
Chris: He has that one really good scene with Walken about the power plant, though. Which, again, is him being Bruce Wayne the savvy, moral businessman, which is exactly the kind of guy you’d expect to be Batman.
David: It’s the only scene where he plays that character in this entire movie, though.
Chris: But like you said, it’s one of only three times we see Bruce interacting with someone, only one of two in public, and only one that’s not opposite Selina. And it’s a really good scene, too. But it’s a pretty big example of how this movie can’t decide who anyone is. The only consistent character is Shreck.
David: Yeah, exactly. And even he changes master plans every five seconds.
Chris: Any other high points?
David: Other than all of the actors? I really can’t think of anything. The script is a mess, the set design is still impressive but a step down from Anton Furst’s…
Chris: The score’s good. And I genuinely love Max’s plan to install this creepy penguin-man circus criminal as his puppet mayor.
David: The entire conception of Catwoman and Penguin. Batman’s a total cipher too, but at least he’s barely in the movie. Catwoman and Penguin have completely mercurial motivations – the latter more so than the former – and unbearably campy, terrible dialogue.
Chris: We spent two entire articles harping on what’s bad about this movie, but the Penguin is exceptionally terrible. There’s no consistency whatsoever in his roles. I have no idea what his motivation was. Revenge? Fame? Groping coeds? He has three separate master plans that all happen one right after another, and while the second — killing the firstborn sons — is seeded early in the film, the rocket penguins have no explanation at all. Look. Guys. The record will back me up on this: I am a guy who wants stories about rocket penguins. But there’s no explanation or reasoning behind them at all.
David: This movie can’t have it both ways. Either it’s a silly, trivial work where random cool-looking things can happen for no reason, or it’s a modern, dark, serious, psychological take on Batman and his adversaries. It’s two totally different moods, vibes, plots, scripts… just going to war, and this film was the result.
Chris: The multiple drafts really show through, which is a pretty good sign that somebody got to the point where they just couldn’t be bothered to give a damn. And I’m going to go ahead and pin that one on Burton, because at the end of the day, it’s his name on there as director.
David: Hey, Jon Peters is on there too. At least it didn’t feature a mechanical spider.
Chris: Would a mechanical spider have been any more out of place than rocket penguins? If the movie spent a half hour talking about Christopher Walken’s plan to build a giant robot spider instead of a reverse power plant, would it have seemed any more out of place than anything else in this movie?
David: I guess that’s true, it just would have looked cooler.
Chris: But yeah, you can literally tell while watching it which scenes came from different drafts of the script. And then the cast has to try to reconcile these wildly different portrayals of characters. I mean, admittedly, Keaton had it figured out; he just sits around looking at things with his mouth open, and kudos to him for finding a solution. But the others… man, they’ve got no chance.
David: Exactly! Is the Penguin a cunning, sinister mastermind, a horny frat boy, a depressed reject from society, two out of three, all of the above, none of the above…
Chris: Does Catwoman want to kill Max or does she want to kill Batman? Or both? And why? Does she think Batman’s going to stop her from killing Max, even though this is never brought up? Why didn’t Max ever bother to mention that someone blew up his store? Seriously, that happens and then has absolutely no consequence in the rest of the movie! There are plot points introduced, discarded and then randomly resurrected in almost every scene.
David: This movie is practically a chimaera of three more focused, better movies.
Chris: It’s worth noting that Catwoman’s survival at the end was meant to spin off into another movie, in which Pfeiffer would return as an amnesiac seeking to remember who she was by going to a super-hero spa resort in a fictionalized Palm Springs, which actually sounds kind of awesome.
David: Hahahaha wait, what? Really?
Chris: Yes. It was going to be written by Daniel Waters, who — again, according to Wikipedia — said:
“After the traumas of the Batman Returns she has amnesia, and she doesn’t really remember why she has all these bullet holes in her body, so she goes to relax in Oasisburg. What Gotham City is to New York, Oasisburg is to Las Vegas–Los Angeles–Palm Springs. [It’s a] resort area in the middle of the desert. It’s run by superheroes, and the movie has great fun at making fun at the whole male superhero mythos. Then they end up being not very good at all deep down, and she’s got to go back to that whole Catwoman thing.”
David: Obvious time difference aside, that actually does sound like a Garth Ennis concept.
Chris: Despite the obvious campiness of that plot, Waters also said that “Catwoman is definitely not a fun-for-the-whole-family script.”
David: Wait, Waters was going to write that? Lord. And this is the project that eventually turned into the disaster we’ll see later?
Chris: Yeah. And considering what we’ve seen here, I’m actually not sure what would be better, this or Waters doing a dark, violent take on Catwoman On Vacation. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about seeing Catwoman again for another four weeks.
David: Until then, we’ve got Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, the latter of which I’ve never seen, the former I haven’t seen since the one time I saw it in the theater.
Chris: You are in for a treat, my friend. So join us next week, as we meet the new Batman, the new Robin and the new love interest with a name that makes me crack up every time I say it — Dr. Chase Meridian! — and watch so much scenery-chewing that your jaw’s going to ache just from reading about it.
David: God, I can’t wait to see this movie again.