ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Batman Returns’ (1992), Part One
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.
Chris: Welcome back to Remedial Batmanology, everyone. This week, David and I are moving on to 1992’s Batman Returns, which I described last week as being “unwatchably terrible.”
David: I’d say it’s watchably terrible.
Chris: Yeah, I might’ve overstated things a little bit on that front. But only barely.David: This is the least erotic ‘sexy’ movie I’ve ever seen.
Chris: Oh come on, Danny DeVito’s not that bad. Of all Burton/Schumacher era Batman movies, this is the one that I’ve watched the least. In fact, I’m pretty sure that watching it for this column was maybe third time I’ve seen it, and the first in at least a dozen years.
David: It’s funny, because I haven’t seen Batman & Robin at all, and I haven’t seen Forever since the theatre, but watching this right now I pretty much remember every single plot twist. Like, I can still finish some of the dialogue.
Chris: Well when a movie has Batman record-scratching the words “HARP FROM HELL!” over and over, they do sort of stick in your memory.
David: I almost kind of get what screenwriter Daniel Waters was going for here with the Penguin as a dark inversion of Batman’s loss of his parents, except that he very quickly abandons that in favor of… terrible puns and Danny DeVito acting really horny.
Chris: This movie’s full of weird divergences like that. In a lot of ways it’s a more unified vision in terms of design and character, while also spending two hours completely unsure of what it actually wants to be at the same time. But for good or ill, it does deliver on the first movie’s promise of being a Tim Burton remake of Batman ’66, right down to hitting one of the same plot points.
David: Make no mistake: this movie is the campiest of camp. There’s somewhat of a dark psychological undercurrent, but it’s so incredibly simplified as to be essentially castrated.
Chris: Before we get into the actual breakdown, though, a little background. Batman ’89 was, as I think people are probably aware, a massive success, and while Batman Returns didn’t have quite the same omnipresent hype machine going on with it, I think it’s fair to say that it was one of the most anticipated sequels of the era.
David: I certainly anticipated the living hell out of it. Except that I was really afraid of it, since I read the comic adaptation first and there was blood, and when I was eight I was a really really huge wuss.
Chris: It’s weird: Because the movie is set at Christmas (and because I got a lot of Batman Returns merchandise under my tree that year), I always remember it as coming out in December, but it didn’t. It was 1992’s big summer blockbuster, released back in June.
David: That does seem like bad timing for a such a Christmasy movie. But also about as well thought out as everything IN the movie, so it’s fairly appropriate.
Chris: That also puts its release about two months before the debut of Batman: The Animated Series, which rode the wave of success from the movies and subsequently made them look terrible by being absolutely phenomenal in pretty much every way.
David: That must have been eternally confusing to kids at the time, to suddenly have a good version of Batman in the mass media. I mean, by the time Returns hit, I was already fully immersed in the comics; it was right at the beginning of the Moench/Dixon period. I believe they launched Shadow of the Bat around the time of the movie, actually, much as they launched Legends of the Dark Knight around the time of the first one. So as a kid, in the theater, I was way more aware of how thoroughly messed up this was as a Batman story.
Chris: I remember really liking Batman Returns when it came out. I had this weird little activity book with a section where you could storyboard out your favorite scene of the movie, and I distinctly remember sitting in fifth grade, drawing the scene with Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle at the “Maxquerade” ball where she pulls out the gun.
David: God, this masquerade scene. Get it? Bruce and Selina aren’t wearing masks, because their FACES are masks! Much like the first, this movie is really best when it stops pretending to have emotional weight and just goes for an army of expoding penguins. The actual plot to this movie makes absolutely no sense, especially Catwoman, whose character arc is absolutely baffling.
Chris: I’ll admit right now that there’s a lot to really like about this movie, and on one level, I can see why even the people who didn’t like the first one would think that this one is way better. In a lot of ways, it is. But when it’s bad… man, it is absolutely terrible.
David: I think it’s far more self-aware than the first flick. Unlike the first movie, this one kind of seems to be about something. It’s just so self-consciously clever about it that there’s nothing even remotely resembling subtlety. It’s funny, because you see people calling this movie “darker” than the first one. I don’t get that all. Not only does way more of it take place in the daylight, but it’s also just… I mean, who can take this dialogue seriously?
Chris: As you mentioned, Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm got the axe after writing two drafts that involved Catwoman and the Penguin, and was replaced with Daniel Waters, the writer of Heathers who was fresh from scripting the previous year’s Hudson Hawk, a movie that has the distinction of actually being worse than its NES adaptation.
David: To be fair, Chris, the same went for the first Batman movie.
Chris: That’s true. Return of the Joker was a classic.
David: I actually meant the original Sunsoft Batman game, but Return of the Joker was pretty damn good too.
Chris: This was the movie that pretty much defined the need of the super-hero genre to keep getting bigger in the sequels. The first one was essentially Batman against the Joker, but in this one, it’s Batman vs. Catwoman and the Penguin and also Christopher Walken in his amazing pinstripe suits. Some movies can pull off the multiple villains really well, but in this one, there’s an entire plot about Christopher Walken’s evil power plant that goes absolutely nowhere because the movie suddenly decides it’s about rocket penguins instead. It’s just sloppy.
David: You mean the giant capacitor that presumably required an engineering team to design and will require an entire construction team to build where nobody’s going to notice that it doesn’t actually generate power? Despite the plan clearly making it seem aboveboard, which you think would require some sort of government oversight?
Chris: That’s the one.
David: Not a single character’s master plan in this movie makes sense. Don’t even get me started on Penguin’s grand babynapping plan, which required A) every single adult in Gotham to be at the same party (which they were), B) not a single babysitter being hired, and C) not a single cop being out on patrol, allowing them to drive their roadworthy carnival train on the open streets.
Chris: Maybe it’s best to just move on.
David: Yeah. Let’s just get to the recap of the… “plot.”
Chris: Our movie opens on Paul Reubens with a monocle, and I’m not going to lie, this is probably one of the best things that has ever been shot on film.
Chris: Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here.
David: Holy crap, Penguin’s dad is Pee Wee Herman. I never noticed that.
Chris: Yep: Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger are reunited from Tim Burton’s best picture, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, to play the Penguin’s parents, who are seriously great. Their son is born with flipper hands, and so they decide (silently, while drinking martinis) to throw him in the river and be done with him. Uzi, I’m actually at a loss… Was this origin ever in the comics, or was it introduced here?
David: I’m fairly confident it was brand new for this movie. I mean, the Penguin in the comics… you know what? I’ve barely ever read any decent Penguin stories, and he’s not exactly a character I have a huge amount of affection for. But he was a bitter trust fund kid who became an angry crime boss, not a freak who was raised by penguins in a sewer. Because penguins are in a sewer.
Chris: Yeah, about that. After that great opening, nothing else really makes a whole lot of sense. The Penguin is thrown into the river, bassinet and all, and rather than sinking and drowning, he floats into the sewers where he’s found by a flock of penguins who are inexplicably living in Gotham City’s sewer.
David: I guess they escaped from the zoo?
Chris: The movie actually shows them being from an abandoned aquarium, because apparently when the money runs out, you just stop going to work and leave all the animals to fend for themselves. And again, I mentioned this in passing with the first movie, but I’m kind of okay with Gotham City being a place where weird stuff like that happens.
David: And I have no idea how he hooks up with the Red Triangle gang, either. At the beginning of the movie, he’s just returning to Gotham City, after being a traveling crime boss in a freak show, right? Except that he continues to act like he has no idea how to operate in society.
Chris: That’s another weird thing: It’s pretty clear from the setup that the Penguin’s been living down in the sewer for a long time, but he’s also got his evil crime circus that’s been traveling around with him as a member of the freak show. I really got the feeling that the crime circus was something left over from an earlier draft that they didn’t want to abandon because it makes for a good visual.
David: The crime circus makes no sense without the traveling part, though, because how else did a hermit who’d lived in the sewer his entire life have the money to afford all the crap he pulls off in this movie? Exploding presents, flamethrower-wielding clowns… and on top of that, didn’t they realize that they kind of just did the evil circus stuff in the last movie? Granted, it was just the Joker and his goons and the mimes, but it’s really a very similar aesthetic. As we’ll see, though, this movie apes the first in a lot of ways.
Chris: And we haven’t even gotten to the start of things not making sense. Cut to 33 years later, and it’s Christmas time in Gotham City! There’s a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, and we’re introduced to billionaire industrialist Max Shreck, who I will try to refer to only as “Christopher Walken” in order to avoid confusion with the cartoon ogre.
David: And don’t forget his dutiful son Chip!
Chris: Christopher Walken runs a department store that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot other than to have a giant cat face and provide a set for Catwoman to flounce around in in about an hour, but he also.. builds power plants, I guess? While also running a department store?
David: He’s an industrialist! Vertical integration, baby! You gotta diversify your markets. Including building gigantic damn capacitors that you’ve somehow convinced everyone in the world is a power plant.
Chris: There’s a lot of talk about this power plant and how Gotham City actually has a power surplus in the first half of this movie, and I want to make this absolutely clear to everyone: NONE OF THIS HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE PLOT. I mean, it certainly seems like it’s going to tie in later, and his secret capacitor plans are even the reason that he tries to kill Selina Kyle, but the movie just cold hits a point where it just straight up stops mentioning this stuff at all.
David: The entire thing is just to provide proof of Max’s lawless nature, but it’s just a reason for A) Max to kill Selina and B) an excuse for them to claim it’s dramatic irony when he gets electrocuted at the end. HOISTED BY YOUR OWN PETARD, WALKEN.
Chris: And Walken’s shadiness could’ve been done any number of ways. I mean, he’s a department store owner at Christmas. That alone is the seed of a plot that could actually have something to do with the rest of the movie.
David: This is what happens when you have a script that’s the result of multiple rewrites by different people, unfortunately. I understand the first flick had two different writers as well, but this one seems way less coherent — although I’m not sure if that’s a symptom of the rewrites or needing to compress things for time. There’s a lot going on in this movie, and things move fast. It’s far faster-paced than the first, that’s for sure.
Chris: The only thing that realy matters in this scene is that we’re introduced to three extremely important characters: Max Shreck, who we’ve covered, his secretary Selina Kyle, who will go on to become Catwoman, and — most importantly — Max’s son Chip, who is fantastic.
David: He’s a chip off the old shreck, he is!
Chris: Chip is played by Andrew Bryniarski — who would go on to play Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake — and he is basically just a kid doing a hilarious impression of Christopher Walken, while actually talking to Christopher Walken.
David: I can’t believe I’d never thought about it like that, but you’re absolutely correct.
Chris: It’s probably more important to the overall plot that we’re introduced to Selina, as played by Michelle Pfeiffer in one of cinema’s greatest failures in taking a beautiful actress and putting her in big glasses and mussed hair to make her look mousy.
Chris: Get it? Mousy? Because she becomes Catwoman?
David: This is the first of several awful visual and lingual puns we’re going to get in this movie. Pfeiffer totally overacts the secretary, the same way she will soon overact the hell out of Catwoman.
Chris: I actually don’t mind that so much. I mean, yes, she chews scenery — as do DeVito and Walken — but at least she’s way more interesting than Kim Basinger’s dead-eyed Vicki Vale from Batman ’89. The crazy thing is that a lot of people seem to think that the overacting villains only showed up for the Schumacher movies. There is, and I mean this seriously, nothing that Mr. Freeze says in Batman & Robin that is any dumber than the lines Penguin and Catwoman are spitting out all over this movie. But at least Catwoman isn’t boring.
David: No, “boring” is definitely not the word I’d use to describe Michelle Pfeiffer in any context.
Chris: You know what would make this movie a hundred times better?
David: A good script?
Chris: Besides that.
David: Only one villain?
Chris: Well, yes, but: If you watch it with the idea that “Selina Kyle” in this movie is actually Elvira Hancock, Michelle Pfeiffer’s character from Scarface, having entered the Witness Protection Program. She’s so nervous because she’s actively trying to repress her gangster instincts, and when Christopher Walken tries to kill her, she snaps and becomes the female Tony Montana.
David: Now I want to see a video of Michael Bolton playing Catwoman. Damn you, Lonely Island. I’ve also never seen Scarface, which I hate to admit.
Chris: My theory basically hinges on the fact that she and Tony own a pet tiger. Anyway, Christopher Walken goes to make a speech at the tree-lighting, but — in the first of several explicit homages to Batman ’66 — the ceremony gets attacked by a giant Christmas present..
Chris: …that then explodes into a gang of evil carnies.
David: I’ll give the movie this: It didn’t wait for the big action set-pieces. We had to wait a WHILE for one in the first Batman flick, but this gets right to the point, but not before the most ridiculous Bat-Signal scene in the history of Batman. And I’m counting the one where Tommy Monaghan put a dead cat on it to summon Catwoman.
Chris: Oh man, this is insane. Would you like to do the honors, Uzi?
David: Please, let me.
Chris: By all means.
David: They shine the Bat-Signal into the sky, which somehow hits a mirror at Wayne Manor, which then causes a chain reaction of other moving mirrors all around Wayne Manor, essentially redirecting the Bat-Signal three hundred and sixty degrees around his house until it hits him right in the face, just so he can get a scene where he stands up in front of a huge, lit-up Bat-Symbol in his library. Bruce, aren’t you supposed to have a secret identity?
Chris: Oh dude, they’re not mirrors. They’re actual Bat-Signal spotlights. Just sitting on his walls. Which I guess he had Alfred install on a slow weekend.
David: What? I honestly assumed they were some sort of elaborate light refraction technology.
Chris: Nope. They’re actual Bat-Signals themselves.
David: Bruce, you f***ing idiot.
Chris: So Batman suits up and makes it to the heart of Gotham City in about a minute, which is pretty impressive in and of itself, and commences to just beating the living crap out of evil circus people who are trying to ruin Christmas. And at this point, I’ll admit that I am fully on-board with this movie. Even the fights look better.
David: Batman actually uses martial arts! He doesn’t get shot and pass out until the very end, either!
Chris: He also saves Selina and knocks out a thug by using his grappling hook to pull some drywall onto his head, giving Selina some non-Scarface-related inspiration for what she does later. It’s like, at this point, you can actually see a story forming.
David: BARELY. What Selina does later is astonishingly random, as far as I’m concerned — maybe not as random as what happens to her, but still very random.
Chris: Oh, no, I totally agree that it’s about to go off the rails big-time, but at this point, you’re given every reason to belive that Christopher Walken’s power plant is an evil plot that Batman will have to stop at some point, and that Selina Kyle will be inspired by Batman to become a vigilante thief herself, a la Year One. The thing is, none of this is what actually happens.
David: No, it’s not, because we’ve got the Penguin to deal with. This entire Christmas conflagration was engineered for the sole purpose of setting up a meaning between Max and the Penguin. If he’s rich enough to operate an evil crime circus, and has the connections, couldn’t he just … call him?
Chris: Probably, if this movie could actually decide whether they wanted him to be a freaky crime-boss or a dude who’s been living in the sewers for thirty years, which it can’t. It definitely skews to the latter in this scene, where the Penguin talks about how he goes through everything that gets flushed down a toilet in Gotham City, which is just awful. As a result, he now has a ton of evidence of Christopher Walken’s shady deals that he’s going to blackmail him with, because apparently Walken killed a dude and then flushed him down a toilet? I guess?
David: He shows him a severed hand. How does that even work? How do you get a severed hand into a sewer?
Chris: I have no idea.
David: Alongside, I presume, his other dismembered body parts? Maybe Gotham has really, really big toilets.
Chris: Then, in what is seriously my favorite moment of complete insanity in this entire movie, Max decides that the way out of all of his problems is to help the Penguin run for mayor.
David: If there’s any way to get a crazy person out of your life, it’s engineering their executive takeover of your hometown. There’s no way that could possibly go wrong, Max. Couldn’t he just get some of his own hired goons to go find the freaky penguin dude in the sewer and shoot him? He’s got access to the power grids, wouldn’t there be a really bizarre power usage spike where Penguin is in the sewer, especially because it’s a gigantic goddamn room that for some reason has air conditioning?
Chris: I’m not kidding. I genuinely love this. The mayor is blocking the construction of Max’s Evil Power Plant, so he decides that he should have him recalled and replaced with a deformed albino circus freak crime boss that he has known for five minutes. That is a jaw-droppingly terrible plan. Cobra Commander would look at that and go “you know, you may want to read through that one again.”
David: I still don’t know if it’s as jawdroppingly terrible as Penguin’s plan, except that Penguin’s plan actually would have worked if Batman hadn’t been around. Which still blows my mind. Other than Commissioner Gordon, is there a single police officer in this entire movie? The Shreck security guards don’t count.
Chris: There is not.
David: And even Gordon’s in it for, like, five minutes.
Chris: Like I said, this movie is a gigantic tribute to Batman ’66, and it seems to have adopted that show’s practice of having the cops just flat-out turn things over to Batman. Which, by the way, is great to see if you watch the show straight through. In the early episodes, Gordon actually gets reports from the cops that can’t stop the Joker or whatever and seems to make the call to Batman only out of necessity. About halfway through that first season, though, he’s like “Oh, it’s the Riddler again? Yeah, hand me the phone, I’ve gotta be on the golf course by ten.”
David: Actually, I’m completely wrong about the lack of cops. There are cops, but they only show up later, when Batman gets framed. Then they disappear again. Like, the only thing cops do in this entire movie is persecute the good guy.
Chris: There was an uncredited rewrite by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
David: And Eazy-E and MC Ren, dude. Please.
Chris: Meanwhile, back at the department store, Selina Kyle is working late getting some papers together for Max’s meeting with Bruce Wayne the next day, when Max walks in on her and she decides it’s a good idea to tell him that she went through his secret encrypted files and discovered his evil master plan to steal Gotham City’s power surplus.
David: Tell him? It was obvious, because she was looking at the super secret files. First off, why in the world did she think he’d want her to go through his encrypted crap? “Oh, I just guessed your password.” Selina, that ish is creepy, dawg.
Chris: So Max Christopher Walkens at her for a few minutes…
Chris: …and then cold shoves her through a window in an attempt to kill her. Unfortunately, he chooses a window that’s directly above like eight awnings, and we are then treated to what is, without question, the dumbest origin story of all time.
David: She crashes through the awnings, and then… and then she… she gets… resurrected… by getting licked by cats?
Chris: Yep. And as a side effect of being defenestrated, she gets multiple personality disorder.
David: MPD? I didn’t get that at all. I thought she just went … well, she just went all CRAZY WOMAN like she was in a Brad Meltzer story.
Chris: It’s not quite defined like a split, but there’s definitely dialogue in there about how her Selina personality that wants to date Bruce Wayne is at odds with her Catwoman personality and both sides are struggling for control. It’s basically the movie trying to reflect the duality of Batman and Bruce Wayne, only done without any coherence or subtlety whatsoever.
David: We skipped over the first Selina’s apartment scene, so I’d just like to say this: exactly why does anyone in the world have a gigantic neon sign in their bedroom that says “HELLO THERE” in asymmetrical letterforms? Other than for a totally hacky wreck-the-apartment scene where she can smash the O and T so it can say “HELL HERE.” You’re so damn clever, Tim Burton.
Chris: Well how else do you signal a dramatic change in personality? Other than spraypainting your cat shirts, of course.
David: What in the world was the point of the spraypaint?
Chris: Even at ten years old, sitting in the theater, loving the hell out of Batman, I thought that bit with the sign was dumber than a sack of hammers. Even the fact that Catwoman is a cat lady is way too on the nose.
David: The entire scene is ridiculous. It’s apparently catlike to trash your apartment completely? How do you make a skintight leather suit without any patterns or anything? If she was this brilliant of a seamstress, she didn’t need to be an “executive assistant” for such a raging douchebag.
Chris: Ah yes. The costume that everybody loves, despite the fact that it’s absolutely awful.
David: How could anyone like this costume? She looks like a budget gimp.
Chris: The argument that I always hear whenever talk about how awful it is tends to be “But she’s so hot in it!” Son, of course she’s hot. She’s a Hollywood actress in skintight vinyl. This does not actually make it a good costume.
David: Honestly, I don’t even find it remotely attractive.
Chris: It’d be fine without the dumb stitching.
David: Did she run out of black thread?
Chris: She probably didn’t have any on hand. You know, unlike her yards and yards of vinyl.
Anyway, if we’re ready to move on from tipping yet another sacred cow, the Penguin makes his public debut by pretending to save the Mayor’s baby from being kidnapped by an acrobat. It’s also worth noting that the Mayor of Gotham City is dumb enough to bring his baby to a press conference where he denounces crime.
David: The entire movie has a way less interesting look. The stylishness is gone.
David: It’s all drab cityscapes and, like the first movie, everything takes place in like the same three areas: the city square with the Christmas tree, Shreck’s, and city hall.
Chris: Hey, you forgot the Penguin’s abandoned sewerquarium, but since Shreck’s and the Christmas Tree are actually in the same place, the point stands. The Penguin goes on TV and claims that he just wants to find his familiy and know where he came from, and Bruce — having wached everything with his typical slack-jawed stare — determines immediately that he’s lying. Except that he has no real reason to, and the way it plays out just makes it seem like Batman’s jealous of the new guy.
David: Bruce just doesn’t trust people! Like Vicki, who’s disappeared into nowhere in between films.
Chris: At least she gets mentioned. The whole exchange about her that comes later reminded me of how Daniel-san explains his girlfriends away in one line in each of the Karate Kid sequels.
David: To be fair, it’s a pretty damn funny exchange, even if it is just an f-you from Sam Hamm. Per Wikipedia:
“Bruce Wayne chastises Alfred, saying ‘Who let Vicki Vale into the Batcave?’ This is actually writer Sam Hamm’s none-to-subtle jab at the rewrites give to his script by Warren Skaaren. Hamm’s script never included a scene where Alfred leads Vicki into the cave, and as the script was re-written during production, Hamm felt this was a particularly sloppy revision.”
Chris: We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, though. Before all that, the Penguin goes to the Hall of Records where he copies the names of all the first-born sons in Gotham City — which is supposed to be analagous to New York, which has MILLIONS OF PEOPLE — by hand, for future use. Then, the Penguin goes to visit his parents’ graves, where he lays roses on them in a huge parody of Bruce Wayne doing the same thing in Crime Alley in the first movie. And I have to say, to this movie’s credit, Danny DeVito totally sells this scene.
David: Except that this movie can’t have it both ways. Is the Penguin a socially stunted malcontent who just wants to get laid and eat raw fish, or is he a criminal genius masterfully playing the public’s sympathies?
Chris: Exactly. There’s a lousy script trying to pull him in both directions at once, and the actors are just left to make the best out of what they have. And what they have is “I was their number one son, but they treated me like number two.” Someone got paid a ridiculous amount of money to write that down on a piece of paper for other people to say out loud, folks.
David: Oh man, I didn’t get the “number two” joke as a kid. I audibly groaned this time.
Chris: Speaking of awful one-liners, Catwoman stops a mugging with a combination of kicks and terrible dialogue that culminates in “I am Catwoman: Hear me roar!” Right now, I want everyone who said they like this movie but they don’t like Batman & Robin because of the dumb Freeze puns to take a good long look at themselves and think about that line.
David: She also gives the mugged party, a woman, guff for making it “too easy.” Way to blame the victim, Selina.
Chris: Bruce Wayne then has his meeting with Max, and again, Keaton does a bang-up job with the material.
David: That’s the thing: despite how bad the lines are, basically everyone in this movie is an A+ actor.
Chris: Also, Walken’s amazing delivery of “Power Surplus, Bruce… shame on you. No such thing.” In fact, basically EVERYTHING Walken says in this scene is hilariously great.
David: I’d love to see this cast in a good movie. This film like the equivalent of a Chuck Austen/J.H. Williams III collaboration.
Chris: Bingo. Selina walks in with her fresh new attitude and her super-frizzy hair, and Bruce immediately sets his sights on getting his freak on and then sleeping upside-down. We call that “Keatonstyle.”
David: Honestly, though, Pfeiffer looks like a damn zombie in this movie. I’m not sure what Bruce sees in her.
Chris: As established by his relationship with Vicki Vale, he has a thing for dead-eyed blondes.
David: Batman likes to see his own apathy reflected back at him.
Chris: Max then goes to see the Penguin, who is back in slobbering degenerate mode, as he is lured with a raw fish downstairs, where Max has set up his mayoral campaign. And this is where the references to Batman ’66 hit critical mass, as this entire plot is based on on an episode of the show: “Hizzoner the Penguin”/”Dizzoner the Penguin.”
David: I admit, I haven’t seen it. Certainly, the Penguin is an… unhinged candidate, and the idea that the public would even THINK about accepting a crazy dude who just walked out of the sewer is… look, it’s not even close to the stupidest thing in this movie, so I really don’t want to dwell on it much longer, but in this movie as in the last, the people of Gotham are either utterly deranged or complete imbeciles.
Chris: Can’t it be both?
David: “Here’s free money! Here’s a freakish penguin-man running for mayor! Hey, now you have to hate Batman, even though it’s an obvious setup!” Does Batman even clear his name at all in this movie?
Chris: Not really, he just makes the Penguin look bad. But the Batman ’66 episode is easily one of my all-time favorites. The Penguin gets out of jail and starts to run for mayor with the intent of pretty much legalizing crime, gaining support through theatrics and charisma, while Batman runs against him, taking a beating in the polls because he’s such a goody-goody square. Like, he won’t kiss a baby because it’s really unhealthy for everyone involved, so the Penguin casts him as a dude who hates kids by kissing babies while smoking a cigarette.
David: That’s amazing.
Chris: It seriously is. And it also informs a lot of what happens in this movie, too. Like, the Penguin’s super-horniness is obviously someone’s updated version of the fact that the Penguin uses three sexy college girls to do his campaigning, while Burgess Merideth is just kind of charmingly lascivious about them. Here, though, Penguin just straight up goes “I want to have sex with these women.”
David: DeVito does his best with the material, just like everybody else in the movie, but it’s still completely devoid of anything even remotely resembling subtlety.
Chris: And with that, everything is set up for what happens next: The Penguin’s running for mayor, Catwoman’s out for revenge, Batman’s staring at things with his mouth open, and Christopher Walken is… well, he’s being Christopher Walken.
David: At least they fixed the Bat-symbol.
Chris: Join us next time when Batman gets framed, Catwoman gets shot and Uzi gets drunk as we tackle the second half of Batman Returns.