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Batman Returns

Cast: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito
Director: Tim Burton

Before I begin to write down my thoughts, I want to make one thing clear: I haven't seen Batman (1989) and  maybe I should have started with that. So if you see anything that can be explained using the first movie, refer to the first sentence of this review. It's hard to enjoy the previous Batman films if you've seen Nolan's versions...well, at least for me. I found it difficult to not compare the previous versions to the recently released ones, but I am going to try to make this as objective as possible.

Batman Returns brings us back to Gotham City, as new enemies, in the form of The Penguin and Catwoman arise, both with backgrounds of their own. The Penguin's story is practically narrated at the opening credits, while we see the creation of Catwoman within the first 20-30 minutes of the movie. Basically, they create havoc in the city of Gotham, not without the aid of one Max Schrek, whom ideally plays a puppeteer. Batman stops them and Gotham has peace once more. 

What I noticed about this version of Batman is that this is the movie where the supporting characters/villains outshine Batman. Batman, despite being the protagonist, is reduced to a supporting character, an antagonist in the lives of Penguin and Catwoman. As Bruce Wayne, he is the antagonist of Schrek, who somewhat plays the puppeteer in this charade. Instead of divulging further to the supporting character of Keaton, I am going right into the stars of this flick: the villains.

The Penguin was the star of the movie. Living underneath the sewers of Gotham, he has created his own army of penguins, and a family of freak shows. After being shunned by the world, he wanted to be respected and fight for his birth right, but a run in with Batman has eluded that. He was a man who loved his umbrellas. Danny DeVito portrayed him very well. He stole all the scenes he was in, making the character his own. It also helped that his character was well-written. Although there were some plot holes in his story, the way he was built up suggested that he was the one to look out for, although in performance, he could be battling it against Catwoman. 

Catwoman, played beautifully by Michelle Pfeiffer, was a character of her own. Switching between her own identity (Selina Kyle) and her new found persona, Catwoman was someone who was trying to prove her worth. Turned against men because of a tragic incident, she uses her new found power to liberate, at the same time showing Batman that just because she is a woman, she could not be riled with. Somewhere along the line she plots with Penguin to plan the downfall of Batman, but seeing as these two characters have strong personalities, their alliance would eventually falter. I like how Pfeiffer portrayed her, and how there was a subtle transition in her character as the movie progressed. Her crazy was just the right amount of crazy, and when she's onscreen, she makes sure you follow her character. 

The puppeteer and the weak link of the plot, was played coldly and manipulatively by Christopher Walken. In truth, there was no purpose for his character except to be the enabler of the events. He butts heads with Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and the Penguin. If it weren't for him, almost none of the events would transpire. I liked how throughout there wasn't a change of character, that he was always going to be manipulative and cunning. His debacle with Bruce Wayne was the weakest, as it was there to make some sort of connection between his character and Bruce's persona. 

Burton brings Gotham in his usual style, Gothic and twisty. I liked how he did the opening credits (although I'm not sure if that was the director's call). From the start it was already known that there is going to be something sinister that is going to fall down on the city. The set had a particular design to it that was complimenting the atmosphere, even if it had a little whimsical effect to it. If I had problems with this, it would have to be that (since I figured out this was a sequel -- I always thought Batman films were stand alone, excluding the recent trilogy) it directly dived through Batman's life without giving some sort of background as to where his character was at the moment. Knowing nothing about what transpired in his life gave Keaton's Batman a distance to the whole movie, making him appear as a secondary character. There was a mention of Vicki, but that was it. It was as if he was detached to the first movie and was inserted to the next. There was no personal transition. It really brought a difference to his Bruce Wayne side, not so much the Batman side. Bruce Wayne/Batman was written poorly in the follow up, although his scenes with Selina Kyle/Catwoman were redeeming of his character. Otherwise, he was just a fighting machine. 

All in all, I'd say this was a pretty good installment of Batman. Despite it being decades ago, it carries actors that make the characters their own. There were some plot holes, but the movie was still enjoyable. This should be on people's Christmas watch list. It's set during the holidays and you get well played villains. What's not to like? Now I'm going to go watch the first one. 

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