Movie Review: BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

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Movie Review

Directed by Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfieffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough
Review by Andrew Kosarko


The Caped Crusador (Michael Keaton) is pitted against the demented, ravenous Penguin (Danny DeVito), a pitiful, orphaned psychopathic freak who once went on a baby-killing spree, and a “power” hungry capitalist villain Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). As the two criminals plot to gain domination over Gotham City, BATMAN must plot to stop them. Cat Woman (fearlessly and fabulously played by Michelle Pfeiffer). She is the slinky, sharp-clawed alter-ego of Shreck’s secretary Selina. Batman must overcome his own dark past, and his present love entanglements, to rid Gotham of it’s evil enemies.


People who like this movie seem to like it because it screams Tim Burton left and right. Some people who absolutely hate this movie, hate it because it’s not Batman. I may be the only person who sees both sides of the light.

The Story: Now one who’s a hardcore Batman fan can see where this was once a Batman story. And in some ways, it still is. The Penguin is on a quest for political power through means of intimidation, greed and corruption. Max Schreck is a capitalist helping the Penguin lie his way to the top. All Batman fans knew that originally that was going to be Harvey Dent and that Selina’s kiss of death at the end was supposed to scar the corrupt D.A. into two-face. I’d say the only down fall from the story is that there is no real arc for Bruce/Batman and there’s a bit too much focus on the villains as opposed to Batman (a problem that seems to be inevitable in Batman sequels.) That and Catwoman’s creation…..that was little much. Getting licked back to life by cats is a little too “I wanna kill the Spider, you wanna kill the spider” for me.

Acting: By my opinion alone, I think this is some of the best character acting in a Batman movie up until Ledger in The Dark Knight. Keaton does a great job as the distant, brooding Bruce/Batman yet gets some spunk in his life with Selina. Pfieffer does a great job at contrasting her before and after transformation as the sexually explicit Catwoman. She’s by far the most accurate of portrayals in the whole film. And Danny DeVito threw so much of himself into the freak Penguin that he scared a monkey shitless (no lie.). Christopher Walken, get this, actually acts in this movie. There are very little Walken-isms in this film and I’m still amazed at his actual ability when I watch this.

Directing: Ok Tim, here’s where you catch some heat. The sets are amazing, the story is alright, the direction of some of the characters…….not so accurate. Batman, as highlighted in Christopher Nolan’s series is not a killer. Yet, in this film, he sets a man on fire and throws a man down a shaft with a bomb attached to him. Can you say “oopsie?” You got away with it in Batman ’89 because the killing of the Joker was accidental and not intentional but this time, it was intended. Now the heat you catch for “freaking” the Penguin, in my opinion, is unwarranted. Chris Nolan can un-permawhite the Joker and get away with it, but if you add an elongated nose and disabled flipper hands, it’s a bastardization? That’s unfair in my opinion. And it fits well into the Gotham that Burton has created.

Cinematography: Perfect fit for the Burton Gotham. Stark black and whites. Shadows all over the place (some great throw backs to the Batman 60’s TV show at one point) and it’s wonderfully covered. Not too many close ups, not too many wide shots. It’s just well shot.

Production Design: Again, amazing. Not as perfect as the Batman ‘89’s Gotham, but still ranks up there higher than the newer franchise at capturing the “gloominess” of Gotham. Everything is just a bit too “new” and clean and shiny. That’s the only problems with it.

Editing: Well edited all around. There wasn’t a point where I felt it was choppy or out of place. Everything is covered well and truth be told you never really get bored with anything that’s going on. The marks of good editing in my opinion. Score: Danny Elfman does it again. Expanding on his original Batman score, he really hits a high point with this one. Gloomy, dark, and gothic. It doesn’t get any more Batman than that.

Special Effects: Where there special effects in this one? I can’t really tell. I mean the make-up department does a fantastic job. But as far as the rest of it goes, a lot of it is so well masked that you really think everything that’s going on is real. Explosions, bat-boats, and giant rubber duckies. It works.

In closing: Batman Returns catches a lot of heat because of it’s stylistic differences from both the comics and the original Batman film. But in Burton’s defense, he’s an artist trying to create his own original piece of art. It works as a Batman movie on some levels and on others it fails. Same as Chris Nolan and Joel Schumacher’s entries. It’s just the way adaptations work. I think some great additions were made, and some essentials were left out. But overall, I can sit back, watch Batman Returns and be entertained. It may not be perfect in what people hoped it would have been, but it is one solid piece of work. Burton committed himself to his own originality, which in turned, made him a greater film maker or the bastard director of Batman. You be the judge.

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Movie Review: BATMAN (1989)

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BATMAN, 1989
Movie Reviews

Directed by Tim Burton
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger
Review by Mike Peters


Gotham City is under siege. Criminals and corrupt officials rule and the innocent are left defenseless. Crime boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) and his right hand man, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) are the true leaders of this city. They rule with an iron fist. However, Jack is eventually set up by Carl and is forced to fend for himself while on a routine mission at Axis Chemicals. This is where Jack, on the verge of escape from the police, first encounters Batman. Batman prevents Jack from escaping by dropping him into a vat of toxic chemicals. Jack reemerges as The Joker and vows to destroy the city of Gotham and Batman. Batman, on the other hand, vows to save the city from the corruption of crime and from the unstable actions of The Joker.


In recent years, comic book fever has hit Hollywood. Every sort of superhero has popped up in celluloid from Spiderman and Superman to Daredevil and Ironman. This genre has quickly become a bona fide financial juggernaut. As the films continue to be released and the quality continues to diminish, one starts to ponder the validity of these once iconic figures. Originally created to cope with the stress of war and famine during the 1930s and 1940s, these characters once represented hope and faith for a nation in a stage of turmoil. Now that these characters are merely exploited for financial reasons, they tend to lose what they once stood for. Their honor and truth are stripped from them by greedy capitalists.

Prior to the bombardment of the superhero films, studios were extremely hesitant to green light any film based on a comic book. These films were not viable entities and were not considered serious modes of art by many critics. Superman was released in 1978 and was a major hit but as the sequels continued, the product diminished and the film eventually ended its embarrassing run with Superman 4: The Quest for Peace in 1987. As the hoopla quickly subsided and the crowds diminished, so did the superhero film.

This posed serious risk for the film version of ‘Batman’. Having bought the film rights in 1979, producers Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan (and eventually Peter Guber) struggled for nearly ten years to bring the caped crusader to the big screen. However, after numerous changes to the script, director and actors, the film finally was green-lit and was set for release on June 23, 1989.

Tim Burton, known for his work on Beetlejuice (1988), was a surprise candidate to some but eventually was hired on as director of this big-budgeted film. This did not sit well with some industry professionals as they were concerned with how this former artist from Walt Disney would handle the dark world of Batman. The character had changed so often in the past fifty years that many were unaware of how the film would go about depicting the legacy of the caped crusader. With a great amount of stress on his shoulders, Burton persevered and decided that he was going to introduce the world to a reinvented Batman. Having been greatly inspired by Frank Miller’s 1986 comic ‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, Burton aimed to create a bleak and unrelenting landscape for his ‘Batman’ film. Gone were the days of the psychedelic camp excesses of the 1960s television series starring Adam West (Batman had become a joke of sorts with his portrayal in this series). Instead, Burton vowed to once again honor the ‘Batman’ story with the respect and admiration he felt it deserved.

Batman is a story about the good and evil in everyone. Bruce Wayne (A.K.A. Batman), is a character haunted by the murder of his family. He was defenseless during their attack and the traumatic situation has left him a vulnerable soul. He is a brooding, melancholy individual who has never been at peace with who he is. Attempting to escape his pain and self loathing, Bruce Wayne transforms into the crime fighting idealist known as Batman. Crime destroyed Bruce Wayne but Batman vows to destroy the crime.

Jack Napier, on the other hand, is a cold and calculating master criminal who aspires to be the top dog. His ambitious nature and his arrogance are, however, his downfall. Having had enough of Jack, Carl Grissom vows to rid himself of him forever. After being dropped into the vat of chemicals, Jack is transfigured into a demonically possessed, fun loving, insane criminal mastermind. The Joker becomes Jack’s alter ego and though he is as ambitious as Jack is, The Joker is the antithesis of him in regards to personality, demeanor and appearance.

Thus, the performances from Keaton and Nicholson are crucial in the understanding of the motives behind these two characters decisions. Bruce Wayne is clumsy and reserved but Batman is fearless and heroic. Jack is a vindictive but controlled man. The Joker is uninhibited and sadistic. Both Bruce Wayne and Jack Napier are the complete opposite of their alter egos. They are allowed to live out their fantasies as a result of their defined title as outsider. The fact that Bruce Wayne lives on the outskirts of Gotham City is highly symbolic of his ostracized role in society.

Keaton is restrained (reserved) and slightly comedic in his performance. In a sense, he plays the straight man to Jack Nicholson’s over the top portrayal of The Joker. With Keaton playing it straight, Nicholson is allowed to chew the scenery with relish (and boy does he ever). Perhaps this is the most fun any actor has ever had at portraying a role. The Joker is demented but goes about it with such an uncontrolled giddiness that Nicholson’s performance borders on flamboyant. However, Nicholson does steal the show and truly deserves top billing. He brings life to the film and, to some, is more of an interesting character then Keaton’s Batman. Whereas Keaton needs to be the brooding, reluctant hero, The Joker adds flavor to an already spicy role.

The characters exist in an urban hell. It is a city devoid of life. Highly reminiscent of Metropolis (1927) and Blade Runner (1982), the film oozes bleakness. The darkness is highly representative of the character’s emotional detachment to life. Production designer, Anton Furst, beautifully depicts a city being eaten away at its core by creating a cold and sterile environment. It is highly reminiscent of a hopeless world. That is until Batman vows to battle the crime infestation of the city.

Anton Furst’s production design goes hand in hand with the dark, visual scope of Tim Burton. Burton’s zealous in creating a dark world has become a common distinction amongst his films. The darkness that seeps through the crevices of his films may appear to be bleak and unmanageable but he always allows for the chance of hope and redemption to surface. Aiding Burton’s visual extravaganza is the score by Danny Elfman. From the beginning of the film, Elfman presents a raucous and riveting musical accompaniment that truly gets ‘Batman’ off to a quick start. Aided by the artist (formerly known or known or whatever he is now) Prince, the music helps to drive the story forward and assist during some of the lulls experienced in the film.

Batman is in no way a perfect film. There are many plot lapses and the film is not as deep as Christoher Nolan’s superior, albeit completely different Batman Begins (2005), but the film holds a special place in my heart. I grew up with this film and to this day it still makes me excited when I watch it.

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