Batman Returns (1992): Good Film But Full of Double Standards and Inconsistent Characters

Batman Returns

     “Batman Returns” is a fun film but is also very flawed and doesn’t quite have a focus on knowing what it wants to be about. I would still recommend this film as the performances by the main cast are fantastic, as is the environment and score…this is just no longer a favorite. It is a solid film, but not a favorite as when I watched it the flaws were too many to make it a film I’d continue to come back to watch.

 The film was directed by Tim Burton who was also one of the producers and written by Daniel Waters and also produced by Denise Di Novi.

     The story arrives the Penguin (Danny DeVito) seeking power in Gotham by kidnapping and using businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to get him what he wants. Elsewhere Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is killed by Shreck and resurrected by cats into the Catwoman as Batman (Michael Keaton) investigates them all and tries to stop their plans.

The Pros: The World – Burton’s world is fantastic and I love returning to it, even if the story isn’t as good as the first film. This is a Gotham that feels both old and new in feel and that is overlayed by a Gothic feel giving it a dark and dying feeling that fits the characters who inhabit it’s world.

The Peguin’s Circus Gang – These guys are awesome! They hack the Batmobile, they wreak havoc on multiple occasions and have a really cool aesthetic, ranging from creepy clown faces, a lady in white and a bearded man in a top hat. I wanted more time with these characters and wanted to know how they came to be with the Penguin and why they worked for him.

The Action – This film has much more action in “Batman” (and Batman has a much higher body count because of it) as well as some great chase and fight sequences. Whether it is Batman v. Catwoman or Batman v Penguin’s Gang the action keeps you drawn in and I wanted to see what would happen next.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman is once again in his element as his score captures the horror and gothicness of Gotham as well as the internal struggles of the characters of Batman and Catwoman.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful as the Burton’s shadowy Gotham is presented with contrasts of dark and light like in the first film. Stefan Czapsky did a great job! The film is beautiful and it is largely thanks to how it is presented.

The Characters – The characters are intriguing and a pro, even if they aren’t always consistently written. I still enjoyed these characters even if some of the cons in how they were presented and written brought them down.

Max Shreck – Christopher Walken is a national treasure, he is wonderful as the two-faced corrupt businessman Max Shreck who kills Selina Kyle and manages to keep the Penguin at a safe distance and use the Penguin to his own ends. In the end Selina Kyle gets revenge against him as he meets a fitting end. He also nearly kills Batman as he sees that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same person and tries to shoot him. Not many people can claim this victory.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this and is the counselor to Batman once again. Michael Gough really makes a great Alfred and helps us see more of Bruce’s humanity.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne’s motivations in this are clear, he is Batman seeking to save the city and as many people as he can around him who aren’t part of Penguin’s Gang or the Penguin. We also see his seeking of normalcy too as he shows Catwoman who he is and expresses a willingness to do anything to bring her back from being Catwoman. In her he sees his own fractured identity and an escape, which I wish could have been explored more.

Okay/Pro: Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Selina Kyle is a secretary for Max Shreck who he murders when she accesses confidential documents. From here she goes from nervous and unsure to empowered and sexual. She is a good threat too and manages to hurt Batman on multiple occasion as well as finally getting revenge on Shreck. Sadly her motivations are unclear through most of it as the script decides to present her largely as crazy…which was a waste of character.

Okay: Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin – Like Catwoman, Penguin’s motivations are unclear. He wants revenge, but he wants power, he wants to be accepted, he wants sex…the writers seemed unable to decide what it was he actually wanted and because of this it kept him from being like Nicholson’s Joker whose agenda was clear. DeVito put in a great performance but in the end he is only okay because I didn’t know what he was about or what he wanted.

The Cons: Commissioner Gordon – Gordon is there to light the Bat Signal, seriously in the Burton films he isn’t used at all and shouldn’t have even been put in the script. He’s just an extra body with a familiar name.

The Mayor – The Mayor like Commissioner Gordon is a non-entity who is only there to be protected by Batman and overthrown by the Penguin. What a waste of a character.

Catwoman’s Motivation – We never get her motivation…at first it’s revenge but she never follows through with it and she never seeks revenge against the Penguin even after he tries to kill her. I had no idea why she did what she did, she was just presented as insane. I didn’t know her motivation beyond keeping her job when she is Selina Kyle.

Batman’s Hypocrisy – Batman won’t let Catwoman kill, even the character is bad and a villain and he is doing it all the time. This was really annoying and I hated it as it just made Batman look like a big hypocrite. It only would have made sense if we hadn’t seen him kill people in the last film and this one and if he had stated that his motivation was not to kill but to turn people into prison.

An Inconsistent Penguin – He wants revenge, he wants to be Mayor he just wants to be left alone, he hates everyone, he loves everyone…what did this character want in the end? He seemed to have the destruction of Gotham plot going for a while so why did he even bother running for mayor?

Lack of Narrative Focus – The lack of narrative focus is best illustrated in the unclear motivations of Penguin and Catwoman, who are two major characters we follow whose desires and plans are never fully realized so it leaves their arcs up in the air and unfinished…

   This was a film that was trying to do too much and fell because of it. It still manages to be a good film but the inconsistently written Penguin, Catwoman’s unclear motivation and the lack of clear narrative focus keep this film from being great. To any lover of Burton’s work this is still a must see but the flaws are much more obvious than the first “Batman” film. The world and characters make the film worth the watch though and the cons do not keep this from being a good film and one of the better “Batman” films.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Edward Scissorhands (1990): Tim Burton’s Magnum Opus

Edward Scissorhands

 

“Edward Scissorhands” is the best of Tim Burton’s work I have seen and without a doubt his magnum opus. It is this story that captures his eclectic darkness that satires the usual, which in this case is suburbia while giving us the story of an outcast who happens to be the most human of all the characters. Suffice to say, I am glad this film was requested for the holidays, as it had been sometimes since I’ve seen it.

“Edward Scissorhands” was directed by Tim Burton, who also co-wrote the original story and was one of the producers on the production as well. The screenplay was by Caroline Thompson, who also co-wrote the story with him, and the other producer was Denise De Novi.

The premise of the story begins with an old lady telling the story of why snow exists by telling her about Edward (Johnny Depp), a boy who was created by an inventor (Vincent Price) but died before he could finish Edward leaving him with only scissors for hands. From here it kicks off with an Avon saleswoman named Peg (Dianne Wiest) who takes him after she decides to try the old mansion on the hill and discovers him there. From here the story unfolds as Edward reveals the dark underbelly and artificiality of the town and is found to be the most real person there.

The Pros: The Beginning and Flashbacks – One thing that the beginning does well is capture the inventor (Vincent Price’s) desire and love of creation. His mansion is full of robots and we see how wanting to give a robot a heart lead to his creation of Edward. We also see how the inventor treated Edward just like a son and how much he meant to him. These flashbacks are our only glimpse of Price’s character, but they are great as they reveal a mad scientist who has a heart and cares far more about people than most of the folks in the town.

The Outsider – Edward Scissorhands is the outsider and how he is treated is at first fear, but later he’s exploited as he’s a genius at using his scissorhands to do haircuts, groom dogs and shape hedges…this leads to the town taking him for granted and turning on him the moment he goes against their wishes. The only allies he has are the black cop, Kim and Peg.

Social Pressure and Ostracization – As accepting as the Oggs are initially of Edward, they don’t stick up for him when others like Jim and Kim or the neighbors exploit him. They stand by powerless except for Peg who screams to leave him alone and Kim who at this point has fallen in love with him and takes his hand to show the mob after he has saved her from her abusive boyfriend Jim. This is after the cop fakes killing him so he can escape…showing that there are people who understand that feeling of being outcast.

Peg Oggs – Peg Oggs is a woman who takes in Edward because she sees he is alone and cares for him. She never exploits him, unlike her husband which is a nice contrast to her blatantly trying to do that as a saleswoman. This contrast adds depth to her character, though she is powerless to social pressure and never stands up for herself, so never stands up for Edward. Dianne Wiest does a good job.

Kim Oggs – Winona Ryder is great as the selfish teen who grows to become selfless by the end. This first happens when she sees how kind Edward is but later when Edward is exploited by Jim when Jim is stealing from his father she leaves him and realizes how unhealthy Jim was for her. Her arc is fantastic and she sticks with Edward till the end as a friend and eventually as a lover. She is the one telling the story too and there is a sadness since she never went to see him again for his own protection and won’t anymore. In that way snow are her tears of loss as much as Edward’s.

Edward Scissorhands – This is one of the greatest roles I’ve seen Johnny Depp play. He plays a sensitive character just trying to fit in, who is the outcast and doesn’t understand society. He does understand how he was used in the end though. His heart is pure and you can tell his Inventor put the most investment into that versus on finishing up his body. The only ones who really appreciate it are Kim and Peg, which is part of makes it such a tragedy. This character is Burton in his zone and he never reaches this level of quality storytelling again, at least so far in my experience.

Okay: The Neighbors – The neighbors function mostly as ideas and that hurts the satire as true characters are the best forms of satire as they pay tribute to reality and pull from reality. The neighbors are all stereotypes…there is the religious woman afraid of all who are different and the one who sleeps around with all the guys. It isn’t bad but the fact that they are stereotype and archetypes doesn’t help the script. Mr. Oggs and his son are the same way.

The Music – The music isn’t super memorable, but isn’t bad either. It is not Elfman’s greatest work for sure.

The Cons: Jim the Bully – One dimensional baddie with an abusive father. He’s never sympathetic and is the kind of bully you see on the shallowest of kids shows or films. Wasn’t impressed given how great all the other aspects of this film are.

This film is about finding that love and acceptance and how tragic the fear of the mob can be against those are different. The characters and cinematography are unique and rich and the world feels lived in…and you actually care about what happens to Edward and the Oggs as society exploits and later rejects them. This is a tragedy and a romance as well as being a great satire of what suburbia and other groups can become, when people are lost and all that is seen is what you can get out of them.

This was the perfect film to end for the films that were requested on facebook related to the Holidays. The theme of love and sacrifice are things that Edward and Kim exemplify well in how they care for each other and in Edward’s case care for the tow, as well as the story of outcasts which is a such a major part and why giving and caring for the less fortunate is so important. The world is full of outcasts, just looking for acceptance or a warm place with friends or family over these winter days. Happy Holidays all.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. One dimensional caricatures do bring it down in places but besides that it is solidly great and a favorite film.