Batman Returns

“It’s the so-called normal guys who always let you down. Sickos never scare me. At least they’re committed.” —Selina Kyle

“He had graduated to a point where he wanted to make movies that are his movies. And this is one hundred percent Tim’s movie.” —BATMAN RETURNS producer Denise DeNovi

On June 19, 1992 we got a blockbuster super hero movie unlike we’d seen before or have since. Since Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS was about as much of a sure thing hit as a studio could ever have, and because the director had been unsure about doing another one, Warner Brothers left him alone to do what he wanted. So it’s a rare combination: an expensive summer blockbuster based on pop culture icons, but also an odd, personal film by an earnest visualist director without much interest in crowdpleasing spectacle. Okay, maybe that describes 1990’s DICK TRACY also, but this is DICK TRACY’s much freakier second cousin. As the first sequel to the movie that made comic book adaptations a hot commodity it was in a unique position to make up most of its own rules about what a super hero sequel is supposed to be, and it wasn’t timid about it.

I’ve written before about my love for the era of comic book movies that started with BATMAN and ended around BLADE or X-MEN. Since the medium that inspired them was still considered nerd shit, since digital FX were in their infancy, since most of them never worried about setting up a sequel let alone a cinematic universe, and since most were heavily influenced by what Tim Burton had done in BATMAN, the genre was very different from what it is today. There was far less literal fidelity to the source material (for good and bad), and relatively few attempts to depict extravagant super powers and creatures, meaning less falling back on visual effects sequences. Some tried to reimagine a pulpy past (THE ROCKETEER, THE SHADOW, THE PHANTOM, DICK TRACY), while the ones trying to be new and contemporary often celebrated colorful outsiders and weirdos (THE CROW, THE MASK, BARB WIRE, TANK GIRL, X-MEN). And I think my favorite thing about them is that they didn’t usually take place in “the real world.” They depended on a stylized look with big sets on sound stages, matte paintings and miniatures to create their own heightened reality.

BATMAN RETURNS does all of these things, and in my opinion is the ultimate version of that type of movie. The fact that it was 1992’s highest grossing film at the North American box office but was more divisive than the first film may have been a boon for that wild period of movie making. It allowed the genre to continue without studio executives feeling like they had a handle on what the movies should be like or what would make them hits. That was still anybody’s guess.

The one obvious choice Burton made: bring in a villain or two that everybody knows from the TV show. He went with The Penguin and Catwoman. Or at least he used their names and a partial idea of them, but he changed their looks and their origins and turned them into Tim Burton characters. His sketches that were the basis of their new designs fit right at home with his drawings for THE BLACK CAULDRON, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS – creatures of Burton’s imagination as much as the pages of DC Comics.

A common criticism of both of Burton’s Batman films is that he seems more interested in the villains than in Batman, and that’s certainly true here if you’re measuring by screen time. While BATMAN begins with the title character saving a family reminiscent of his own from street criminals, the sequel opens in a mansion during the birth of Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin. Born with flipper-like hands and a beak-like nose, kept in a cage, liable to attack pets, his rich-as-fuck parents (played silently by the PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE pair of Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger) conspire to dump him off a bridge one snowy Christmas night.

BATMAN’s credits play as we float through mysterious caverns that turn out to be the edges of a three-dimensional bat-symbol. RETURNS takes a similar journey following Baby Penguin’s wicker carriage as it floats through sewer pipes to the underground “Arctic World” exhibit of the (abandoned?) Gotham Zoo, where he’s greeted by curious emperor penguins. The title sequence (designed by Robert Dawson, REPO MAN, RE-ANIMATOR) sort of works as a flume ride, transporting us from our world to the new, more outlandish, more silent-film-inspired Gotham City. (On his commentary track, Burton confirms that he was thinking of Pirates of the Caribbean: “That little moment before you dip down into that first little waterfall. You always try to use elements that have sort of meaning for you.”)

When we pick up again with The Penguin (Danny DeVito, ROMANCING THE STONE) at age 33 he, like The Joker before him (and the Green Goblin after him), enjoys interfering with city-organized celebrations downtown. He watches the tree lighting ceremony through a sewer grate literally under the feet of Christmas-shopping Alfred (Michael Gough, KONGA), then his Red Triangle Circus Gang goes on a tear that foreshadows the anarchic mischief of the alien invaders in Burton’s MARS ATTACKS!. Vincent Schiavelli (BETTER OFF DEAD) grinds an organ with a gatling gun inside, a strongman (Rick Zumwalt from OVER THE TOP, DISORDERLIES and PENITENTIARY III) hits Santa Claus with a sled, guys on stilts juggle torches (just for atmosphere, I assume), motorcyclists with amazing springy-eyed skull masks rip around the town square, a guy in a devil costume breathes fire onto a toy store display, a unicyclist fires a machine gun into the air… but Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle, THE LAND BEFORE TIME) turns on the bat signal and Batman shows up in the Batmobile to battle them all.

In Batman movies the interpretation of Gotham City is as important as the interpretation of the characters.

It’s not a bad entrance for the caped crusader, but it happens later than you’d think. Earlier, about 7 minutes in, the camera artificially panned up a skyscraper to where you’d figure he might be perched, but he was at home sitting in the dark looking sad. Instead it stopped on the penthouse office of department store mogul/industrial pollution king Max Shreck (Christopher Walken, A VIEW TO A KILL), who was trying to sell the Mayor (Michael Murphy, COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE) on a power plant (that he doesn’t mention is designed to suck power, like a vampire) and got everyone to laugh at his “not properly housebroken” executive assistant Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK) for awkwardly trying to offer a suggestion while serving them coffee. The power dynamics in this employer-employee relationship will change drastically by the end of the movie.

But first Max is confronted by Gotham’s legendary “Penguin Man of the Sewer,” who brings him to his Arctic World hideout to blackmail him into basically helping with a PR campaign. “Somehow you’re a well respected monster and I am, to date, not!” So they stage a stunt where one of the clowns from the Penguin’s gang kidnaps the mayor’s baby during a speech and the Penguin “rescues” the baby. The acrobatic abductor stopping to lean into the mic and say “I’m not really one for speeches, so I’ll just say, ‘Thanks’” before hand-springing into the sewer is a one-line performance for the ages.

The performance fools the mayor, the media and briefly Bruce Wayne (who sympathizes with Oswald not knowing his parents) until he starts looking at old newspaper articles on micro-fiche in the Bat Cave and figures out the dude is a crimelord. Otherwise it goes over so well that Shreck, who has been threatening to make his employees sign a recall petition if the mayor doesn’t authorize the power plant, decides to run him for mayor.

RETURNS was the beginning of a period when many complained of too many villains in comic book movies, but all three of its heavies are among my favorites ever. Shreck gets many of the funniest lines and the most satirical parts of the story as the businessman who the organ grinder calls “The big guy, the guy who runs the show” even when he’s standing next to the mayor. In his office he has a taxidermied chihuaha named Geraldo and framed photos of himself with Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley and Sammy Davis, Jr. He’s the kind of guy who under threat doesn’t just offer money and jewels, but to get them “with a minimum of fuss.” Who says that!?

One of the funniest scenes is when Shreck convinces Penguin to run for mayor by luring him with a fish from his home to a fully staffed and furnished campaign headquarters that has somehow set been set up just down the open spiral staircase without his knowledge. The juxtaposition of this brightly-lit plasticity with the shadowy gothic world around it is a comedic trick Burton also used in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Of course it’s great to see SNL veteran and PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE Alamo tour guide Jan Hooks as an image consultant, but it’s Steve Witting (Burt from The Hogan Family) who makes the biggest impression by having his nose bit by Penguin.

I’ve always enjoyed the joke of a literal monster with no qualifications or positive qualities being a serious candidate for office. It’s obviously true to life. Of course he runs on a “law and order/tough on crime” platform, with the slogans “Oswald Means Order” and “Cobblepot Can Clean It Up!” He has his own clowns (and a poodle) blow up stores downtown so he can say, “I may have saved the mayor’s baby, but I refuse to save a mayor who stood by helpless as a baby while Gotham was ravaged by a disease that turned Eagle Scouts into crazed clowns and happy homemakers into catwomen!” (Immediately after that statement a staffer tells him he’s “the coolest role model a young person could have,” and he gropes her.)

The part of the political satire that always rang false to me is the A FACE IN THE CROWD moment when Batman exposes The Penguin by hijacking the sound system during a rally and playing a recording of him bragging that he “played this stinking city like a harp from hell.” We now know, if we didn’t sense it then, that if a leader like this was exposed for saying repugnant things his supporters would not realize they’d been had, lower their signs and start booing him. This may sound like an exaggeration, but after the last six years I truly believe that if someone played a recording of Trump calling his supporters “squealing, wretched, pinhead puppets” during his speech and then he fired a machine gun into the crowd and leaped and tackled one of them and then ran off it would not end his political career, and most of the people in the crowd would still vote for him. No question in my mind at all. And there is zero chance the cops would shoot at him if they even tried to apprehend him.

But it was the gender politics of RETURNS that got a big reaction at the time. In a positive way, I think. If you read my summer of ’91 retrospective we discussed what a cultural phenomenon THELMA & LOUISE was the summer before this. Here we have a more fantastical depiction of a single woman belittled and then assaulted by her powerful boss, finding a different side of herself and becoming an avenger. It was definitely seen by many as a feminist story, though she doesn’t seem to care about uplifting all women, judging by her disdain for a mugging victim she saves (Joan Giammarco, also in SINGLES that year, as was Burton) or the airheaded Ice Princess (Cristi Conaway, DOC HOLLYWOOD).

I’ve always loved the strange lighting in this shot that projects bat-mask-eye-hole shapes onto her face and makes her look evil.

Pfeiffer (who took over for pregnant Annette Bening shortly before production) is phenomenal in the role. She somehow brings humanity and relatability to the most exaggerated possible version of the “mousy secretary” who takes her glasses off and finds a new confidence and sexuality. Screenwriter Daniel Waters (HEATHERS, THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE, HUDSON HAWK) masterfully constructs her transformation in a triptych of sequences:

1. She comes home to her small apartment after work, exhausted, pours milk for her cat, takes her shoes off, listens to her answering machine messages until she gets one from herself making sure she remembered to take home the Bruce Wayne file to study for tomorrow’s meeting. Whoops. So…

2. Back at the office Shreck finds her looking at files, and her blabbering reveals that she’s discovered his corrupt plans for the power plant. So he pushes her out a window into an alley, where cats swarm her and bite her fingers until she wakes up. And then…

3. Returning home from work again she goes through a sort of zombie version of the same after work routine, saying the same things but knocking a lamp over, dropping her keys and coat on the floor, splashing the milk all around the cat bowl before chugging the rest from the carton, pouring it all over herself. Another robocall from Gotham Lady Perfume causes her to flip out and start wrecking things, putting stuffed animals in the garbage disposal, smashing the walls with a frying pan, spraypainting her wall and her kitty t-shirt, casually smashing her “HELLO THERE” neon sign into a “HELL HERE.” And then she haphazardly cuts and sews a black nylon rain coat into her Catwoman costume so she can do sexy poses on the window and tell Miss Kitty she feels “so much yummier.

I’m not sure I ever gave much thought to the fact that her Catwoman persona uses an accent, I guess in homage to the 1966 show? I’ve always been so enamored of this version of the character that I never thought too much about all the silly things she does just to be cat themed: licking her paw clean, putting a bird in her mouth (apparently a real live bird, that’s why it looks so real when it flies out! What the hell?), saying “Meow” as a one-liner right before an explosion goes off, etc.

There’s also a sort of magical realism to the character you just have to go with. I’ve always took it that the fall doesn’t kill her, and the cats just wake her up (she’s twitching and her eyes are rolling, after all), and that when she later claims to have nine lives she’s just saying some badass shit about all the stuff she’s surviving, not actually dying multiple times. But I’ve learned over the years that some people do take it literally (which is how they treat it in CATWOMAN (2004), which started as a Waters-scripted spin-off for Pfeiffer but devolved into the standalone Halle Berry movie that’s mostly a rehash of this subplot). And there’s certainly an argument to be made for it – being constantly swarmed by cats isn’t normal unless you’re a Sleepwalker, and head injuries don’t normally turn clumsy people into high level acrobats, fighters and whip users. Before she had trouble pouring coffee and carrying papers, now she does flips, crawls up the sides of buildings and whips the heads off of mannequins. (Pfeiffer was trained by Anthony De Longis, who also trained Harrison Ford for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and she really beheaded those mannequins all in one shot!)

I find myself rooting for every facet of the character: the self-deprecating dork Selina at the beginning, the more confident Selina who romances Bruce, the joyfully wicked Catwoman who fights Batman, and the bitterly disillusioned Catwoman-unmasked-as-Selina who rejects Batman-unmasked-as-Bruce at the end. When she tells him, “I would love to live with you forever in your castle, just like in a fairy tale. I just couldn’t live with myself. So don’t pretend this is a happy ending,” it’s so dripping with resentment that a pretty on-the-nose line becomes an absolute scorcher.

Sometimes the different Selinas overlap, too, like when she laughs at herself after the humiliation of being punched off a building into a truckload of kitty litter.

The courtship and sexual tension between Bruce/Batman and Selina/Catwoman is so much more effective than most super hero romances that it doesn’t bother me having to accept their unlikely failure to recognize each other in/out of costume. At night they fight each other and in the day time they fit in early dates before they have to go fight each other. When they make out on a couch they have to hide their wounds from each other, when they learn of a kidnapping from the news they have to make up excuses to run off. They finally figure it out while dancing at the “Max-querade Ball,” where they’re the only people not wearing masks (because their faces are their masks). Selina, who as Catwoman has worked hard to screw over Batman, looks and sounds sincere when she says, “Oh my god – does this mean we have to start fighting?” At least in that moment she likes Bruce more than she hates Batman.

I’ve noticed an increasing number of people in the last few years saying that RETURNS is the best or their favorite of the live action Batman movies. I like that because in some ways it’s my favorite too, but with a caveat. I think I like it more as Burton’s interpretation of the world and people around Batman than as an actual Batman movie.

Bruce Wayne’s low light lifestyle

Don’t get me wrong, Keaton is great as Bruce Wayne – I love how much he lets us see him thinking – and it’s interesting that the characters around him also reflect on his character. Also, there are some cool parts where he uses ziplines and gliders and preposterous Batmobile devices and it’s a lot of fun. But for maybe the first half it seems like all he does is sit in the dark or watch TV until the bat signal comes on and then drive downtown, fight some clowns and come home. And when he’s framed for pushing the Ice Princess off a building (onto the button that lights the Christmas tree, which is full of bats, which terrorize the crowd – great planning by the Penguin and company) he just stands there like a dummy, doesn’t even reach for his bat-hook.

In a sense it’s more similar to the Adam West Batman and that era of comics than anyone (including me) seemed to recognize at the time. It’s just overflowing with absurd little gags, one of my favorites being when the Penguin’s plan goes south and some of the circus gang jump ship by cartwheeling out the door. (Gotham criminals are always committed to the bit.) Their boss’s evil plans are as goofy and simplistic as they come. First it’s to make Batman look bad by recklessly remote-controlling the Batmobile from the Penguin’s “Bat ‘o Ride” (a coin operated mini-Batmobile like they’d have outside of a K-Mart). But Batman finds the device they attached to the Batmobile and breaks it off. Then Penguin tries to kidnap the first-born sons of Gotham’s elite – his clowns put them on a circus train, but Batman immediately stops them. And my very favorite thing about the movie is that the Penguin riles up actual penguins with a Patton-style speech (“Many of you won’t be coming back”) and uses electrical devices to march them into town as suicide bombers. Alfred saves Gotham simply by jamming the signal and turning the birds around.

What’s miraculous about the movie is its ability to wink at us with all this stuff without at all undercutting the sincere melodrama. We feel the heartbreak and yearning at the end when Bruce spends another Christmas alone with Alfred – a scene that swaps the end of BATMAN so that he’s in the car like Vicki was, while Catwoman is on top of the building looking cool like he did. Even the death of the repulsive Penguin – muttering while black blood drips from his mouth, falling face first and being carried to the water by emperor penguin pallbearers – plays as tragedy. Elfman’s music does much of the heavy lifting there, with an assist from Keaton, observing solemnly from a distance.

I mean, how many movies look this good? And of those that do, how many have this many live penguins?

The main reason I decided that 1992 was “Weird Summer” is that two of its big blockbuster franchise sequels were strange works by visionary directors that were widely seen as dark and upsetting. We’ve already discussed how ALIEN 3 got that way despite director David Fincher’s dispiriting battles with the producers and studio, but BATMAN RETURNS is pretty much the opposite. This is one of the best examples ever of a blank check. Burton wasn’t initially interested in a sequel and the script by Sam Hamm (who retained a co-story credit because he used Penguin and Catwoman) didn’t appeal to him. But the studio offered him full creative control and found a good match for him with Daniel Waters. According to Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker by Ken Hanke, Waters “says that Burton virtually put it on a basis of ‘I dare you to make me make this movie’.” And obviously he won the dare.

According to a Fall 1995 issue of Imagi-Movies (a spin-off of Cinefantastique), Hamm’s version had Vicki Vale in it. Waters just had jokes about her, and had to fight for them, since Burton wanted the movies to be completely separate. In fact he says Burton wanted to just call the sequel BATMAN; he could’ve invented the sequel-with-same-title 26 years before HALLOWEEN (2018).

Waters’ script included a Robin subplot, which was removed by uncredited rewriter Wesley Strick (CAPE FEAR). Strick also noted the allusion to Moses with baby Oswald floating in the sewer and added the first born sons business. But his main job was to “normalize” Waters’ dialogue. “My script was written a little on the operatic side in terms of dialogue,” Waters told Imagi-Movies. “I tried to have psychology everywhere. I made a lot of the characters more reflective and cynical than Tim wanted… So with Wesley they wanted someone who could go in and turn a lot of my text into subtext, which is admittedly where it belongs. I don’t think anybody wants to hear Batman talking about how he’s ‘the light and the dark.’ Let Pauline Kael tell us that.”

The Hanke book quotes Waters as saying, “I was going to be the first writer to give Tim Burton a great story—three acts, bam, bam, bam. But after the first couple weeks with Tim, you realize it’s not going to happen. He just doesn’t think like that. He operates on this abstract, associative level… You learn to stop worrying and love Tim’s weird synapses, the way he puts things together.”

Despite what anyone might say about the lack of bam, bam, bam in the script, it 1) has way more still-laugh-out-loud-funny-after-30-years lines than most non-comedies and 2) is absolutely meticulous in its motifs of doppelgangers and mirror images, parallels and opposites. Bruce Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot of course reflect each other as only sons of the super rich, damaged by the loss of their parents (in different ways). They both have underground lairs with tunnel systems inhabited by the animals they’ve been named after. Bruce sympathizes with Oswald – I’m not sure Oswald knows Bruce exists. Max Shreck does know Bruce, but not well – when he sees Batman unmasked he asks, “Bruce Wayne – what are you doing dressed up as Batman?” Max reflects Bruce as an ultra rich businessman and Gotham celebrity. His NOSFERATU-inspired name and vampiric power plant concept are his version of bat theming. But his base of operations (his office) is above the city instead of below it.

The villains scheme to knock the Ice Princess off a building with a swarm of bats and make it look like Batman did it. Selina really did get pushed off a building by Max. Batman causes her to drop into a truck of kitty litter, Penguin causes her to drop into a greenhouse. Later, Batman intentionally uses a swarm of bats to knock the Penguin through a skylight and into his underground lair.

There’s also something almost palindromic about it. The first line of the movie is “Merry Christmas,” spoken by a couple passing the Cobblepots, not knowing they’re about to abandon their baby. The last line is Batman saying, “Merry Christmas, Alfred. And good will toward men. And women,” after being abandoned by Catwoman. Neither occasion is very merry.

In that opening, Oswald’s parents throw him off the bridge and emperor penguins welcome him in Arctic World. As an adult he tells the people of Gotham, “A penguin is a bird who cannot fly. I am a man. I have a name. Oswald Cobblepot.” After exposed as corrupt, he runs and jumps off the same bridge his parents threw him from, returns to his lair and says, “My name is not Oswald! It’s Penguin! I am not a human being! I am an animal!” When he dies, the penguins put his body back in the water at the same spot where they found him.

And as for Max Shreck, in his first scene with Bruce he says, “One can never have too much power. If my life has a meaning, that’s the meaning.” In their last scene together Selina electrocutes him, because you can have too much power. So his life has no meaning.

As much as I love BATMAN, it doesn’t seem to have that level of thought put into it. I guess it would be hard to, with Hamm still writing the script while they were filming. Though Peter Guber and Jon Peters are still listed as executive producers for RETURNS, Burton didn’t have to battle with them this time, instead having the support of his EDWARD SCISSORHANDS producer Denise Di Novi, plus longtime John Carpenter collaborator Larry Franco.

From the makers of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

Much of the creative team had worked on SCISSORHANDS with Burton, but not the first BATMAN. That includes director of photography Stefan Czapsky (VAMPIRE’S KISS), editor Chris Lebenzon (TOP GUN), production designer Bo Welch (JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO), art director Rick Heinrichs (previously his set designer), supervising art director Tom Duffield (THE LOST BOYS), makeup supervisor Ve Neill (Pee-wee’s Playhouse), and special makeup and effects producer Stan Winston (T2).

Of course, Elfman returning to score provided some continuity, with his themes and tones being so crucial to the Burton Batman feel. But he really elaborates on the sounds of Gotham with some of the new themes sounding more akin to his scores for SCISSORHANDS and even NIGHTBREED than the first BATMAN.

Burton also had full control of the songs, meaning he didn’t use very many. Prince’s Batman album had been an unlikely combination of corporate synergy and actual artistic brilliance, but it was forced on Burton, which is why most of the songs are pretty buried in the movie. For RETURNS, Burton specifically wanted a song by Siouxsee and the Banshees, which Elfman co-orchestrated to help fit with the score. Otherwise the only pop song is the Max-squerade band’s brief and intentionally cheesy rendition of Rick James’ “Super Freak,” orchestrated by Bruce Fowler, the trombonist for Frank Zappa and, around that time, Oingo Boingo. (I assume they chose it for the title, a joke about Batman.)

Together they created something wholly unique, otherworldly. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more gorgeous looking comic book movie, as much as you’d think their artistic origins would lead to highly visual adaptations. Even with the occasional reference to our world (The Love Connection, Nixon, Norman Bates – I really wish they didn’t mention Ted Bundy!) it’s easy to be transported to this timeless alternate present, where the mood is thick, the shit is crazy, and feelings run so deep sometimes you gotta put on a mask to become your true self.


They pushed the minimalistic poster approach even further for the teaser poster than they did for the first movie.

Though RETURNS was a smash hit, there were many who felt it was “too weird” and “too dark.” It’s hard to imagine today, after we’ve experienced the Joker and Riddler of the quasi-realistic DARK KNIGHT and THE BATMAN, but there was controversy about it not being kid-friendly enough. Entertainment Weekly colorfully claimed that “in packed movie theaters across America, you can sometimes hear the sound of small children crying” because of “the scary scenes in PG-13-rated box office juggernaut BATMAN RETURNS… which kids, lured by a massive ad campaign by McDonald’s and diet Coke, are clamoring to see.” The article cites “the electrocution of a villain, circus clowns gunning down innocent victims, and the kidnapping and threatened murder of children” as examples of “the film’s darker side,” though of course most of those things also happened in the first BATMAN.

The article does provide evidence of at least a small “Batlash”: an NBC talk show host named Faith Daniels dedicating an episode to being upset about it, the L.A. Times publishing letters about it, and a Christian group called the Dove Foundation criticizing McDonald’s for having a Happy Meal “promoting a movie to little kids that’s filled with gratuitous graphic violence.”

Many sources I found, including the “Kids Meal Wiki” and a Mashed.com article called “How McDonald’s Derailed Tim Burton’s Third Batman Film” claim the Happy Meals were “recalled due to dark content in the film,” but that’s not true. The promotion was already scheduled to end the week of the Entertainment Weekly article, and the toys (a Batmobile that shoots its front as a projectile, Batman’s head poking out of his sewer boat thing, Penguin in a funny little car with spinning spiral umbrella, and a smiling Catwoman in a silly Catmobile with wagging tail) can be found relatively cheap on eBay.

But it is true that Warner Brothers, stinging from the criticism, did not ask Burton to return for the third one, which upon release many considered an improvement over BATMAN RETURNS. (Words do not exist to express how strongly I disagree with them.)

But it was not entirely misunderstood or rejected. Many critics who didn’t like it could still recognize that it was up to something. Roger Ebert wrote, “I can admire the movie on many levels, but I cannot accept it as Batman.” While Rita Kempley of the Washington Post called it “bleakly visionary but dramatically obtuse,” the same paper’s Desson Howe wrote, “RETURNS is, in many ways, superior to its predecessor… Director Burton not only re-creates his one-of-a-kind atmosphere, he one-ups it, even two-ups it.”

David Sterritt of The Christian Science Monitor described it as “so unusual in its ideas and so extreme in its methods that word-of-mouth may not work in its favor. I find it the most adventurous and imaginative American film I’ve seen this year – and also the weirdest.” He also warned people to “be prepared for the movie’s startlingly dark overtones.”

David Ansen in Newsweek called it a “darker, weirder sequel” and “a visionary mess,” but also a “moody, grotesque, perversely funny $50 million art film” that he “wouldn’t trade 10 minutes of for LETHAL WEAPON 3, ALIEN 3 and FAR AND AWAY put together.”

Of the mainstream critics I think Richard Corliss in Time got it most right:

“BATMAN RETURNS could mark a happy beginning for Hollywood — not because it might make a mint but because it dispenses with realism and aspires to animation, to the freedom of idea and image found in the best feature-length cartoons. Most directors think pictures have to be anchored in the narrowest form of reality: the one that Hollywood has presented since the dawn of sound 65 years ago. Burton, once an animator at Disney, understands that to go deeper, you must fly higher, to liberation from plot into poetry.”

Was it really a “happy beginning” for “the freedom of idea and image”? Maybe it was – for that wave of ’90s comic book movies I described at the start of the review. But none of them really tried to match BATMAN RETURNS with its potent mix of expressionistic style, knowing but un-self-conscious absurdity and emotional sincerity. So maybe it’s time to try again.


awards: BATMAN RETURNS was nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup at the Academy Awards, and Best Kiss, Best Villain, and Most Desirable Female at the MTV Movie Awards. Also, of course, the clueless fuckin Razzies nominated DeVito for “Worst Supporting Actor.” If you’re wondering “what kind of tasteless assholes would actually think that?,” the answer is, of course, The Razzies.

merchandise: Of course BATMAN RETURNS inspired more tie-in crap than any other movie of the summer. Collector cards, collector cups, action figures (including “penguin commandos” and a repackaged Robin), die cast figures, PVC figures, rubber stamps, pencils, pencil sharpeners, coloring books, poster magazines, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and PC games…

…far more stuff than I could ever catalog. I still have some of my BATMAN RETURNS crap I held onto from the ‘90s, the best of which is a t-shirt made for McDonald’s employees that I found at Value Village. Other than the McDonald’s logo it’s an elegant design and over the years it has developed the Platonic ideal of a weathered white-on-black silk screen that those phony “distressed” t-shirts aspire to.

influence: I wish I could say I noticed the influence of BATMAN RETURNS in other movies, but I don’t. I do think that this interpretation of Catwoman became iconic and influenced the modern look of the comics character introduced by Darwyn Cooke in 2001.

Since Batman: The Animated Series was in production at the same time as RETURNS they gave their Penguin flipper hands, but went back to fingers when they redesigned the show. Some subsequent comics have given the character long hair and grotesque features, but maybe that version of the character is too specific to Burton’s sensibility to exist outside of his movie.

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111 Responses to “Batman Returns”

  1. Fan of this movie too – I probably still prefer Burton’s first overall because my memory of that opening-night screen was it just being fun as hell with a highly engaged crowd. But something always drew me to the totally off-kilter feel of this one, there’s just something more dangerous and unhinged than the 1st movie lurking just under the surface. Some of its parts don’t really add up but it’s full of ambition and ambition goes a long way for me.

    One of my favorite moments in the film barely involves superheroes or villains – it’s when Alfred brings Bruce something to eat while he’s working in the Batcave.

    Bruce takes a spoonful of soup and spits it out. “It’s COLD!”

    Alfred looks at him. “It’s vichyssoise, sir.”

    Blank look.

    Alfred: “It’s supposed to be cold.”

    Bruce starts lapping it up.

  2. I really like Burton’s first Batman movie, but Returns one-ups it just about every way. I love that they keep Selina Kyle’s resurrection is ambiguous. That’s the sort of shit that Cinemasins would come down on hard. How are we supposed to know whether she came back from the dead or if she just had a mental break? You can’t leave us hanging like that. Today, there’s no way you could get away without meticulously explaining how Selina “came back to life.”

    And the movie is just so damn funny. Thankfully, not all the humor comes from quips. There are traditional jokes, but they’re mixed in with camp and visual gags.

    We’ve been pretty blessed with theatrically released Batman movies. By my count we’ve had eleven (including two cartoons). And I think only three are bad (the Schumacher ones and Rises). That’s a pretty good track record.

  3. I said it before and I say it again: There is surely some young, hip hot shot director waiting for Matt Reeves to finish his BATMAN run, so that he can pitch his take, that is more influenced by Burton’s surrealist live action cartoons, instead of the grounded post-9/11 pseudo-realism of Christopher Nolan. And everybody will love it when that happens!

    I actually remember seeing this movie in theatres, although it was one of the less memorable movie going experiences. Not the movie’s fault, but while the first one was a mega-hyped juggernaut that you simply couldn’t escape, my sister and me were the only ones during our afternoon screening in the movie theatre around the corner. Not sure if the controvery swapped to Germany either. The movie seemed to be “just there”. Sure, there was a new, star studded BATMAN movie in theatres! But from my memory, there was zero hype or excitement for it.

    One personal thing that reminds me of 1992, are video game magazines. I already was by late 80s/early 90s standards a “gamer”, if you will, but 1992 was when I really plunged deeper into the topic and started to read gaming magazines, where I also learned about new stuff from Japan and not-mainstream consoles like the Neo Geo or the Turbo Grafx. But my point is: I remember seeing ALIEN³ and BATMAN RETURNS on the covers of a shit ton of magazines and I remember the tests for them. Like most movie adaptations of that time, the games weren’t very good. But yeah, a fun time to think back to.

  4. While I liked Returns a lot more that Batman Prime (like, a LOT more). Eventually, it’s insistence at throwing in a cornball joke every minute and thirty seconds, wore me out.

    I don’t know if it was the 173rd bad double-entendre, or Bruce scratching and cutting the confessional CD (which made the audience I saw it with actually groan. I don’t think I ever witnessed a literal ‘groaner’ before or since), but the camel’s back cold broke.

    Which I hate, because I liked… Pretty much everything else about the movie.

  5. One bit of trivia about this movie which I love: Max Shreck’s son in the movie is played by Andrew Bryniarski who would later grow up to be an absolute giant of a human being and eventually ended up playing Leatherface in the terrible TCM remake.

  6. I like this movie but not nearly as much as the first…it’s got too much of Daniel Water’s smug lame comedy all over it. The actors are all great but feels like such a mess. There’s like eight full plots going on in this one. Would have liked to see more of Keaton as Bruce vs Walken, I liked their scene together.

    But I do think it’s interesting where people talk about Batman getting more and more realistic basically skip the Affleck Batman. Which I understand, so do I! But there was the Batman fighting monsters and shit the nerds have been asking for.

    I do hope the next version of standalone Batmans are more in the Burton realm. I thought Nolan split the difference pretty well with his first movie, then moved to Chicago and visually they got less interesting.

  7. I would say the reason why everybody seems to ignore the more fantastic take of the Batfleck movies is that he never had a standalone movie. He was in the sequel to MAN OF STEEL and the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, so him being surrounded by superpowered Aliens, immortal Amazons and stuff doesn’t have the same impact like, let’s say, if the villain in the Robert Pattinson movie would’ve been true-to-the-comic version of Manbat or Clayface. Or just a true-to-the-comic version of The Riddler, instead of a barely disguised Zodiac killer copy.

  8. I have always treasured this film as the perfect way to introduce 8-year-olds to German expressionism.

  9. Excellent piece, Vern.

    I was probably a little too young for this one, but I still watched it. I had the VHS, the toys (action figures and Happy Meal), the comic book adaptation, the storybook, the cereal, the Halloween costume, one of the collector cups, a Penguin sticker still on my mirror today, etc. But this was the lesser of the Burtons for me, for many years. It was too “dark,” the Penguin was too gross, not enough Batman, etc. I probably only watched it a scant 100 or 200 times versus my 500 or so viewings of the original. So the first one is my ur-text. But this one has aged spectacularly. The older I get, the better it is. Though I hate how much real life has come to resemble it.

    Fun fact #1: The plot is based on an episode of the Adam West show, though in that one Batman runs for mayor against the Penguin.

    Fun fact #2: Paul Reubens reprised his role as the Penguin’s dad in the Gotham TV series.

  10. This was the first Batman I saw in theaters and I loved it. I was shocked by the backlash in the news cause I was a kid at the time and lapped this shit up.

    Then again I was very precocious as well since family movie night at my aunt’s included everything from Canon Films classics to ROBOCOP and THE FLY. I had seen SCARFACE and the ELM STREET movies before I ever saw BATMAN RETURNS so nothing in it really fazed me. I also loved how much it reminded me of a Christmas BEETLEJUICE with Batman characters.

    As I grew older and the internet came around I was disheartened by how much it used to get dragged through the coals. There were even people trying to legitimately make a case that the next one with Val Kilmer is a better movie. But it has also been cool seeing people turning around on it this last decade or so and finally appreciating it for what it was and not what they wanted to see.

    I was always fascinated by the Burton interviews for this. German Expressionism was a huge influence and this movie kinda got me into the genre. Because of the approach I always laugh when people are like “Batman has no presence in it” when the movie is like a funhouse trip into his head which the more claustrophobic sets fit very well and we’re exposed to all sorts of weird reflections of the guy. From who he would be if he had grown as a spoiled rich boy who has no qualms with corruption (Schreck). To who he would be if he was willingly orphaned and abandoned by his parents in The Penguin; and of course the reflection of what being driven by revenge against The Joker eventually turned him into with Catwoman. This is a psychological case study of what Batman and his duality really mean and no other movie in the franchise has had the guts to go to this extreme while still having Penguins walking around with rockets strapped to their backs. Love this shit.

  11. I’m still not over the gaslighting of people pretending they didn’t condone Batman Forever. When Batman and Robin came out they acted all aghast. How dare they make such a ridiculous Batman movie?

    BECAUSE YOU TOLD THEM TO. You literally demanding the next Batman movie be more kid friendly so it was. Then you said Batman Forever was better and made it make more money. that’s how you get Batman and Robin.

    I didn’t hate Forever at the time (I do now) but I never said it was as good as the Burtons. I just accepted that Burton flew too close to the sun so now we had to have neon Gotham but hey at least we got the first two. I still don’t hate And Robin either. Maybe it’s more the underdog but given the circumstances it has more fun with the “light” toy friendly Batman.

  12. Batman Returns is the only Batman movie I truly love, and I think that’s a bit by accident. A lot of things that Vern describes balance each other out just perfectly for me, even though I would probably complain about them in a movie with a different mix of influences. Too-on-the-nose comedy meets extremely gothic operatic darkness, and I’m totally here for it. I don’t think it can be replicated.

    It also has what to my ears is still Elfman’s greatest score, which has a near-mythical status for me for being out of print for most of the nineties and early noughties. It takes the solid base of the first movie’s score and expands on it greatly.

    Weirdly, overall I kinda hate Burton’s original Batman. A lot of its aesthetic choices were great and hugely influential but the story and most of the acting leave me totally cold. Keaton is already great, of course. Speaking of which, I can’t think of any movies in which Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny De Vito or even Christopher Walken give better performances than in Batman Returns.

    And it’s a Christmas movie too, which I watch at least every other Christmas, often in combination with this cool little NY-cop-in-an-LA-office-building movie I know.

  13. I meant to ask in the review – is there another movie where DeVito plays as much of a character? Doing a voice, having a look and everything? It’s such a unique character and performance. And an actor mainly known for sitcoms having a name on the marquee for a giant special effects laden movie without it seeming cheesy. Just an odd set of circumstances I guess.

    Also I meant to mention that Burton and DeVito really hit it off and worked together again in MARS ATTACKS!, where DeVito got to be on the poster for playing the iconic character “Rude Gambler.”

  14. I think though that by the time of Batman DeVito really wasn’t known as a sitcom star anymore…but as a leading movie actor and director.

    Didn’t he AND Keaton reteam with Burton for Dumbo too? I never saw it.

  15. I watched this recently and was also struck by how naive it feels for his supporters to abandon him because of like, the observable evidence their senses reveal. Was real tickled when SORRY TO BOTHER YOU got that particular detail correct.

    Another strong impression I came away with was how powerful DeVito’s delivery is when he proclaims himself to be animal. I struggle to think of another superhero villain portrayed as thoroughly irredeemable, yet sympathetic.

  16. Even if DeVito post-BATMAN became a bit of a character actor who not just did comedies and IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY made it clear that he is a huge, loveable weirdo who will do anything you ask him to in front of a camera, this is indeed still his “biggest” performance, unless I missed something.

    And yes, Burton, DeVito and Keaton did DUMBO, which by the way is way more fun than expected, although it’s not a memorable career point for anybody involved.

  17. I took a comic writing class with Jack Harris who was Editor in Chief at DC during the making of the first Batman movie (he was also the one who suggested Arkham Asylum be a thing in the comics) and, apparently, Burton’s first pitch for Batman was more in line with what Batman Returns was (according to Harris “he wanted penguins with missiles on their backs?!”) but because Burton wasn’t yet a proven quantity, DC could stand their ground for a story closer to the comics. But after the first Batman blew up, Burton finally got his armed penguins!

  18. Batman Returns has always been my favourite Batman film, for both the soulful elements and the silliness. Like the animated series of the same time, it managed to combine both beautifully (but in different ways). After its release I’ve always had the same feeling about Batman films. I have my Batman film. I am curious about the rest. I am happy if someone else got what they view as their Batman film with a different version but I have mine. So I never got too bothered or angry or passionate about what followed. I have the same feeling about Ang Lee’s Hulk. (Hulk and Batman were my favourite comic book characters from childhood)

    I think its healthy to have these type of strange films, as well as a Speed Racer, a Phantom Of The Paradise, a Big Trouble In Little China. An auteur taking pulp material and making it personal, adding elements that are seen as odd at the time but creates fans year by year due to those choices. You can have more mainstream films but I think its vital to have these type of films, even if they do not hit big on release. Its healthy for society long-term to show personality in pulp art that is beyond simply making a profit. Its amazing that 1992 summer managed Batman Returns, Alien 3 and Raising Cain in a few months. That’s a hell of a lot of subversive personality shown in studio films.

  19. “is there another movie where DeVito plays as much of a character?”

    It’s not a showy transformation or anything, but I’d say Owen from THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN is a real character performance. A gentle, innocent, kind of dim man-child who just wants a friend (but also isn’t all that uptight about murdering) is pretty far from the usual brash rapscallion that DeVito normally plays, yet might be closer to who he actually is. That blend of the sincerely sweet and the bitterly dark is what he gravitated toward when he started controlling his own projects, so I assume that vibe is where his heart is at.

  20. I used to hate this movie with a passion, because 1) I was a dumb teen the first time I saw it and 2) all I wanted back then was a movie that took the comics as gospel, which is not that movie, at all. So to me it was emblematic of how studios will change the source material and alienate nerds with impunity.

    Then Marvel movies came along and I got enough of the ‘comics are gospel’ attitude to scratch that itch, so a few years ago I was 1) no longer a dumb teen and 2) in the right headspace to rewatch this on its own terms instead of criticizing it for not being the movie I wanted it to be.

    Reader, I loved it. It absolutely has its flaws — how the fuck did the bad guys get blueprints of the Batmobile??? — but they seem insignificant compared to the thrill of Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and the gothic horror of DeVito’s Penguin. In some ways, teen me was right: it is 100% a Tim Burton movie with Batman characters in it, instead of a Batman movie directed by Tim Burton. But now that is a strength for me and not a weakness. I’m glad to be a convert.

  21. Fred- Wasn’t the “I love FOREVER!-You gotta be kidding me with this AMPERSAND ROBIN thing!” pipeline an example, maybe the first, of a phenomenon that comes along every so often where one franchise movie is beloved, and then another film follows it that’s very much in the same vein and they go “what do they think of us if they think we’re going to swallow this stuff?!?” even though they had happily gobbled up much of said stuff a couple of years earlier? I call it “REVENGE OF THE FALLEN syndrome”, because to me that’s the definitive example (although IIRC you disagree with that). STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is kind of an example to an extent, and it sort of seems like we’re going through a variation on this theme right now with THOR: THOR 4 (How do you like it? Some don’t it seems).

    I watched this last Christmas (and shared some thoughts in the thread for the 89 film) so I might not go for a 30th anniversary rewatch, although I must admit I’m tempted. Weird to think how close this was to not starring Phiffer, it’s hard to imagine this without her, or it having quite the same impact with Bening, which is no insult to Bening. In an otherwise unaltered timeline Bening would also have been by quite some distance the least famous person to have played a BATMAN villain in the original cycle of four films at the time of release, which wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing, but does stand out to me.

    I grew up owning the Mega Drive/Genesis game, which is a very hard game to like or enjoy, if not quite bad enough to be completely dismissed. It does have quite a strange atmosphere which feels weirdly appropriate for a game based on this particular licence. The Master System/Game Gear “de-make” of the Game is actually a lot more enjoyable. People who grew up with the SNES game (made by Konami) tend to have pretty fond memories of that one, and it is quite a bit better, if a tad generic and repetitive. The Atari Lynx was game was sold packed in with console for a special “Atari Lynx Batman Returns Edition” for a while

  22. Blast from the past for you Outlaw Vern OGs: Remember when Paul used to use Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as Catwoman as one of his go-to examples of shitty acting? (His other was Gary Oldman in THE PROFESSIONAL.) And then he’d be like, “Well, everybody in my village on the dark side of the moon agrees with me about it. It something we talk about all the time. We’ll say things like, ‘Ha ha, that shepherd’s pie sucked worse than Michelle Pfeiffer’s acting in BATMAN RETURNS!’ It ever even occurred to me that no one else would hold the same opinion about one of the most instantly iconic and universally beloved performances of the 90s. You guys are weird.”

    Remember that?

  23. I actually don’t, but I’m now scouring potential threads for examples!

  24. There’s a Thor/Love and Thunder backlash? Huh. Such a weird thing to hate on.

    Vern, I’m late as ever but this is a great review of the -by far- best Batman movie. No qualifiers, from me at least.
    I know it’s been said before, but I love how your enjoyment of these movies shows through so much in your writing; most of your stuff shows that the conventional wisdom of ‘but reviews that tear stuff up are so much more fun to read’ is dead wrong. It’s always a pleasure.

  25. I’m not sure it’s a Thor backlash so much as everyone sort of realizing at the same time that Taika Waititi is pretty fucking annoying.

  26. I had thought to mention Throw Momma…for what DeVito was generally cast for, that character was a huge 180. I watched some of those old Amazing Stories and he played a similar character with Rhea Perlman where they get a ring that turns her into a sex maniac murderer. I think he may have directed it too.

    I’d say the only thing that makes his Penguin “bigger” than Louie DePalma is the makeup and costumes…cause Louie is a HUGE performance. But definitely Penguin is his most charactery character. The bad guys in the Burton movies knew how to play it up and be over the top without fucking up the movie, unlike the Schumacher movies…I did like the third one except for about 15% of what Carrey was doing and Jones’ horrific performance. But a few scene of he and Carrey together still sort of work when they get a little more serious. The ending with Carrey monologuing is great.

  27. And there is such a gigantic difference between Forever and Batman and Robin they can barely be compared. Forever has too much dumb humor and of course Jones ruining the movie, but overall it’s played relatively straight. Honestly it’s maybe only 9% goofier than Returns is. The last was just nothing but bad puns and gags and Clooney not giving even a fuck enough to do a raspy Batman voice and bad camp. Too bad for Schumacher that he’s more known for those movies than anything now, because before those he was a pretty solid director with a nice sense of style, and he generally picked good material.

  28. It was literally decades before I knew a bunch of people didn’t like Burton’s version of Batman and didn’t think this was the best of his Batmans. I had no idea comic book nerds thought he did a terrible version of Batman. Every comic book nerd I knew (one boy in my friend group) liked it. I thought everyone agreed this one was the best. Ah, the preinternet idyllic world of ignorance about everyone and their dog’s opinion on super hero movies. Not that I’d trade them in for being able to talk with you guys. It’s just most everyone else I could do without.

  29. There is very little difference between Forever and Batman & Robin. They are so alike in tone, aesthetic, cinematography and camp that I still find it hilarious that someone people try to split the difference and love one while hating the other. They are both very silly and very self-aware examples of comic book nonsense. And I will take both over THE BATMAN, which is a ludicrously silly film that doesn’t have an ounce of self awareness about how ridiculous it is. Nolan’s Batman films find a nice balance between the comic book stuff and taking it a bit more seriously. But the two Burton films are all you need.

  30. Chuck, the general audience would disagree with you. You know what other two movies are very alike in tone, action, actors etc are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Crystal Skulls. Want to argue they’re the same movie? All you need to do is tweak something to completely change it.

  31. That’s an interesting observation, Pac-Man, and I’ll try to think of more examples because yes, in the case of Transformers and Star Trek, the first ones have legit merits to some people.

    Revenge of the Fallen was a strike movie. They never finished the script so Bay was totally left to his own devices. I actually find it fascinating as pure unadulterated Bay where it’s got a ton of truly ambitious ideas and absolutely none of them work.

    You may be closer with Star Trek. 09 may have just been recycled nostalgia and recycling the nostalgia for Wrath of Khan rubbed people’s faces in what they fell for the first time. I’d probably be able to decent Trek 09 as more of a sincere passing the baton to a new cast while Darkness is just a crass repurposing of the most popular trek story. For that I kind of admire it’s giant brass balls for even attempting it.

    I leaned negative on Love and Thunder but not drastically. It also has pandemic production issues Ragnarok didn’t face. But it’s a good question I’m sure we can come up with more examples of.

    Maybe Skyfall to Spectre. I though Skyfall was overrated but the folks who loved it HATE Spectre.

  32. The Indiana Jones movies are pretty much all the same, yep.

  33. And Skyfall and Spectre are extremely close too. I hate them both.

  34. Wait, wait! All the DeVito talk and no mention of RUTHLESS PEOPLE?? It is a bit of a “classic DeVito” role (a dick but a funny dick) but I enjoyed his performance.

  35. Jurassic Park is the same as the new one.

  36. “There’s a Thor/Love and Thunder backlash? Huh. Such a weird thing to hate on.”

    Actually…no, not weird at all. I’ll concede the so called “haters” may be just a vocal minority, but it should come as no great revelation that there is a section of the audience that finds the reduction of once strong compelling characters into bumbling goofballs (count me as one).

    Like Majestyk, I find Waititi to be an overrated, annoying little shit. But he’s a perfect fit for Disney’s current MO of taking strong, male characters and diminishing them.

  37. Sorry, edited to read:

    Actually…no, not weird at all. I’ll concede the so called “haters” may be just a vocal minority, but it should come as no great revelation that there is a section of the audience that finds the reduction of once strong compelling characters into bumbling goofballs annoying (count me as one)

  38. I’m (partially) with Muh with regards to BATMAN & ROBIN.

    I still rank the Carrey/Jones Grand Olympics of over-acting, one of the most painful things to sit through in FOREVER, but it’s a mere mosquito bite next to the icepick in the ass experience of enduring BATMAN & ROBIN, a shitty movie in any decade you stumble across it.

    As for RETURNS, what else can I do but add to the chorus and say…it’s freaking awesome! In any decade!

  39. I think The Mummy > The Mummy Returns and Charlie’s Angels > Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle are the biggest examples of filmmakers being successful the first time around, so they’re given a blank check to make a full-on epic out of their various peccadilloes for a victory lap. For good or ill.

    Wonder Woman > Wonder Woman 1984 as well. Talk about overindulgent.

  40. A recent episode of the podcast “Best Movies Never Made” discussed something I’d never heard about before, an early pitch for the first BATMAN by Burton and his Disney Channel collaborator Julie Hickson. The detail they mentioned that stuck with me is that it had Thomas and Martha Wayne killed in a random drive-by machine gunning from an ice cream truck! Also when Joker took over the TV it was going to have him guest starring on an episode of Love Boat.

  41. Joker may have not been on Love Boat but they did put him on the beach…close enough!

    Kaplan’s examples are good…movies that worked for what they were, but when given the chance to go 100%, they’re just annoying. One can say they are the same basic movie but they’re not. And for my own example anyone could easily say Jurassic Park is the same as the Trevorrow Jurassic Worlds…I can point out exactly in detail all the similarities that make them the same movie. But they ain’t the same movie, not by a longshot.

  42. I do think it was a good thing to put Burton on a leash for the first…if he came out swinging for the fences I don’t think we would have had everything Batman caused…cause I don’t think it would have been a hit. People needed to be eased into it. And as many cool things there are in Returns, I think Joker’s first appearance in the first is just amazing.

  43. Didn’t Burton also turn DeVito into a dog in BIG FISH?

    It’s not a massive stretch for him as an actor, but as a director DeVito rules as the champion of Roald Dahl adaptations, something Burton got only half-right with his version of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. But with the incoming Netflix musical version of MATILDA, I’d encourage everyone to go take another look at DeVito’s version. It’s tonally exactly right in its take on clever, brave children defeating an adult world of brutality, ignorance and indifference that has been speaking to children through Dahl’s books for generations. And it effortlessly trumps Dahl movies from the likes of Spielberg, Nic Roeg and Wes Anderson.

    Also not a stretch for DeVito as an actor, or indeed any of the actors involved who are all cast massively, almost exaggeratedly, to type (Ricky Jay is basically playing “the Ricky Jay character”) is HEIST, but it’s a joy to see them all working with David Mamet’s dialogue: “Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.”

  44. I see that Vern is ahead of me citing HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE in the case against the Waititi backlash. So yeah, what Vern said. I also think Waititi has put indigenous stories and actors in places we’ve never seen them before to interesting and indeed popular effect. I find that more important than “Oh no, he broke Thor.”

    Of course, if he screws up NEXT GOAL WINS, he’s dead to me.

  45. DeVito is indeed one of my favourite directors. Too bad that he goes behind the camera so rarely. But even HOFFA has flows really well and has a bunch of inventive camera tricks. Also Tim Burton cameos as a corpse in it.

  46. Oh, and to reiterate Mr. Majestyk’s remark about Paul. I can’t claim to be OG, but my tenure here overlapped with Paul’s, and it is generally well worth your time going back over the Vern archive in search of one of Paul’s contrarian screeds. It makes you proud to be British, and heaven knows we can use some of that these days.

  47. @Kaykay – Ah, that makes sense. I keep the hell away from twitter, so was completely unaware. Honestly, I have such low expectations for the MCU that thor fhor not being quite as funny as it thinks it is or being more of a kids’ movie was just a minor disappointment – but it’s such a… I dunno, nice? movie that you’d really need to work on it to be able to HATE it. Leave it to twitter to make that work, I guess. But it makes more sense when you look at it from within the Marvel context.
    Hating on the dude that made Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, though, that’s just wrong-headed. That’s almost lifetime pass material.

    @Borg – That’s a really good point about Matilda; I like Witches and Fox better, but Matilda is the one just feels like pure Dahl and not someone’s interpretation.

  48. I don’t know about any of that mess about emasculating strong male characters or whatever and I would like to not be associated with that bullshit line of thinking. I just think Waititi is annoying in interviews, in which he gives off major “spoiled only child who has never once in his life been told to settle down while adults are speaking” energy. He is never not pleased with himself and he is never not doing a bit, and I find that grating. His work is very good as far as I can tell from the small sampling I’ve seen. It’s his personality that’s the problem. I’m still going to see THOR LOVES THUNDER but I probably won’t listen to the director commentary.

  49. I think BATMAN RETURNS and BATMAN & ROBIN both try to evoke the spirit of the 1960s Batman TV show. The end results are very different, since both feature their directors indulging their most peculiar whims and excesses, but I think they’re shooting for roughly the same thing. RETURNS borrows the plot of a ’60s episode and its portrayal of the villains is as off-kilter as the canted angles of every bad guy hideout from the series. & ROBIN dresses Arnold up like the Otto Preminger Freeze, and it’s trying to do the same thing the series did– work on two separate levels for two separate audiences. Kids will take it seriously and enjoy it as bombastic action entertainment, and adults will see it as high camp. It’s not as successful in achieving that as the TV series was, but I think it’s shooting for the same target. When I was a kid, I thought BATMAN & ROBIN was amazing; I still appreciate it as an adult for what it was trying to do. Meanwhile, if RETURNS was aiming for something similar, I think it also missed, but in a different direction– this one probably works better for adults than kids.

    So RETURNS is a gothic, expressionist opera and & ROBIN is a neon toy commercial, but I think they share some commonalities. BATMAN ’89 and FOREVER play things a little straighter, in comparison, probably because of some tamping-down by the studio.

  50. That’s something that bugs me–how a lot of adaptations aren’t really adaptations of the source material, but remakes of *earlier adaptations*. Most Frankenstein and Dracula movies have more to do with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi than Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker.

  51. Kaplan- That was my biggest problem with The Batman. It really felt more (to me) like an adaptation of Nolan’s movies rather than anything from the comics or whatever. (Even though they did take a lot from the Long Halloween… unfortunately, they seemed to not adapt any of the good parts and the animated “actual” adaptation of the Long Halloween was much better in my opinion, despite my usual indifference to the DC animated films)

  52. Maybe AMPERSAND ROBIN (henceforth &R) isn’t a 1-1 film with FOREVER, but it’s definitely a film that builds on and follows through on what it was people liked about that film at the time. In 1995 people weren’t saying “I really love Val Kilmer’s brooding Batman and the fresh take on his parents’ murder, and I was really sad when Robin’s parents died”, it was all “Jim Carey is hilarious, and I liked when they said “chicks dig the car” and “Holy Rusted Metal Batman!” and I want that Nicole Kidman character poster in my room and I’m glad that Robin was in it like in the 60s TV series” (at least that’s what adults said, kids just said “I want all the toys now!”). Akiva Goldsman joined FOREVER later in production to write a final draft, and the structure (and perhaps to a certain extent tone) of the movie was significantly changed in editing following early test screenings. &R was written by Goldsman alone to hit the same beats as the released version of FOREVER.

    An interesting thing about &R is that unlike many Hollywood fiascos it wasn’t any kind of troubled production; FOREVER had a way bumpier road to the screen. Everyone knew what movie they were making, and Warner got what it want, indeed they were so impressed by Dailies that they hired Schumacher to make the sequel, which was already being written before &R. Everywhere on earth was bombarded with merch* and no one had any reason to believe it wasn’t going to be one of the Top 2 or 3 films of the year until 2 or 3 weeks before it came out.

    I’m not saying people were wrong to like FOREVER and not &R (or any of the other comparisons I’ve made for that matter). I do think it’s a weaker, staler movie in some ways (even though in some ways it has aged better). I’ve certainly been on the other end of “how can you not like y when you liked x!” discussions. I just think it’s an interesting phenomenon when audiences sometimes turn on something that’s pretty similar to something they lapped up only recently.

    *This interview with a guy who worked on the toylines for FOREVER and &R is quite interesting if you’re so inclined.


  53. (Didn’t work. Look up Toy Armada 02 – Kenner Batman Forever / Batman & Robin 1997 Behind the Scenes on YouTube)

    Dtroyt- I heard one review where they said THE BATMAN seems to “FORCE AWAKENS” the first two Nolan films which I thought was an apt comparison. I am amazed the number of people who swear it’s a completely fresh take. I’m missing something I guess, but I really can’t see it (and no I don’t think the hyped for half a decade “emphasis on the detective elements” is what I’m missing).

  54. If there’s one elusive skill in Hollywood, it’s knowing how much is too much of a good thing. If you asked your average studio executive to bake a cake, he’d just slap a big glob of frosting on a plate. “Well, the frosting tested great…”

    By that same token, how many great sequels are, completely paradoxically, NOT more of the same? Die Hard With A Vengeance takes John McClane out of a single isolated location and gives him a partner. Aliens throws hordes of aliens at well-trained, well-equipped Marines.

  55. Pacman- That’s the first time I’ve heard the Force Awakens comparison, but I think it’s a pretty good one. (Although, I had more fun with Force Awakens than with The Batman, but I suspect that’s more a result of the tone of what they inspired by)

  56. Outstanding review, Vern.

    Re: DeVito, as mentioned here in the comments. I remember leading up to the sequel, pretty much everyone was saying “DeVito should be Penguin” and indeed it seemed like a no-brainer, since he was Hollywood’s resident “short guy.” He’d just have to show up, really. So it was truly incredible to see what he did in the film, not just transform into the character thanks to the incredible make-up but disappear into Oswald Cobblepot, play up the tragic aspects that it turns out are actually just a mask for his true monster nature. Pfeiffer and Walken are both phenomenal, but DeVito’s Penguin has always been the real miracle of this movie for me. To this day I watch him as Frank on “Always Sunny” and get my mind re-blown every time I think, “Holy shit, he was The Penguin!”

  57. Even when I hated BATMAN & ROBIN I appreciated that the two Schumachers follow the same pattern as the Burtons. The first one is a hit so they give the director the keys and let them go hog wild on the second one, for good or ill. I wish that was always the rule, honestly.

  58. Majestyk- “I just think Waititi is annoying in interviews, in which he gives off major “spoiled only child who has never once in his life been told to settle down while adults are speaking” energy. He is never not pleased with himself and he is never not doing a bit, and I find that grating. His work is very good as far as I can tell from the small sampling I’ve seen. It’s his personality that’s the problem. ”

    Yeah, though it’s went a bit beyond just annoying recently as a video came out from the promotional tour where he and Tessa Thompson are watching a scene from the movie, and in addition to saying he didn’t notice/remember some weird take he used of her, calling into question how much of a shit he gives, he also makes fun of the VFX work, which is a dick move from a director in general, but is exacerbated with it’s timing alongside actual Visual Effect Artists speaking out about how shitty Marvel is as a client, overworking and underpaying them.

  59. If this movie was released today, does Michelle Pfeiffer win best supporting actress for this role?

  60. “Yeah, though it’s went a bit beyond just annoying recently as a video came out from the promotional tour where he and Tessa Thompson are watching a scene from the movie, and in addition to saying he didn’t notice/remember some weird take he used of her, calling into question how much of a shit he gives, he also makes fun of the VFX work, which is a dick move from a director in general, but is exacerbated with it’s timing alongside actual Visual Effect Artists speaking out about how shitty Marvel is as a client, overworking and underpaying them.”


    And another statement he made about how he planned on giving audiences a Thor they didn’t want to see. How he was going to make it awesome, but that they don’t know it yet. Yeah, I always enjoy being talked down by an unfunny comedian and middling film-maker. For me to even swallow some of the condescending shit coming off your over-privileged mouth, you best have some James Gunn like track record at the very least

  61. I don’t know, man, Waititi often comes to me across like a guy who doesn’t want to be taken seriously, yet every word he says IS taken way too seriously, even if it’s a “Knock Knock” joke. And the line about the “Thor that the audience didn’t want to see” makes me wanna high five him. Just because it reminds me of the VENTURE BROS approach to storytelling, where Doc and Jackson gleefully ignore every kind of fanservice and always seem to do the opposite of what the fans wanted to see (Brock going on a murder spree in every episode, Dean and Triana hooking up, Triana’s one-episode besty Kimmy becoming a supervillain who arches Hank and Dean, etc), which 99.9% of the time leads to more interesting and satisfying stories. And especially in a time when everything is about gIvInG tHe FaNs WhAt ThEy WaNt, even if it means making the shittiest STAR WARS movie ever, because a bunch of internet assholes hated that the cast of THE LAST JEDI wasn’t white enough and Rey didn’t have a super important lineage, or apparently bringing Nazis back in the next INDIANA JONES because Indy shouldn’t fight communists or whatever, this approach gets a thumb up from me.

  62. Hmm. Guess I’ve got to take some responsibility here.

    I probably shouldn’t have mentioned LOVE & THUNDER. I just thought it was interesting that we’re living through a somewhat similar sequel situation to one, arguably two of the 90s Batfilms. But I should have known MCU reference is likely to lead to MCU conversation. Sorry everyone.

  63. “I don’t know about any of that mess about emasculating strong male characters or whatever and I would like to not be associated with that bullshit line of thinking”

    Let’s accept that you and I are destined to die on opposing hills where this issue is concerned

  64. No apologies necessary, Pacman2.0.

    It’s all good

  65. “And especially in a time when everything is about gIvInG tHe FaNs WhAt ThEy WaNt, even if it means making the shittiest STAR WARS movie ever, because a bunch of internet assholes hated that the cast of THE LAST JEDI wasn’t white”

    Woah! Who thinks RoS is what the “fans wanted???” Am not sure how many fans craved what can only be described as a desperate course correction by Abrams after he realized Rian Johnson took his notes for LAST JEDI and basically wiped his ass with it (and BTW, of the 575 reasons why TLJ sucked ass, an abundant lack of Caucasians in the narrative isn’t one of them). The return of Palpatine? Finn and Rose’ characters essentially becoming inconsequential nothingburgers to the larger narrative? The continuing mistreatment of Han and Luke ?(the “Shit on Legacy Characters” project effectively concluding with the recent OBI-WAN KENOBI series).Not sure how many block parties were thrown to celebrate this “amazing” (ahem!) conclusion to a trilogy I badly want to forget existed.

    See, I agree that sometimes NOT giving fans what they wanted or expected can result in some amazing stuff. I’m fairly sure I did not want to see a PEACEMAKER series, but 9 glorious episodes convinced me otherwise. Was fairly sure I did not want to see a savage take down of superheroes, but 3 amazing seasons of THE BOYS leaves me wanting more.

    It can be done, but you need a brilliantly subversive vision, whip smart writing and some genuinely impressive film-making chops to pull it off.

    All of which Taika and Co lack in spades.

    THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER is a product of an average film-maker given the keys to the kingdom because he smelt his own farts and convinced himself that RAGNAROK was a brilliant re-invention of Thor, instead of merely being passable and funny in places in comparison to it’s predecessor which many agreed was a snore fest. And so doubled down on everything annoying in the first movie for his follow up.

    More Moronic Thor! An even longer “play within a movie”!! More Taika as Annoying Talking Rock! More questionable CGI! More Smugly Annoying Tessa Thompson.

    Add to the above, the under-utilization of Bale and Crowe and an assumption we still give a shit about Jane Foster in spite of the fact she hasn’t been seen since 9 years and like 20 movies ago, and I want to personally shake Taika’s hand and say “You wanted to make a Thor movie people didn’t want? Mission accomplished, mate”

  66. There are basically two schools within comedy, standup and otherwise, and those who appreciate one often look down upon those who like the other. I’ve offended people here before by being more direct on this subject, so I won’t.

    As for RETURNS, it’s the one Batman movie I usually judge them all by. Burton really had a knack for melding the visuals and the action together.

  67. I haven’t read or listened to a single Waititi quote about FOR THE LOVE OF THUNDER so I don’t know about any of these controversies. I’ve found him annoying since the RAGNAROK special features. The commentary track where he didn’t give a single piece of factual information about the making of his own film in lieu of neverending and unfunny riffing pretty sealed the deal. There’s a certain type of personality that wants to come off as “I make jokes because I don’t want to be taken too seriously” but what the constant inappropriate insouciance actually says is “I don’t take YOU seriously so I will happily waste your time for my own amusement.” That’s the vibe I get from Waititi and it irritates the shit out of me. His powers of annoyance can be fruitfully harnessed for film, though, so I don’t hold it against his work.

  68. Yeah, Waititi’s the worst. I recall during the omnipresent press tour for Jojo Rabbit, he was acting like God’s gift to politics for being such a rebel as to make fun of Hitler, the well-known sacred cow, ignoring that *everyone* has made fun of Hitler, and some of the biggest piss-takes on him were done within living memory of WW2 by actual veterans and Holocaust survivors.

    That, and for a guy who was specifically making a political statement against Nazism, he seemed to pride himself on not *actually* knowing anything about Hitler or the Nazis.

  69. Vern, are you going to review LOVE AND THUNDER? If so, I’ll hold my thoughts for that review.

  70. When did Waititi play Batman, I tend to forget these things…

    I do remember when Roberto Benigni, one of the worlds funniest men, became famous outside of Italy and the film clubs and suddenly had to take a lot of shit from various people…

  71. SON OF THE PINK PANTHER the BATMAN RETURNS of the Closeauverse.

  72. A stupid not funny comment with a typo; bravo me.

  73. Taika Waititi is Batman.
    Directed by Rian Johnson.
    Written by Taika Waititi and Rian Johnson and David Goyer.

    I think one of the many things that this review hits on the head is that back in the 90s when a director did a comic book movie he either half-assed it because he’d rather be doing something else, or completely owned it because there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing. Dick Tracy, The Phantom, Blade, The Shadow… And both Batmans are 110% Burton; maybe to the detriment of Batman… but I prefer it that way.
    These days the franchises are bigger than any one director – I think DC is a little better at giving them leeway and letting them be their own thing, but from all accounts Disney is also pretty good about working with directors; it’s just that they’re a bit more proscribed in what they can do, and the visual side of things always comes smooshed into a samey look.

    Their structure also has changed fundamentally; back then you still had to make the movie fairly stand-alone, tell its own story (it helps that they rarely got sequels) – and that’s something Returns excels on. Now comic-book movies resemble their source more and more, we get films that barely have their own plot, they’re more and more about watching events that happened on other movies bounce against each other and maybe set off a few new ones.
    (I’m not judging! I liked, often loved Spiderman No Way Home, but from a story standpoint it was pretty laughable.)

    Chances these days of WB letting Burton come in and doing another Batman (if he still had it in him)… well, that’d be a no-brainer given how we seem to be drifting to legacy sequels and bringing back the original actors. But letting another visionary director come in and try to give it a not necessarily fan friendly spin? Say, Wong Kar-Wai make one of his melancholy romances with a couple of fights, or I dunno, a street-level crime movie where bats is a mythical menace written and directed by Donald Glover? Let an older, wiser Schumacher have another go? (as someone mentioned above, some of his non-batman stuff is terrific.)
    Or give it to Jane Campion and make it about Bruce Wayne abusing his white privilege to do some horrific shit, and watch the internet burn itself down as soon as it’s announced?
    Maybe. DC seem to be open to new interpretations of existing characters, and hungrier to establish their own feel now their CU kinda fizzled (personally, I’m so glad it did). Marvel… I don’t think they’d let it happen with an established character unless they were doing a what if? movie. Probably not even then.

    Anyhow, I joked about Waititi’s Batman above, but I would actually love to see a good movie with Batman in it with a sense of humor after 10.5 hours of mostly unabated dourness. (I was not a fan of the latest one, oh no.) Thank god for the HBO Harley series, and thank god for the Burton movies which I rewatched recently as an antidote to the Bats’ latest escapade.

  74. Ah, shit, now I find out Schumacher died a couple of years ago. Crap.

  75. We do have Keanu Reeves as the voice of Funny Batman in LEAGUE OF SUPER PETS next week, which I hope makes a lot of money, not because I think it will be good (I don’t), but because if it doesn’t it will have just been an awful lot of time and money wasted not making LEGO BATMAN 2

  76. Maggie – I imagine I will review it but I haven’t seen it yet. I want to see it on a Saturday so my wife can go, but I had a DJ thing last week. The plan was to see it this week, but it turns out I’ve been exposed to Covid, so we’ll see what the test says.

    If people want to discuss it before then I would prefer they take it to the RAGNAROK or THOR comments so we can continue discussing Oswald Cobblepot’s black bile here.

  77. dread – I really do like that Harley Quinn cartoon, I was just watching one last night. I’m not usually into comedy versions of existing things, but maybe it helps that the lead is pretty much in character for any version of the DC Universe, so all the ridiculousness around her reflects her personality, sort of like the villains do for Batman in RETURNS.

    Ron Funches as King Shark especially never stops being funny to me.

  78. Incidentally, a BATMAN ’89 comic miniseries written by original movie screenwriter Sam Hamm just concluded, and is basically a new hypothetical third instalment supplanting FOREVR. It’s got Billy Dee Williams Harvey Dent Two Face instead of Jones, and Catwoman comes back. It’s fine, but I was expecting something that felt more Burtony, like the way the comics they did based on the Adam West show tried to do that tone. There’s a bit too many modern Batman tropes to it (Catwoman’s the more “on-and-off again ally” take we got for a lot of the 90s, Gordon’s written as the Batman’s badass pal on the force instead of the good but kinda bumbling Hingle version) and certain plot points don’t feel like something that would have really been in a mid-90s Batman movie and feel a bit too present day. Specifically, Harvey Dent’s relationship with the black community he comes from questioning if he’s really acting for their interests and a kid from that community becoming Robin in this version. Not that I’m saying Hamm wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to do stuff like that back then, but I also remember hearing a recap of the supposed treatment of HIS version of RETURNS that was not just pretty different from the one we got, but also didn’t really have much socially conscious stuff to it and was more about trying to stop Penguin from finding some lost treasure with Catwoman’s help.

    There’s a cool Joker gang in the comic though who are inspired by Prince’s look in the “Party Man” music video.

  79. Sorry Vern, I’ll take any residual rants about LOVE & THUNDER, Taika Waititi and SW to their appropriate comments threads.

    And wishing you a big NEGATIVE on that COVID Test.

  80. Stu–

    I recollect Daniel Waters wrote an unproduced spin-off of BR focusing on Catwoman, which would’ve seen her contracting amnesia, moving to a new city, and then becoming Catwoman once more when she discovers the city’s superheroes (a bunch of original characters, not anyone from DC Comics) were really criminals. Sort of a proto-The Boys (or a rip-off of the Thunderbolts, if I cared enough to check the dates against each other). It also doubled down on the broad feminist satire. And Waters wanted to have Michelle Yeoh in it.

    Don’t know if DC’s so desperate for content as to give it the comic book treatment, but then, it’s related to Batman, so it’ll probably see release eventually.

  81. Thanks KayKay. This is the rare case where talking about Batman is being derailed by another topic instead of the other way around.

  82. Yo Vern, good luck with the Covid. I’m slowly starting to be more among people myself (Like a maskless birthday party or just hanging out in the mall food court), but every time I’m home again, I’m getting minor “Aw shit, but what if?” panic attacks.

  83. Stu- Thanks for that insight into that comic. That does sound a bit off-mission.

    Worth noting I suppose that the rumour that Shreck was originally going to be Harvey Dent and that he would turn into Two-Face when he was electrocuted is completely false, as is the story that Billy Dee Williams was signed to a multi-picture deal and had to be paid off when TLJ was cast in BATMAN FOREVER, the later being debunked by Williams himself a few years ago. In 1989 I doubt most people working on the movie knew what the deal with Harvey Dent was, and in 1990s Hollywood I suspect most of the people working on FOREVER didn’t even realise Williams had played Dent in a pretty small role two movies earlier. Despite both of these being debunked years ago, they stubbornly keep resurfacing even among people who should (and maybe do) know better. I guess there are worse stupid rumours out there.

    Good luck with the test Vern.

  84. I really enjoyed reading this review; such considered and meaningful writing and thought.

    I like this movie better than any Batman comic book.

    Back to silhouetting myself in front of the Bat-signal while atop of vertical industrial sprawl as snow gently falls and gentle bells turn to drum and brass while I scurry away.

    To Vern and the commenters: you are all true, quality writers and I appreciate you all, truly. Hello there.

  85. Glad to see you back (from Melmac?) A.L.F.

  86. update: I still haven’t seen the Thor picture and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to, but I tested negative 5 days after last exposure and have had no symptoms. Planning to keep it that way.

  87. That’s good to know, Vern! Stay Safe and Stay Healthy, Outlaw!

  88. Denzel relieved gif

  89. Good to hear, man.

  90. Not to be obnoxious, but the context helps the humor: I was so depressed today, and then I remembered the video Vern retweeted pre-pandemic of The Penguin singing to Bootsy while a cosplay Joker is just kind of there, eliciting the joy of Bootsy laughing all happily and saying “Oh my goodness!” between sincere chuckles. That video is awesome but I may be even more into the tweet of a still photo where Bootsy captioned it with essentially sorta fan fiction thst i just found, they should let Bootzilla write the next Batman movie, it would be nice with no conflict and positivity, like funky Bill Forsyth or something, sorry Semple, Hamm, Waters, Strick, Dini, Goldsman, Goyer and whoever wrote that emo one where the bad guys don’t even dress interestingly that I never saw and whose name or names I don’t want to look up, you trash ass no tracks having devoid of funk lazy bum slobs.


  91. Regarding the whole BATGIRL fiasco… Obviously this whole WB/Zazlav situation is the most blatant example of Ellising we’ve witnessed in the entertainment industry in our lifetimes, but am I the only one who thinks the one silver lining is that we won’t have to see Michael Keaton demean himself in the tights at this late stage in his journey? Like, there’s no shame in playing a superhero or coming back to an old role after decades away, if that’s what you want to do. Problem is, nothing about the guy gives the slightest hint that returning to the character was something he was the least bit interested in doing before some other now-ousted Ellis-ass WB executive who didn’t trust a movie about a Latina superhero to attract an audience without any old honkey nostalgiabait in the supporting cast backed a flatbed truck covered with blank checks up to his house. His whole vibe has “Just grin and bear it and think of the new house you’re gonna get once the check clears” written all over it (also known as “The Full Harrison Ford”). I could be totally offbase but I can’t help but feel relieved that I don’t have to see a still vibrant and exciting actor like Keaton have to trot out his old hits for a sub-par corporate IP synergization initiative or whatever the fuck DC thinks it’s doing. If he manages to get cut out of THE FLASH (which I feel every actor in the cast should be trying to do right about now) then that’s two giant checks he managed to procure without having to actually be in any of these movies he obviously doesn’t give a shit about. A shitty corporation loses money, Keaton gets a couple well-deserved paydays, and we are all spared the cringe of having to see a 70-year-old man in black eyeliner. I feel like that’s a win-win for everyone.

  92. As usual you are cynically exaggerating, Mr M, but with a drop of truth in it. The thing is that I wish I would be more excited to see Keaton return as Batman, but sadly he isn’t gonna be THE Batman. He will be a Batman. Now listen, it was a lot of fun to see Maguire and Garfield pop up in the MCU. But…I don’t know man. For Keaton’s return I don’t want him to be a supporting character in some multiverse shenanigans. I want him to be the star in a direct sequel to BATMAN RETURNS, preferibly directed by Tim Burton. And have him fight villain in crazy comic book make up, played by a mega acting character actor, in a Gotham City that looks like an architects wet nightmare. And I don’t think BATGIRL and THE FLASH aren’t that kind of movie.

  93. The Undefeated Gaul

    August 27th, 2022 at 2:25 pm

    Ellising or not, I do think there’s definitely a chance at a silver lining here. There’s a real opportunity for WB/DC to pick up the ball that Marvel has been consistently dropping for a while now. I’m really interested to see what other projects they’re going to be greenlighting going forward. See if there’s a real change of strategy or if they’re just going to keep messing around.

  94. If you mean you want them to have a cohesive plan leading to something, then okay, but I don’t want that to come at the cost of homogenising things like the MCU has so everything “fits together” with a lot of similar tone and aesthetic, even though the comic universe their basing this off of has much more variety than that. Even MOON KNIGHT, touted as one of their darkest and most violent things yet, had a case of the forced funnies and a bunch of sleight of hand to tone down the intensity of said violence. DC Films being in a holding pattern at least meant they were willing to put out a bunch of different feeling projects (some even R-Rated) without disqualifying any one from being in the same world as the others.
    As for THE FLASH, I dunno. I suppose it could be a good sign that it’s getting good test scores, but I don’t know what the standard is for that. It could in so many words be because “it’s more Marvelly!” for all I know. I’m excited to see Keaton back, but I also would have been interested in the more faithful take on the Flashpoint storyline that could have given us Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Thomas Wayne Batman in a messed up alternate timeline, but I guess they figured Keaton would be more of an easy pull for audiences.

  95. I expect nothing but trash from WB as long as this Discovery team is in charge. Do you really think these soulless assholes are even capable of recognizing a cool idea or a talented artist? You ask these guys what art is, they point to a painting of dogs playing poker. They’re philistines, and the work they greenlight will reflect that. Expect nothing but crass IP extensions from here on out. LETHAL WEAPON 5 with Dave Franco and Donald Glover. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s GREMLINS 3. A DIRTY HARRY reboot with one of the Chrises. (It doesn’t matter which one. “Get me a Chris! Whichever one’s cheapest!” General Zodlav can be heard yelling in the eerily empty halls of the Warner lot.) Best case scenario is they run the studio into the ground and Disney buys it. Worst case is their fuckshit actually makes money and this becomes the new normal.

    Pray for George Miller slaving away out there in the desert.

  96. Hey, don’t be dissing the poker playing dogs! That’s a well made painting that brought joy to generations!

  97. Well, then you’ll love DOGS PLAYING POKER: ORIGINS, the story of how a shy but precocious Golden Retriever puppy (Chris Pratt) rebelled against his poker-hating dad (J.K. Simmons) to gather a team of canine misfits (Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kravitz, Kevin Hart) to compete in the World Series of Animal Poker against the dreaded Card Sharks. It’s a four-quadrant laff riot with heart, a really frantic chase scene that does nothing to advance the plot or characters, and a heavily focus-tested message about believing in yourself!

    Coming soon from Warner-Discovery, the conglomerate that brought you THAT INSPIRATIONAL POSTER WITH THE CAT HANGING OFF A TREE LIMB: THE MOTION PICTURE!

  98. Ugh. I take it there was a shakeup in WB? I enjoyed Shazam/Aquaman/Suicide Squad, and some bits of the Wonder Women. Especially how they were each allowed to be their own thing, which gave them a lot more individual personality and flavour than any given MCU picture.

  99. “A shakeup” is one way to put it. “A series of corporate clusterfucks so mindbogglingly crass they make that episode of 30 ROCK where NBC was bought out by Kabletown look subtle” is another way of putting it. You’d want to cast the reality show snake oil salesman guy they got in charge now as the greedy land developer in a movie about breakdancing teens, except you’d worry he was a little on the nose.

  100. So those movies aren’t the result of the powers that be deciding the Snyderverse wasn’t working and thus deciding to be more laid back about oversight/corporate mandates on their DC stuff, it’s that they were running around like headless chickens and people with some vision rushed in to fill the void?

    …That makes sense. It was nice while it lasted.

    I feel bad for Keaton, but to be honest the only way that wouldn’t look like a cynical marketing move post Away from Home/Jurassic World would be (as CJ said) to make him the protagonist. Tim Burton’s the Dark Knight Returns 2024.

  101. I believe they kind of were, but management has since changed again.

  102. This Dan Lin guy getting the job to run it sounds promising if true, especially the part that says he’ll only have to answer to one person rather than how Walter Hamada had multiple people over his head who muddied things up a lot with their own agendas.

  103. You know, I don’t normally put a lot of stock in the whole “Superhero movies are killing cinema” argument, but it is kind of disconcerting that Warner Bros, a venerable hundred-year-old studio that has made some of the best and most classic films in all of cinema history, is currently being run into the ground by the guy who gave us Honey Boo Boo, yet all anybody wants to talk about is DC. This is the studio of Clint Eastwood! Mad Max! Lethal Weapon! Casa-Fucking-Blanca! But I guess as long as there’s more Batman in the pipeline, who gives a shit, right?

    Honestly, it makes me think this Zazlov dipshit is probably right. We get the art we deserve.

  104. We would probably me more excited or worried about any of the thought provoking yet super entertaining mid budget dramedies if WB would announce them five years in advance like they do with the superhero movies. Plus for now they are only deleting brand new stuff from their library for tax cutting reasons. Once they lock up CASABLANCA into the vault forever, I will be worried too.

  105. I don’t imagine Keaton needs money bad enough that he’d come back to Batman unless he believed in it. I can’t imagine them ever getting him to do it again after scrapping one movie, possibly replacing him in Aquaman (if that’s true) and the shit show of The Flash.

  106. I loved Keaton as Batman and had no desire to ever see him in the role again. It’s interesting when this merger was announced I did my research. Everything pointed to this Zaslav wanting to basically build this company back up to sell it off after a decade. He’s gonna milk those IPs for everything they got Disney style. The stock was at like $18 when I went in. So I invested $900 in it.

    Everything happening with it now is par for the course for post-mergers in these big corporations. So I’m not sweating the loses I’ve taken so far with this stock. I expect a lot of creative bankruptcy to get us there but the moment that investment at least quadruples up for me after he gets the share price where he wants it (you know he’s aiming for at least $100 a share Disney style) it would feel worth my time. If not at the very least I lost $900.

    End of the day there are other people putting out the art I’m looking for out there anyway. I don’t expect that from any of the big 4 studios so it’s whatever. Though great mainstream cinema would be nice I’m not really wanting for it at 39 the way I did when I was 19. At this point I’m just looking to expand my portfolio to the point I could hop off the hamster wheel for a change and really go after the shit I want cause life is too short. So in that respect Zaslav’s moves don’t bother me none.

    To be honest I wasn’t clamoring for a Batgirl movie anyway despite having multiple volumes of different runs of her book in my comic book collection. From Cass to Stephanie and even back to Babs. I’m so disinfranchised with superhero movies I didn’t expect it to be much anyway.

    I still haven’t seen SPIDER-MAN³ despite it being the billion dollar grossing extravaganza that “brings em all together dude”. Couldn’t care less; and I’m a Spider-Man fan. The last Batman movie of all things bored me to tears which is just a straight up sin because Batman was my gateway into all this comic book shit as a kid in the first place and they were always my most anticipated movies of their respective years till now. Even the Clooney one. Hell I only watched DR. STRANGE TOO to see just how much of it would end up actually being the next Sam Raimi movie and not just another product off the MCU assembly line.

    This shit stopped being for me ages ago. But if some greedy fuck is wants to secure his last bag by milking Batman and Superman and Freddy and Harry Potter and the Throne of Games and whatever the fuck else and actually succeeds at least I made a lick.

  107. Fred it is true. Affleck is now the Batman in the Aquaman movie after the recent reshoots. That’s another thing I liked the Snyder cast for the most part. So at least seeing them again could be nice depending of what hands they’re put in. This will sound hypocritical considering my last post in this thread but I’m watching that BLACK ADAM shit at matinee price not because I think it will do justice to the concept (spoiler: it won’t!) but it has Pierce Brosnan as a superhero and is gonna have a Henry Cavill cameo. Something about how these actors were so underutilized an entire decade in these roles at least captures my interest. I just want to see them have some arc before these versions are rebooted and I walk away from all this shit altogether. Give us some closure.

  108. To be fair, it seemed like the Affleck thing was to cover the possibility of AQUAMAN coming out before THE FLASH, rather than after, though as recently as today Momoa there’s quotes from Momoa hinting as possibly multiple Batmen in the movie. As a fan of both DC and Snyder’s vision for it (be nice guys, I’m not a cultist, or a bro) it’s been…pretty aggravating for me to see the shitty post BVS executive decisions still having these effects and what Discovery’s ruthlessness is doing to the studio/company as a whole.
    BATGIRL was one I was really invested in as it was filmed entirely in my city. I’ve been down at locations they remodelled and was really excited to see how they were going to realise the place as this major fictional American city they’ve already shown a few times.
    I’ve always had WB as my favourite studio as they seemed like the “mainstream, but with some sand” company in terms of some of the stuff they put out as big swings. GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS still amazes me as blockbuster summer popcorn movie that still also has the sensibility to be as apocalyptic as it is with its visuals and badass in its depiction of its title character, and get a theme song that’s a Blue Oyster Cult song covered with vocals from SYSTEM OF A DOWN’S lead singer. GvK’s subsequent watering down and obvious alterations were a bummer(though I still enjoyed the fights, for the most part), and now I have to sit in fear that AQUAMAN 2 and BLACK ADAM might get tinkered with in similar ways, and the Black Canary Max project’s prospects. And God knows if FURIOSA is going to get to keep whatever political themes it may have. Not to mention statements that animation is not a concern for the company at this time making me less hopeful for a PRIMAL season 3 and other ongoing series right now without confirmed renewals.

  109. ^though as recently as today there’s quotes from Momoa hinting at possibly multiple Batmen in the movie

  110. No way Keaton sold out to play Batman again…he said a few times he didn’t want to do it but then got to thinking about it and got interested. Look at his filmography, he could make making crap I’m sure but he’s clearly being picky about his projects.

    I REALLY want to see him as Batman, too bad it’s WB which can’t get their head of of their ass. Seriously, how terribly is the sueprhero portion of that company run?

  111. Watched this for the nth time – I’m glad there’s still lots to chew on and I appreciate the balls to make this thing, but man it’s a mess and this might surpass Halloween III and Alien 3 as the world’s most overrated underrated movie. Pfeiffer is as incredible as I remember, Walken is a highlight (in a role I used to think was totally superflous!), but Keaton is barely there (I love 80s Keaton as much as the next guy but I have no idea how anyone can argue he’s the best Batman after this). And I hate to say it, but DeVito kinda sinks this thing. Not sure if it’s the performance or the way the character is written, but I found myself zoning out and getting bored everytime he shows up and starts monologuing endlessly and mugging for the camera. The closest comparison I can make is Laurence Fishburne in Predators, where you’re like “this is a cool idea for a character on paper, and the actor’s definitely going for it and not phoning it in – but all the momentum from the movie is now mysteriously gone and I have the urge to start checking my phone”.

    Which wouldn’t be a problem if this was a Predators-style special appearance, but The Penguin’s in this thing so much that he drags the whole movie down. I get he’s very close to Burton’s heart or whatever, but other than way too much screentime you can’t even tell. He’s not funny or fun to watch. He’s not particularly sympathetic, he’s not deliciously evil or particularly smart. Both of his endgame evil plans crammed in at the end make zero sense and are foiled ridiculously easily. His dialogue and speaking style changes from scene to scene (“I’ll murder you momentarily” just feels like an overwritten screenwriter line they had to give to somebody, not to mention the 4th wall-breaking sub-SNL line about “why does everyone bring eggs and tomatoes to a speech??”). I just don’t really get anything about this character, which is a shame because the bones for a great character are there – 1)A villain who lives in the sewer and knows the dirty secrets of all the rich people who live above. 2) A villain getting a Moses/Willow/Warcraft/Superman origin story except instead of getting saved from death by his parents, he’s being abandoned by them. 3) A villain running for mayor to basically be figurehead for a respectable but equally devious villain. 4) A villain who we’re told specifically is 33 but acts like a bratty, lustful teenager – he kinda doesn’t care anything about the money or power being thrown his way, just food and sex. All of this is intriguing stuff, but it’s so glossed over and buried by the rest of the movie (including the infinitely better Catwoman stuff), that nothing registers and it ends up being a big nothing-burger of a character and performance. Which normally isn’t the end of the world but is pretty darn fatal to a Batman movie.

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