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Batman Returns! Complete With Mega Penguin-Bile Action!
Matt - 10/09/00

When Batman hit theatres, I was floored. I absolutely fell in love. As I've said before, my trials of love with comic books were always hit and miss. I collected 'em, but that didn't necessarily mean I read 'em. That's the only way I can justify owning the full run of the Dazzler series. I never read the fucking things. When I did buy comics though, they were almost exclusively Marvel. Superman had to die and give me a free armband to get me to buy a DC comic. In other words, my only previous experience with Batman was from the great 60s serial...I had no idea what to expect, or what I wanted to expect. Hell I was too young to care about anything besides what the Batmobile would look like in real life.

The movie took me in to the point where I must have seen it at least eight times in the theatres. I remember getting home that first night and putting cold cream all over my face in the false hopes that I too could lead a parade down the city streets to the tune of a Prince song. The flick was great. The characters were terrific, the effects were terrific, the story was terrific, and it starred Jack Nicholson. All the essential ingredients for a masterpiece. Soon after, it came time for the sequel to be released, and that's the movie I want to talk about today...Batman Returns.

This article is spawned off my failed attempt to do a top 5 Tim Burton films tribute. Things got a little rocky with the format and I didn't realize how much I loved the guy's movies, so it ended up being a ten-page long confession of love for the director with the pubic haircut. So we'll try this approach, one by one. But don't think you're ever going to see a post about Ed Wood. I may like wearing feather boas, but that movie just didn't do it for me as much as the other Burton flicks. Particular this one, which I've always found strangely appealing. Like flat soda.

A lot of people criticized the movie as being altogether too dark. Then two more Batman movies came out that were absolute abominations in my view, and we all begged to have Burton back. Like it or not, this movie had a ton of creative vision and was almost as memorable as the first. But I don't particularly like it for it's good qualities...I like it because it's chock full of some pretty ridiculous bullshit that I hold a special place for...right here.

First, let's talk about the characters.

Batman: Believe it not, Batman starred in the sequel. Amazing, huh? At this point, we've still got the Michael Keaton version. Not as good as Adam West but so much better than Val Kilmer. Keaton does his best to pretend like this movie has anything at all to do with him, but it's pretty easy to see that this is a villainfest through and through.

When Batman's not off fighting circus clowns who spit fire, (THANK YOU Burton) he's plain ol' Bruce Wayne, rich businessman/civil rights activist/brooding eater of cold soup that supposed to be cold. This time, the role is pretty subdued for Bruce...the only time he shows any signs of excitement is when there's a plausible chance that Michelle Pfieffer's hand could land in his crotch. Other than that, it's pretty much your standard glances into the dark moon waiting for life to spread a little sunshine.

Alfred: I'm going to start a club whose sole purpose in existence is to make sure every new movie that comes out at least features a cameo appearance by Alfred. Ever since I saw that Coca-Cola/Batman commercial where Alfred shows how much he really knows how to party, I've been his number one fan. In Batman Returns, sadly, there's a little less Alfred and a little more duck vehicles. Alfred really gets shafted, actually. His two major scenes include getting pissed at a paperboy and getting bitched at by Bruce for his past follies with letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave. Didn't Alfred realize Kim was too bitchy to sign on for a sequel? Now she's an information leak and they're not even cashing in on her. Poor Alfred.

Catwoman: <3!!! It was love at first sight when I saw Michelle Pfeiffier start bashing in all the neon lights in her apartment. By the time she started wearing black vinyl, I pledged my eternal vows. Pfeffier plays Selina Kyle, a lame company woman who freaks out after one too many of life's little mishaps. Now she's Catwoman - and along with her newly-found hot outfit, Selina also realized she can do backflips and die nine times!

Enforcing the movie's plot of duality, Catwoman is torn between her desire to be a superfreak villain in leather, and her desire to lead a normal life free from torrid revenge and vivacious meowing. My vote's for the first, only due to the fact that Catwoman gave us the most amazing scene in movie history by proceeding to rub Batman's balls. Even the Riddler never tried that one. Amazingly enough, it was three times more effective than building an entire island,kidnapping Batman's two best friends, and putting them in glass jars. Sometimes the direct approach works best.

The Penguin: This is why the movie's so great. How do you improve on a character who walks around smoking cigarettes with weird hands? You make him have a vendetta that causes him to want to murder all children, put slime in his mouth, and make him run for mayor.

Somewhere under that 300 pounds of makeup and fur coats lies another 300 pounds of Danny DeVito, in what's got to be the weirdest role he's ever played. Assuming he didn't read the script first, the guy probably signed on thinking all he'd have to do is improve his nyaahhh accent and learn how to wear one of those half-eyeglass things that I'm too lazy to look the name up for. Little did he know that soon, very very soon, he'd be eating raw herring and annoucing himself to the press as 'Oswald Cobblebot' at his parents' gravesite.

The Penguin was the ultimate villain. He didn't want to just become mayor using threats and illegal activities. He wanted to steal everyone's kids and kill them. The guy spit green slime when he spoke and carried umbrellas around when there wasn't the slightest chance of rain. That's evil.

Penguin's Daddy: Yep, Paul Ruebens plays the Penguin's father for six seconds on camera. He's not quite as charming in this role as he was buying shrunken-sized and giant-sized heads in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, but then again, that script called for Paul to have a scene at the Alamo. A comedy mecca. Still, in his minute-long starring role, Paul does manage to drink a martini and dump a baby down the sewer, so you've gotta give him credit for making the most of his time. PS, Penguin's mother is played by Diane Salinger, who if you didn't know, also played Pee-Wee's somewhat-love interest 'Simone' in Big Adventure. With that trivia bit, you'll be a hit at all the parties.

Max Shreck: I'm not convinced that there's a God, but I am convinced that if there is one, it's Christopher Walken. Have you ever seen Sleepy Hollow? Few people can make the word 'arrr' mean so much. Here he plays Max Shreck, evil millionaire businessman who's puppeteering the Penguin into the mayor's office so he can continue with his plans to make money at the sake of the enviroment.

Shreck could quite possibly be my favorite character in any of the films, with the exception of that fat clown the Penguin shoots at the end of this one. That clown was the chief. But Shreck's great here, and Walken plays the role perfectly.

The movie's 'risque' approach, that being some pretty violent overtones and a whole slew of batty sexual inneundo ultimately brough it a few problems. The sponsors weren't too pleased, nor were parents who brought their kids to the flick, I guess expecting Batman and the Penguin to settle their differences with a game of volleyball. But while those people and some critics had their complaints, Bat-Purists generally felt the tone was on the mark for a Batman flick, especially considering the basic direction of the first one.

Geez, what did parents expect? They had to see the commercials. Penguin didn't look like a scholar, and Catwoman didn't suggest anything other than 'dominatrix'. Frigging people aren't going to be happy until movies can only be shot in daylight and only include the words 'the', 'hello', and 'lovely!'.

Ironically enough, the very reasons the film met some criticism was what made it a winner in my opinion. You weren't going to top the Joker. The Penguin had to be a major fuck up. We already had a prissy blonde, now we needed a slutty blonde with lots and lots of eyeshadow. The Joker died by falling from a helicopter ladder, the natural progression suggests electricutions and stuff. All in all, the sequel made total sense.

Now, if only the sequel's sequels made sense. But that's another article entirely.

If you're curious to see just how off-beat this movie is, check out this Penguin quote: 'My dear penguins, we stand upon a great threshold! It's alright to be scared; most of you won't be coming back. But, thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish ALL of God's children! 1st, 2nd, 3rd AND 4th-born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones BLOWN SKY HIGH! FORWARD MARCH! THE LIBERATION OF GOTHAM HAS BEGUN!' Did I mention how much I love Dan Walters?

Most of you probably know the plot, but for those who don't, the short summary: The Penguin is out for blood, seeking revenge after being abandoned by his parents. Max Schreck seizes the opportunity to use the Penguin as a babyface candidate for mayor, so he can influence future decisions in his favor. Meanwhile, Selina Kyle, who somehow survived being dropped out of a window by Shreck after finding some revealing documents in his office, freaks out and becomes Catwoman. Catwoman is interested in Batman, but that's not going to stop her from wanting to destroy him. Meanwhile, when she's not dressed like a kitty, Selina falls for Bruce Wayne, when he's not dressed like a bat. And vice versa. Got all that? After some time, everyone's against each other, and it's Batman's job to save the children of Gotham from the Penguin and save Catwoman from herself.

The plot's super-secret focus is duality. Every character in the film who wears a costume aren't just battling with each other, they're battling with themselves. Batman continues his quest to seperate the bat from the man, only this time around it's even more confusing for him since ol'Bats has a chance to get laid. Catwoman is dealing with being pretty normal and being pretty insane, while even the Penguin has to hide the fact that he's forever a lunatic monster while trying to persuade the people of Gotham otherwise. Alfred didn't get a subplot like this, but he's fine the way he is...why mess with perfection?

All in all, father time has sweetened me to this flick. Like most, even at a pretty young age, I was definitely spreading the 'what the fuck' wisdom after the first viewing. Over time, all of it's assorted over-the-top weirdness and nuances really grew on me. If you can watch movies without using the eyes of a critic, I definitely reccomend it.


Believe it or not, as if this movie didn't get enough bad press after the Penguin couldn't finish a sentence without spewing bile, animal rights activists started complaining about penguin abuse. If there's a organization out there devoted to penguin abuse, I'm throwing in the towel and killing myself. So, it's no surprise that pictures clearing showing that these penguins were robots was released.

Some people say that merchandising is a bad thing. I disagree. If you really love something, what's wrong with getting the chance to clutter your house with crap featuring it's logo? So here's some of the weirdest Batman Returns items that were available...

Batman Returns Video Game -- Available for pretty much every system that was out at the time, this gave you the chance to save Gotham City from an evil villain group comprised of penguins and clowns who rode around on giant plastic duckies.

Batman Returns Robin Figure -- Those guys at Kenner are sneaky. Everybody knows that at this point in the Batman movies, Robin is still a trapeze artist. So what's the deal with this figure? This wasn't a line of 'Batman's Predicted Future Associates' figures. There shouldn't be a Robin! And because of that, collectible shops will charge you five times the retail price!

Batman Returns Party Favors & Tissues -- They go together like the Riddler and Two-Face. The party favors consisted of those really lame sliding puzzles, the ones where the pieces would pop off if you even thought about touching them. The tissues are a bit more useful though...they gave you the chance to handle your sneezes the same way Michael Keaton does.

Batman Returns McDonald's Toys -- Because no movie shouldn't be represented in Happy Meal form! Amazing that with all the flack this movie got for it's sometimes-wild content, it still managed to land itself in a commercial alongside Ronald McDonald.

Out of all of Burton's films, he really did take a lashing for this one. More recent reviews aren't as bad, simply because the movies that followed this were undeniably worse. But back when it was new, things didn't look too good. Well fuck the critics, I say it's a great flick, and if you haven't seen it yet, definitely go rent it. Just don't try eating anything wet while watching, the Penguin bile stuff will probably gross you out.

- Matt