Today I watched Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992)
While people pretty much universally praise the first Tim Burton Batman film, this sequel does not get nearly as much love. With it’s rather nonsensical story that centers around villainous industrialist Max Shreck instead of it’s actual principle villains, I can see why this film is something of an afterthought when talking about Batman movies. That aforementioned story is instigated by Shreck’s plans to build a big new power station for Gotham, a city that already runs an energy surplus. The mayor hates this plan though, and it is rather silly, so Shreck can’t get the proper permits to build it. Meanwhile his secretary, Selina Kyle, stumbles onto data that shows this power station to be the opposite of what Shreck is advertising, it’s actually a massive power capacitor that will take power away from the city to serve no known function what so ever. Apparently the idea of a capacitor station in a city with a power surplus is evil so Shreck kills Kyle by throwing her out a window where she is gnawed back to life by cats. At the same time Shreck is also working with a sewer mutant named The Penguin who was abandoned as a baby because of his freakish appearance and now apparently wants to find his family and learn his true name. The Penguin is just generally evil though and Shreck plans to use him by making him mayor so he will ratify his plans to build his big capacitor. Of course Batman is going to stop all of this, but complicating matters quite a bit is the returning Kyle, now styling herself as Catwoman, is she a hero or a villain?
Now despite this absurd plot, I still quite enjoyed this film, I think it is a good Time Burton film, but a bad Batman film. This is because Batman feels largely secondary to the main theme this film seems to be offering. Burton seems most interested in the strange story of a sewer mutant running for office, a tale that highlights how capitalist culture uses and exploits the genuine originals for profit. Burton is always interested in weirdos and outsiders, it’s a shame then that he does not strike me as weird or original in any way, but that plays into why I think this is such a good film in his catalogue. But here, when Burton is in conflict with his own subject matter, the true nature of the strange reveals itself. Here, when his characters are supposed to be the least weird, they are the most weird because they act incongruous with how we, the audience, think they should act, that is true weirdness.
So this bizarre tale of hyper industrialists and their sewer mutant friends, of BDSM Catwoman and her love/hate relationship with a shoehorned in Batman all works for me in a strange and cartoonish way. But I have to admit, it fails to be the conventional success of it’s predecessor and it also lacks the concise and focused character and theme of that film. Sometimes it feels as though events in this film were scripted at random, ideas pulled from a hat maybe, and there is also plenty of redundancy. The Penguin and Shreck for instance become interchangeable at certain points in the story, as does Batman and Catwoman, they just couldn’t figure out a way for these characters to co-exist in the same plot. Still, this is ironically Tim Burton’s strangest film, largely because it fails to do what I think anyone intended it to do. It fails to offer a fully fleshed out Batman narrative with all the requisite heroics, and it also fails to fully expand on it’s theme of odd people being used by the system. Yet it succeeds in being as odd as it’s subjects, as conflicted and oversexed as Catwoman, as austere and self denying as Batman, and as completely mad as this interpretation of The Penguin, this happy accident is something Tim Burton never manages to capture again, but I will save my rant about how he is actually this world’s Max Shreck for another time. 5/5