Funny story. Back when my brother and I were doing our YouTube channel we had an impression-off where we had to pull random characters out of a hat.
I pulled “Charlie Kelly from It’s Alway Sunny in Philadelphia” which I had never seen before. However, my flustered confused, panicky, high-pitched rambling attempts managed somehow to translate into a near pitch perfect impression of a character I knew absolutely nothing about.
Segue. Tim Burton’s Batman.
Somehow, despite neither reading, understanding or even particularly liking Batman, Tim Burton’s sensibilities as a director were such a perfect fit for the character that he created probably the most influential depiction that there has ever been.
And it was huge, a box-office, critical and merchandising golden god that conquered all before it. Now, Burton had not enjoyed his time directing that film, so Warner Brothers offered him the one thing no Hollywood director can refuse; pure uncut Grade A coc…I mean, COMPLETE CREATIVE CONTROL.
And he did do it again for Uncle Warner, and what he did remains probably the most divisive Batman movie of them all. You probably either love it or hate it, there’s very little inbetween.
Whatever your opinion, I think we can all agree: It’s a Tim Burton movie.
In fact I would argue that it is THE Tim Burton movie.
So. Christmas in Gotham City. In stately Cobblepot manor Tucker and Esther Cobblepot are appalled when their infant son Oswald is born with flippers for hands and an unquenchable hunger for cats (the first few months are always rough).
What with creche fees being what they are, they decide to dumb the baby’s bassinet in a river where it floats into the sewer and is found by a flock of sewer-dwelling penguins.
Flashforward 33 years later and Gotham we meet Max Shreck, played by Christopher Walkin cos-playing as Christopher Lloyd.
Look, apologies, we’re going to have to talk about Donald Trump for a moment. I’ll try and keep it chill, I promise, I just think this is interesting. See, to the audience watching this in 1992, Shreck is an obvious stand in for Trump, at least how he was perceived back then; a big city businessman who was ruthless and greedy but also smart, canny and politically savvy. Now, because Trump’s public persona has changed so much between his ageing and, y’know, everything it’s not as immediately obvious to a 2023 audience that that’s who Walkin is parodying. But THEN Shreck’s son, Chip, shows up and you’re just:
But, eh, Eric Trump was eight years old when this movie came out so this is completely unintentional. I just think it’s funny that parodies have similar genetics to their inspirations.
Anyway, Shreck is trying to strong arm the Mayor into approving his new power plant but the Mayor refuses, saying that Gotham gets all the power it needs from all its factories full of giant vats of radioactive clown goop. They’re interrupted by Selina Kyle, Shreck’s secretary played by Michelle You-Will-Never-Spell-My-Name-Right-So-Why-Bother-Trying. Shreck casually humiliates Selina and then he and the Mayor head out to the lighting of the tree.
The tree ceremony is then attacked by the Red Triangle Gang, a gang of criminal circus performers led by the Penguin. And this just does my OCD in. Why does the Penguin have clown henchmen? What next? Is he going to start sending people riddles and stealing ancient Egyptian cat statues? Stay in your damn lane Oswald! Also, this was a perfect opportunity for the triumphant return of the G.O.O.N. squad and the movie blew it.
So during the attack, Commissioner Gordon orders the Bat Signal to be lit and Batman arrives to do what Batman does best: FUCKING MURDER. Whereas in the previous film Batman gunned down criminals with cold efficiency, that’s apparently not doing it for him any more and he’s taken to burning people alive with the Batmobile’s jet engine.
He takes a break from burning clowns alive to save Selina Kyle from one of the Red Triangle gang and she then takes her attempted assailants tazer. Meanwhile, Shreck is kidnapped and taken to the sewer where he meets the Penguin, played by Danny DeVito in the most skin-scrawling, unnerving, disgusting, gloriously revolting performance of his career. Prior to 2005.
The Penguin shows Max all the incriminating documents, evidence and dismembered former business partners that he has on him, and Shreck agrees to help the Penguin re-enter society and uncover his roots.
Meanwhile, Selina has to return to the office and discovers that Shreck’s proposed plant will, instead of providing energy, actually drain it, much like a holiday with young children.. Shreck, who’s been having a very stressful day all things considered, finds her and makes with the menacing scooching. He backs her up against a window while she whimpers: “How can you be so mean to someone so meaningless?!”
And man, it is a good thing that this movie is absolutely stacked with fantastic actors otherwise the dialogue might sound really bad. Seriously, the amount of times an absolute clunker of a line is saved by awesome delivery and sheer megawatt screen presence is staggering.
Anyway, Shreck pushes her out a window and she falls to the snowy pavement below. Alley cats crawl over her and start licking her until she wakes up and staggers, half comatose, back to her apartment.
And then we get….ho boy. The “Hell Here” scene.
This scene fucking traumatised me as a kid. I mentioned in the Batman review when discussing the scene of Joker in the surgery that Tim Burton is a phenomenally effective director of horror when he wants to be and this scene tops that and then some. It’s brilliantly staged, mesmerisingly acted and Danny Elfman’s nervy, nightmarish score makes my skin crawl. It also brings the point of this Catwoman across. This is not a subtle movie. At ALL. In fact it’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer. But I think it is effective in what it’s trying to do, at least when it’s not relying on dialogue.
Jesus Fucking Christ.
But THIS scene? Look, I can only speak from my own perspective but I remember watching this movie as an eleven year old boy and thinking. “Oh wow. Being a woman is kind of awful.”
Hey. Sometimes you need a sledgehammer.
Anyway, the next day the Mayor’s baby son is kidnapped and then rescued by the Penguin. The Penguin instantly becomes the new hotness in Gotham and, with Shreck’s help, launches a bid to become Mayor. Hey, I’ve seen this one!
The Penguin also digs into the city’s records and discovers his name, which must have been a real rollercoaster of emotions.
Batman, however, suspects the Penguin is up to something for literally no reason. The next day, Bruce visits Shreck to tell him that he’s going to oppose his power plant and that he knows that Cobblepot is actually the leader of the Red Triangle Gang but that he “can’t prove it yet”. Which is something that someone who’s not Batman would definitely say.
They’re interrupted by Selina who just swans into the office to show Shreck that he sucks at defenestration and Bruce ends up asking her out on a date.
Now, if you’re going to do a Catwoman story you’d better have chemistry between your Bruce Wayne and your Selina Kyle and thankfully this movie has it in spades. In fact, it’s probably the only live-action Batman movie where the romantic relationship feels central to the story rather than just an adjunct. I mean, inevitably. The only way an actor couldn’t have chemistry with Michelle Pfffiefffer is if he was literally made of a noble element like Xenon or Argon or…
Catwoman takes to the streets and saves a random woman from being raped…
And then she blames the intended victim for “making it so easy”.
That’s…that’s really bad. That is very very bad. You go away, movie, and you think about what you’ve done.
Anyway, the Penguin orders the Red Triangle Gang to cause havoc in the streets of Gotham and Batman and Penguin finally come face to face in a scene that makes me question whether I even matter.
What I mean is…does writing even matter? Because this scene is at once fantastic and…kinda terrible? I mean, let’s just look at this on the page.
Batman: Admiring your handiwork?
The Penguin: Touring the riot scene. Gravely assessing the devastation. Upstanding mayor stuff.
Batman: You’re not the mayor.
The Penguin: Things change.
Batman: What do you want?
The Penguin: Ah, the direct approach. I admire that in a man with a mask. You don’t really think you’ll win, do you?
Batman: Things change.
[Catwoman backflips into the middle of the confrontation. They stare at her, momentarily nonplussed]
Now, it’s not entirely terrible.The “man with a mask” like is actually pretty fine. But most of this is circular fluff. Why shouldn’t Batman think he’ll win? This is literally their first meeting and Penguin hasn’t beaten him any time before now. Which means that Batman’s echoed “Things change” is equally nonsensical. And yet, the performances, the staging, the direction, the score are all so effective that it actually does feel like an epic and momentous meeting of old arch-nemeses and not a scene that was shoe-horned in to make it easier to market the video game tie-in.
They’re interrupted by Catwoman, who’s just blown up one of Shreck’s department stores. Batman chases after her, they engage in a little BDSM masquerading as a crime-fighting and she escapes.
Later, she shows up at the Penguin’s mayoral campaign headquarters in probably the worst scene in the movie. You know that bit in Batman where Vicki Vale wakes up and finds Bruce literally sleeping upside down…because that’s what bats do? Yeah, this is just a scene of Catwoman and Penguin doing bizarre cat and bird shit for no reason. Catwoman wants to ally with Penguin to destroy Batman…because that’s her kink. I’m not joking. She literally says she wants to play a role in his”degradation” and that that makes her feel dirty. Anyway, the Penguin reveals that his goons are planning on planting a bomb in the batmobile (man, these sewer clowns are technically adept). Catwoman doesn’t want to make Batman a martyr and instead proposes that they frame him.
So, Oswald holds a press conference challenging the Mayor to re-light the Christmas tree. He then kidnaps the “Ice Princess”, the model who was going to light the tree, and leaves a bloody batarang in her dressing room. He lures Batman to a rooftop and then causes her to fall to her death while unleashing a massive swarm of bats from the Christmas tree.
Batman then chooses this moment to turn his cape into a pair of bat wings, and escape by flying over all the people being terrorised by bats.
Dude. Think about the optics of that.
Catwoman isn’t happy with Penguin killing the Ice Princess so Penguin tries to kill her with a flying umbrella. The Penguin then enacts like his third of five master plans in this movie, using a remote control device to hijack the batmobile and cause it to go tearing through the streets of Gotham. Batman, however, gets the last laugh, as he’s able to record the Penguin’s gloating about how he “played this city like a harp from Hell” before deactivating the remote control.
At the Penguin’s next press conference, Batman hacks the audio system and plays the Penguin’s own words over the speech, which causes Gotham to turn against him and pelt him with rotten food.
Okay. That’s a good line.
So, like any good improv comic, Penguin simply moves to his next master plan: killing all of Gotham’s first born children. At Max Shreck’s Christmas party, Bruce and Selina dance and realise who they really are which leads to another great line; Selina’s stunned: “Does this mean we have to start fighting?”
They’re interrupted by the Penguin who crashes the party and tries to kidnap Eric Trump but his father selflessly offers himself in exchange (real comic book logic here). Back at the Penguin’s lair, Cobblebot awaits the arrival of the children of Gotham only to receive a polite note from Batman telling him his evil plan is foiled. But, like a matryoshka doll of villainy, Cobblepot always has an evil plan inside his evil plan, and now he straps a load of missiles to his penguins and sends them out to destroy Gotham. Fortunately, Alfred is able to use butler hacking skills to override the Penguin’s signal and send them back to the Penguins base, blowing it up. Batman and Penguin fight and Penguin is knocked to his eventual death through a roof by a swarm of bats that Batman controls.
Catwoman shows up to kill Shreck and Bruce begs her to forgoe this life of bondage themed vengeance, she says “nuts to you”, Shreck shoot her four times but she tanks the shots because she’s a cat who’s got nine lives and this world just runs on fairy tale logic. She then uses her tazer to electrocute Shreck and seemingly herself but Bruce is only able to find his body which means that she is absolutely still alive and will spend over a decade in development hell before being replaced by Halle Berry.
Okay, okay. I’ve poked a lot of fun at this one. But, if you’re a fan, as I am, of Tim Burton. If, like me, you find his movies to be beautiful and even artistically vital. If you would genuinely rank him among the Great American Directors then this is about as pure an expression of his work as you can find. It’s a gorgeous film. Dark, sexy, atmospheric. Often hilarious. Sometimes intentionally so.
True to Batman? Not really. But absolutely true to itself.
The Dark Knight Detective
So I had this idea that Keaton’s Batman was an after-thought in this film, completely over-shadowed by the villains but that’s not entirely the case. Batman is somewhat divorced from the main action of the film but it’s not like he doesn’t get anything to do. I actually find myself liking Keaton’s Batman a lot more in this than in the previous film. His Bruce Wayne is cooler now and with a kind of low-key charm that makes it very plausible that Selina Kyle would be interested in him. He just seems like a really nice, chill guy. There’s also an element of compassion and empathy in his performance, directed at Selina and even Oswald. When he says “I hope he finds [his parents]” you can tell he means it, because he sees something of himself in this strange outcast freak. As for his Batman, the suit remains awesome and Keaton absolutely brings the presence needed.
His Faithful Manservant
Michael Gough IS Alfred Pennyworth.
That Pompous, Waddling Maestro of Fowl Play, Master of a Million Criminal Umbrellas!
You know who doesn’t get enough credit as an actor? Danny DeVito. I mean, everyone loves him, but I don’t think people really give him his props as an honest to God Capital A Actor. On the page, the Penguin is a complete fucking mess here. A veritable Madlib of weird elements that have no business going together (clowns? sewer penguins? umbrellas?), a constant shifting of motives and schemes and just some of the…worst…dialogue…
And DeVito takes all that garbage and makes it WORK. He is an instantly arresting, deeply unsettling, utterly, gloriously grotesque creation.
The Queen of Criminals, the Princess of Plunder
I mean…what am I supposed to say? What can I add to this?
Our Nefarious Villain
Christopher Walkin is Christopher Walkin at his Christopher Walkinest.
Pat Hingle’s Commisioner Gordon has a sorry trajectory from somewhat competent cop to completely ineffectual buffoon. But here’s there’s not really enough of him to say one way or the other.
Our Plucky Sidekicks
Plenty of fun supporting characters here, particularly in the Red Triangle Gang.
Batman NEVER kills, except:
Okay, if you’re ever asked “what was that movie where Batman burned a man alive” it’s this one. This is the movie where that happens. He also blows up another henchman with his own bomb and smiles like it’s NOTHING.
Where does he get those wonderful toys?:
Batman uses a programmable Batarang that takes out several mooks before it gets taken out by a poodle. I guess he didn’t have any Poodle Repellant Bat Spray.
It’s the car, right? Chicks dig the car:
I didn’t really get to talk that much about the Burtonverse Batmobile in my Batman review so let me do that here.
I want this thing inside me.
This Batmobile was built from scratch for the film and was based on racing cars from the early 20th century. It’s still probably the most iconic and influential depiction of the Batmobile over thirty years later.
FINAL SCORE OUT OF TEN:
NEXT UPDATE: 01 June 2023
NEXT TIME: Anne Hathaway. Glenn Close. Xzibit. Together at last.
I tend to agree that this film is a bundle of elements I like with some I am ambivalent about and a few I simply cannot recommend: Five out of ten is therefore an eminently fair score.
One element I’m especially ambivalent about is the Catwoman suit: Ms. Pfeiffer works it the way James Bond works the dinner jacket, but it would be amusing to see the lady show up wearing something a bit more breathable should there ever be a CATWOMAN RETURNS.
Bonus points if she then proceeds to produce the Naughty, naughty suit when Batman shows up.
Fun fact: I absolutely love the „You make it so easy“ scene. For me, it‘s what elevates Pfeiffers Catwoman from pure BDSM Eye Candy to a threedimensional, tragic character.
Obviously, she‘s talking to her old self. She hasn‘t overcome her own feelings of insecurity and helplessness – and she hates herself for it. It‘s not meant to be a feel good scene – the cringe factor is fully intended. And it‘s exactly for this reason that she turns against Batman: To prove that she is now stronger than the men she used to need.
It‘s the raw, uncomfortable portrayal of a murder (or rape) victim, desperately trying to cope. And I adore the movie for showing it.
Penguin’s plan (one of them) was brilliant. Everyone knows murder is illegal in Gotham when the victim isn’t a clown, henchman, or costumed adventurer of some kind. Although since she was called “The Ice Princess” and wearing a spangly outfit, Batman could probably claim he thought she was gonna freeze the reservoir or something and get away with it.
I love this ridiculous movie. A lot of that is probably because I saw it when I saw eight, and didn’t have a lot of preconceptions about Batman. It’s a tonal mess, but without it we would never have gotten The Animated Series (still the best Batman).
And it’s so distinct and oddly pretty. People will never stop debating whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but my dark horse yuletide watch is always Batman Returns, because it captures such a weird holiday vibe (came out in June, oddly enough; this movie can’t do anything un-weird). And the Elfman score is amazing – it was great in the first Batman, but mostly just for the main theme, Prince stole all the thunder. Here Elfman really shines.
This movie may not be what Batman should act and talk like, but to me it will always be what Batman should look and sound like.
Out of the 43 Batman movies (I have seen 41) I have this ranked as the second best one and the third best live-action movie ever made, so I obviously love it. I cannot wait for your review of Batman Ninja around 2027.
Is your dog that you trained into believing he is Batman enjoying the Batman movies?
Dude that was eleven years ago. The dog is long dead.
The funniest part of this movie was when Batman ripped off his cowl to beg Catwoman to stop being a villain and make out with him forever while Sheck was two feet away. That’s when you knew Sheck had to die.
What I found hilarious was that his eye makeup disappeared between scenes.
Of course everyone loves Danny DeVito. You know who doesn’t? Idiots! Fools! Bunglers of the worst kind!
Anyway, the movie occupies an odd place for me. On the one hand it certainly carries that same sort of feel and atmosphere from the first movie which I adore. But on the other hand, Tim Burton at his most Tim Burtonness isn’t something I think works well for some of these characters.
Case in point: Catwoman and the Penguin are on the more rational scale of Batman’s menagerie of maniacal menaces but here are truly off the deep end. I don’t know whether it was necessarily a good decision to turn erudite crime boss the Penguin into a grotesque in the same vein as Killer Croc or Two-Face. Or sly and seductive cat burglar Catwoman into a trauma-induced time bomb. Sure it fits within the story itself but that doesn’t mean it makes sense for the characters themselves.
That’s why I like Walken’s Max Schreck, he’s a rational, ruthless and utterly chilling in his willingness to kill with the same emotional detachment as filing a waiver. Even being Christopher Walken he stands out amongst the crazies by being just an ordinary criminal.
I honestly feel that the best versions of the Penguin understand that there’s elements of the grotesque and the gentleman bandit in this character: more, they understand how to explore the tension between these inherently contradictory impulses for comedy and/or drama in the same way that the Best versions of Batman understand that he can be both the Caped Crusader AND the Dark Knight by turns.
The Kenner toys for this were weird. Tons of different Batmen, a Penguin that was an old 80s figure re-painted, none of the Circus Gang…and a Robin!
This movie’s really strange in that I totally recognize it’s a complete and utter mess but I still absolutely love it. It somehow has very little to do with the source material while still feeling like quite possibly the most accurately Batman live action movie ever made.
Ohh, I am so looking forward to the Hoodwinked review!
Honestly, this is one of my favorite Batman movies and one of my favorite Tim Burton movies, even if I know it’s not really up there with the best of either. It’s just so beautiful and haunting, and also batshit insane that it’s hard to not respect. I also feel like Batman’s romance with Selina is very touching and adds a lot of heart to the film that wouldn’t be there otherwise. The parallels between Batman and the villains throughout the film and his strange sense of kinship with them is also very interesting to me, and makes him feel a little closer to the comic book Batman than he did in the previous film. I especially like how he believes in Penguin at first, but then seems genuinely disappointed when he turns out to be a villain.
Fun fact: I almost died while watching Hoodwinked, because I laughed so hard at a scene that I choked on my popcorn and my dad had to use the Heimlich Maneuver to save me. It’s a shame this movie looks like it had a 5 dollar budge, because otherwise it’s freaking hilarious. I think the Latin Spanish dub may have made it even funnier – I’m not sure, I actually haven’t ever seen it in English.
I always interpreted that scene with Selina and Penguin as them each trying to psych the other one out. A “Have you really got the stuff to work with me” sort of act.
And while I’m commenting (and hiding in the bathroom at a party I REALLY don’t want to be at) I just think it’s really interesting how ambiguous the film leaves Catwoman. Both her resurrection and her nine lives schtick could be actually supernatural, or just the broken-glass interpretations of a woman pushed over the edge (and off a building). She IS clearly taking damage from the bullets at the end tho.
Now I want to know about this party
Yeah, not a fan of this one. Sorry. Just…Sorry. I think Tim Burton…OK, this may get you to kill me, but I think Burton is…He certainly has a very distinct style, but…I don’t know if i’d say it’s…To me, Tim Burton feels very much like a film critic’s director, one who emphasizes following his own unique style, often above…Actually doing anything good. His movies are never boring, and that’s red meat for a critic. But they also sometimes aren’t actually very good under all the frosting. This one, as I said, I will admit: his style is awesome. When it works, it works well. This is a goddamm feast. And Michelle’s Catwoman is just….Perfect, 10/10. There’s not much competition for Catwomans, but she takes it by a landslide. But…All the problems of the original are still here, heighted to absurd lengths. Villain actors who utterly eclipse the main star, Keaton clearly being barely able to move in the outfit they put him in, and, yeah, you can tell this isn’t a guy who’s read much Batman. I’m sorry, Bats just shouldn’t be murdering people, certainly not with a GRIN. And Danny Devito as this leering monster pervert…I’m sorry, I like it, it’s great stuff, but…This ain’t the Penguin? It just ain’t. This is a very fanboy sorta complaint, but i’m sorry, at a certain point, this just isn’t the same character, anymore then a puppy is a cheese wheel. I get why people love it: The visuals are absurdly good, both our bad guy actors are giving it their all and they’re good at it, it’s awesome. But…I’m sorry, just not for me.
Mouse, you learn something new every day and of you’re lucky it’s not something horrifying: I didn’t realise that citizens of the Irish Republic resident in Great Britain were eligible to vote in British Parliamentary elections and (with certain caveats) vice versa.
It’s unexpected, though it actually makes sense based on a ‘grandfather clause’ stemming from the Irish Free State being a part of the Commonwealth even after independence (and apparently perpetuated into these days of the Republic because telling a Briton in Ireland or a citizen of the Republic on British soil apart from their neighbours can become an exercise in hair-splitting on a quantum level), but it nonetheless struck me as all very civil yet just a little weird.
So quite, quite British – despite the Republic of Ireland being intimately involved.
When you talked about the Shreck as Trump in 92 stuff I thought that was leading to how The Penguin is basically how Trump perceived now. I have never heard of Eric Trump.
You’re missing nothing