Shiny Shelf

SHINY ADVENT: Batman Returns

By Mark Clapham on 12 December 2006

Tim Burton’s sequel to ‘Batman’ is riddled with perverse decision making – not only is it a big summer movie set at Christmas, but it’s also loaded with bleak moments of humorous violence and fetishistic relationships between its heroes and villains. It’s a measure of Warner Brothers’ belief that they needed Burton back for the sequel, at whatever costs, that they let him get away with the things he does to their potentially kid-friendly superhero cash-cow.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, fast food tie-in merchandise was rapidly withdrawn once people actually saw the film. After all, no-one tried to sell milkshakes with pictures from ‘Quills’ on the cups, or give away free toy medical implements to encourage kids to see ‘Dead Ringers’.

Burton is joined in his indulgence with two similarly inclined creative collaborators – ‘Heathers’ screenwriter Danny Waters, who brings an appropriately bleak sense of humour to the dialogue, and designer Bo Welch who gives the film a crisp 1930s look, post industrial with occasional bursts of cold modernist opulence.

Although early versions of the script were apparently more indulgent than the one filmed, it’s hard to imagine that the finished film is actually a product of relative creative restraint. Three villains (the Penguin, the Catwoman and new creation Max Schreck) wander around the plot being entertainingly horrible, while Batman and Catwoman engage in a dual identity, alternating sub/dom relationship. Eventually the whole plot descends into a threat of mass child murder – have a happy Christmas, Gotham City!

Yes, it’s a bit of a mess and gets notably less coherent in the last act, but the romantic thread between Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer (as the bat and the cat respectively) works well thanks to both actors’ ability to giddily see-saw between robust determination and pained vulnerability.

Best of all, over a decade before ‘March of the Penguins’, ‘Batman Returns’ does something similar. But these penguins have rocket launchers on their backs. And what brings more of a seasonal smile than a cute creature turned into a deadly weapon?

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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