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Batman Returns (1992)
Rated PG13

Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, and Michelle Pfeiffer

Rating:
**
out of
*****

1992's Batman Returns turns up the violence level a bit while turning down the humor a lot. Undoubtedly the darkest film in the Batman series, Batman Returns verges on the point of being unpleasant.

Michael Keaton stars, for the last time, as Bruce Wayne and his caped and armored alter-ego, Batman. Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer star as The Penguin and The Catwoman respectively. Keaton, when he gave his reason for abandoning the franchise in 1995, said that the Batman movies aren't concerned with Batman, they're more concerned with the super-villains. To prove his words true, one need not go further than this movie.

The Penguin first appears as a deformed man who was dumped into the sewers as a child by his parents. He emerges 33 years later to find the identity of his parents and to become reacquainted with the surface world. To make sure his re-emergence gains notoriety, he corners Gotham City businessman Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) into promoting his search by threatening to reveal Schreck's less than legal business practices to the authorities.

Schreck, it seems, is planning to build a power plant that will actually rob Gotham City of its power. When his cat-loving secretary, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), discovers his plot, Schreck throws her from an office window. But, Kyle is resurrected by cats and assumes her new identity as Catwoman. She vows revenge against Schreck. After The Penguin sees her, he vows to recruit her in his fight against Batman.

In a series of convoluted schemes, each of these villains attempts to get what they want. Batman, as Keaton claimed, takes a definite backseat to all of their plotting and scheming. When Batman does appear, its usually far too brief and not very exciting.

Other problems arise from these villains' motivations (or lack thereof). Catwoman vows hatred against Schreck, which is understandable. Although The Penguin is a villain, his villainous intentions aren't that strong or well-defined. If you don't pay close attention, it simply seems that he allows himself to be molded into a criminal by Schreck's lust for power. (The Penguin's plot to steal first-born sons as an act of revenge is plotted at the beginning of the film but not acted on until the end -- neutering its effectiveness in the process.)

Max Schreck is clearly evil, but he's not very outlandish and he's overshadowed because, well, he's not a freak like the usual Batman villain. And that's a shame because I think Christopher Walken, given the right role, could out-freak any of the past or present Bat-villains with a lot less makeup and cost.

This movie seems to be a case of trying to cram too much into two hours of film. Featuring two villains at a time, which became the run-of-the-mill of the series following this entry, simply means that the villains dominate the film and Batman might as well stay home and phone his appearances in. Pfeiffer and DeVito clearly have fun with their roles, but Keaton looks bored and, personally, I want to see more of Batman in a movie that's named after him.

Trivia: When Batman Returns was released in the UK, 9 seconds were trimmed from the final cut. A scene of a clown swinging nunchackus and a scene where Catwoman puts aerosol cans into a microwave to explode a building. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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