Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 4 Beans
"Batman and Robin" has become known as the Film that Killed the Franchise, but flaws in the 1990s "Batman" series were evident from the beginning, and are abundantly clear in the second film.
If one puts aside the goofy TV show, and focuses only on the original, and the more recent, comics, the Batman seems ideal for film treatment. The hero, and his villains, are, if not exactly realistic, at least psychologically complex, and intriguingly dark. His abilities, while phantastic, are less so than those of other comic-book superheroes, and therefore seem somewhat believable on the big screen. What a pity, then, that the film series never realized that potential.
The first film, while flawed, had some good performances, an exceptional, dark mise-en-scene, great music, and enough stuff to carry the viewers over the lapses. But the lapses were there, and "Batman Returns" amplified them beyond the point where I could enjoy the film.
The sets still look great-- though not as great. I have to wonder why the film-makers felt the need to redesign Gotham City for every single movie. The beginning, with Sandra Bernhardt and Paul Reubens as the Cobblepots, features a dark humour which bodes well for the movie. What follows becomes confusing. The tone, which tries to balance the child elements with the darkness, becomes incongruent. Older viewers would find certain elements unbelievably juvenile, even for a comic-book movie, while some of the darker jokes seem unsuited to a kiddie audience. The "Penguin-for-Mayor" plot worked when it was used in the silly 60s TV show, but is completely implausible in this film, while the Penguin's sexual come-on to a comely teenager is wrong for the kindergarten crowd, in addition to being completely out of character.
The flaws in plot logic which pepper the series are certainly evident here. If the Penguin is such a loser nutcase, why does he command the loyalty of a seemingly infinite number of followers? Just how big was this circus to which he once belonged? How has he been able to pay them, prior to his arrangements with industrialist Schreck?
If it takes Batman years of training to develop his abilities, why does Selena Kyle go from a pusilanimous secretary to a hard-fighting Catwoman after one fall from an office window? The comic-book Catwoman has a biography (well, a couple of biographies) as developed as Bruce Wayne's. Why was this ignored, utterly, in favour of the theory that anyone in a hot outfit can be an effective supervillain? (And I concede the point-- Michelle Pfeiffer wears that outfit very well. Nice whip, too. That's one fewer bean. I also read that some kid got sent home from a U.S. Bible-belt school for wearing a "Satanic" t-shirt. It had a picture of Danny DeVito's Penguin. Merchandise which offends idiots also counts in the film's favour).
And why so many villains? Why did the film-makers need to cram the Penguin, the Catwoman, a mad industrialist, AND their origins, into one plot? Why did they follow this pattern, to their detriment, in every subsequent movie? Batman's conflict with either Catwoman or the Penguin could have been the focus of an entire script, which then would have had a story that made sense. I suspect the moviemakers feared each film would be the last, so they tried to put in as much as possible. More characters also mean more merchandising tie-ins. Consequently, they made cluttered movies, with no room left to develop a coherent storyline, or to convince us to care about their phantastic creations.
Jim carrey'd the next movie, which went for a more obviously comic sensibility, but the makers still had not entirely learned the lessons of developing one good story. Still, we went to the movie. We didn't complain.
And then came "Batman and Robin". . . .
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