Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Recap:" Batman Returns" Intro

Strictly speaking, Batman Returns is the second of four films. But in many ways, it's as much the second of four parts as it is an ending to a duology, and even a film unto itself. Opinions are sharply divided on its quality, but there is one thing every single person can agree on.

This is the most Burtonest Batman film ever made.

So before I Recap it, I'm going to examine exactly what happened to this movie to make it what it is.

I mean apart from Tim Burton spewing the twistedly whimsical visions of his mind all over the screen.
I mentioned last time that Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's The Killing Joke were used as inspiration for the first film. Those two stories examined and deconstructed the usual tropes and trappings of Batman stories while demonstrating how horrific the world of Batman truly can be.

For example, The Dark Knight Returns had Batman retire after the death of Robin, and The Killing Joke had the Joker shoot Barbara Gordon in the spine, proving how much havoc the Clown Prince's twisted sense of humor could wreak by focusing his criminal efforts in a personal way.

Unfortunately, many people missed the point of these stories. The books were certainly the darkest Batman fare to date, but it was the quality of the writing and storytelling, which happened to deal with darker themes than usual, that made them classics. But that didn't stop people from simply thinking that dark, gritty superhero tales were automatically good.

And so, thanks to The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, and Watchmen, America ended up saying a big hello to the Dark Age of Comics.

Some people refer to the Dark Age of Comics as the Dork Age of Comics due to all the childish attempts at, ironically enough, mature storytelling. Just pick up any random comic from the 90s, and you'll probably find some gun-toting hero, or a snarling Wolverine ripoff, or a Batman ripoff, or some such.

Hey, look, two out of three on a single wraparound cover.
To be fair, though, there are a few gems from the 90s, too. The Death and Return of Superman from 1992-1993, despite a few hiccups, is one of the Man of Steel's most iconic storylines.

Unfortunately, these were also responsible...
...for this.
Not to be outdone by the Superman writers, the Batman writers whipped up their big 1993 storyline, Knightfall. I'll probably go over Knightfall in more detail when I talk about Batman and Robin and/or The Dark Knight Rises, but to make a long story short, Knightfall was a calculated gamble.

The basic idea was to put Batman through the wringer, fighting most of his rogues gallery, and then have a villain called "Bane" break Batman's back, necessitating a replacement Batman. The replacement, hand-picked by Bruce Wayne, was Jean-Paul Valley, who had already been a vigilante named "Azrael."

This was a real thing that really happened. For realsies,.
The idea was to replace Batman for a year or so and gauge the fans' reaction to this new, darker, more violent Batman. If fans liked him, he would stay. If fans disliked him, then Batman would make his triumphant return. Which is exactly what the Coca-Cola Company did by introducing New Coke, too.

In the end, New Batman was given the boot to make way for Batman Classic in 1994, demonstrating that while hyper-violent vigilante characters would largely be a fad, Batman's appeal would be forever. (Batman Forever's appeal would be another story.)

But the creation of Batman Returns began in 1990. Not only was dark-and-edgy becoming popular in general, but the 1989 Batman film's atmosphere and aesthetic had proved popular with fans, even though Tim Burton had a... shall we say, less-than-positive opinion regarding the film, since he was a bit miffed about having to go back and change things due to some studio interference.

So when a sequel to the wildly-successful Batman was greenlit, Warner Brothers was naturally willing to give Tim Burton a bit more creative freedom in order to capitalize on the growing trend of darker storytelling.

But Burton wasn't even attached to the movie at first. He'd only signed on to do a single movie and wouldn't sign on to do the sequel until his demands were met, due to his experience making the first one. Even now, this is the only Tim Burton-directed sequel to a Tim Burton film.

When ideas for the sequel were being formed, the idea of having Jack Nicholson return as the Joker was considered, but when Tim Burton agreed to return, the idea was thrown out. Apparently, one of Burton's demands was to tell a new story instead of just rehashing the first one.

Funnily enough, the idea that the second film would be a stand-alone story was one of the three things that convinced Michael Keaton to return (no pun intended), along with a pay raise for a real-estate deal.

Makes you wonder what he did the Spider-Man movie for. A yacht?
To this day, Keaton still hasn't seen Batman Returns all the way through.

Sam Hamm, who wrote the script for the first movie, originally wrote a draft for "Batman 2" that continued the story of the first one. Bruce would propose to Vicki Vale, the Joker's backstory would become important, and the eventual main villains of Batman Returns, Penguin and Catwoman, would be introduced without an origin story, as the film primarily focused on the two of them looking for treasure. This plot would not be used. At least, not until 2005.

And not in live-action, either.
Tim Burton ended up bringing in the writer of 1988's Heathers, Daniel Waters, to come up with something else, resulting in a script where a corrupt business executive backs the Penguin's campaign for mayor of Gotham. Along with Wesley Strick, who was brought in to do a rewrite of Waters's draft, the two of them are responsible for the film's infamous tone, which I'll get to in a bit.

But Strick was also responsible for streamlining the movie, cutting out a few details, subplots... and just like in the scriptwriting process for the first film, Robin.

Robin just kept getting cut. You know what? Robin gets the shaft in general.

He got cut from Batman and Batman Returns, he's already dead in the DC Extended Universe, and he didn't show up in the Dark Knight Saga.

"Sure he did, the kid from..."
He did not.

Show up.

In the Dark Knight Saga.

Robin was an ongoing problem when it came to the live-action Batman films. I mean, let's face it, having a colorfully-dressed teenager fight crime might not exactly mix with Batman's schtick as a dark knight defender.

This is what filmmakers want to give us.
This is what filmmakers fear.
But with Batman Returns, they had an idea to embrace Robin's more light-hearted character and use that to provide contrast with their brooding main character.

Tim Burton and Norm Breyfogle apparently collaborated on creating a new Robin. To that end, they worked together to develop the idea for what would become the third comic book Robin, Tim Drake. Neal Adams designed the new costume, with a few additions by Breyfogle, and the idea would be that Robin would be used as a sort of moral anchor for Batman. He'd be there to keep the Dark Knight from going too far.

But while the character eventually showed up in the comics, the new Robin was cut from the film, and a costume-less Dick Grayson would have a cameo as the Batmobile's mechanic, referred to only as "the Kid." And Marlon Wayans of all people was signed on to play the character, igniting fan backlash that wouldn't be rivaled until Michael B. Jordan signed on to play the Human Torch.

In subsequent drafts of the script, possibly due to concerns that a comedic actor playing Robin would make the film too campy, they decided to cut the character, even though Wayans had already gone through a costume test. Not that he minds. To this very day, Wayans is still receiving checks from Warner Brothers for not playing Robin.

Speaking of characters that were cut from the film, I mentioned that the Penguin's bid for mayor was going to be backed by a businessman. Well, actually, it was originally going to be backed by DA Harvey Dent, with Billy Dee Williams returning. Later drafts turned the character into a businessman named "Max Shreck," in reference to the guy who played Count Orlock in Nosferatu.

David Bowie was considered for the part, but the new role ended up going to former Bond-villain Christopher Walken; a choice Tim Burton had to be talked into because, in Burton's own words, "That man scares the hell out of me."

But on a note of characters that actually did make it into the movie as intended, let's talk Catwoman. Pretty much every attractive lady and A-list actress were considered for the role, among them Madonna, Meryl Streep, Brooke Shield, and Sigourney Weaver.

Enter Sean Young.

Ms. Young, a rising star at the time, was all set to play Vicki Vale in the first Batman. But she broke her collarbone filming a horseback scene and was replaced with Kim Basinger, with the horseback scene getting cut for being superfluous and apparently hazardous.

So when casting calls came up for Catwoman, Sean Young was determined to get the role. You know how sometimes actors will dress up for an audition? Well, Sean Young took that one step further by dressing up as Catwoman. Not for any auditions, or anything. Just to wear while stalking and harassing Tim Burton. No joke, she paid a team of people with walkie-talkies to track him down so she could confront him and demand the role.

And that's the reason many of you may not have ever heard of Sean Young; her career basically sank after that.

Finally, the Penguin. Danny DiVito apparently read somewhere that he was being considered for the role, but was only offered the role a year after he read that. Also considered were John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, and Dustin Hoffman, the latter of whom was the studio’s first choice. DiVito took the role on the advice of his good pal Jack Nicholson, who was absolutely rolling in the dough he'd made on the first film thanks to that contract he'd worked out.

Released on June 19th, 1992, the film ended up making $266.8 million worldwide on an $80 million budget. It made $45.69 million its first weekend, setting the record until one year later, when Jurassic Park came out.

Not only was it a financial success, but it was a critical success as well. Critics loved all of it. The acting, the design, the fights, the drama, the villains....

Except... remember how I said the movie was dark? Well, that turned out to be a bit of a problem.

To start, some people simply found it not just "dark," but "bleak." But that's merely a matter of taste. The problem comes along when you consider that Batman, as a character, appeals to children.

Kids love Batman. The first film alone was responsible for the Batmania craze. Batman lunch boxes, Batman velcro shoes, Batman backpacks, Batman pencils, Batman t-shirts, Batman Prince songs....

Things did not go so well for the sequel. The end result was apparently so dark, violent, and sexual that McDonalds went ahead and canceled the promotional Batman Returns Happy Meal toy line they had lined up.

Other merchandizing... wasn't so lucky. And so, Batman's face was plastered over all sorts of kids' merch, advertising something that really wasn't meant for little kids.

You know those stories of parents taking their kids to see Watchmen or Deadpool, only to demand a refund because superheroes are always supposed to be for kids... despite the fact that those movies are rated R?

Well, take away the R-rating, add a superhero that had been relatively child-friendly up to this point, and you had some mad parents.

Despite the rousing success of Batman Returns, Batman Forever would end up becoming a different beast entirely... but that's a discussion for another day.

And so, that leaves us with Batman Returns and a single question.

...What is it?

Is it a masterpiece?

Is it a tonally-inconsistent narrative failure?

Is it a flawed, but ultimately enjoyable movie?

Well, let's take a look.

Coming up in Part 1! Murderous clowns!

...Wait, I thought Tim Burton wanted to do something different with this film?


  1. "Even now, this is the only Tim Burton-directed sequel to a Tim Burton film"

    What about the Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass movies?

    And why is Marlon Wayans STILL receiving checks? That's very curious to me.

    1. Yep. Through the Looking Glass was directed by James Bobin, former director and writer of episodes for The Ali G Show.

      And as for Marlon Wayans, I can only imagine that it has something to do with the fine print of the contract he signed. I couldn't find any additional details that specified whether it was a pay-or-play deal, or if he got a cut of the gross, or what.

    2. Through the Looking Glass was PRODUCED by Burton, though.