Battier and Better

Batman Returns is a funny, gorgeous improvement on the original and a lesson on how pop entertainment can soar into the realm of poetry

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 4)

"We're all animals in some way," Burton observes, and he doesn't mean it pejoratively. "One message of the film," says Waters, "is that the warped tensions underlying every personality should be embraced, not ignored." Unleash the beast. Otherwise you will be schizo, a stranger to others and to your other self.

So the passwords for Batman Returns are duality and isolation. "People-in- masks is pretty key," says DeVito of the movie's theme. These people are what they wear; Bruce's closet is filled with a dozen Batman costumes. All four main characters, Bruce and Selina, Penguin and Max, are isolated from themselves. They live in mansions, railroad flats, towers and sewer caves -- haunted houses, anyway, dwellings of the different. "You're a well- respected monster," Penguin says to Max. "And I am, to date, not." But all are at one time respected, at another time not, and always sacred monsters, removed from the city whose destiny they control. It's appropriate that the film is set at Christmas, the season of would-be togetherness and, for many, the time of deepest desperation.

That could have been the mood on the Batman Returns set. It was chilly enough: 38 degrees F for the 12-hr. working days. Annette Bening, set to star as Catwoman, ducked out when she got pregnant, and Burton scurried to hire Michelle Pfeiffer. Anton Furst, who designed Batman but was not working on the sequel, died jumping off a roof and plunged the crew into melancholy.

If Burton felt these burdens -- or the onus of topping himself after four films (Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands), all of them critical and popular hits -- he didn't show it. No screaming, no broken crockery. "He's the most un-Hollywood person I've ever met," says his co-producer, Denise Di Novi, who believes Burton's breakthrough came with Scissorhands, another Christmas phantasmagoria about lonely creatures making sad magic in the snow. "He connected with himself," she says, "and his art became much more intimate." Now, without Batman producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters hovering, Burton would make his own film. "You see glimmers of Tim in Batman," Di Novi says, "but this movie is all his."

Burton's gift is to make movies about beguiling outsiders -- the dead couple reclaiming their home in Beetlejuice, the deformed snow sculptor Edward Scissorhands, even the childlike Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens plays the Penguin's father here). Burton inverts pictures and fictions, and makes it seem as if he has just turned them right side up. In Batman Returns, everything is familiarly topsy-turvy. Black is good -- Batman, of course -- and white or bright is bad. Max, the rapacious industrialist, has a Stokowskian white mane that helps Gothamites think of him as Santa Claus, though Selina derisively calls him "Anti Claus." The Penguin's sewer-level lair, Arctic World, is a garishly colorful place; it has ice-white walls, chartreuse toxic bile and a giant yellow ducky that serves as the Penguin's Stygian barge.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4