In the days where everyone (including myself) declared The Dark Knight was some sort of beacon of light to guide us away from the dark abyss of our existence, the original Batman sequel has been forgotten.
I have heard people describe the film as loathsome. Others describe it as a significant improvement from Tim Burton’s first effort. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. The film certainly feels more like a Burton film than the previous entry. The problem is that the Batman cannon is one that is widely known to the populace; thus changes are usually greeted about as warmly as a cockroach is greeted when it enters the living room. It takes a special balance to combine pre-existing material with original material and an original vision.
Did Burton succeed?
The film actually focuses less on Batman, and more on the The Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfieffer). One, a man named Oswald Cobblepot, has been living in the sewers his entire life, emerges to try and take control of Gotham with the help of industrialist Max Schreck (Christopher Walken). The other, a former secretary for Schreck named Selina Kyle, becomes traumatized after a near death experience and adopts the Catwoman identity when she convinces herself she has multiple lives. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) ends up falling in love with Kyle and wonders if he can continue to be Batman.
The biggest problem with any adaptation is actually when they stick too close to the source material and do not try to accomplish anything by themselves. Burton does not do anything differently that any writer has done; he uses the characters to accomplish his goals. At times, he may be a little too gleeful about it (check out the scene where The Penguin spits out his famous cigarette holder) but there is nothing wrong with interpreting the characters to suit their needs. In fact, the opposite is worse; the rather bland in retrospect Batman Begins showed us that.
The main problem is that, try as he might, Burton is not sure who he is the most interested in. There are pieces of his usual outsider characters in each of the three leads. This means that time is devoted equally to each of them – something that gets rather cumbersome as time goes on. The Catwoman story turns out to be the most interesting, to the point where it could have been its own film. In fact, I kind of found myself wishing Warners had gone ahead with that instead of that Pitof directed abortion. But, cry the wags, this is supposed to be a Batman film. I would normally say the Batman is usually the most boring character in any Batman story, but here it does seem like things could be said about Batman’s vigilante status. In fact, they TRY, as I explained, to show Bruce Wayne and Batman living in two different worlds – it just doesn’t really work out that well, because we become lost in the story of The Penguin and Catwoman.
Oh sure, there is a lot to like about the film. Burton’s Gotham has always looked the best, and Keaton is the only actor who seems to understand the dichotomy between the two personalities. The rest of the casting is inspired, to say the least – who else but Danny DeVito could play The Penguin? But Burton never decides what it is that he wants to say about the characters – or himself. The film feels bloated.
Now, I have said why I don’t like about the film, but then, there IS a lot to like. Certainly this is not the lowest that the Batman films can sink (Joel Schumacher….I am not saying anything else. Just…Joel Schumacher). I still do like how Burton’s Batman films still kept the comic book aesthetic that the new films just do not have. This is actually a benefit – Batman is not supposed to be realistic but exist in a place and time that could be anywhere (well, anywhere after a massive power outage). That is my one complaint about the new one films, and the old ones addressed it by creating such a wonderful world for the characters to inhabit. And it is for that reason that I keep revisiting these films. Ignore the rubber suits and make up and you are watching a very grand epic indeed.