The Batman Project: Batman’s Feline Adversary Purrfected, 1992
12 Comments »Jun 26, 2012
I begin this installment with the most hushed and most reverential tones, for today is a sacred day at the ol’ Fempop:
is Rex Manning Daywe discuss 1992′s Batman Returns.
This sequel-in-name-only saw the return of both Burton and Keaton, the masterful makeup work of Stan Winston, the revelation of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and the sheer maniacal joy of Danny DeVito’s Penguin. While incredibly successful in terms of box office numbers (282,800.00 DOLLARS! NO BIG DEAL) and in terms of innovation (FIRST EVER DOLBY DIGITAL FLICK GANG) the film was quietly maligned by its own studio – being called too dark, too odd, and too much of a departure from its predecessor, 1989′s Batman.
I don’t say this. Because I am incredibly biased. As such, it is my duty as a Terrible Journalist (seriously, I thought J School was named after someone named Jay until like, maybe last night) to let you all know that this right here? Is my favorite of the Batman movies. In fact, in goes even deeper than being a matter of personal preference. In many, many ways Batman Returns inspired me as an actor, encouraged me as writer, bolstered my burgeoning creative aesthetic, and quite literally set me on my current career trajectory. For you see, it was with this film, twenty years ago, that I wrote my very first article on the Bat in response to an Op Ed in the New York Times.
Some follow up – I loved Batman Returns. Loved it. It came out just before my 9th birthday, and my mom and I had planned my party accordingly. I couldn’t shut up about the movie and kept trying to hang upside down from our swing set in an effort to prove that I was basically one step above Barbara Gordon when it came to lady-Bat Awesomeness. In a pre-internet era, I had to take up graduate-student level research skills to learn all I could about the impending feature. I moved the small, color T.V. my mom kept in the basement to watch soaps whiles she folded laundry onto an island near our kitchen table. Every week night, family dinner was eaten under the smiling supervision of Mary Hart and Entertainment Tonight’s coverage of the film. My dad, an early riser, would walk to get the newspaper, and no sooner did he put it down than I was upon it, scouring its ‘Lifebeat’ section for any tidbit, which I was sure to force feed the family upon my own full digestion. In hindsight, this was probably very, very annoying, but I regret nothing. That said, I absolutely deserved what happened next.
After months of living under the rule of a tow-headed, Batman obsessed despot, it is pretty miraculous that my parents had not dropped me off a bridge, abandoned and finding what little succor I could at the teat of the sewer penguins. That said, I should have known I was in for trouble when my dad, reading the New York Times, a periodical whose – at the time – black and white photos and dense text did not interest me in the least – when my father began to grin ever so slightly. “Rebecca,” he said, “The New York Times says that the portrayal of the Penguin is anti-Semitic.” I was horrified. While the paper wasn’t my jam, I idolized my dad, and so had been taught from a young age that the Times was the only paper worth listening to. I was spluttering and outraged and demanded that he read me the entire article, which he did with maybe just a tablespoon more mirth than was required.
I do not remember what exactly the article said, and truth be told, it being twenty years later and me having had plenty of horrible squirming evenings re-reading my old journals, I had zero desire to go back and read it only to discover that I had been totally confused at to the content. I do remember being completely incensed at the notion that we as culture – at the time, the early 90s – were so inordinately stubborn when it came to enjoying ourselves, that we had to LOOK for something to be pissed off and offended about, that we created things that weren’t there and in so doing revealed our our innate prejudicial ideologies. But because I was 9, I simply marched my father to his computer where I dictated the following:
To the Editor:
My father read to me today the article about Batman, “Batman and the Jewish Question” (Op-Ed, July 2).
It made me very surprised when they said that the Penguin had to be Jewish because of his nose and his fondness for herring. For Pete’s sake, he’s a penguin, give him a break. REBECCA STOKES Providence, R.I., July 2, 1992
And that is the story of how I beat my father in getting something published by the New York Times, and unwittingly began my career in Entertainment News reporting. I, for one, had completely forgotten about this until I mentioned the idea of this Batman Project to my sister. “You do realize,” she said, “That you’ve been writing about Batman for twenty years, yes?” In a strange way, I have been more committed to this comic book character’s on screen adventures than I have to any other aspect of my life, professionally or personally.
This. This got dark – WHICH IS APPROPRIATE, AM I RIGHT?
The most miraculous thing about Batman Returns is how it almost didn’t happen – for a variety of reasons. Although the first film of the Burton franchise did remarkably well, Burton himself wasn’t sure he wanted to make another movie, mainly because he felt the script of the 1989 Batman was kind of the worst. He was not wrong. Sam Hamm returned to help save the day script-wise, a solid gesture given his beef with the finished film back in ’89. But when Burton read Hamm’s draft and was all “Uh… Catwoman and the Penguin hunting for treasure is not without its charms, but ummmm…” he brought in Daniel Waters of Heathers fame to build a script Burton and company could be proud of. It wasn’t without its digs at the old film, with Bruce Wayne hilariously scowling at Alfred who is harping on about security, ”And who let Vicky Vale just walk riiiight into the Bat Cave, Alfred?” a quiet jab Burton let Hamm take at the former film’s ridiculous take of Alfred the world’s worst protector of Bruce Wayne. The moment itself is emblematic of the entire film as more fully representative of Burton’s sense of self. While there were few hallmarks of his brand of vision on 1989′s Batman, with Batman Returns you get pure, unadulterated Burton, a vision that jives with Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s aesthetic absolutely.
While 1989′s Batman began with a haunting parallel to the murder of the Waynes, our entry point to the this version of Gotham isn’t Bruce’s origins, but the Penguin’s, setting up the abandoned deformed child as a foil to Wayne in every possible way. While Wayne would go on to spend his life, wishing he could bring his parents back, Penguin spends his life trying to destroy the lives of children who had what he never did from his own – love and acceptance.
Born to wealthy parents who could not cope with this cat-eating monstrosity, they disposed of the young Penguin late at night, hoping that Gotham’s infamously polluted sewer waters and cold December climes would finish off the son they couldn’t keep, but couldn’t murder outright. It’s a perversion of the Moses story, not hidden among the reeds to be found by an Egyptian royal, but literally flushed down the toilet to be reared by the penguins who dwell just under Gotham city – because in Tim Burton’s Gotham, of course this is where the renegade penguins – escapees from the now mostly abandoned Gotham Zoo – reside.
But he didn’t die – if anything, the rejection by those who created him made this unstable entity even more monstrous, and once he’s reached adulthood, the Penguin decides the time has come to leave his subterranean exile, and see just how well he can thrive on land. -What better occasion to put his plan into motion than Christmas, the time of year his own parents sought fit to destroy him. Gotham city over thirty years since hasn’t changed much from the Gotham of 1989. It’s a city of ceremony, of front-men and the powerful shadow figures who actually rule the city. At the movie’s start, Gotham’s city hall is resplendent with its Christmas Tree, newly lit by its very own Ice Princess (played by an actress who may have had a career, had Kristy Swanson not struck gold first.) With the press of a button, the barely-clad-in-sequins-and-mink portrait of a vapid blond illuminates the tree, and the crowd erupts with the usual glad tidings.
Alfred Pennyworth, strolling home with various and sundry Christmas items for the Wayne manor (in my mind he’s always stocking up on beef stock and the finest brie cheeses and of course, various soups for the master to sample – pro tip: Bruce Wayne does not care for Vichyssoise, you guys.) takes a moment to pause and appreciate the spectacle. He also pauses and takes a moment to sass the newsboy hawking paps loudly encouraging citizens to pay the requisite quarter and learn more about the mysterious penguin man. Alfred basically goes, “Piffle!” and tottles off, all chortling to himself at the irony of how last time there was a headline like that, it was about his own employer.
But his revery is cut short but what he thinks he sees in the sewer grate just at his feet – a pair of flippered hands. This is the beauty of a well-executed Alfred – the hearty dose of reality-check, served with an equally healthy soupcon of suspicion. Even at his worst in the script (Exhibit – VALE IN THE BAT CAVE. VALE. IN. THE. BAT. CAVE.) Michael Gough (may he rest in peace) understood this duality, and how to play it without appearing hennish. You know who else is awesome at this, injecting cockney street-wiseness to our affable aged British Butler? Mr. Michael Goddamn Caine, that’s who.
While Alfred goes home to soothe his depressive master during this difficult Yuletide, Harvey-Dent replacement Max Shreck as played by Christopher Walken is tasked with another decidedly less than festive task: convincing the mayor of Gotham City to rush approval on a new power plant. Does Gotham need a power plant? No, not like, at all, even a little. But Max Shreck is forward-minded, and also clearly evil, so he really puts the squeeze on the mayor, threatening him with a recall of his recent election. Side note on the mayor: this actor has the least memorable face of all time. Every time he cropped up on screen I was all “Who’s this clown?” because apparently when I watch this movie I gradually turn into some Catwoman Penguin hydbrid who sasses characters who cannot hear them because they are on the TV. The scene is great, because it sets up Walken as our non-super villain. This is why Dent is nowhere to be seen in this flick – you can’t dangle the carrot of Two-Face and then not deliver, you know?
This sequence is also great for two others reason – reason the one, it introduces us fully to the production design of Bo Welch, Burton’s longtime collaborator, and the driving force behind the production concepts for both Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. While designer Anton Furst’s design in 1989′s Batman was stunning, and while it had elements that were distinctly Burton, it is only in Batman Returns that we see that vision fully realized in every sphere. While the Terry Gilliam inspired city cape remains, the futuristic fascism of Gotham is pushed to the absolute limit. This is never more clear than with their mock-Rockefeller Center featuring an Atlas with a nearly broken back, and with Shreck’s department store and offices – a veritable fever dream of East Berlin.
The second of the aforementioned reasons I’m lingering over this scene, is because it introduces Max Shrek’s secretary – executive assistant – secretary (It’s like Chinatown! But with more Administrative Support!) one Miss Selina Kyle. Selina presents as a whippet-thin ball of nerves with bug-eyed over-sized glasses and a bird’s nest of frizzy blond curls. She stammers, stutters and has no sense of appropriate personal space. She is, in a word, me – but thin and in a wide array of brown suits. She’s ambitious, striving to interject her thoughts to the meeting with the Mayor – but her timorous nature combined with Shreck’s basic evilness gets her shot down immediately. “You’ll have to forgive Ms. Kyle,” drawls Walken, “We haven’t fully housebroken her yet.” Selina spends the rest of the meeting pouring coffee, and, once the mayor leaves, still insisting Shreck goes through the traditional channels to get his plant made, she begins voicing loud recriminations and judgements at her “corndog” self.
Selina is skittish, smart, funny, unlucky in love, and demanding to be kicked – a tiny dog at heel. The 1980s presented woman with the terrible notion of HAVING IT ALL. They presented power suits, and romantic relationships and raising kids while ruling the world and keeping your figure. This perfidious idea, that any human being, regardless of gender, can achieve all there is to achieve – on quantity of life and not its quality - set up women to fall into another trap of unhappiness. Only this time the trap would be self made. Of course Selina believe that by taking a “starter” job with Shreck she can climb the ranks, but the reality is something different, and it has already begun to change her into a version of herself that she doesn’t like – and this is before her boss shoves her out of a window. BUT I AM GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF!
Meanwhile, in Wayne Manor, Bruce is literally sitting in his study with the lights off waiting for his life to have some sort of meaning. It’s pretty terrible, you guys. Think about the weeks of time that must go by without a crime hitting Gotham – or a Batman-worthy level crime, anyway. Think about what it means to be Bruce Wayne, and just hang out, in your own misery, a broken man, who has no purpose unless he dons a mask or fixates on a romantic relationship. Luckily, because this is a film, we don’t have to wait for very long. As Bruce contemplates, the signal glances against Wayne Manor, summoning him forth to save the day.
Mayhem has unfolded in downtown Gotham at the city tree-lighting ceremony – a band of crazed circus performers – the Red Triangle Gang – have gone on a massive shooting spree, destroying the town and killing many with a celebratory gusto. Burton Aficionados take note – as the crazed creatures trash the various Christmas displays, Danny Elfman has worked in the theme of “Making Christmas” from Nightmare Before Christmas into his stand-out score. These malicious revelers are answering to the orders of their leader – the Penguin. But of course, Gotham city doesn’t know that – not yet anyway.
Gotham doesn’t know, and even Batman hasn’t gotten wise. Later on, his curiosity regarding the Penguin’s hunt for his family will reveal his connection to the crime gang. But now, all he knows is that in the Red Triangle Gang’s arrival and murderous spree, he’s been given a purpose in his life other than being Bruce. He leaps into the Bat-mobile and drives to the city center where, in short order, he kicks everyone’s ass. Because he is Batman and thus, the best. In the midst of all this, he saves many citizens of Gotham, but one in particular stands out. Selina, desperate to keep her job and impress her boss, has trotted along after him to the city center to give him the speech he had written for the tree lighting and then summarily, forgotten. Approaching the podium he murmurs to his idiot son Chip, “I forgot my speech, remind me to take it out on what’s her name.”
But what’s her name has problems of her own to contend with. Talk about walking out of the fat and into the fire. Poor ol’ Selina is all “I JUST WANT TO GIVE YOU YOUR SPEECH PLEASE DON’T LATER ON KILL ME!” when she walks basically into the heart of the madness the Red Triangle Gang is perpetrating. Before she knows it, she’s being used as a human shield, protecting a grotesque clown from Batman’s rage. Undeterred, Batman shoots a dart connect to steel cable into the wall by the clown’s head. “You missed!” the moron crows, before Batman, master of the non-verbal retort, yanks out a chunk of the wall behind the clown’s head, leaving him unconscious and Selina spluttering.
Oh my god you guys it is the best – Selina tries to make small talk with him! She tries to make small talk with Batman. In the middle of a fight. She is all takin’ a page from The Rules and like, self-negging, and Batman shoots her this look where he is all “You are sexually appealing, but have no self-confidence or respect, so I am going to continue fighting all these bad guys and not have penis feelings for you.” He does just that, leaving Selina to quietly gather her attacker’s taser, zap the guy, and then scuttle off, the taser in her purse because she is the best and doesn’t even know it.
It turns out – shocker of shockers – that the Red Triangle Gang and their all too brief reign of terror is but part one in the Penguin’s scheme to gain power over Gotham city. His motives, while initially unclear, cannot be good. Any doubt is erased when the Penguin kidnaps Max Shreck and blackmails him with evidence of pollution, corruption, and the murder of his former partner. Max isn’t easily frightened, and being the consummate business man looks at the Penguin as a business opportunity. He agrees to help the Penguin gain popularity with the people of Gotham, on a quest to “claim him birthright” – by figuring out who his parents are.
Because Max Shreck is evil, he arranges with the help of the Penguin and his gang, to fake the kidnapping of the mayor’s baby – a kidnapping the Penguin would foil, ascending triumphant from the sewer, completing step one in Max’s plan to eventually bring forth a mayoral candidate the people might consider putting up for a re-vote. This is why you don’t cross Max Shreck. Because he would rather assist and abet a deformed sociopath, a hapless faux Richard III (and look how well that turned out) than let you get away with not giving him what he wants. Max is on a quest to make the newly christened Oswald Cobblepot mayor, and Oswald is more than happy to go along with the ride, provided it means he gets to fuck a lot of broads, murder his enemies, and eat all of the things that there are. If I were a despot, I would be the Penguin.
It goes to follow then, that having been blackmailed, spending times in sewers, and then busting his chops on a revenge plot, that Shrek is in a piss-poor mood when he’s released to the city’s surface. Plus, he’s got a meeting with Bruce Wayne in the AM and given the events of the past 24 hours he’s probably got suspicions that it won’t go well. If he couldn’t convince the mayor – who is a borderline moron, to go along with his power plant scheme, the odds of convincing Bruce are soooooo not good. So he’s thinking all of this as he walks into his darkened office after hours and who should be sitting there, diligently reading the protected files she’s not supposed to be reading just so she can be ready for the meeting? Ready to impress her boss? Ready to live up to first generation feminism’s idea of what it means to be a real, successful woman? Effin’ Selina Kyle you guys!
And as is ever the case and ever shall be, such is her industry punished. For what was in those protected files? Protected information. And why was it protected? Because it turns out, in a truly Mr. Burns kind of move, that the power plant Shreck is proposing, isn’t a plant at all – it’s a drain, to harvest power, so that years down the line, Chip will have a legacy courtesy of his father – the super dodgy legacy of selling Gotham City’s own power back to it. It’s a slick plan, and it’s really too bad for Selina that she figured it out. Max menaces her towards the window of his office, and she weeps, “How can you be so mean to someone so meaningless?” which just kills me! This line runs through my head probably once a day while I’m at my day job. I mean, I do not work for anyone evil, as it were, though I mean, they support fraking and that’s not great, but I mean, they have never tried to murder me – I just fall victim to the evil of the mundane and thoughtless, dudes with too much power, you know? Anyway, Shreck takes this as a challenge, and after convincing Selina he’s going to push her out the window, with her cringing and crying, he backs up, showing her it was all a joke. He waits for her to relax, to stop crying, to laugh even – and that is when he pushes her out of the window.
And this is when the magic happens. Selina goes flying out of the window, she falls several stories, hitting her head on beam after beam as she falls, until she lands, on her back in a snow-covered alley, seemingly dead, though there is no visible blood. All at once, a meow echoes, and her cat, Miss Kitty, comes racing into the alley, followed by dozens of her feline friends. They swarm Selina, licking, biting, scratching, and yowling at her, until her eyes open, rolled back in her head, whites showing, lashes fluttering spasmodically until all at once her vivid green orbs come into focus, blood-shot, dilated, and and forever changed. Between the fall and the wake up call, something repressed in Selina Kyle sprang to the forefront. Like Bruce Wayne – just like him – after her trauma, she became two people. The defining feature in their duality is Selina’s rage. After a life of being stepped on, mistreated, and abused – by even herself – Selina’s forgiveness and acceptance vector is broken and everyone must pay. If this had happened to Jane Eyre when she passed out on the moors, it would have been a totally different AND MAYBE EVEN MORE AWESOME book.
Then the best part of any movie ever happens. Shut up with your ideas, I don’t care. Selina returns to her very pink apartment and re-enacts the return home she had already made once that day. She flings open the door and speaks, a virtual ghost, “Honey, I’m home – oh that’s right I’m not married.” she turns on the lights, white as the proverbial ghost, and after feeding the dozen or so cats who have joined her, she downs the remaining milk, liquid streaming over her face. Just as before, she plays the messages on her answering machine, and this is when the final switch is flipped. A seemingly innocuous repeat of a message she heard earlier in the evening, for Gotham Lady perfume (“one whiff and your boss will be asking you to work late!”) AND SELINA IS DONE. SO DONE! SHE LOSES HER GODDAMN MIND! The rage and the hate and the disbelief and – frankly – the brain damage all coalesce and the girl trashes her apartment and its kitsch with black spray paint and blunt force trauma – and then sets to work, making her very own vinyl, bondage inspired catsuit. When she is done, she perches in the window of her apartment building, framed by the pink neon sign in her bedroom which once read, ‘Hello There’, but having been smashed by Selina in the thick of her fury, now simply reads: ‘Hell Here” and purrs, her voice utterly transformed into something dark and full and vampy – “I don’t know about you miss Kitty, but I feel….so much yummier.” AND THEN I DIED FROM THE PERFECT.
The juxtaposition from Selina’s first return home and her second is without a doubt the thing that made me want to be an actor as a child. I still go to it with some regularity as a play and television writer. The idea of the same place, the same on the surface actions, being completely transformed by the before-moment. And what a before moment. As a writer it’s a captivating sequence if only for laying out in such simple, macabre details, the world shift of a main character. It’s jarring, and scary, and for as beautiful as Michelle is – and will be forever apparently – it is really, really ugly and messy and – a theater-maker’s power word coming up here – dangerous. Of course, the nerd in me must point out that there is no way she could make that suit from the jacket she was working from and also that I would like brain damage that makes me an expert at using whips and also kick-boxing, but you know what, the emotional pieces of the character are there – SO I GO WITH IT.
Also, some fun facts – to get the cats to swarm Michelle, the covered her in tuna, which is awesome. And she had to be vacuum sealed into her suit and couldn’t be in it for too long without fainting, and that they made 60 suits – each one costing roughly 1,000 dollars. That stuff is sort of old hat, but in researching this I also found out that she couldn’t hear herself either – shades of Keaton in ’89 – and so Tim Burton had to keep being all “Michelle! Stop! Yelling!” which is amazing.
Oh my god this post is so long! Ah! I’m sorry! I’ll try to restrain myself from here on out. Which will be easier because I’ve covered Catwoman’s switch – which is so, so, so, important – more challenging too because it gets even more awesome from here on out! Catwoman enters the world as kind of neither good nor evil – she catches a guy about to rape this chick – AND STABS HIS EYES OUT! THEN SHE TERRORIZES THE WOMAN BEING ALL “I AM SO TIRED OF BITCHES GETTING RAPED AND WAITING FOR BATMAN TO HELP THEM!” Because, she is projecting you, see. Then she kitty-cats off to work – continuing her reign of awesome, by ditching her glasses in the familiar woman-with-glasses-aren’t-sexy trope (also, untrue – check out porn sites – it is a legitimate fetish, y’all.) and getting the BEST PERM I HAVE EVER SEEN and daring Max Shreck to fuck with her by pretending that everything’s normal.
Perk of her scheme – she meets Bruce Wayne who not only falls immediately in smit with her, but also recognizes her as the woman he saved from certain death by taser – only this time, far more captivating because she is all “LOOK AT ALL THE FUCKS I GIVE!” In a weird way, this was pretty empowering to me as a nine year old, although I had no idea that was the case. Seeing Selina transformed, not into JUST a sex symbol – although that was there too – but into a woman who was one, confident as several balls, and two, did not care one giant fig what people thought of her – in fact, she was a woman who derived strength in displaying her insanity, and in intimidating those who would dare lock eyes with her. Was she still at her core a portrayal of a broken person, emotionally ripped apart? Sure. But only in the same way as Bruce Wayne – and unlike Bruce, she is not willing to believe that love could ever save her, though sex could be mighty fun.
But the very thing that links the two is the thing that will ultimately keep them apart – Batman believes in bringing people to justice, Selina believes she is justice. In part this is because as a woman, she’s a minority, and has had time to witness all the ways in which the system has failed others just like her. This is what drives Catwoman’s hatred of Batman. Interestingly, it is Bruce’s belief in justice, in kindness, in doing right – and his pure sex appeal (MICHAEL KEATON, CALL ME) that attracts Selina. This is just like Shakespeare, only with more Danny DeVito. Speaking of the bird – Catwoman joins forces with the Man Who Would Be Mayor, and together they decide to destroy Batman – to destroy him in a very Christopher Nolan way – by turning the city he has sworn to protect against him.
Their scheme evolves thusly – after Michelle pretends to eat a live bird – when Gotham, in a bid to banish the ghosts of the Red Triangle Gang rampage, relights the Christmas Tree, the Penguin and Catwoman will kidnap the Ice Princess, making it appear that Batman is the culprit. Catwoman is fit to be tied because people keep throwing her off of buildings, in some of the most – true to the comic shots in the film, no less. Batman and Catwoman fight and it’s sexy and hilarious and always makes me think of this. Catwoman makes off with the poor stupid Ice Princess, who is sent plummeting to her death courtesy of the Penguin – who startled her with an umbrella full of bats. Interestingly, Catwoman is upset by this – she didn’t want the girl dead. She tells the Penguin so, and rejects his proposal of marriage. (“I wouldn’t touch you to scratch you.”)
The Ice Princess lands on the button she was meant to have pushed, the tree is illuminated in this macabre fashion, the illumination releasing a torrent of bats. So clearly Batman is to blame. The cops chase him down, he goes to escape but is initially prevented from doing so because the Red Triangle Gang have turned his car into a remote control toy of sorts for the Penguin. Luckily, because he is Batman he figures this out, saves his own life, and manages to get an audio recording of the Penguin dissing Batman which he would later use to prove his own innocence and eliminate the Penguin as viable mayoral candidate. Over the speakers he is heard to bellow, ” YOU GOTTA ADMIT! I RODE THIS CITY LIKE A BAT OUTTA HELL!” Also in the crowd scene, apparently the citizens of Gotham were also working that week on the set of Newsies, if their costume design is to be believed.
Delighted by this turn of events, Michael Keaton changes into his car fixin’ clothes and gets to work on the badly messed up Bat-mobile, in an effort to prevent Alfred from letting a team of guys from Pep Boys into the Bat-cave. “Gentleman, would you require a pizza?” Ha ha, Alfred is not to be trusted because of what happened with Vicky Vale. This still amuses me. Anyway, all that auto grease has him feeling randy and confident, so he agrees to go to a Christmas party Max Shreck is hosting. In what is pretty much to me the saddest, most romantic moment in any film, both Bruce and Selina attend as the only ones not wearing masks. Get it you guys? Their real selves are their greatest disguises! I am dying from the sad and the sexy! Unfortunately it is also during this ball that they suss out the other’s identity while parroting back lines about mistletoe they learned from the other in the heat of battle. As a side note, if I am ever standing under mistletoe with you, and you are a guy who would very much like to gain egress to my pants, when I say, “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it,” respond with, “a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it” and I will spread my legs like the red sea….Moses? It got away from me.
Before the two would-be lovers can decide how to proceed, “Should we just start fighting?” asks a hilarious Selina, the floor explodes and the Penguin announces that because Gotham city rejected him, just like his parents did, he will take every single first born child of Gotham – MORE MOSES, BUT NOT SEXUAL THIS TIME! ALSO I CALLED PENGUIN MOSES BEFORE AT THE VERY BEGINNING. You guys. I am pretty much a genius of allusions in Batman, all dropping knowledge about the Old Testament, and Brazil, and later on, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (not that much later, we’re almost done, I promise). Shreck, demonstrating one iota of humanity, convinces the Penguin to take him in the place of his son, and once the Penguin departs, Bruce jets to save the day, and Selina jets to find a way to help kill the man who split her in half – Shreck.
Now is the time when we talk about the penguins. Not THE penguin, the PENGUINS. When it becomes apparent that they have been foiled in terms of abducting all of the children that there are, the Penguin sends his army of Penguins into Gotham city wearing little backpacks with bombs on them that they will shoot at people and destroy them. The penguins were a huge part of the production of this film! Robot penguins were used, as were people in suits for Penguin’s funeral march (Fuck you if you think that is a spoiler) but most importantly – a shit ton of real penguins were used! Especially for the bomb scenes! They flew over special tamed penguins from the Cotswolds and to keep them happy they kept the set at 35 degrees at all times. Each penguin was given fresh ice every day, totaling a ton a day! They also wore tiny backpacks! That animal rights activists demanded to inspect, to make sure that the penguins were comfortable! Just think about that meeting and how angry and adorable it was. Also, one day when they were collecting the penguins after shooting – THEY FOUND ONE CUDDLING AND ASLEEP WITH ONE OF THE FAKE PENGUINS! It’s like everything I ever hoped was true about penguin wrangling. Also, the penguins were so content and comfortable – that every female got pregnant on the shoot! Every single one! BATMAN FOR PENGUIN PROCREATION YOU GUYS! Narrate that Morgan Freeman. No I mean seriously, do that if you want.
Batman saves the day, jamming the penguins’ frequencies and forcing them to destroy the Penguin’s lair, and the man himself. All of the penguins are sad that he is dead and march (of the penguins) him into the sewage. I cry every time. Something about the Penguin’s ass is very vulnerable in that moment! Anyway, we aren’t quite done yet – Bruce still has to stop Selina from killing Max, but she is having none of it. So he looks at her, tells her, “We’re the same,” and takes. Off. His. Mask. And then Alfred appears and is all “Ohhhh I get it – it’s okay for you to ruin everything but if I so much as- you know what Master Wayne? Fuck you!” No but actually, it’s gut-wrenching, because you can see the good in Selina wanting to go with him, she even says she wants to – but at the end of the day – she couldn’t live with herself for playing the part of princess saved by anyone other than herself. Sadly, along with her confidence and strength has come disgust for everything she once was. She survives four gunshot wounds to use the taser and electrocute Max with a kiss.
Batman Returns ends the way that works best – quietly. Nighttime and snow and worse for wear, Bruce is in the Rolls with Alfred, driving along when he spots Catwoman’s shadow in an alley. In a scene straight from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, he stops the car and runs down the alley to find her. In her place, Miss Kitty. Wayne scoops up the shivering black cat, holds her close and gets back in the car. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Wayne,” says Alfred, “Merry Christmas Alfred,” says Bruce, “And on earth peace, good will towards men….and woman.” And because it is Michael Keaton holding an adorable cat saying these things, it is perfect. And as Michael Keaton drives home with Michael Gough, we know that peace is only temporary as the bat signal shines again, and staring at this nocturnal call for aid, is none other that Catwoman, having chosen a different sort of happy ending.