Batman & Batman Returns

Firmly entrenched in the gloom & doom style of the rebooted Batman series created by Chris Nolan, one forgets that there was a previous Batman film franchise from 1989-1997 with 4 movies (and 3 different actors portraying the costumed hero). I chose to rewatch the 4 movies recently as I got the 4 movies in one pack dvds. I hadn’t seen the movies in quite a while, especially the 1st 2 movies. So a few days ago, I watched the first two movies back to back.

Batman was a hugely hyped 1989 release directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as the role of Bruce Wayne / Batman with Jack Nickolson as the Joker, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, and Jack Palance. I first watched this film back in 1990 during the football World Cup with my sister and a cousin in his house. I must have seen it once more 2 years later but haven’t seen it since. My experiences this time around were a lot less exciting, compared to the expectations of 1989-90 and as a 13 year old. Anyways, this movie focuses a lot on the Joker and how he originated. Gotham City is controlled by crime boss Carl Grissom (Palance). Despite the best efforts of newly-elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and police commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle), the Gotham City Police Department remains corrupt. Billionaire Bruce Wayne, having seen his parents being killed by a criminal, as a young boy, dedicates his life to fighting crime as a form of seeking vengence for his parents’ deaths. When Grissom’s second in command, Jack Napier is sent to raid the Axis Chemicals factory, it is actually a setup by the boss to take revenge for Jack’s affair with Grissom’s mistress. The police are tipped off and there is a shoot out at the plant in the midst of which Batman arrives and helps to take out Napier’s gang. Napier shoots at Batman, who deflects the bullet back at the gangster with the help of his metal enforced suit and it hits Napier.

Jack is hurt and trips into a vat of chemicals, despite Batman trying to save him. He is presumed dead but infact survives although he is highly deformed and a botched plastic surgery leaves him with chalk white skin, red lips, green hair, and a permanent maniacal grin. He is driven insane by looking at his own reflection and names himself as the Joker and goes to get his revenge. First he kills his former boss and takes over his empire, tormenting the city. As this is happening, Bruce has started a romance with famed photographic journalist Vicki Vale (Bassinger) who had come to Gotham to begin investigating the rumors of a shadowy vigilante figure dressed as a bat who has been fighting criminals throughout the city, along with resident journalist Alexander Knox. The Joker, who has launched his gas & also spikes everday household chemicals which makes people laugh incessently, sees Vicki and becomes obsessed with her. During an encounter with the Joker, Batman recognizes him for the criminal who killed his parents and reveals his identity to Vicki. At the final battle between the Joker & Batman, after our hero foils the Joker’s latest plans the mad gangster falls to his death from the top of a high cathedral. At the end of the movie Batman promises to come to the city’s aid whenever needed and the bat signal is installed.

Three years later in 1992 the first sequel was released once again directed by Burton and with Keaton returning as Batman. The film introduces the characters of Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), a business tycoon who teams up with the Penguin (Danny DeVito) to take over Gotham City, as well as the character of Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer).

A deformed baby is dropped into the sewers by his wealthy parents in Gotham City where it finds it’s way to a flock of penguins and is raised there. 33 years later the child, Oswald Cobblepot comes back to the surface as a criminal known as the Penguin and kidnaps the millionaire industrialist Max Shreck. Cobblepot blackmails Shreck into helping him leave the sewers to become part of Gotham’s elite, as he is aware of Max’s illegal dealings. They arrange to have the mayor’s child to be kidnapped so Oswald can “save” him, thus becoming a media sensation and beloved figure. Selina Kyle, Shreck’s clumsy secretary, who had met Bruce Wayne during a meeting that her boss had with him, just happens to see incriminating documents that Shreck has about stealing the city’s power. When Shreck sees this, he pushes her off the building window many stories up and leaves her for dead but through some means (not explained) she is revived by strays cats and is transformed into a much more confident, sexually charged woman. She reinvents herself as Catwoman, a catsuit-clad burglar dedicated to getting revenge on her boss. Schreck meanwhile goes about his scheme to depose the current mayor and  elect the Penguin in his place, in order to cement his control over the city and complete his power plant project, while the Penguin’s gang of circus freaks go about creating mayhem in the city.

Bruce, stunned by the changed Selina (who returns to her job much to the surprise of her boss) and arranges a date and she begins to fall for him. But as the Catwoman she joins forces with the Penguin and framing Batman for the kidnapping of a celebrity woman and eventually her death. The Batmobile is also sabotaged by the Penguin’s henchmen, with Batman narrowly saving his own life. Later Bruce exposes the Penguin’s plans to the public thus ruining his chance of winning the election and in anger the Penguin initiates a plan to murder all of Gotham’s first-born sons by kidnapping and taking them into his lair to drown them in a pool of water that has been contaminated with Shreck’s toxic waste. Max gives up himself to save his own son but Penguin is foiled by Batman again  whereupon the Penguin then decides to launch missiles around Gotham using mind-controlled penguins. However, Batman is able to jam the frequency used to control the penguins and has missiles launched at the Penguin’s base. Batman confronts the Penguin, which culminates in the Penguin falling into the toxic waters in his lair. Batman then turns to Catwoman and asks her to get Penguin to the police, unmasking himself in the process. Shreck then draws a gun and shoots at Catwoman 4 times but she doesn’t die, claiming she had 6 of her 9 lives left. She then proceeds to kill Max by electrocuting the two of them, using up her 8th life.

The Penguin then emerges from the toxic water and tries to kill Batman, but he succumbs to his wounds. His penguins then take his body into the sewer waters as a final resting place. Bruce returns alone but as he passes by in his car driven by Alfred, he spies the Catwoman’s silhouette in an alley and runs to it only to find her black cat. As Bruce takes the cat and leaves for his home, we see the Bat-Signal lights up the night sky, we see a rear shot of Catwoman gazing up at it.

I found Batman to be very boring and difficult to watch and fund the sets & outfits to be from different time periods (the gangsters look like they were dressed in the 50s or even the 40s). I barely got through it and I doubt I will ever watch it again anytime soon. I liked Batman Returns a bit more but also found it a little dragging and couldn’t watch it in one sitting. So I give the first film a 6 outta 10 & the second a 6.5 outta 10!

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