Dark Knights and leather


Thanks to Michelle Pfeiffer‘s

whip-cracking C atwoman. Batman Returns has been greeted with more ‘fwoaars’ than ‘kapows’. and is already packing them in State Trevor Johnston reports from the streets of Gotham City on an artful


An army of penguins toting killer candy-stripe missiles. An entire American metropolis that could be straight out of Metropolis. Clowns with machine-guns. acrobats with hand grenades. A secret lurking in the 200‘s icehouse. A vampiric mega magnate looking to suck the life from the city that gave him his fortune. The Bat. the Cat and the Penguin: three equally disturbed individuals. only two of them villains.

Welcome to the dark. oppressive world of Batman Returns. a veritable cornucopia of unpredictable violence and aberrant psychology parading in the form ofpopular family entertainment. It‘s a dead cert to be this summer‘s box-office smash. but substantially more challenging than the usual mass-market fodder. Tim Burton‘s film could lay claim to being the most : subversive blockbuster ever. as the i

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huddled masses of mums. dads and kiddies tuck into their popcorn while the reassuring myths of I lome. Family and Romance are thoroughly trashed up there on screen. With a budget of between $55111 amd $70111. this could be the most expensive art movie in cinema history.

Burton has confounded cynics who were expecting a take-the-money-and-run job and shaped the second Bat-picture rather more to his own taste. ending up with an obviously more personal project than the visually striking yet thematically shambolic first instalment. Burton‘s platoon of cinema misfits. from Pee Wee Herman through Beetlejuice to Edward Scissorhands. gains a couple of new recruits in the Penguin and (fatwoman. Danny De V'ito‘s Penguin thirsts for revenge against humanity after being abandoned as a

: sexual energy she can no longer

Wayne dons the cape and the pointy

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freakishly deformed baby. while Michelle Pfeiffer‘s (‘atwoman is a much put-upon secretary. Selina Kay. who reinvents herselfas a sexually voracious leather-clad psycho (it happens). Both are used to underline the tensions continually nagging away at Michael Keaton's Batman.

()ur caped hero shows some sympathy for the Penguin‘s search for his parents. but more than meets his match in (‘atwoman Her dual role as mild-mannered office drudge by day. whip-cracking dominatrix by night is just perfect for gaining insight into his own millionaire/ Dark Knight schizophrenia. She uses the leather girl persona to release the

repress. The obvious suggestion is that when honest. decent Bruce

cars. the thrill is ofa similar kind. A superhero as screwed-up as the baddies he‘s out to stop'.) We’re

‘Welcome to the dark, oppressive world of Batman Returns, a veritable cornucopia of unpredictable violence and aberrant psychology parading in the form of populartamily entertainment.’

obviously some light years away from the cheery wholesomeness of the Superman series here. While most mainstream American movies trumpet the indestructibilty ofthe nuclear family. in Batman Returns.

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the closest we get to cosy domesticity is the conspiracy between a certain Mr and Mrs Cobblepot to throw their deformed offspring down a sewer. where he mutates into the Penguin.

Reworking his favourite theme. Burton shows the painful process by which those outside a secure family group discover there‘s nowhere for them to fit in, making the Bat. the Cat and the Penguin characters every bit as tragic as Edward Scissorhands.

One little vignette sets the tone for the whole movie. As Selina Kay tears her apartment to shreds during the breakdown that precedes her new existence as Catwoman. she smashes the cutesy neon sign decorating her wall. It used to flash “hello there‘ but now it reads ‘hell here'. The notion that the moviegoing public can take such a disturbing vision to their hearts is a welcome indication that. in the case ofTim Burton at least. huge Hollywood resources needn‘t necessarily preclude filmmaking of the most challenging order. Ever wondered where you can see something truly avant-garde. Why not try your local multiplex for once. Batman Returns has a wide release

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7 List’3— loJuly 1992-21