JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Batman Returns (1989)

Written by Bianca Garner

People probably don’t realise just how successful Tim Burton’s gothic version of Batman (1989) was, it made a staggering $410 million, (it had a budget of $35 million) so therefore it would be inevitable that a sequel would be made. Despite being classed as a ‘christmas film’ Batman Returns was released in June 1992, regardless of this fact Batman Returns is a Christmas film just as much as Die Hard is. At first, the director had no real interest in returning to helm the sequel. It was only when he was given more creative freedom that he agreed to come back to Gotham. Critics have criticised his first film as too dark, but they were probably not expecting things to get even darker.

The film begins at Christmas (33 years prior to the film’s events) where socialites Tucker and Esther Cobblepot give birth to a deformed baby boy, Oswald. Disgusted by his appearance, they ultimately throw him into the sewer, where he is discovered by a family of penguins at Gotham Zoo. We fast forward to the present where millionaire Max Shreck proposes to build a power plant to supply Gotham City with energy, somehow Schreck is kidnapped and meets Oswald who is now a crime boss, going by the name of Penguin. Schreck and Penguin, both want the same thing, control over Gotham, but which one is more evil and twisted?

At first, the Christmas setting of Batman Returns seems hardly noticeable; we are far too caught up in grimacing at the revolting Penguin (played by the superb Danny De Vito) and watching Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer who oozes sex appeal) seduce Batman. However, the film’s first lines of dialogue is an exchange of ‘Merry Christmas’ and rewatching the film through the lens of Christmas, we realise that it has always been there in one form or another. The mise-en-scene with it’s giant Christmas trees decorated with tinsel and twinkling fairy lights, seem to be lost in dark, bleak and gothic architecture of Burton’s Gotham city. Occasionally we will witness a character reference Christmas, and the season of goodwill, but the idea of Christmas cheer is far from the minds of our main characters, and we can understand why this is the case. Burton’s decision to set the film’s events at Christmas is an interesting one. Of course, there must be Christmas in Gotham, however, Christmas in Gotham is like no other. The concept of Christmas is presented as a hyper-real portrayal, clearly representing the German expressionism films that Burton was influenced by. To Burton, it would seem that Christmas is just as twisted a holiday like Halloween.

Okay, so far Batman Returns just seems to be an odd pick for a Christmas film, why on earth would anyone want to watch something so depressing, right? It is what I refer to as an anti-Christmas film, a perfect antidote to all the sentimental films that get shown this time of the year. Christmas isn’t always a time of happiness and goodwill, bad things can still occur at Christmas, and Burton isn’t afraid to remind us of this fact. Batman Returns is the far better film out of Burton’s Batman flicks. Its main villain is far more loathsome than Jack Nicholson’s The Joker, and I am not talking about De Vito’s Penguin here. Walken’s Max Schreck is the film’s true villain. A man who uses people’s vulnerability and their Christmas spirit, to exploit them and manipulate them in order to get what he truly desires. One could argue that Schreck is the embodiment of everything gone awry with Christmas, a symbol of greed and corruption. Schreck tries to pass himself off as a contemporary ‘Father of Christmas’, with his tousled white hair, his red bow tie and wide smile. He seems very jolly at least on first glance. However, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who thinks nothing of pushing his secretary, Selina Kyle out of a window.

Christmas films tend to follow a basic feel-good formula about personal growth or gratitude, our main protagonist is meant to grow as a person. There is no real redemption here, Batman still remains shut off. If we can judge anything about his current track record with women (err, what exactly did happened to Vikki Vale?), then we know that his relationship with Selina will be short-lived (if she ever returns to him that is). Batman Returns helps to reinforce the idea that not everyone is able to share in the warmth and love that the Christmas is supposed to offer. Heroes aren’t like everyone else, they aren’t always allowed to partake in the celebration of Christmas. Crime never sleeps. If anything, Burton’s Batman Returns helps to reinforce the isolation and pain that Bruce Wayne aka Batman, must have to endure every year. We can picture him reminiscing in the Batcave on Christmas day, alone and reflecting on his parent’s brutal death, while Alfred brings him his Christmas dinner.

Batman Returns is as twisted as a Christmas movie can get and that’s why it’s great. The Penguin’s plan revolving around stealing Gotham’s first-born sons like the evil king David from the story of the nativity reminds us just how morbid the actual nativity story is when you deconstruct it. It is also a well written dark comedy that reminds us of a screwball comedy from the 1940s (‘’A kiss under the mistletoe. You know, mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.’’ ‘’But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.’’). A film like Batman Returns helps to remind that mayhem and chaos occur 365 days a year and that Christmas in the Burton household must be a blast.

 

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Which Alfred Is The Best?

Written by Patrick Alexander

Much hullabaloo has been made in the recent weeks, months and years as to where Ben Affleck does, has and will stack up in the overall Batman role sphere. Is he better than Christian Bale? Probably not. He’s got to be better than Michael Keaton, right? A push, maybe. Yeah, but he kicks Val Kilmer’s butt? Definitely. However, forget being caught up in the endless debate over Affleck’s position on Mt. Batmore, inevitably carved out of the wet walls of the Batcave. We’re here today to talk about the butler of all butlers, Albert Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth, and where his various portrayals in film and television stack up. 

First, a little history about Alfred. As any comic book nerd will tell you, Albert hails from Great Britain, having been a highly skilled British Intelligence Operative, making him the perfect guardian to protect young Bruce Wayne from the cruelties of a dark Gotham City. Outside of being the most overqualified babysitter and tea-man in the world – from his expertise in domestic sciences to his proficiency with mechanical and computer systems – Alfred always had Batman’s back, even putting his emergency medical acumen to work numerous times to save Master Wayne’s life. So where do the representations of the legendary chamberlain stack up? Let’s find out.


 

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5. Jeremy Irons 
Films: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

The latest enactment of Alfred left much to be desired. While his role is scant in the new DC universe picture, Irons does flex his proficiency with mechanical and computer operating systems, helping Batfleck out several times, such as taking control of the Batplane whilst Batman has to skydive smash through a wall to go kick some criminal butts. Irons certainly looked the part as an aged and tired Alfred, ready to give up the reins to his care of Wayne Manor, finding his role rather diminished as Master Bruce had aged gracefully into a Kryptonite induced mid-life crisis. However, there is hope yet for Mr. Irons with ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Justice League’ pictures in production, and the possibility of appearing in solo Batfleck movies, we could still see Irons and his Alfred ascend this list.


 

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4. Michael Gough
Films: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin

Gough carried nearly a decade’s worth of the Alfred torch, spanning the runs of Keaton, Kilmer, and lastly, George Clooney. Whilst Gough never portrayed the more tactical and eternally youthful former military man version of Alfred, Gough served his role as Batman’s foremost confidant in an ever-changing Gotham universe. The most dapper of this list, Gough seemed to always be there with a joke, or to light up a smoke when Master Wayne needed it most. Despite a heralded four film run, spanning three different Batmen, Gough’s finest hour, perhaps, might have been this 1990’s Diet Coke advert


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3. Alan Napier
TV Series: Batman 

A throwback to the 1960s live action television series that any older American male can remember watching, spliced into the Saturday morning cartoons. Napier’s portrayal might well have been the most savvy in the pre-super-darkness era of Gotham. Napier’s lighthearted portrayal – before Batman got uber-techie – won hearts as Batman and Robin’s main man (servant). During a storied, three season, 120 episode run, Napier had the Batphone on lock down, always promptly answering and alerting Batman to the dangers of Gotham. Indubitably things got easier once they invented sonar tracking devices and advanced communication platforms, including computers, so it’s hard to say if Napier’s Alfred would have made it in the modern era.


Sean Pertwee

2. Sean Pertwee
TV Series: Gotham

Pertwee makes a strong case for the title belt here, combatting his way onto the Alfred scene. The youngest Alfred to date, known for protecting the young Bruce Wayne in the immediate aftermath of his parent’s demise, Pertwee’s protective instincts for young Bruce and his knack for continuously felling the villains of Gotham come in handy, as Bruce has yet to fully realise or actualise his future as the bodyguard of Gotham. The ‘Gotham’ TV series has been praised as a hot new show from Fox, and it’s casting of Pertwee really delivers, from Wayne Manor brawls with former British Intelligence Operative pals (psychopaths), to always putting himself in harm’s way to shield Master Wayne from the lurking evils of Gotham’s craziest menaces.


Michael Caine

1. Michael Caine
Films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises

Let’s be honest though, we all know Michael Caine is the greatest of all time when it comes to Alfred. Readily beside Christian Bale’s side through the best installment of the Batman franchise, his fame through association certainly buffers his ranking. Competent in (all too often) medical procedures, Alfred never wavers in his faith of Master Wayne as mainly a confidant and ally in his later years. Despite lacking the fighting ability other Alfreds reveal, Caine had perhaps the most quotable Alfred because he understood his role in Wayne’s life as a father figure better than any other. In ‘Batman Begins’, after the house burns down, Wayne belittles Alfred in a rough way saying: “why do you give a damn, Alfred? It’s not your family”. Caine replies in a manner representative of the Alfred who got it most, “I give a damn, because a good man once made me responsible for what was most precious to him in the whole world”. Beautiful, Michael.