The Avengers was awesome. This must be said. (And then repeated. And then possibly even sung.) But The Avengers is not the only gigantic superhero movie coming to a theater near you this summer. There’s a certain trilogy by Christopher Nolan that has to wrap up, which means I have a fair number of reviews to finish before July 28th.
So let’s get back to it, shall we?
I definitely have all kinds of childhood nostalgia for this movie. Doesn’t make the Missile Penguins any less stupid, though.
Spoilers again. Sorry. This might end up being true for all my Batman reviews. I’m being lazy. I have The Avengers fanfiction to read, dammit!
Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Penguin (Danny DeVito) team up to try and frame, humiliate, and kill Batman (Michael Keaton). Because it’s always about the lengthy emotional turmoil for these guys. Supervillains just never walk straight up and shoot anyone in the head anymore.
1. We might as well just start with the real reason everyone loves this film:
It has very little to do with Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, or even Christopher Walken—although Christopher Walken is always fun, particularly with awesome headgear like this:
—but let’s be honest here: this movie is ALL about Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. She is awesome. She is beyond awesome. She has the kind of throaty, sexy voice that I would kill for. Also, the body. Sweet Jesus. If I could wear that outfit . . . well, I’d probably be making money at a very different profession, is all I’m saying.
Seriously, though, I love Pfeiffer for both how she portrays Selina Kyle and Catwoman. Pre-transformation, Selina is meek, sure, but she’s not exactly some vapid, wilting little flower. I love that she shocks this evil clown with his own taser after he’s unconscious. And then giggles! Giggles! Love. This. Scene. Also, if you can’t relate to the “Oh, I forgot, I’m not married” and “Selina, it’s you mother, call me . . . Selina, it’s your mother, why haven’t you called me”—well, then, I just don’t believe you’re a real person.
Selina is not just one character trait attached to a pair of legs, which is one of the reasons I like her. Also, she’s just an incredible Catwoman. It seems like it shouldn’t be so hard, being both dangerous and sexy, but some actresses seem to latch onto the sexy part and forget about the whole badass element. Pfeiffer does not. She is beautiful, dark, and awesomely crazy. I expect Anne Hathaway is going for a completely different type of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, and that’s fine—in fact, it’s probably the right choice—but she still has her work cut out for her, shoes to fill, what have you.
Oh, and for the record, if I could dress up as anything, anything, for Comic Con or Dragon Con—you know if I had the body for any costume and the eyebrows for any hair color? This is what I’d wear:
2. Sadly, I don’t like the Penguin quite as much as I used to.
The Penguin’s kind of a problematic character in almost every version of Batman that I’ve ever seen. I know some people were angry about how he was reinterpreted here—traditionally, the Penguin is much more aristocratic and gentlemanly and somewhat less a demented-sewer-carny-freak—but I’ve always found him to be terribly boring. (Perhaps its in the name. Is there any way he could have picked a less frightening altar ego? What, was Hummingbird taken? This is like when you name your hockey team the Mighty Ducks or the Senators or something. Like, what? How am I possibly supposed to take you seriously with a name like that?)
So, I don’t really mind that this Penguin is significantly different from the traditional version. I have a thing for evil circuses—I don’t know, I just do—and I kind of like Danny DeVito’s performance, except . . . we’re already starting our downhill slide into cartoon villains and their dreadful puns. I mean, clearly, it’s going to get a lot worse in the later films, but still: “I was their number one son, and they treated me like number two?” Ugh. There are Penguin moments that I definitely like, but sometimes, I wish they would scale back just a bit on the, ah, supposed humor because I think I want him to be creepier than he actually is.
3. Also—and please keep in mind that the closest I’ve ever been to a real circus is Cirque du Soleil, once—what’s up with The Poodle Lady?
Seriously? Bearded Lady I’ve heard of, but Poodle Lady? Is that even legitimately a thing? Also, can I just tell you how much she cracks me up near the end of this film? So, so much. She’s just so monotone. “Something is coming. Very large. Very fast.” I don’t even know why, but I always have to chime in when she says this. It’s the little things, I guess.
4. Actually, I have to chime in with another character too: Chip, Max Shreck’s ridiculously tall son.
Chip is played by Andrew Bryniarski, who you might have seen in any number of things. Horror movie fans might be amused to discover that he plays the most recent incarnation of Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Street Fighter fans (hey, I know you’re out there) might remember him as the rather spectacularly cast Zangief. And Browncoats? Do you remember this guy?
Yup. All the same guy.
I think Andrew B’s downfall in this movie is playing Christopher Walken’s son. Walken, as everyone on the planet already knows, has kind of a distinctive voice, and I think Bryniarski tries to, at least in part, imitate it. This simply cannot be done, however, which leads me to giggle like a fiend every time I watch Chip say, “Dad, go, save yourself! Dad, go!” It’s not something I can put into words, exactly, but this tiny, little moment gives me such joy. He just sounds so ridiculous. I will always hold this moment close to my little geek heart.
5. May I just say, though, that I am surprised Max bothers to go with the Penguin near the end of the movie at all, effectively sacrificing himself for Chip? After all, at the beginning of the film, Max does run away when Chip (hilariously) tells his father to save himself. He just takes off and leaves his son behind with about seventeen guns trained on Chip’s face. (Okay, it may be three. Still. That’s three more guns that I bet you would want trained on your face.)
I’m just saying. Father of the Year may not be in the cards for Max Shreck this 1992, despite this random fourth quarter conversion to the sorta-good side.
6. One of the most interesting things about Tim Burton’s Batman films is how little Bruce Wayne is featured in them. In the first half of this movie, for example, Batman’s barely even around. He shows up to fight a few guys, sure, but we don’t follow him very much, and I don’t think we even get Bruce’s POV on anything until at least an hour of the film has already gone by. It’s not a complaint, exactly; it’s just interesting: the first two Batman films are atmospheric and dark and host some awesome villains, but they are not exactly what I’d call introspective. In a way—and I know I’m going to get some serious heat for saying this—Batman Forever and Batman and Robin actually attempt to delve deeper into Bruce Wayne’s psyche than Batman and Batman Returns do. Admittedly, they don’t do a very good job of it, but still. Superhero films of today are usually very much about the hero, but Tim Burton’s superhero films? Not so much.
7. Sometimes, I feel like a lot of Danny Elfman’s music sounds the same (which was why I was so shocked to realize he did the music here—ostensibly from The Wolfman but possibly more well-known from the trailer for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) but I do really like his score for Batman Returns. I get portions of “Selina Transforms (Part 2)” stuck in my head every time I watch this movie.
8. Where this movie starts to fall down for me? Near the end with the Missile Penguins.
Plotting isn’t this movie’s strongest feature, but most of it works for me—right up until the part where Penguin’s plan to kidnap the first sons of Gotham fails (which is his own fucking fault—but we’ll get to that) and he decides to give a speech and send off his beloved penguins on a suicidal mission to blow up the city. I mean, first, the speech is just stupid. It’s like watching Robin Williams give his speech to the toys in Toys, only it actually makes less sense. Then, the whole plan is just ridiculously dumb, and his entire showdown with Batman is depressingly anticlimactic.
Thankfully, the real showdown is between Selina Kyle and Max Shreck.
9. About that showdown between Selina Kyle and Max Schreck—well, hell, you can just watch it here.
There are no words for how much I love this scene. I love that there’s a moment where you think Batman might actually talk Catwoman down, and I love that Catwoman kills Shreck anyway. I love how she kills Shreck. I love the whole nine lives thing—is it really explained? No. Does it need to be? No. I love love love Catwoman’s laugh. I basically just love Catwoman.
Some other favorite moments in the film, almost all of them including Catwoman:
A. The aforementioned scene where Selina Kyle shocks the clown who took her hostage . . . and then keeps the taser.
B. Selina Kyle’s nervous breakdown and subsequent destruction of her ridiculously pink apartment.
C. Alfred glaring at Bruce while trying to piece an invitation back together. Also, any time Alfred snarks. I love snarky Alfred.
D. Bruce snarking back at Alfred for letting Vicki Vale into the Bat Cave that one time. Cause yes! YES! That was such a stupid scene.
E. The Ice Princess trying to remember whether the Christmas lights come on before or after she pushes the button.
F. Selina and Bruce’s dance at the masquerade ball. Ooh, look, youtube has that scene too!
10. But since we’re talking about the good moments, we also need to talk about the stupid moments as well. And, no, I don’t just mean the Missile Penguins—though those are plenty stupid—I mean the ridiculous amount of times that one of these characters does something semi to outrageously moronic. Let’s take each character one at a time, shall we?
A. Selina Kyle
I know. After all that time I spent praising Catwoman? Yes, well, as awesome as Michelle Pfeiffer is, Catwoman does some pretty dumb things. I guess I can forgive her for waving her gun around in a crowded ballroom and telling Bruce about her plan to kill Max—I’m not exactly sure why she thinks he’s just going to be cool with that, but she’s clearly a wee bit crazy right then, so maybe she’s not thinking too clearly at this stage of the game.
But nothing excuses her actions earlier in the film before she got thrown out of a window. Right before, in fact. Max tries to kill Selina, see, because Selina discovers his top secret, nefarious power plant plans, and Max knows that Selina’s discovered them because she tells him. Seriously, she just keeps rambling on and on, and I guess she’s supposed to be nervous or something, but honestly, this is just downright suicidal. If she was at least attempting to blackmail him, I could understand that, but Selina appears to be telling Max everything she knows for absolutely no reason of any kind. And you know what happens when you do something like that, don’t you?
B. Max Shreck
Of course, Max is kind of an idiot here too. Clearly, Max has no problem killing people to get what he wants, and I take no serious issue with that—bribing Selina might have been less messy in the long run, but there’s an eloquence to his solution, after all: dead secretaries can’t talk. (Of course, witnesses aren’t exactly a remote possibility when you shove someone out of a tall building in the middle of a city, but whatever. It’s the middle of the night. Max got lucky. Fine.) But here’s the real important thing about killing somebody—there’s usually this little thing called a body left behind.
When Selina shows up to work the next day (or maybe the day after—I can’t remember the exact chronology) Max is shocked to see her, since he surely remembers killing her very, very recently. But this means one of two things: one, he didn’t think to dispose of the body—because a dead employee outside his building isn’t going to cause suspicion or anything—or two, he did go to dispose the body, saw that Selina was missing, and just assumed roaming wolves ate her. As they do.
Not only that, but Max tells Bruce Wayne—before Selina pops up again, very much alive—that his assistant is taking vacation time—vacation time! If you weren’t going to clean up the body, I guess you could at least try and tell the cops that Selina had committed suicide or something—I mean, that could potentially be plausible—but apparently Max instead pushed his nosy secretary out of a window and then expected the body to just magically disappear. Seriously, that’s a lot of faith to put in roaming wolves. Max, you’re kind of an asshat. Where did you learn how to whack somebody? Body disposal is a very integral part of any good murder. No wonder The Penguin got his little, webbed hands on your dead partner’s body. Honestly.
C. The Penguin
It’s not just that the Missile Penguins are ridiculous in theory. It’s that their execution is stupid. After Batman easily turns them back against the zoo—and how did he prepare for that particular eventuality, anyway, like who thinks I better come up with a strategy in case this week’s archnemesis turns his feathered friends into suicide bombers—Batman frightens and angers the Penguin by threatening to blow up said feathered friends. The Penguin screams, “My babies!”, attacks, and manages to get his hands on the remote control . . . where he promptly hits the launch button himself. Er, what?
If Penguin’s concerned for the well-being of the penguins . . . well, not only was his plan stupid from the get-go, but how does it change anything if he’s the one who pushes the button instead of Batman? If he’s worried about his own life . . . he’s standing probably five feet away from Batman when he sets off the charges. Not exactly great odds for either of them. If he still wants to try and blow up Gotham . . . why does he push the button at all?
And this isn’t even Penguin’s most idiotic lapse in judgment.
Back up twenty minutes: Bruce, Selina, Max, Chip, and various other Gothamites are at the masquerade ball when Penguin pops up in one of these:
For awhile, the Penguin seems to be the most unlikely mayoral candidate ever, but his real plans have always been to snatch every privileged firstborn son of Gotham and murder all of them in the sewers below. This is not a very nice plan, but it’s not a terrible one either, as these things go. No one has any inkling on what he’s up to, not Shreck, not Catwoman, not Batman.
Which is why Penguin has to arrive at the party and announce what he’s doing to the whole crowd . . . before the kids have actually been kidnapped.
If Penguin hadn’t told everyone about his top secret plans, Batman would never have known about them. If Penguin had just stolen the kids and murdered them quietly that night, saving the boasting and gloating for the following morning, then Batman wouldn’t have been able to save them because he’d have been too busy trying to work things out with Selina Kyle. (Possibly or possibly not on some empty nearby couch.) And sure, Penguin’s there to take Chip, Max’s firstborn (and very grown up) son. But Penguin didn’t even have to say why he was taking him. He’s got a genuine beef with Max—there was no reason to tell everyone that ALL their kids were in danger. This is just stupid on a James Bond villain level. Actually, I think it’s even worse than that, and that shouldn’t even be humanely possible.
So, Bruce tells Max early in the film that he doesn’t trust him, that he knows Shreck’s pal Penguin is an evil crime boss—he just can’t prove it. (Batman’s distrust of the Penguin happens far too quickly for my tastes. He goes from I-hope-that-poor-deformed-man-finds-his-parents to evil! EVIL! in about four seconds, presumably because Max calls Penguin a friend on a news report. I might be suspicious of Max’s friends too, but it seems to me, in this case, that opportunism would be a lot more likely than the actual truth.) Now, I can’t really understand why Bruce would tell Max this—tactically, keeping information or suppositions like this close to the chest until you can prove them is a much smarter play—but hey, it’s just a questionable, not absurdly dumb, decision.
Then we get to the puzzling matter of the Missile Penguins. Again. When Penguin pushes the button and sets off the missiles, he is attacked by a swarm of bats (swarm??? flock??? too lazy to Google) and promptly falls to his death. (Well, pretty much to his death.) Now, this is one of those justice-is-served moments because this is exactly what Penguin did to the Ice Princess, and while I’m normally all for savoring the oh-sweet-irony revenge moment . . . did Batman really go to the trouble of rigging the bats to burst out at the Penguin and not bother to, you know, disarm the missiles while he was at it? Or did I just misunderstand something?
Here’s what I know I didn’t misunderstand: Batman bitches Alfred out for revealing his secret identity (and rightly so) earlier in the film, but then goes around and does the same thing himself . . . to Max Shreck!
If you’re actually watching the clips I’ve been linking, you’ve recently watched this scene: Batman’s trying to get through to Catwoman, to keep her from killing Max Shreck . . . an honorable goal, I guess, although Batman doesn’t seem to have a lot of trouble killing people in this movie. (Watch it again. He totally sets one of Penguin’s henchmen on fire.) And sure, tearing off his mask is very symbolic and all, and Catwoman already knows who he is, so Bruce isn’t really in any danger here . . . except, oh yeah, Evil Max Shreck is still in the room.
At least, at least Vicki Vale liked Bruce Wayne and wouldn’t have immediately screwed him over without a niggling doubt or two. Max Shreck, on the other hand? Are you kidding me? Batman’s secret identity would be out before they escaped the sewers. It wouldn’t matter if he was going to prison or not. Shreck would manage to use this information to ruin Batman—and Batman’s just going to be the one to hand it over?
I think you owe an apology to Alfred, Bruce.
11. Another example of learn how to shoot your gun: Shreck, not killing Selina is one thing. She has nine lives. Inexplicably. But Batman? He’s really only got one, and you just manage to graze him in the neck? For shame, Max Shreck. For shame.
12. Quotes. Many, many quotes.
Selina: “Well, that was . . . very brief. Just like all the men in my life.”
The Penguin: “The heat’s getting to me. I’ll murder you momentarily.”
Selina: “It’s the so-called normal men that always let you down. Sickos never scare me. At least they’re committed.”
Catwoman: “How could you? I’m a woman.”
Ice Princess: “The tree lights up, and then I push the button! No—no, wait, wait, wait. I press the button and then the tree lights up.”
Catwoman: “You’re the second man who’s killed me this week, but I’ve got seven lives left.”
Batman: “I tried to save you.”
Catwoman: “Seems like every woman you try and save ends up dead . . . or deeply resentful. Maybe you should retire.”
Bruce: “Security? Who let Vicki Vale into the Batcave? I’m sitting there working, and I turn around. ‘Oh, hi Vic, come on in.’”
Penguin: “Why is there always someone who brings eggs and tomatoes to a speech?”
Alfred: “Sir, shall we change the channel to a program with some dignity and class? The Love Connection, perhaps?”
Jen: “Our research tells us that voters like fingers.”
13. Finally, I know I’m far from a foodie—I have many, many peculiarities when it comes to eating—but I gotta say, I’m with Bruce on this one: cold soup? Yeah, no thanks.
Silly at times and falls apart a bit at the end—but Catwoman makes this movie. Catwoman is this movie.
Michelle Pfeiffer. As if there was any doubt.
CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED WITH A BIG, DEAD, SMELLY FISH:
Batman. Although he has a lot of competition.
Keep your fucking mouth shut. Honestly. Between Penguin announcing his plans to kill babies, Selina Kyle announcing her plans to kill Shreck, and Batman announcing his true identity to Max . . . it’s like no one understands the meaning of the word secret anymore.
Also, learn how to sew. You’ll never make an awesome vinyl catsuit and mask out of your raincoat if you don’t learn how to sew.