What Hollywood does best


Batman Returns
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Michael Keaton, Danny De Vito, Michelle Pfeiffer
Reviewed by Wayne Ruscoe

Ka-pow! The biggest opening weekend in movie history! Ker-rack! $60 million taken at the box office in three days! Ker-runch! A sequel better than the original!

All this and more for the new Batman flick as Michael Keaton's caped crusader does battle with a new bunch of baddies. Gotham City is just as grim as it was in Tim Burton's 1989 movie, and just as true to the spirit of creator Bob Kane's first Batman stories.

The original comics featured a young man who fights crime to rid himself of the memory of witnessing the brutal murder of his wealthy parents. A far cry from the camp TV show of the '60s (a wonderful thing in its own right), the new incarnation of Bruce Wayne and his masked alter ego focuses on the angst and loneliness of a man hiding his true identity in a harsh world.

The criminals he counters are equally disturbed. Evil businessman Max Shreck has a messiah complex, wanting to steal Gotham's electricity to empower his only begotten son. The leather-clad Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants revenge on Max for the nasty way she got the push from her job as his secretary.

And Danny De Vito's Penguin just wants everyone to suffer because his parents tossed him into a storm drain as a baby. He's rescued and brought up by penguins in the sewers under Gotham and waits 33 years to make his comeback. That's one of several biblical jokes in the film, Christ having been that age when he died and rose again. As a baby, the penguin sweeps through the drains in a basket, echoing Moses in the bulrushes.

A kidnap attempt on Shreck fails when his son intervenes, saying "You'll have to go through me first". Fred Nile probably won't get it. There's an excellent Helen Reddy joke too. Yeah, seriously.

Jokes, but no Joker. Jack Nicholson's memorable role in the '89 film is not repeated; Vicki Vale also disappears. Neither is really missed: Catwoman, Penguin and Shreck are strong replacements.

Christopher Walken's Shreck is a real beauty — alternately cuddly and chilly, smiling and snarling. Kind of like Nick Greiner with a personality implant.

It's only entertainment, but this is Hollywood at its best — minimal violence, clever scripting, skilled acting and tight direction. An excellent way to spend a wet winter's day. Go see it — everyone else will.