Sunday, January 20, 2013

Don't Make a Scene: Batman Returns

Dances with Catwomen (1992) 
The Story: Two different eras. Two different Batmen. Two different Catwomen. Two different directors. Two different approaches. But the two are so similar, it's eerie.  

This is the first of two "Dances with Catwomen," the second being next week in our regular "Don't Make a Scene" Sunday feature. Next week, there'll be more to say as I compare and contrast. This week, just some random comments on Tim Burton's version of this waltz.   

First, both Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne show up at a costume ball with no costumes, merely dressed up. They spend enough time masked and concealed, why would they? But, then there's the psychological thing. They show up at a costume ball as themselves because...Batman and Catwoman are their real identities, how they perceive themselves, but Bruce and Selina, they're the disguises, the masks they present to the outside world. As is pointed out numerous times in the script, (even here, in a deleted (and unnecessary) scene-capper voiced by Commissioner Gordon and Wayne's butler Alfred), with so much in common, they're meant for each other—two people split down the middle between who they are and what they let people see. And, during the dance, when the "masks" drop...that budding relationship becomes a lot more complicated.

 "It's so much easier when you've got people who are on the edge of crazy" says Burton in the DVD commentary. And both Keaton and Pfeiffer are mercurial performers who can morph through emotions very quickly, changing on a dime, Keaton in his eyes, Pfeiffer, her whole face. She whip-saws through so many—lust, irony, giddiness, grief, murderous anger—it's hard to keep track, making Keaton's Wayne look more stable by comparison, a tough trick. But, he's been at this costume ball longer, knows the pit-falls of a dual-identity. Maybe, now that they've figured out who each other is, they can find themselves.  

Hey, it's a comic book movie. It doesn't "do" to take it too seriously. Better to just hit the dance floor.  

The Set-Up: It's not the merriest of Christmases in Gotham City: The Batman (Michael Keaton) is in the midst of a power struggle on a criminal/political front. Toy entrepreneur Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) is using the Holiday Season to wrest control of the city, to foist an empire-building power plant. He's set up freakish tabloid sensation Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) to run for Mayor, and killed his secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) who learned too much of his plans. But Selina survived, and started to toy with those involved as Catwoman. Now, with Cobblepot's campaign in ruins (thanks to Batman), Schreck is holding a Christmas costume party attended by Gotham's elite. 


Various people are in Batman and Catwoman outfits, including an undulating couple on the dance floor, Josh and Jen.  Josh is Catwoman.  Jen is Batman.

JOSH Jen, look over there, but don't stare.

JEN (staring) My god.  How rude.

They are revealed to be looking at Bruce Wayne strutting down the main aisle, dressed dramatically as......BRUCE WAYNE.  

The only one without a costume, Bruce catches some glares from the hedonists.  He and Max shake hands, trading chilly smiles.
MAX Ingenious costume.  Let me guess... Trust-fund goody-goody?

BRUCE Course you're feeling fine ... You almost made a monster the Mayor of Gotham City.

MAX I am the light of this city.  And I am its mean, twisted soul.  Does it really matter who's the "mayor"?

BRUCE It does to me.

MAX Yawn.

He drifts off.

Bruce considers having the last word, when his attention is diverted to a new guest, entering. It's:

Selina Kyle, dramatically dressed as ... Selina Kyle.  

She draws the same sour looks as Bruce did.  

And ignores them, as Bruce did.  

Gives Bruce a lovely, world-weary smile.


Chip Shreck is dressed as an old-time football hero, in knickers, etc.  He moves, warily, across the floor ...

CHIP Selina ... Ms. Kyle... May I have this --

Bruce cuts in and Selina lets him:  The band does a ballad as Selina flows into Bruce's arms.  They nakedly dance amid the swathed-in-artifice revelers.

BRUCE Sorry about yesterday ... Some big deal came together, 

BRUCE, fell through, and --

SELINA 'S'okay, I had to go home, feed my cat.

BRUCE No hard feelings?

Selina presses against her partner.  Smiles.

SELINA Actually ... semi-hard, I'd say.

Bruce blushes, steps back.  Selina does a sultry pirouette.

SELINA There's a big, comfy California King over in Bedding.  What say we ...
BRUCE (ironic) Y'mean take off our costumes?

SELINA (sad laugh) Guess I'm sick of wearing masks ...

BRUCE Same here.  So why'd you come tonight?

SELINA You first.

Bruce presses close to her again.

BRUCE To see you.

He waits for a response.  Selina pauses, then:

SELINA That's lovely,,, 

SELINA ...and I really wish I could say the same, but ... I came for Max.

At first, Bruce doesn't understand.

BRUCE You don't mean ... you and Max ..?

Selina gives a harsh laugh, shakes her head.

SELINA This and Max.

She discreetly pulls a little derringer from her evening bag.  

Shocked, Bruce pushes it back in her bag.


 The spooky ballad wafts into a sewer below the Store.
 The lights of the party radiate through the grate of a
 ventilator shaft.  Rising into this strange mix of music,
 light, and slime is Penguin's Rubber Duck.  On its
 scissor-lift, it continues to climb, at first revealing
 Four Penguin Shock Troops, in bizarre headgear, missiles
 pointed straight up.

Bruce and Selina continue to dance, emotions rising.

SELINA Now don't give me a killing-Max-won't-solve-anything speech, because it will. 

SELINA Aren't you tired of this sanctimonious robber baron always coming out on top?  

SELINA When he should be six feet under?

BRUCE Jesus, Selina, you're not the judge or the jury... I mean, just who do you think you are?

 SELINA I don't know anymore, Bruce ...

They glide together beneath a piece of hanging mistletoe, and she gives a soft, almost regretful kiss.  And laughs.

SELINA A kiss under the mistletoe. 

SELINA Mistletoe can be deadly, if you eat it ...

BRUCE But a kiss can be even deadlier, if you mean ... it.

And suddenly it hits them -- what?  No!  Can it be?

 You're ... her?      You're ... him?

Bruce tenderly, carefully undoes the cuff of Selina's blouse and pulls back her sleeve.  Feels:

BRUCE The burn I gave you.

Meanwhile Selina's hand explores under Bruce's shirt, finds:

SELINA The puncture wounds I gave you.
(wearily)SELINA Oh god ... 

SELINA ...does this mean we have to start fighting now?

Bruce's answer is to hold her tight.  He's scared, so is she.

SELINA ... What do we do?

BRUCE I don't know.  Till we figure it out, let's ... let's keep dancing.

BRUCE Let's get out of here...

That works for Selina.  They sway on, to the haunting song.

Alfred is standing next to Commissioner Gordon, watching.

GORDON A darling couple.

ALFRED Yes, made for each other ...

Pictures by Stefan Czapsky and Tim Burton

Batman Returns is available on DVD from Warner Home Entertainment


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Two things, why has it been so long since Michael Keaton has given a fine performance? By my count the last time was early 2000s with LIVE FROM BAGHDAD.

Also, even through screen-caps the power of Pfeiffer's performance shines through. Why hasn't SHE been allowed more great roles recently?

Yojimbo_5 said...

Keaton is still out there, doing good work. Check out the film he starred in (AND DIRECTED) The Merry Gentleman, plus I thought he provided a funny, nuanced scene in the first half of The Other Guys (the second part if it, not so much). And Pfeiffer? That's an odd one. Early in her career she was allowed serious roles. Now, her roles are always archly comedic, not too far afield from what her "Catwoman" was doing. Odd and a shame. Is there somthing about her preternatural beauty that boxes her into "evil step-mother roles?" (in which case, look out Charlize Theron). Whatever it is, she's never been bland, which might make her difficult to cast these days. It isn't a fault that she's versatile.