Tim Burton’s Batman changed the direction of superhero movies. Where in the previous years movies such as the Superman franchise tended to be comedies, deliberately campy or both, Tim Burton decided he wanted his version of Batman to be as dark as the comic book it was based on. The movie was a huge success and Burton would go on to shoot the second movie in the franchise, Batman Returns, which was even darker than it’s predecessor. Strangely enough, due to Burton’s odd style of storytelling, by today’s standards his two Batman movies are nearly just as campy as it’s predecessors. But they were an important step towards the superhero moves we enjoy today.
In the sequel Batman takes a back seat to three competing story threads. The best is the story of Oswald Cobblepot, a deformed baby born to a wealthy family who dump him into the river soon after his birth where he ends up being raised by penguins at an abandoned zoo. Cobblepot grows up to become the arch criminal known as The Penguin. The second story is that of Selina Kyle, a mousy secretary who uncovers a plot by her boss to rob Gotham of electricity. Because of this she is either killed and brought back to life or has a near death experience after being pushed out of a window and as a result is either possessed by the cats who revive her or has a mental breakdown, the result being that she becomes Catwoman. The third story is for the film’s third villain, Christopher Walken. Actually Walken plays Max Shreck, a corrupt rich industrialist who looks and acts like Christopher Walken. ( The Max Shreck character was created specifically for the second Batman movie. ) All three stories intertwine. Shreck wants to rob Gotham of it’s energy, and when his secretary finds out he attempts to kill her, causing her to become Catwoman. Catwoman’s vengeance against Shreck has her blowing up one of his department stores, but then she is sidetracked by seeking vengeance against Batman after he knocks he off a roof during a fight. She seeks to team up with the Penguin in order to defeat Batman. Shreck teams up with The Penguin in a plot to make him the next Mayor. And despite many Batman fans insisting that Batman Returns was the best of the Burton films, the movie itself is a mess. Blame Warner Brothers for insisting on too many villains in one movie. There seems to have been no reason for the Max Shreck character other than to give Christopher Walken a role. The real disappointment is Catwoman. In the comics her character was a burglar. This is not the case in Batman Returns and a good character is wasted. Even Batman is not given enough screen time in order to accommodate the competing plots. Fortunately there is plenty of action and Tim Burton’s visual style to keep things interesting. Plot wise the movie may be a mess, but enough is going on that there is little time to notice.
At 32 minutes into the movie Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Selina Kyle, has just survived being pushed out of a skyscraper window. Wandering around her apartment like a crazed woman she grabs a vinyl raincoat out of her closet, takes it apart, and starts sewing the material together, trying on a vinyl glove at one point. The scene ends with a long shot of her apartment building with the silhouette of her in the finished catsuit, telling her cat “I don’t know about you Mrs Kitty, but I feel yummier”. This is just a preamble for the first scene where she is actually seen wearing the catsuit. This happens 43 minutes into the movie. A thug has grabbed a woman and is in the midst of stealing her purse when from out of the alleyway steps The Catwoman. “I just love a big strong man who’s not afraid to show it with someone half his size.” she says, followed by “Be gentle, it’s my first time” when the mugger comes after her. Catwoman then beats the crap out of the mugger using kung fu moves. Catwoman shows up again at 56 minutes and begins to vandalize a department store. At the one hour mark she causes the store to explode and Batman chases after her, leading to the movie’s most memorable scene , the rooftop fight. Here Catwoman is knocked off the side, landing in the back of an open truck that just happens to be transporting kitty litter. The fall has caused some of the stitching on her catsuit to rip. This is a minor problem throughout the film as the catsuit gradually falls apart with each fight or fall Catwoman has. Tim Burton chose to use a home made looking catsuit with obvious stitching randomly holding the vinyl together, allowing the stitching to come loose as the movie progressed. At one hour four minutes Catwoman shows up at The Penguin’s abode where she enlists him on a plot to take down Batman. At one hour 16 minutes she helps Penguin kidnap a spokes model who is pushed off the roof to frame Batman. This scene involves another rooftop fight and ends with Catwoman, betrayed by Penguin, falling through a greenhouse. Her costume completely ripped she shows up again at the end of the movie to take revenge against Penguin and Shreck which ends with her grabbing an electric coil while kissing Shreck, electrocuting them both. Catwoman has been shot multiple times and gotten herself electrocuted, but no body is found. At the two hour mark, just before the ending credits, someone in Catwoman’s costume watches Bruce Wayne’s limo drive off, suggesting that she somehow survived.
Batman Returns is a classic among fetish fashion in the movies. But there are some drawbacks. Burton chose to make all of the villains in the Batman series to be very insane, and Catwoman is no exception to that rule. It would have been nice if she had been a more Julie Newmar version of the character, the seductive cat burglar who was possibly a nymphomaniac. There was always a tension between her and Adam West’s Batman that made you believe that if not for his duty to upholding the law that they would be having wild passionate sex in the Bat Mobile while a mortified Robin was asked to stand outside on the street to keep watch. Burton’s version of Catwoman is non sexual despite her catsuit. She seems to have a hatred to all men while wearing that costume and only shows any attraction to Bruce Wayne as her alter ego Selina. Otherwise Catwoman shows nothing but contempt to the male characters in this movie other than a few brief moments where she uses her sexuality to get up close before landing the sucker punch. A Catwoman faking her interest in sex rather than the former version who seemed to desire it all the time. Furthermore Burton is obsessed with characters that are either physically ugly or at least slightly grotesque. To this end the Catwoman costume is full of manic over-sized stitching which Burton allows to gradually come unstitched as the movie progresses. By the end of the movie Catwoman is a complete mess. The disheveled appearance of the costume at that point and the obvious mania of the character detracts from the sexual fantasy of the Catwoman in a latex catsuit. Fortunately Burton had nixed the idea of also having Selina’s face torn up after her fall giving Catwoman scar stitching on her face as well which was to match the stitching on the costume. Pfeiffer gets to remain beautiful, and in fact as her alter ego Selina has a complete makeover from mousy to glamorous after the accident. For those of you who own a copy of the movie with bonus material there is the music video Face to Face with Siouxsie and the Banshees where lead singer Siouxsie Sioux is wearing a dark tight latex dress.