Friday, February 8, 2013

Batman Returns... to Camp

If you know me personally you're probably just as surprised as I am that a blog titled "Baxter Pancake's Baxter Pancake Blog" hasn't included a post about Batman yet.  Well today I'm going to rectify the shit out of that!

Do you remember 1989?  If not, there's only two things you need to know about it...

One: David Hasselhoff knocked down a wall in Germany, despite attempts by a crusty bitch named Margaret Thatcher to stop him.  She obviously thought she was alcohol (the only thing powerful enough to defeat The Hoff).  Margaret Thatcher is not alcohol.  I did a lot of research to prove it, and I ended up falling into a swimming pool with my clothes on.  It was a hilarious pool party, guys; you shoulda been there!

If you celebrated your fifth birthday in 1989, like me, then you probably only remember...

Two: Batman was effin' HUGE!  Most of my early memories involve Batman.  I remember begging my mom to buy me a VHS copy of Scooby Doo Meets Batman & Robin when I was just a tot.  I remember spending many happy afternoons scribbling in my Batman coloring book and playing with my Batman Colorforms.  And I remember the Spring and early Summer of '89, in which I spent a lot of time reciting dialog and reenacting scenes from the trailer for Batman.  If you were a Batman fan, 1989 was going to be the year that kicked asses so hard (like Batman does!).  If you weren't a Batman fan, 1989 was the year you were to become a Batman fan.  It was awesome.

So what happened from there?  A super-hyped super-hero movie super-scores at the box office.  Of course Warner Bros. (the studio that produced the film, which from what I gather is run by three anthropomorphic dog-looking things, one of which talks like Ringo) is going to want a sequel.  Director of Batman, Tim Burton, didn't want to do a follow-up, but WB convinced him to change his mind with giant sacks of money and the promise that he could make this one more swirly and Tim Burtony.

From there things really went down hill.  Joel Schumacher replaced Burton as director to launch a turd called Batman Forever at the public in 1995.  The public ate it up, like they often-times do with turds, but they wouldn't be fooled again in 1997, when mega-turd Batman & Robin was launched from a slingshot made of bullshit.

Many fans agree that Burton was a major force in changing Batman's public image from Adam West "zockoing" celebrity guests and getting trapped in giant cookbooks by Roddy McDowall into the darker, brooding figure from the comics.  Well, the darker, brooding figure from the comics of the early 70s onward, when Dennis O'Neil steered The Batman away from the supremely-ridiculous incarnation of the hero that had appeared in the comics since well before Adam West and Burt Ward donned the costumes of the caped crusaders.  Denny O'Neil returned Batman to his roots.  He gave him a gritty reboot before gritty reboots were cool.

I agree with this sentiment.  Had it not been for Burton and all of those involved with making the film happen, most people would probably still think of Batman as a farce.  An exploding-sharks-defeated-by-shark-repellent-that-was-kept-in-a-helicopter-for-some-reason farce.

I also agree that Joel Schumacher, when given the reigns, dragged the film series to new lows.  And while I may never forgive him for the "bat nipples" or all of Mr. Freeze's awful, awful puns, I would like to take the opportunity to call "horsefeathers" on a very commonly held belief: that Schumacher 'made Batman campy again'.  Don't get me wrong!  I'm not saying his two films weren't irritatingly campy.  They were, they definitely were.  But let's rewind back to 1992 and see if we can find any elephants in any rooms.  Oh!  There's one!  Batman Returns is horribly campy.

There's a very vocal group of people that hang out on the IMDb forums who swear that Batman Returns is the best Batman film because IT'S SO FREAKIN' DARK, MAN!  These people apparently cherish darkness as the key to a good Batman film over elements like prominent characters from the first film appearing in the second (or at least having their absences explained) or things happening on screen that actually make fucking sense.

In the beginning of the film Pee-Wee Herman and wife are wealthy Gothamites who are cursed with a deformed son.  If you were Pee-Wee or his wife and you were super-rich, you'd maybe try to find a top surgeon to fix your baby's flipper hands to make them appear somewhat normal, or decide to love him as he is, or leave him on the doorstep of an orphanage.  If you exist in the universe that Batman Returns takes place in, naturally you would just hurl the baby into the sewer.  And of course, the baby wouldn't drown, starve to death, or succumb to the horrible sewer-stench.  He would be rescued by penguins that live in the sewer, of course!  This makes sense, because penguins live where it's cold and sewers are... wait a minute!  Aren't sewers warm?  Isn't that why steam comes out of them a lot?  Alright, let's suspend disbelief on that one...

Flash forward a few decades.  Lil' Oswald Cobblepot is all grown up.  He has somehow been taught to speak English by the sewer-penguins, and now that he understands words he also understands that people aren't supposed to be raised by flightless birds that live under a city!  It's time for revenge!  Using the money that he inexplicably earned while living his entire life in a sewer and also using his gang of circus freaks who at some point found a deranged, grotesque Danny DeVito living where everyone's poop goes and decided he would be the best person to lead them into a life of crime, he strikes out at society!  How?  By interrupting Gotham's Christmas tree lighting ceremony with a giant present that bursts open and unleashes his circus thugs on the unsuspecting public!

So in mere moments, we go from the grim Batman mythology that comic book nerds so desperately wanted the general public to acknowledge and accept back to giant props.  Giant props were very prominent when the comics were at their wackiest/corniest/campiest.

Anyway, the police can't handle this because, well, why should they?  There's Batman!  The man in the cape and cowl is summoned via the Bat-Signal.  Cut to Michael Keaton just sitting there in Wayne Manor.  A bunch of mirrors located around the mansion rotate and the signal is beamed directly into the room.  That makes perfect sense in one way: Bruce Wayne will always know when the signal is lit up and as quickly as possible.  The problem is, what if anybody besides Batman is in Wayne Manor when this happens?  What would Bruce's explanation be?  "Uh... I installed those so I'll know when Batman is going to be on the news, so I can watch Batman on the news.  And that's exactly why I'm going to quickly walk out of the room now instead of watching Batman on the news."  (Alfred would then clock the guest over the head with a teapot, douse them in gin, and dump them in the park.)

Okay, I could easily walk through the whole movie bit by bit and point out every instance of camp that Burton and company packed into it.  But to prevent this post from being as long as War and Peace, I'll just rattle off some more that I can think of off the top of my head:

-Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) falls through a trap door into the sewer.  So, Penguin's plan for getting this man into the sewer relies on him fleeing the scene of the giant-Christmas-present attack down a precise alley and stopping to rest in an exact three-foot-wide section of the pavement.

-Penguin rides around in a vehicle that looks like a giant rubber ducky.  Not only this, but the vehicle shows up as a duck-shaped blip on the radar in Batman's boat.

-Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is pushed out a window by Max Shreck, falls about 15 stories to her doom, but is revived by magical cats who rescue her by licking and biting her flesh.  Also, Shreck doesn't bother to have one of his goons scrape up the presumably dead body from in front of his building and therefore doesn't notice that Selina didn't die.

-Selina becomes Catwoman.  But not the awesome, fierce, strong (human) cat-burglar from the comics.  The cat licks and bites seem to endow her with cat-powers.  She's no longer a timid secretary!  Now she's an empowered, psychotic bitch that literally has nine lives and can do seven-hundred back-flips in a row.

-Now that she's Catwoman she teams up with Penguin to beat Batman, because it makes sense for a woman now brimming with more 'girl power' than all five Spice Girls combined to team up with a gross sewer-man who gropes young women's boobies in front of a group who are there for the announcement of his campaign for mayor.  And to ward off Penguin's disgusting sexual advances, she takes his pet bird and puts it in her mouth.  Only when he threatens her cat's life with his umbrella/sword does she open her mouth and let the bird fly free.  (I'm not sure if you should file this one under 'C' for "Campy", or 'J' for "Just fucking retarded, what the fuck?".)

-Putting some cans of spray paint in a microwave won't cause a small explosion that creates a fire that burns down a department store, it will make the whole store explode in a massive fireball.

-Penguin looks like he weighs about 300 pounds, yet can easily go airborne on an umbrella that turns into a flimsy helicopter.

-Penguin's circus gang hacks into the Batmobile, because all circus performers know how to hack into Batmobiles, and Penguin can then control the Batmobile from his own kiddie-ride version of the Batmobile.

I think that's enough.  Just typing those made me feel confused and nauseous.  Oh wait, one more!

-Batman records Penguin shouting "I played this stinkin' city like a harp from hell!" and then he and Alfred use a CD-R and a Bat-themed CD player to blast this over the loudspeakers at Mayoral candidate Cobblepot's latest campaign speech.  They remix and scratch the sound-byte like the CD is a vinyl record.  I've never tried doing this but I'm pretty sure it doesn't work like that.

Of course, colorful over-sized props, ludicrous plot elements, and mind-controlled penguins with rockets strapped to them (oh yeah, that happened too) don't make a movie a camp-fest all by themselves.  The glue that holds these things together is over-the-top, ridiculous dialog.  Dialog so cheesy that even Denny's would pull it off their menu out of concern for the health of their patrons.  We've already got "harp from hell" out of the way, so I'll provide a few more examples:

-Penguin: I was their number one son, and they treated me like number two.

(Penguin made a poopy joke! LOLZ!)

-Catwoman: I am Catwoman. Hear me roar!

(It's like that feminist slogan from the 60s.  'Cause she's a feminist now 'cause she got bit by cats.  Get it?)

-Catwoman: Somebody say fish? I haven't been fed all day!
-Batman: Eat floor! High fiber!

(If the public heard that, they would have turned against Batman way before the Penguin enacted his evil plot to soil the dark knight's image.)

-Penguin (to Catwoman): Just the pussy I've been looking for!

(OMG you guys!  Penguin made a vagina reference!  Double LOLZ!)

And I'll assault you with just one more, saving the best (by best I mean worst) for last.  Penguin is addressing his army of mind-controlled rocket-penguins...

-Penguin: My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It's okay to be scared... Many of you won't be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish ALL God's children! First, second, third, and fourth-born. Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!

Okay. Aside from the speech being completely idiotic (and I think maybe a spoof of an actual historic speech or something... maybe more than one?), what's the point of Penguin even saying all of this out loud?  For one thing, penguins don't understand English, except for maybe one or two super-intelligent ones who taught Penguin to speak English.  Second, if he is using mind-control helmets to make the birds do his bidding, why does he need to motivate them with a speech?

I think I've made my point.  Jeepers cats, if you need any more evidence than that to prove that Batman Returns is a campy chunk of schlock masquerading as a dark and 'gothic' action movie, I'm not sure you can be swayed.  And if you can't be swayed, check your dome for a mind-control helmet. Somebody's playing you... like a harp from hell!

Joel Schumacher's Batman films are cinematic vomit, I think pretty much we can agree on that.  He even apologizes to anyone who may have been disappointed by Batman & Robin (i.e. everyone over the age of six) on the DVD commentary.  But the series had devolved into camp three years before Schumacher had the chance to point a camera at Jim Carrey and say, "Okay, now that you're in your Riddler unitard, just, like, be wacky and Jim Carrey-like the way you do in your other movies!"

Yes, old chums, the man who we should be pointing our fingers at is the very man who made the general movie-going audience aware that Batman was back, and he was brooding.  Just because somebody gets bitten on the nose and spurts blood all over the place doesn't mean the movie is "dark" or "gothic", it just means gross stuff also happens while the campy nonsense is going down.

Mr. Schumacher didn't make Batman campy again, Mr. Burton did.

Consider this blog post a truth-punch. Zocko!

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