So I’ve talked an awful lot about Batman in these articles of mine, haven’t I? Yeah, sure have. And I’ve also had a lot to say about Batman movies, pro, con and otherwise.
Now, like most people, I have strong opinions about these films – all of them. And there are ones I like more than others – considerably more, in some cases. It’s worth remembering, though, that even the worst of them do have good moments, and even the best have bad ones. It puts things in perspective, you might say, because we fans really are an awfully opinionated bunch. We hand out ‘Best EVER’ and ‘Worst EVER’ buttons at the drop of a hat, whereas in reality that’s an awfully hard label to place. It would be more fruitful, perhaps, to take a look at what each film – or set of films – so far have gotten both right and wrong.
So with that in mind, I’ve decided to break the Batman movies down by director – Burton, Schumacher and Nolan – and make a list of what are, to my mind, the films’ ten best moments, and their ten worst. Three articles, twenty entries each. (I could, of course, make it two articles, since technically the Burton and Schumacher films are part of a single series, but really, the two directors’ styles have little to nothing to do with each other, and there’s almost no carry-over between their respective works. So I’m just going to treat them as separate duologies.)
Let us start, going in order, with the Burton films, ones near and dear to my heart – but not so near and dear that I can’t find a few juicy bits to gripe over. Ladies and gentlemen, bats and batesses, I give you my Top Ten Best and Worst Burton Bat-Moments!
Now, some of these are more ‘sequences’ than ‘moments’, strictly speaking, but they’re all short segments, so I’m counting them. Also, as always, no particular order. And needless to say, major major spoiler alert. I’m writing these for people who have seen all the movies in question, which I think is most of you reading; if you haven’t seen them and would like to, then for Thoth’s sake go out and watch ‘em before you read any further. This will ruin all the bits and bobs for you.
Let’s start with the good:
Top Ten Best
#10: Batman: Welcome to Gotham
What it is: As the movie opens, we get a good look at Gotham City, from its towering, smog-stained towers to the crush of downtown, where we learn it’s really difficult to catch a cab…
Why it’s cool: While people have lauded the look of the Burton movies – and it certainly deserves lauding – for me, the opening of the first one works so well not just because of the visuals, but because it’s a great character moment for Gotham itself. We’re often told that the place is a chaotic urban hellhole, but in few places has that been so efficiently illustrated as here, because of how we first see it – from the viewpoint of an out-of-town family. They’re outsiders, and so are we, and as they push through the throng we get a good idea of the kind of place Gotham is: it’s loud, tough, messy, and has an attitude – the intimidating Big City incarnate. All of this communicated via a simple search for a taxi. That’s good storytelling.
#9: Batman Returns: “You didn’t invite me, so I crashed!”
What it is: The ‘Max-querade Ball’ is in full swing at Shreck’s Department Store when all of a sudden the floor explodes. Guests are blown backwards, slamming into the walls and each other. All is shambles and panic.
And then up through the hole in the floor rises the Duck Vehicle, large as life and twice as yellow. In it, grinning hideously and tipping his hat to the assembled company, is a certain grotesque figure and his bird bodyguards. The Penguin has come to crash the party.
Why it’s cool: I love this scene. Behold the majesty – a sewer mutant in a giant rubber ducky rises explosively from his watery home accompanied by penguins with rockets on their backs. Glorious, glorious Burtonian weirdness that more or less sums up the Penguin’s entire character in one dramatic gesture.
What it is: Jack Napier has had a rough night. After being set up by his boss, running from the cops and scuffling with the Batman, he wound up taking a plunge into a vat of toxic chemicals, which left him somewhat the worse for wear. No worries, though – he’s managed to make his way to a back-alley doctor. A little surgery, and he’ll be fixed up good as new.
As the impatient crook unwraps his own bandages, the doctor’s face stiffens in horror. Insistently demanding a mirror, Jack gets his first look at his new self.
He moans. His shoulders slump. He sobs.
He laughs. He laughs and keeps laughing. First giggling, then chuckling, then finally bellowing with insane mirth, he smashes the mirror to bits, then rises, stumbling and clumsy, from his chair to stagger out into the world again.
The Joker is born.
Why it’s cool: I was originally considering putting the first reveal of Joker as Joker in this place, but while that’s also awesome, this scene has a palpable ‘birth of a monster’ feel to it that gives it a considerable edge. Whether or not Nicholson’s Joker is your cup of tea, there’s no denying that this is the best (if not the only; I’m honestly not sure if there’s another) screen portrayal of the moment when the Joker becomes, well, himself. Sure, he may have gained his trademark coloration when he fell into that vat of whatever-it-was, but the moment when he snaps, when he truly becomes the Clown Prince of Crime – this is the one, folks. There’s no contenders.
#7: Batman Returns: Birth of Catwoman
What it is: Selina Kyle is dead. She’s alive, but she’s dead. You can’t fall multiple stories to the pavement and not be dead. You can’t walk away from it and not be alive.
Yet here she is, back in her apartment. Not quite right. Still doing what she ought to do – feeding the cat, checking her messages – but not all there. She’s changing. And finally, when that one answering machine message cuts a little too close to home…
She snaps. She screams. She wrecks the place.
As alley cats crowd through the windows, she maniacally destroys or defaces all traces of her old life. The pictures on the wall get smashed to pieces, her stuffed animals get a trip through the garbage disposal; her beloved old dollhouse gets ruined beyond repair.
And then, seizing an old raincoat, she begins to create.
To the echoing meows of her newfound friends, she cuts. She sews. She modifies.
And then, hours later, she feels so much yummier.
Why it’s cool: What can I say; Burton does ‘the villain is created’ scenes really well. I know that the ‘cats bring her back to life’ part of BR’s Catwoman origin is not exactly beloved by all (although I like it), but I haven’t heard too much vitriol about this little follow-up sequence, and I’m not surprised, because it’s just awesome. The music is awesome, the staging is awesome, and if Michelle Pfeiffer has ever been more intense than she is in these few minutes, I’m not aware of the fact. The Joker version may be more iconic, but I’d say this one has a slight edge simply because it’s more complex, and we relate to Selina Kyle a lot more than Jack Napier. It’s not enough to nudge either one off the list, though – they’re both great, and belong where they are.
What it is: Say what you will about the Joker, he keeps his promises. After a surprise appearance on TV in which he announced he would help kick off Gotham’s bicentennial celebrations by giving away millions in cash, all of the city was holding its breath wondering if he would actually do it.
And lo and behold, here he is, at the head of a parade of balloons, no less! From atop the lead float, the Joker and his minions toss huge handfuls of bills into the air as Prince’s ‘Trust’ blasts into the air. As the citizens of Gotham go nuts trying to grab the filthy lucre, the villain grins. Oh, what he has planned for a follow-up…
Why it’s cool: While some people find Batman’s use of Prince unbearably cheesy, I’ve always thought that if you’re going to incorporate pop music into a movie, the way Burton does it here is one of the better models to follow. Either one of the scenes where the Joker cavorts to Prince songs could have made it on this list, but I ultimately decided that, while the museum-defacing bit is lots of fun, the ‘Trust’ sequence just carries more overall weight, and is probably one of my favorite Joker scenes, period.
After all, think about this – at this moment, the Joker has won. So far as he’s concerned, it’s a clear-cut victory. His big priority throughout the movie is attention; he hates the Batman because he draws the focus away from wonderful Technicolored him, which he sees as an inexcusable offense because his ego is just that big. And now in one fell swoop he’s turned the focus squarely on himself. He’s got what he wanted, and he’s doing it his way – boogying down on top of a giant birthday cake beneath the shadow of a mammoth floating clown. It’s not even (at this point) illegal – if he wants to randomly give away great bulging sacks of cash, that’s his business. If he’d just stopped there and hadn’t let loose with that Smilex, the day would have unequivocally been his – but then if he’d just stopped there he wouldn’t be the Joker, now would he?
Also, the Prince score works perfectly here. It’s a classic case of using the lyrics to best advantage – the song says ‘you gotta trust’, and that is exactly what the Joker has gotten the crowd to do. Playing on their greed, he’s managed to convert them completely to his side – who cares that the man’s a murderous psychopath who’s been terrorizing the city; he’s giving away free money! And so they trust him, blindly as sheep to the slaughter. All of which makes for not only a fun, but a brilliantly cynical sequence.
What it is: Gotham is under siege from the Penguin as his Red Triangle goons cause chaos. Little does either he or Batman know, however, that there is a third player in this game, a player who has been up to tricks – a player who comes backflipping towards them, in full latex-clad glory, only to pause for a moment in front of the stunned pair. She has just one word to say to them:
Why it’s cool: Catwoman says ‘Meow’, building explodes. Do I have to spell out to you why this is awesome? True, it’s pure style over substance; it doesn’t mean anything in particular, but who cares? Awesome is its own reward.
What it is: As a pair of muggers split their take on the roof of a Gotham apartment building, one of them is feeling a bit jittery. Word’s been getting around about… something. Some sort of monster, the rumors go; something that preys on people like them. They call it the Bat.
Don’t be a doofus, his partner says. “There ain’t no Bat.”
Except there is, and suddenly he’s standing right there, cape outstretched, moving slowly but steadily towards them like some sort of living gargoyle. Bullets only keep him down for a moment, and when the two try to flee, one is quickly taken out and the other dragged to – and over – the edge of the roof.
Dangling by his shirtfront from the nightmare’s fists, the terrified purse-snatcher begs for his life, only to get a reply:
“I’m not going to kill you. I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell all your friends about me.”
“What are you?”
The ‘monster’ pulls him in close.
Why it’s cool: I don’t think this scene needs much of an introduction. At the time when it came out, it was probably the first time in years that the non-comics reading public had seen Batman being genuinely intimidating. We’ve seen lots more of that these days, of course, but it still packs a punch – if nothing else, it’s probably the reason why ‘I’m Batman’ is treated as the Dark Knight’s unofficial catchphrase on the ‘Net these days.
If I were to offer one criticism, it would be that the scene is a little too well-lit – I have no problem with the muggers thinking he’s some sort of supernatural creature, but it would help the illusion considerably if he were swathed in deep shadow; in more regular lighting he’s pretty obviously a man in a suit. That’s a minor issue, though – overall, this scene is one of the better introductions to what the character is all about that you’re likely to see.
#3: Batman Returns: Have yourself a Batty little Christmas
What it is: It’s the holidays, and Gotham Plaza has been plunged into panic. The citizens gathered to view the lighting of the tree instead view the fall of the Ice Princess to her death – a fall seemingly orchestrated by Batman. The tree is lit, though, when the Princess lands on the switch – only along with the lights, it also triggers the release of a huge swarm of bats, which helps the matter not at all.
Batman, of course, is innocent of all this – it’s all part of the Penguin’s schemes – but he can’t very well prove that. The police on his tail, Catwoman right behind him, he decides to follow the better part of valor and take wing – literally, as a few quick motions turn his cape into a functional hang-glider. Now resembling nothing so much as his namesake, he swoops low over the heads of the crowd, surrounded on all sides by fluttering, chittering bats. No one is going to forget this Christmas in a hurry…
Why it’s cool: I always enjoy it when we get a reminder that Batman is associated with bats. You’d think it would be obvious, but that aspect of things has become somewhat abstracted with time.
Every now and again it does pop up, though, and for quite a while this scene was the ne plus ultra of cinematic Bat-bat-moments. You’ve got Batman, flying like a bat, looking more like a bat than he usually does, and surrounded by zillions and zillions of bats. It’s bat-o-riffic!
#2: Batman: “New and improved Joker products!”
What it is: Gotham City is about to become significantly more frenzied. The Joker has just shipped out doctored versions of common household products to the city’s markets, ones that, under the right circumstances, kill you dead as a doornail, with his own hideous grin inscribed on your face. Of course, this wouldn’t be any fun if he didn’t tell everyone about it – so what is the end result? Why, a commercial, of course!
“New and improved Joker products!” he carols, extolling the virtues of “the new secret ingredient – Smilex!” while the images of his recent victims provide a grisly back-up chorus. (“Love that Joker!”) “That luscious tan – those ruby lips!” he rhapsodizes, while trotting animatedly down a supermarket aisle and lazing in a beach chair. But ‘best of all’ – “chances are, you’ve bought ‘em already!”
Why it’s cool: This whole thing is absolutely brilliant, because A: it is totally in character for almost every version of the Joker except the very most de-funnified, and B: it’s a hoot to watch.
So far as point A goes, sending out messages to the media is one of the Joker’s trademark practices; he’s been doing it since his very first appearance. But a commercial? That’s freakin’ brilliant, and it amazes me that no one ever had him make one before the movie came out (so far as I know, anyway). It is precisely what he’d do – it suits his demented sense of humor to a T.
Which brings us to point B – this is simultaneously one of his funniest and most chilling moments in the whole film. So far as funny goes, it’s extremely funny for us, or, at any rate, for me. (My favorite bit is the “blind taste test” and the flashing “Oh No!”) At the same time, your average Gothamite seeing this would be absolutely panicked, especially since they’ve just seen a news reporter literally die laughing while on the air. This crazy guy has just flat-out told you that any casual purchase might turn you into a grisly grinning corpse – that’s pretty horrifying, I’d say. And we’d probably be horrified, too, if Mistah J wasn’t having so darned much fun. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s unspeakably ghoulish, and it’s 100% Joker.
#1: Batman Returns: Penguin’s funeral
What it is: The Avian Abomination is finally dead. Fallen in battle with the Batman, the Penguin lies lifeless amongst the still-burning ruins of his lair. He died as he lived – horribly. He brought terror and chaos to Gotham. None will mourn his passing.
Or will they…?
From out of the shadows, two lines of emperor penguins emerge. Moving to either side of the deceased bird-man, they slowly slide his body along the concrete, uttering mournful little clucks and cries as they do. As the Batman watches, they lower their fallen master into the water, the same water which brought him into their midst so long ago, escaping the fate to which he was abandoned. Now he meets it at last.
Into the icy depths sinks Oswald Cobblepot. As they watched him arrived, the penguins watch him go.
Why it’s cool: I’ll be the first to admit, this scene doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense if looked at logically. Penguin pallbearers? Pallbearers that just appear out of nowhere and sort of shove a heavy body along by their wingtips? Uh?
One must remember, though, that Batman Returns has a heaping spoonful of magical realism added to its mixture, and if viewed from that perspective, it’s actually quite moving – absurd, yes, but moving. These mysterious birds are the one true family the Penguin has, the only ones who have stuck with him throughout his life, who raised him as a child and served him as an adult. Now they bid farewell to their wayward son, their strange human ruler. Even if no one else loved him, they did, despite his failings, and now they give him a last semblance of dignity.
I don’t know – it always just kind of gets me. The whole sequence is so eerily mournful and surreal, with Danny Elfman’s score lamenting in the background and the great big birds plodding along – it’s got an odd sort of oomph to it. It makes sense in a way that has nothing to do with logic, and has always stuck with me as a strangely powerful scene.
Top Ten Worst
#10: Batman: Bruce Wayne is bat-like in more ways than one
What it is: Sometime during the night in Bruce Wayne’s boudoir, a slumbering Vicki Vale is woken by a curious squeaking sound. Noting that Bruce is absent from the bed, she glances over toward the source of the noise. There he is, slumbering peacefully, hanging upside down on an exercise frame.
Why it’s not so cool: I’ll admit in advance, some of these ‘worst’ moments are really more along the lines of ‘moments I don’t get’, and this is one of the latter. It’s not technically a bad scene, I don’t hate it; it’s just weird, and doesn’t really have much place in the film. I mean, I get what Burton was trying for; it’s a cute little reference to the fact that, ha-ha, he’s Bat-Man, see, but in practice, it’s just kind of off. He sleeps upside down? What, does he eat flies, too? Come on.
#9: Batman Returns: Selina makes a whoopsie
What it is: Selina Kyle has work to do. Max Shreck has an important meeting in the morning, and she’s got to have everything ready for him. And look, here he is now!
Naturally, he wants to know what she’s doing. So, of course, she tells him. She’s been very busy. In fact, “I even opened the protected files, and –“
Oh, good, he likes that.
“How did you open protected files, may I ask?”
Ooh, no, he doesn’t like that at all…
Why it’s not so cool: This is an example of a scene that is both very effective and could have used a rewrite. It’s effective in that it’s suspenseful, and leads up to Selina’s transformation into Catwoman – all that stuff, that’s great. It gets a total pass.
The first part, though – oy yoy yoy.
To start with, it’s basically just an exposition dump, and moreover, one that really didn’t need to be there. I know Burton’s forte has never exactly been subtlety – he works in broad strokes; it’s part of his style, and most of the time it works – but this is really clunky. OK, yeah, we do need to know about Shreck’s evil scheme, but there are better ways to do it than just plain telling us about it.
Here’s one, to start with – try this on for size. We see Selina working late, scrabbling through the files, not making much progress, cursing herself for holding off ‘til the last minute. She needs to pull ahead – she’ll never get this thing ready otherwise. (She can even say this aloud; it’s already been established that she talks to herself a fair amount.) Then – aha! Why not crack the boss’ files? They’ll have everything, and she’ll be able to save a lot of time. The ‘secret’ stuff is probably just a bunch of legal jargon, anyway.
It’s at this point that we see Shreck entering the building. He’s moving slowly, still a little dazed from his encounter with the Penguin. We cut back and forth between him walking through the lobby, going into the elevator, etc., and Selina at the computer. We see her figure out the password – she’s in! And now what to her wondering eyes should appear?
Why, blueprints! Great big cartoony Burton-esque blueprints, which clearly show that ‘this is for a fake power plant that sucks up and stores energy, mwa-ha-ha’. Selina’s eyes widen; ye gods, she thinks, the boss is a villain! And it’s at this point that we see he’s snuck up behind her, sees what she’s been looking at, blah blah blah.
I came up with all that off the top of my head. It shouldn’t have taken the combined non-efforts of a screenwriter and director to not realize that the scene needed fixing. It’s a basic violation of ‘show don’t tell’ – you’re showing us nothing, and telling us alllll the damn thing.
Furthermore, the scene does not reflect well on Selina’s intelligence. Gee, I wonder how your arrogant, autocratic, probably mentally unstable boss is going to react when you casually reveal that you’ve cracked his files and know all about his secret criminal plans? Yeah, OK, him throwing you out a window was probably a little hard to predict, but come on. At the very least, you should have started backtracking like mad when he dropped into spooky villain-voice while asking how you did it.
It could be worse. There’s half of a good scene there. It’s just that the other half needs a rewrite.
#8: Batman: Vicki in the alleyway
What it is: Batman and Vicki Vale get cornered in an alleyway by the Joker’s thugs. Vicki is quite high-pitched.
Why it’s not so cool: So far as I’m concerned, one of Batman’s major weaknesses is Vicki Vale. It’s not Kim Basinger’s fault; she delivers a reasonable performance all things concerned, and the character is gutsy enough in her role as a photojournalist. It’s just that she also belongs to one of the more annoying schools of ‘damsel in distress’, rarely actually doing anything non-plot related except reacting to whatever Batman or the Joker just did. And how does she normally react? She screams. A lot.
I picked the alleyway sequence because it illustrates this pretty well. I think she lets out more shrieks, screams and squeals here then in the whole rest of the movie, and she vocalizes plenty there, too. Every single little surprise, it’s “AAAH!” (Also, what was with that “About 108” bit? I’ve never gotten that.)
#7: Batman Returns: The circus train
What it is: The Penguin has finally revealed his ultimate (well, penultimate) plan – to snatch the first-born sons of Gotham from their beds and send them to a horrible watery death! To initiate this ghastly deed, he sends his henchmen to do said snatching – and they accomplish this via… a circus train.
Why it’s not so cool: I mentioned in my review of BR that there are parts of it where you really have to remind yourself that it’s a magical-realism Burton-fest rather than a ‘straight’ superhero flick, and nitpicking really isn’t productive – you’ve just got to relax and go with it. This is one of the above, and I’ve learned to accept it, but – still. If you do look at it logically, this scene makes no sense. At all.
I mean, a circus train! A freakin’ circus train, winding its way through the (strangely empty) streets of Gotham City! How did… why did… what?!
Now, you could, if you wanted to, make allowances for this. You could theorize that maybe it’s the Red Triangle Circus’s old train that they’ve kept and modified (although if that were the case, you’d think it’d be a lot larger). Or maybe it’s an old ride from the Penguin’s zoo headquarters that they’ve repurposed. Neither one is exactly a perfect answer, but it’ll serve.
But even if you can explain away how they got this train, you can’t for love or money explain how its use here makes any sense. You’d think a nefarious kid-snatching job like this would be strictly a stealth mission – you know, in and out, quick and silent, ninja-type stuff. How is maneuvering a choo-choo train through populated neighborhoods in any way a stealthy action? Those things are loud, and moreover, this one is painted in nice bright happy circus colors – it’s about as inconspicuous as a hippo on a pogo stick.
Really, I could spend the rest of the article talking about this one, so in order to insure that I don’t, perhaps we’d best move on.
#6: Batman: “He must have been… King of the Wicker People!”
What it is: While searching Wayne Manor for Commissioner Gordon, Vicki and Knox come across a hall full of… strange things…
Why it’s not so cool: This is another scene that’s not so much bad as baffling. Why does Bruce Wayne collect these things?
Mind you, I get what we were supposed to infer – that he collects armor and defensive gear, thereby dropping a clue that, hey, this guy might just be Batman, ‘cause who else in Gotham City would be so obsessed with that subject? And with a few of the displays, that works fine – the ancient suits of armor, the Samurai mask, the WW1 soldier’s outfit.
But then you’ve got the rest of them. What are those things? They look like rejected sci-fi costumes. Is that supposed to be armor – and if so, whose? Chewbacca’s?
I’ll give you this, they’re certainly memorable, but what are they? Again, not a bad scene, exactly – it does establish that, at the very least, this Wayne fella is a quirky guy – but methinks this was a case where the prop designers’ enthusiasm got the better of them.
#5: Batman Returns: “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.”
What it is: It’s the second confrontation between Bats and the Catwoman, and it’s just as fraught with subtext – make that ‘text’, period – as the first one. It just so happens that someone has hung a bit of mistletoe on a nearby chimney, which leads to the following exchange.
“Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.”
“But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”
Why it’s not so cool: This is a classic example of a line that works well on paper, but clunks like a lead baseball when delivered onscreen. In theory this line should work because it’s intended as a callback – a random comment that leads to a later revelation when it recurs. (And to be fair, that later scene is a pretty cool one.)
In actuality, however, this line has been roundly mocked, and deserves to be, because it doesn’t work. OK, Catwoman’s “kiss can be even deadlier” response does sound like something she’d say, so that bit is fine, but where did this “mistletoe can be deadly” business come from in the first place? It’s completely unprovoked! Can you imagine someone saying something like that when confronted with a piece of mistletoe? Was anyone planning on eating that mistletoe? Why are you talking about eating mistletoe?
What it is: While following the Joker into the cathedral, Batman stumbles against a pew. He stumbles against it hard enough to cause a domino effect, thereby knocking down the entire row of pews. Naturally, the Joker cannot fail to notice this…
Why it’s not so cool: One of my favorite pop-cultural quotes is from the Simpsons episode where Apu gets married: “You are not Ganesha! Ganesha is graceful!” You are definitely not Ganesha, Brucey-boy. Admittedly, you did just survive a plane crash, which would make anyone a little wobbly on his pins, but we’re not talking about a mere stumble here. Those aren’t chairs, they’re pews – heavy wooden pews. They’re designed to stay in place. I don’t have a lot of experience with these things, but it seems to me that, in order to have knocked over just one, let alone all of them, Bats would have had to have practically body-slammed the thing. Any normal human being who causes that much chaos just through tripping over his feet is perhaps a wee bit on the klutzy side, ja?
So, yeah. Batman is not Ganesha. It’s sad, but it’s true.
#3: Batman: “I have taken off my makeup…”
What it is: During a broadcasted speech by the Mayor, the Joker cuts in on it to broadcast his own message. He’s wearing flesh-colored makeup.
Why it’s not so cool: OK, I’m splitting hairs a bit here. This scene, as a whole, is not bad at all, but there’s just this one little niggling detail about it that has always bugged me – the makeup. Why is he wearing makeup?
Now, Joker does do this a couple of other times during the film, so there is precedent here. The thing is, in both those scenes it makes sense – in the first he’s trying to masquerade as semi-normal in front of the city’s mobsters, and in the second, he’s trying to woo Vicki. In the scene in question, however, he’s already appeared in all his freaky glory twice in front of the general public, one of those times on TV. Furthermore, if the idea was to make the public trust him, as in ‘OK, the craziness is over, this is the real me, honest’, then why does he next show up without makeup? He’s trying to make them trust him there, too – and it works! So why bother caking on the flesh-tone originally? It’s a small enough detail, but it bugs me.
#2: Batman Returns: “AAAAAAAAHH!”/“My dear penguins…”
What it is: The Penguin has just gotten word that his ‘kidnap the kids’ plan has been failed. He screams in anger.
Cut to him addressing a crowd of penguins. He has plans for them.
Why it’s not so cool: So, yeah, most of these ‘moments’ have actually stretched a bit longer than that, but I said ‘moments’, and I meant it. This is a moment that bugs me.
I want to make this very clear – it has nothing to do with anything that comes either before or after it. The Penguin’s original scheme made perfect sense for the character, and the one that comes after it does, too. Both of them are fine and dandy, but there is no warning that we’re moving from one to another. We go straight from ‘kidnapping children’ to ‘blowing up Gotham with an army of penguins’. There is no transition between the two, and this is a problem, because it makes both feel like they belong to separate drafts of the script – and they needn’t. All you would need here is just a single line of dialogue: ‘All right, time for Plan B,’ or something along those lines. That would indicate that the Penguin has had this ‘blow up the city’ plan in readiness all along – and really, he must have; outfitting that many penguins with rockets is not exactly something you do on the spur of the moment – which would make him seem that much more cunning and crafty. Instead, it’s just kind of jarring.
What it is: Bruce Wayne, out of costume for the moment, is in the Batcave, hard at work on the problem of how to stop the Joker. Alfred comes walking up – someone is with him. It’s Vicki Vale.
Why it’s not so cool: Like I said at the beginning, these top tens of mine are not put in any deliberate order – I don’t like doing that, as it leads to some tough decisions that I’d just as soon skip. That being said, I deliberately saved this one for last, because if ever there were a moment that deserved the title of most jaw-droppingly inexplicable in either of the Burton films, this would be it. It’s so out-of-nowhere that even Burton himself wound up making fun of it.
Try this on for size – Alfred is the keeper of Bruce Wayne’s secret identity. His secret, secret identity, which must be kept hidden at all costs, lest his enemies blah blah blah. It’s a big deal. Serious business.
So what does he do? He lets Vicki Vale into the Batcave because (presumably) he thinks she might be that ‘special someone’.
To be fair, it is kind of implied that she’d already figured it out on her own and approached him about it, but come on, man, it doesn’t matter how smart the woman is, or how much you like her, or how much twinkly-eyed elder wisdom you possess, ushering her casually into your boss’s super-secret hideaway is a flagrant violation of your job! It is your duty as Bruce’s employee, not to mention his surrogate father, to keep his secrets secret. If he wants to tell her about it, fine, but otherwise, no. I mean, there’s playing matchmaker, and then there’s ‘I’m going to take the decision out of your hands, Master Wayne, because you’re being a wuss about all this and I’m tired of waiting for you to just spill the beans already. I want surrogate grandchildren, dammit!’ Not cool, Alfie. Not cool. And clearly Bruce doesn’t think it was cool either, because he’s still snarking at him about it in the next movie. He’s lucky he didn’t get his butlerly rear booted back to England.
All that aside, though, no one involved in this scene even acknowledges that anything remotely unusual is going on. There’s no ‘how did you get in here?’ from Bruce, no ‘so it’s true – you’re the Batman’ from Vicki, no… well, anything from Alfred; no one acts startled or surprised or acknowledges in any way that this is one great big cat that’s been released from the bag, they just start talking about romance instead. This is not the way normal people act – I don’t care how desperately in love you two are, one of you has just discovered that your boyfriend is indeed a masked vigilante who goes around kicking the snot out of criminals, while the other has just had the secret which he’s devoted his life to keeping ripped into little tiny shreds. Either way, this demands a little more than just a retreat into mushy stuff, you know?
All around, a weird, uncomfortable, entirely misguided scene that, while it can be accepted, can never be overlooked. Everyone involved – why?
So that does it for the first installment. See you next time!