Batman Returns

Batman Returns ★★★★★

Erratically plotted, in open combat with canon in matters frivolous (the literal takes on both Penguin and Catwoman) and troubling (Batman's casual strapping of dynamite to a henchman), and just plain fucking WEIRD, Batman Returns is nevertheless so important to me that I find its numerous flaws trivial enough to overlook in favor of the deeply formative impact it had on me. (For how many of us born around the turn of the '90s was Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, a performance that meets all the standards of PG-13 but is more truly erotic than most films to get an NC-17, their first exposure to the very concept of sex, a word we'd not yet learned but experienced ineffably on her low come-ons and S&M whip-play?)

Even watching it now, I'm struck by the big, swaggering tragedy of it, the unlikelihood that Danny DeVito in a heap of prosthetics and constantly lurching breaths of unslaked lust for power and flesh could end so sadly, or ditto Pfeiffer's dominatrix routine. And the imagination of it, the fanboy-ignoring, production design-taxing oddity of it, of the sort that would put a giant rotating cat head on a corrupt industrialist's headquarters or would send skull-wearing clowns out of giant rubber ducks. It's expressive and truly operatic in its command of emotional leaps in such a way that comic books films now, with their schematic following of publisher approval and their focus on gritty "plausibility," cannot hope to match. In retrospect, this film and its deep resonance to my childhood may explain my love for sloppy, reaching statements from imagistically inclined auteurs.

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