Guest Post: Batman Returns

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—blogger Michael C. celebrates the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of his lifetime.Sometimes in movies, an actor or actress gives such a charismatic and fully realized performance that it rises to the level of high art itself. Case in point: Michelle Pfeiffer’s legendary performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992). Burton’s second Batman film is delightfully weirder than his first—it’s chock-full of a deliciously twisted black humor and everything feels more loose and assured. Make no mistake though: twenty-five years on, it’s Pfeiffer’s embrace of that weirdness in her quintessentially fierce and sexy turn in the catsuit that remains the movie’s most lasting legacy.What’s most rewarding about Pfeiffer’s work here is how much nuance she brings to Selina’s arc, from meek and mousy secretary to ferocious and extroverted antihero. Early on, while establishing Selina’s depressing life, she’s endearingly funny while also making us keenly aware of her loneliness, vulnerability, and self awareness. We’re not laughing at Selina; we’re just laughing to keep from crying. Then, after her transformation—”I am Catwoman. Hear me roar.”—she’s pure animal magnetism, prowling seductively through the rooftops and streets of Gotham. One moment she’s licking herself clean like a cat (such a fantastically funny moment) and the next, she’s besting every man in her path. The feminist commentary is unmistakable throughout—Selina is abused by the patriarchy, gets woke, and then spends the rest of the film equalizing the playing field between her and a cast full of (mostly bad) men. It’s glorious to behold, with Pfeiffer reveling in every minute of it.There’s a lovely and tender scene late in the film, where Selina and Bruce (Michael Keaton) realize each other’s costumed identities at the same exact moment. It’s exquisitely intimate, with tight closeups and real heat generated between Pfeiffer and Keaton. Her reaction to this sudden realization is devastation: tears welling in her eyes, she looks shocked, shaken to her core. After they embrace tightly—as if holding one another will make them forget the truth—Pfeiffer asks, with a flawless mix of dry humor and heartbreaking sadness, “Oh my god. Does this mean we have to start fighting?” Moments like this make Pfeiffer’s performance one for the ages.

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15 Comments

Filed under Guest Post, Review

15 responses to “Guest Post: Batman Returns

  1. Easily, Michelle is the best thing in this follow-up. I’d also agree the onscreen heat is real between her and Keaton in their various scenes. I still have issues with this sequel — Burton’s bringing more camp in (à la the 1966 TV series) for one — but Michelle certainly not one of them.

  2. I LOVE this movie!!! It’s by far my favorite Batman movie and Michelle Pfeiffer is absolutely breathtaking as Catwoman. I don’t think any other Catwoman was able to surpass Michelle’s seductive and mysterious performance.

  3. Obviously, as you see in my essay, I couldn’t agree with you more! She is truly remarkable in Batman Returns. It’s the sort of scorching hot performance that never leaves my mind for long. It’s such a lasting and memorable piece of acting. So unique, too! Certainly, she’s riffing on her hero, Julie Newmar, but she adds so many other layers as well, creating something all her own.

    • The scene you describe so wonderfully, where Michelle and Keaton are dancing together, gives me chills every time I watch it. Catwoman may only nine lives but this Michelle Pfeiffer performance will live forever. Thanks for allowing me to share your work.

      • It’s quite a scene, isn’t it? So powerful, so deeply intimate. Definitely a highlight of the film.

        I appreciate you sharing this post, Paul! Thank you for that. BTW, should you visit and try to comment over at my blog, just know that I turned on comment moderation (as you seem to do) – today I found a few hate-filled and frankly frightening comments on my blog. From “unknown” of course. So I’ve turned on moderation in an attempt to mark any future ones as spam.

        Just when I was feeling pretty good with the internet and my blog, something like that has to happen. Ugh. Anyway, let’s focus on Michelle!

  4. I remember that movie and I thought she was great as Catwoman, sexy and powerful. To tell the truth, I don’t think that movies based on comic books are as interesting as they used to be. The Tim Burton films were intelligent and had good scripts and direction.

  5. This really was a wonderful film, and I agree totally that it was Michelle’s performance that took this movie to the next level. Wonderful post: thanks for this great trip down memory lane 😀

  6. Great post 🙂 I agree with everything you said about Michelle Pfeiffer’s fantastic performance here and I love Batman Returns. Great review Michael 🙂

  7. Both Batman ( 1989) and Batman Returns are simply extraordinary movies that have great depth and charisma to them. My favourite being this particular movie. Michelle was outstanding as Catwoman, the woman who is full of anger and spite ( and brilliant witty sass) from people betraying her that it changed her in such a way. Her secutive but strong bold ways made her the eptiome of that role which one could never forget. She wasn’t just a sexy woman in a skin tight costume, ‘ I’m a woman who can’t be taken for granted’.

    Her transformation scene is one I will never forget ( for I had played it out a few times in my past ahem), her raw emotions of anger and sadness is so well emphasised in a brilliant script.

    The combination of music score from Danny Elfman and the direction Tim Burton headed with the movie worked perfectly and one he should stand proud for.

    ” I don’t know about you Miss Kitty, but I feel so much yummier”

    • I also love how her transformation is so symbolic of a woman transforming into a feminist after years of abuse at the hands of men. The entire story arc is so powerful, so packed with commentary on gender and equality, feminism and toxic masculinity.

      And I love your choice of quotes! She has such great lines in this film.

  8. I love this movie too, and completely agree that Pfeiffer brings a lot of nuance here. I am also glad that Burton was permitted to bring all his creative force into the film. Without it, the film would never have been what it was.

  9. She was incredible in that movie (and many others…).

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