Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 10: The Bat, The Cat, The Penguin

Rough day at work today.  I realize that children don't exactly want to sit still and listen to me explain "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar" for half a period...but it's my job.  They should just let me do it.  Anyway, I did get through most of the notes and points I hoped to cover involving the big questions on the test on Monday (yes, it was the only time I could schedule it...stop looking at me like I'm a monster) so they should do well on that....but they better hope they know the little things as well as they say they do.  Oh well, Act II is hard to go over anyway because essentially nothing happens...its a character development act where we learn more about Brutus and Caesar and the decisions they make to lead them to the big scene in Act III.  Sigh, at least the day is over now and I can start gearing up for the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party tonight at Clay Clay's house.  I bought a totally tacky top to wear (love that alliteration) and several accessories to really make it memorable.  Oh, speaking of tragic characters like Brutus and Caesar...I was inspired by all this tragedy talk to discuss one of my favorite sequels from a superhero series (which also happens to be a Christmas movie).  It features a lone hero who must deal with a life lived without companionship, a misunderstood and twisted man who's exile from the human world forced him to take revenge against it, and a put-upon woman who is crushed by the realites of big buisness and becomes a violent characature of everything that she never was before.  Am I talking about some kind of opera or Shakesperian tragedy?  Heck no!  I'm talking about Batman Returns, Tim Burton's first sequel and only sequel to the acclaimed Batman franchise at Warner Bros.  It was dark, tragic, and cold while also being colorful and manic like a circus and left many people scratching their heads.  Why do I enjoy it?  Read on to find out.

The film opens with Mr. and Mrs. Cobblepot 'celebrating' the birth of their new son whom they keep in a cage due to his deformities and general unpleasentness.  Deciding they cannot take anymore of the child, they dump him in the park river and watch as he floats away into the sewers.  He soon floats through a canal leading into a penguin enclosure at the zoo and is rescued by huge emporer penguins.  33 years later, it is Christmas in Gotham City and everywhere people are bustling around to finish shopping and stay warm in the bitter cold weather.  Life has been fairly crime free since Batman sent took care of The Joker and his gang several years ago, but a new menace is on the rise.  Max Shrek, an iron-fisted Gotham buisnessman, is assaulted at the annual tree lighting ceremony in Gotham Plaza by the Red Triangle Circus Gang and he manages to escape while they create general pandemonium, and trapping his secretary Selena Kyle in the process.  Batman rescues Kyle and sends the gang packing, but Shrek is taken when he steps on the wrong sewer grate.  Turns out, The Penguin (the Cobblepot son from the opening) has been living in the sewers these past 33 years and is the leader of the Circus Gang and he requires Shrek to do a favor for him.  He wants to acsend and rejoin society...though there are suspicions that he has less than honorable intentions.  Meanwhile, Selena Kyle has discovered that Shrek plans to steal energy from Gotham City...but before she can inform anyone he pushes her out of a window.  She nearly dies, but is rescued by hundreds of alley cats who warm her and revive her.  She has a complete breakdown and forms a new persona, Catwoman, so that she can take revenge on her heartless boss.  With two criminals loose on the streets and working together to take Gotham City for themselves...Batman more than has his hands full, especially when Batman is developing feelings for Catwoman and Bruce Wayne is falling for Selena Kyle.  Will the Dark Knight succeed?

Wow, that's a big synopsis.  And yes, that was probably the shortest synopsis I could possibly write without leaving out important details and motives for why characters behave the way they do.  I've seen shorter synopsises, but those are usually written by people who don't care much for the movie.  One of the biggest criticisms that this film faced, aside from its dark nature and gross Penguin characterizations by Danny DiVito, was that there was too much development and time spent developing the villains and fairly little spent with Batman/Bruce Wayne (a similar criticism was lobbed at the first film, with many people saying that it should have been called The Joker instead of Batman).  I am not of the same opinion however.  Batman has already been established as a character and so we already understand him.  It is better for the film that we sympathize with the villains because, as you can see from the synopsis, they are tragic figures that we are meant to empathize with.  Sure, they do bad things...but both of them grow out of people who were never given any other chance by society.  I think that also made people uncomfortable, because it is much easier to dislike a villain who is more pure evil...like The Joker...than a villain who is completely justified in wanting revenge...like Catwoman and to a lesser extent, The Penguin.  That is one of the aspects of Batman Returns that I prefer to the others because it begs you to ask the question "What is good and what is bad and how blurry can we make the line between them?"  Technically, Batman is breaking the law but we forgive him because he is stopping crime.  Catwoman and The Penguin break the law to right the wrongs of their pasts as well...but they do it in much less honorable ways.  The triangle of the animal identities is a nice touch as well with air, land, and water all covered by the characters respective name choices (Cat, Bat, and Penguin) and it helps to show how each of them share a common link.  Their pasts were terrible, and they took refuge in the animal world.  The story really would make a tremendous opera, and Danny Elfman's huge score certainly elevates it to that level.  I think everyone should watch Batman Returns with these ideas in mind to see if you interpret some of the themes differently.  Its a very complex and rich drama, while also doing pretty well in the action department as well.

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