Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday of September to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 18 October 2011
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Batman quickly became a successful and dynamic character after his 1939 debut in DC Comics; over the years, the character’s world and mythos has grown considerably to include numerous spin-off comics and adaptations into not just cartoons and movies but also videogames. While Batman has fared rather well in that department, it can’t be denied that there were a few stinkers as well before Eidos Interactive acquired the rights to make a Batman game and brought in both Rocksteady Studios and celebrated Batman scribe writer Paul Dini to create the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (ibid, 2009) at a time when the character was hot off a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a celebrated triumph that perfectly captured Batman’s essence.

Development of a sequel began work before Arkham Asylum had even been completed; despite apprehensions about system limitations, Rocksteady had big ideas for the sequel, which would move away from the claustrophobic trappings of Arkham Island and into more open world territory. Having learned from their mistakes and feedback from the first game, the developers greatly expanded Batman’s arsenal, animations, and gadgets to make him a more capable character and significantly expanded the range of exploration and side missions available to players in the much-larger game world. All of that hard work paid off as Arkham City became one of the fastest selling videogames in history. Critically, the response was universally positive; critics lauded the voice acting and additional features and the high quality of the game’s mechanics and content. The game was so successful that it was released in multiple editions with access to different downloadable content (DLC) and won numerous awards for the sheer expansiveness of its included, and additional, content.

The Plot:
Some time after the events of Arkham Asylum, the city’s criminals and maniacs have been locked up inside a walled off section of Gotham City known as Arkham City, from which there is no escape and both supervillains and TYGER mercenaries under the command of Doctor Hugo Strange enforce martial law. Infiltrating the prison to investigate Strange’s unlawful incarceration of those who spoke out against him, the odds against Batman increase when the Joker shows up, apparently dying from TITAN poisoning, and infects Batman with his blood, forcing him to delve into the city’s underworld to find a cure.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City is a third-person, action/adventure game but, this time, you’re prowling the streets and rooftops of “Old Gotham”, a dilapidated and rundown area of Gotham that has been encased in high perimeter walls sporting gun turrets to house the city’s undesirables. Arkham City’s game world is five times the size of the one seen in Arkham Asylum and features even more recognisable landmarks from Batman’s famous city and areas to explore, as well as an endless supply of inmates and lowlifes to get your fists on. One of the best things about Arkham City is how the control scheme and core mechanics remain exactly as in the first game, just expanded considerably. Once again, Batman’s main method of traversal is his operatic cape and grapnel gun, which can now be used in conjunction and upgraded to allow him to effortlessly zip across the city. You can also dive bomb while gliding to take out enemies or pull up and gain additional height and length on your glide, allowing you to traverse the city prison in no time at all.

Combat and stealth are more fluid and satisfying than ever thanks to additional animations and options.

This more than makes up for Batman’s continued inability to jump and allows him to easily dart out of danger when spotted; Batman can still crouch with the Right Trigger and toss a quick Batarang with the Left Trigger, but now he can also quick-fire other gadgets, which is incredibly useful in combat and for solving the myriad of brain-teasing puzzles scattered around the city by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler. The “freeflow combat” mechanic of the previous game returns intact but greatly expanded thanks to the addition of more attack animations and combos; X allows you to strike in quick succession while a well-timed press of Y (indicated when the “counter” indicator appears) will allow you to block and counter incoming attacks and rack up a bigger and more fluid combo. The higher your combo, the more damage you’ll deal and the more dynamic the perfectly-placed fight camera will move to allow you to lunge at other enemies before they can land a blow. Since the streets are crawling with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of thugs this time around, there are far more opportunities to sneak up on them and perform a “Silent Takedown”, but this time you can perform a “Knockout Smash” (though this will attract nearby enemies) and you can even perform takedowns from floor grates, double or even triple counters and takedowns when in combat, attack parts of the environment (like fire extinguishers and electrical boxes) to disorientate or disarm opponents, and even slam inmates into walls or dangle them over ledges during combat or interrogations.

New additions to the Predator sections increase the threat to Batman and his takedown options.

Also returning is the stealth-based “Predator” mechanic; in addition to sneaking up on enemies, Batman can grapple up to stone gargoyles and other high ledges to review rooms of armed thugs using the x-ray and thermal vision offered by his “Detective Mode”. A simple press of the Left Bumper and you’ll be able to see enemies by their body heat, their current condition, and any interactable parts of the environment. Batman’s new array of gadgets (easily accessed using the directional pad) can also be used in new ways to lure enemies into traps or take them down and, while traversing the city, you’ll need to make liberal use of these (and Batman’s new smoke pellets) to dart away from gunfire and dispatch gun-toting enemies. Again, Batman is tough but can’t take sustained gunfire or explosions; however, his health will replenish after you clear out all nearby enemies, solve riddles, or find the many Riddler Trophies. These same criteria will earn you experience points (XP) to improve Batman’s armour, abilities, and weaponry once more but the game definitely mixes things up by having enemies be able to jam your Detective Vision and electronics and lay traps of their own.

Navigation is easier than ever thanks to a comprehensive map, waypoint, and compass system.

If you thought Arkham Asylum had a lot of riddles and Riddler Trophies, then Arkham City will blow your mind! The Riddler has placed his trophies not just out in the open but hidden behind walls, in cages, and a myriad of pressure pads and context-sensitive puzzles that will require all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to acquire. Similarly, there are riddles to find across the city and you can solve them by tapped LB to scan the environment when you spot glowing green question marks or the answer to the riddle. This time, there are also far more destructible elements to snag you some XP; the chattering Joker teeth return but you’ll also be destroying TYGER security cameras, balloons, and massive bobbleheads of Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, which all adds to the fun, as well as more opportunities to use your gadgets to open vents or shut off steam from pipes. The map screen returns, far more expansive and user friendly (as are all of the menus) than before; you can now set waypoints to your next mission or any other location on the map and a very useful onscreen compass and Bat-Signal will direct you towards your location with a minimum of fuss. Take note, though, that these features are suppressed when you have Detective Mode activated but, again, there are some opportunities to track targets using this vision mode.

The streets are crawling with more baddies than ever and they’ll repopulate areas as you progress.

Like the first game, Batman: Arkham City gets progressively difficult as you play but this is expanded upon greatly. You might come across a gang of Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s minions and engage them in combat, only for more and more nearby inmates to hear the fight and join in, for one thing. These enemies will, eventually, repopulate areas after you’ve cleared them out so you constantly have to be aware of enemies on the streets and rooftops and, like in the last game, enemies will increase in their aggressiveness and capabilities as you progress through the story. Also, like before, you can select different difficulty levels to play the game on from the start, with “Hard” mode including counter indicators this time but increasing the damage enemies will put out, but there are no Achievements tied to playing on Hard mode so you may as well play on “Easy” or “Normal” since “New Game Plus” offers an even tougher challenge than the game’s Hard mode. Where Arkham City excels, though, is in its sheer size; Arkham City is full of buildings to enter, Easter Eggs and references, riddles to solve, and side quests to keep you busy. For a returning player like me, it’s really easy to get distracted with side quests on your way to the main story objective and you can keep track of all outstanding missions from the main menu. From here, you can also view stories and character biographies, review Batman’s moves and abilities (and even view a tutorial if you need a refresher), and check up on any outstanding riddles and such. In fact, the only real downside to Arkham City is, again, the inability to quickly exit an area, which can be particularly bothersome when deep in the bowels of the city subway or the forgotten steampunk city, Wonder City, as it can still be a tad laborious to find your way back out sometimes.

Graphics and Sound:
Batman: Arkham Asylum managed to hold up impressively well over time and Arkham City holds up even better; it was already a big step up in terms of graphical quality and visual presentation so it’s only natural that it’s aged even better. As before, it’s a very dark game and takes place in one night so you might be relying on your Detective Vision or brightness settings to navigate in some areas but, thanks to many of the game’s locations taking place in indoor, more suburban (if equally dilapidated) areas, there are far more opportunities to bask in the impressive art direction of the game. Arkham City is split into different regions, with each one being primarily controlled by gangs of thugs affiliated with a different supervillain (Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker) and having a distinctive feel to them.

Each region of Arkham City is controlled by a different villain and has a different look to it.

Because the game takes place within a walled off cityscape, it must be said that it’s not immediately as visually distinctive compared to its predecessor as you’re surrounded by skyscrapers but I can forgive this as there are far more opportunities to see and explore the wider mythos of Batman’s world. You’ll stumble across Crime Alley, explore the remains of the old Gotham City Police Department (complete with Bat-Signal on the roof), fight through the museum and into the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, and take on the Joker’s gang at the dilapidated remains of the Sionis steel mill over on Amusement Mile. Similar to Arkham Island (which you can still see lingering in the misty distance), the city prison is a rundown, desolate place full of graffiti, burned out cars, litter, and chaos and there’s a real sense that the dogs have been literally let loose within its high walls and have turned the city into a veritable war zone. As you might expect, there are some more intricate and elaborate areas of the city, too. You can venture down into the abandoned subway and, of course, navigate through some stony catacombs and sewers beneath the city but, luckily, the game is far bigger and makes much better use of these environments when it comes to utilising Batman’s abilities so there’s far less awkward jumping and climbing and much more emphasis on the Line Launcher and grapnel boost, though you will need to get used to the new dive bomb mechanic in order to swoop in through some tight areas and get 100% completion.

Some nightmarish sequences, jump scares, and chilling encounters add to the world’s mythos.

Things definitely start to take a more visually interesting turn once you venture into the abandoned Wonder City, a town populated by deactivated robots and lost to the midst of times, and scale Wonder Tower to confront Hugo Strange. Sadly, there aren’t the same dynamic sections as those involving Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the last game but Arkham City does go to some lengths to recreate these sections when the plot demands that Batman suffer the effects of his poisoning. Later, during a side quest involving Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, you’ll experience a much more similar, twisted nightmare world but the game does include far more elaborate and layered areas to explore that change as the story progresses. The GCPD will freeze over because of Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze, the steel mill needs to be cooled down and then you have to enter through a different entrance that involves navigating past giant machinery and drills, Julian Day/Calendar Man is imprisoned beneath the courthouse, and the museum contains a gigantic frozen pool with a very large and unfriendly denizen awaiting you.

The attention to detail, new villains, and cameos are even better than ever this time around.

Thanks to the diversity in the game’s inmates, enemies have a lot more visual variety this time around as they wear different colourings and outfits. There is also a lot more chatter as Batman picks up on his enemy’s radio signals and broadcasts, with both Joker and villains like Penguin taunting you and issuing commands to their underlings. Batman’s suit, while visually very similar to the last one, still takes on battle damage as the story progresses and, as you’d expect, both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill knock it out of the park with their stellar work as Batman and Joker, respectively. Like before, Batman stops to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle but he also talks with his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, who sends additional equipment and offers council. The game also features far more references to Batman’s cast of characters and the wider DC universe and there’s even a much-appreciated cameo from a really well-designed version of Tim Drake/Robin for good measure. Cutscenes still make liberal use of the in-game graphics, which are even closer to the higher quality cinematics, and you’ll now see a helpful little recap of the story and your current outstanding missions when reloading a save.

Enemies and Bosses:
With Arkham Asylum gone, its inmates and the rest of Gotham’s criminals have been tossed into Arkham City instead; for the most part, the bulk of the game’s enemies are the same scumbags you fought in the last game but in different clothing and with more jeers to throw your way. Inmates will throw punches, grab weapons, toss items at you, and attack with both knives, guns, grenades (in a new twist), electrical batons, and will even pick up car doors to use as shields and ram you. Eventually, you’ll also have to contend with snipers, enemies wearing collars that will attract their allies when they’re downed, enemies that can jam your technology, ones that take hostages, and thugs will even use thermal vision to spot you and start destroying the ledges you’re hiding on if you linger too long or fail to stay hidden. While the crazed lunatics from the last game are gone, the TITAN monsters make a return and some inmates with be decked out in protective armour. A simple Batarang to the face is no longer enough to dispatch these goons; this time, you must use three cape swipes to stun them and mash X to beat them into submission while also countering incoming attacks. You’ll also have to contend with the one-armed Abramovici twins a number of times; these big bastards swing huge sledgehammers or scythes and must be blasted with a bolt from Batman’s Remote Electrical Charge gun to inflict damage on nearby enemies and pummelled with your attacks as they can’t be stunned so you have to strike, hop over to avoid their swings, and strike again to defeat them.

Solomon Grundy more than makes up for Two-Face and Penguin’s lack of physical challenge.

Arkham City is populated by a number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, basically all of them being new additions to the roster of bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Two-Face, who has taken over the courthouse and held Selina Kyle/Catwoman hostage. This is more of a tutorial for the basics of combat and Dent is dispatched by Catwoman in a cutscene rather than in an actual boss fight, and the following encounter with the Penguin is quite similar. This is basically the culmination of a side mission that sees you rescuing frozen police officers, freeing Mr. Freeze, and acquiring tech from his suit to deactivate his freezing gun (which the Penguin is using to keep you at bay). In fact, the first real physical challenge you have (aside from gladiatorial bouts against swarms of inmates or fights against one of the Abramovici twins) follows this encounter with the Penguin, which sees you facing off against the hulking zombie Solomon Grundy. You fight Grundy in a kind of gothic laboratory and must use your quick-fire explosive gel to close up three holes on the floor that regenerate Grundy’s health with lightning (while dodging said lightning) and allow you to put a beating on Grundy. This continues into the next phase, where Grundy tries to crush you with leaping attacks and two giant wrecking balls and sends weird little mice-things scuttling towards you. The third phase is more of the same but Grundy has one arm trapped in a machine; this time, the floor holes open sporadically for even shorter bursts and you need to avoid the shockwaves Grundy produces. Once he’s finally defeated, you have to dodge out of the way of the Penguin’s missile to punch him out once and for all, all of which is more interesting and engaging than the final boss of the last game.

While Rā’s tests your reflexes, you’ll need to use all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to bring down Mr. Freeze.

The next main story boss you’ll battle is Rā’s al Ghūl but, before this, you must first track down one of his ninja assassins by her blood trail, get past more of them in Wonder City (they can dodge your strikes and teleport in puffs of smoke before attacking with sword swipes), and endure the “Demon Trials” (gliding sections through a twisted hellscape where you can’t touch anything but the highlighted areas). You’ll face Rā’s in a desert that is part delusion, part reality, and have to take out hoards of sand men while he dashes at you from out of nowhere. Once you get past them, you must dodge the shurikens and blades he sends your way while blasting at him through his human shield with your Disruptor, and then mash Y to counter his attacks. The speed and aggressiveness of his attacks increases as the fight goes on but the final blow comes down to a well-timed toss of the reverse Batarang and Rā’ later meets a very gruesome end for his part in the game’s events. Next, you’ll have to take on easily the most intricate and complex boss of the game (or most games, for that matter) as Mr. Freeze betrays you and forces you into a confrontation. Depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, you may be forced to use every single one of Batman’s gadgets and abilities to deal damage and leave him vulnerable for a beatdown as Mr. Freeze learns and adapts his strategy as the fight progresses. Mr. Freeze will plod around the laboratory searching for you and sending heat-seeking globes to seek you out; you can use Batman’s glide attack, takedowns, and gadgets (like the explosive gel and Remote Electrical Charge gun) to deal damage but he’ll take action to ensure that you can’t do this twice (he freezes the ledges, grapple points, and vents, destroys parts of the environment, erects a shield, among other defensive measures), which forces you to think on your feet and explore options you might not normally use.

After stopping Strange and defeating Clayface, you’ll find some other villains to take down.

In the game’s finale, Strange activates the mysterious “Protocol 10” and commences a strategic bombardment of Arkham City; this briefly forces you to hack into circling helicopters in order to get inside of Wonder Tower and shut Strange down but, after you do, you’re forced into a confrontation with the Joker, who seems revitalised and has taken Talia al Ghūl hostage. Earlier in the game, you actually fight the Joker in his base form while his goons and out of control dodgem cars fill the arena but, when you confront him at the end, it’s revealed to have been Basil Karlo/Clayface in disguise; thus, the finale is, again, a battle against a hulking enemy. This time, you have to dodge Clayface’s cannonball attack and swinging arms while repeatedly spamming Freeze Blasts to whittle his health down. In the second phase, you grab a sword and slice up the mud men he spawns while repeating these tactics and avoiding his big sledgehammer shot in order to take him down. In between each of these main mission boss fights, you’ll come across a number of side missions that will draw you into confrontations with more of Batman’s rogues gallery: Floyd Lawton/Deadshot has been killing targets all over the city but Batman eventually tracks him down and must sneak past his one-shot rifle-arm to take him down; Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz has been killing people by luring them to ringing phones so Batman has to listen to his macabre life story to triangulate his location and then sneak around him in a partially flooded area to rescue his hostages; the Mad Hatter abducts you and forces you to battle waves of demonic rabbits; and the Riddler has also taken five hostages and placed them in Saw (Wan, 2004)-like traps. These hostages can only be saved by finding the Riddler’s Trophies, solving riddles, and interrogating his informants (highlighted in green) to gain access to his “Enigma Device” and locate each one in turn using the Cryptographic Sequencer.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, Arkham City features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and destroy cameras and such, you’ll gain XP. Upon levelling-up, you can again upgrade Batman’s armour (now separated into one that improves damage from melee attacks and one from gunfire) to gain additional health, add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (including a swarm of disorientating bats, bone-breaking takedowns, and weapon disarmaments), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Again, it’s pretty easy to fully upgrade all of Batman’s abilities if you engage with enemies and search out riddles on a regular basis, and it’s best to mix and match your upgrades for a balanced playthrough but you can choose to focus on making Batman more durable if you so wish.

Batman’s new toys let him charge power points and create temporary platforms, among other things.

Batman begins the game with many of the gadgets he had at the end of the last one, making him far more equipped for the rigours of Arkham City; many of his weapons, such as the grapnel gun and explosive gel, can now be used as quick-fire attacks to mix up your combos to allow for more diverse combat. Although Batman can no longer rip down walls with his grapnel gun, the Line Launcher can be upgraded to fire a second line and allow Batman to walk along it like a tightrope and he also has access to some new toys. The smoke pellets allow him to disorientate enemies and make an escape if needed, the Remote Electrical Charge gun allows him to power up electrical appliances, the Disruptor deactivates mines and renders up to two enemy guns useless, and the Freeze Blast (and upgraded Freeze Cluster) can plug up steam pipes and form ice floats on bodies or water to allow Batman to float around by grappling onto conveniently-placed hooks around the environment.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham City has fifty Achievements to earn, with the bulk of these popping simply by playing through the story, meeting certain objectives, and defeating bosses. One has you fiddling with the Xbox’s internal date and time in order to hear Calendar Man ’s chilling acts while most of the others are tied specifically towards starting or completing the game’s many side missions rather than solving or finding riddles (although this is a factor since you need to do this to rescue the Riddler’s hostages). No matter what difficulty you complete the game on, you’ll unlock a New Game Plus mode that offers and additional difficult challenge, mixes up the enemy placements, allows you to play the story with any additional DLC costumes, and carries over all of your gadgets and upgrades to a new game file. You’ll also be able to return to your original save file in a post-game world where the inmates will comment on the dramatic conclusion of the game and be freely able to switch to Catwoman at certain points on the map.

Alongside the Riddler challenges, there are a number of additional side quests to occupy your time.

This is super useful if you have any outstanding side missions to complete; not only are there some diving simulations to complete and a bunch of Riddler challenges tied to performing combat and gameplay manoeuvres, there are many other mysteries and villains out there to confront, such as tracking down Thomas Elliot/Hush (who has been mutilating victims to impersonate Bruce Wayne), figuring out the motives of the mysterious Michael Lane/Azrael, saving a number of political prisoners from random acts of violence, locating and reunited Nora Fries’ cryogenically frozen body with Mr. Freeze, and destroying TITAN containers in a fragile alliance with Bane. Additionally, there are way more Riddler Trophies hidden throughout Arkham City, many of which require precision gliding, pressing pressure pads, and using a variety of Batman’s gadgets to pick them up. Catwoman also has her own Riddler Trophies to pick up and, while there are no audio tapes to find this time, you can still unlock biographies, news stories, and audio clips by solving and finding riddles. As before, the game features a Challenge Mode, now rebranded as “Riddler’s Revenge”, which allows you to take on self-contained combat and predator challenges based on encounters in the game. You’ll battle a few waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rack up points by sustaining and varying your combos and pick off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as disabling your Detective Mode, shielding enemies from damage, or having reduced health).

Arkham City makes up for the last game with a whole bunch DLC skins, characters, and challenge maps.

There is also a new series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. These challenge maps, and the main game itself, can be expanded by purchasing the many different DLC packs for the game. As mentioned, Catwoman was a big selling point of the game and those who pre-ordered Arkham City or purchased her DLC can switch to playing as Catwoman during the story to follow a side mission involving Poison Ivy and stealing from Hugo Strange. The DLC for Arkham City is such a massive step up compared to the last game, adding twenty Achievements to collect and numerous costumes for Batman to use in New Game Plus and on challenge maps, and, best of all, the ability to play as Robin and Dick Grayson/Nightwing in the challenge maps. Each of the four playable characters plays a little differently (Catwoman is faster but weaker, slashes with her claws and tosses bolas; Robin uses his bo staff, riot shield, and faster (but shorter) version of the Batclaw; and Nightwing batters thugs with batons and utilises his acrobatic skill to take out enemies) and has their own gadgets but, sadly, only Catwoman is available to play as in the main game. Robin does take centre stage in a post-game DLC story, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge”, that sees him infiltrating the steel mill to rescue Batman; I had all of this DLC on the PlayStation 3 and greatly enjoyed the variety offered by the skins and each character but I do wish that the studio had allowed these additional characters to be used in the actual main game.

The Summary:
I was massively impressed with Batman: Arkham City when I first played it on the PlayStation 3; the game was just so much bigger and better than the original thanks to expanding the scope of the game world and the range of Batman’s abilities and gadgets. Everything that worked in the original game is back and improved upon, making combat even more fluid and diverse and truly defining the essence of Batman to set the standard for the remainder of the series. Rather than being confined to a claustrophobic, gothic prison, Batman is freely able to roam and fight around a dilapidated, walled off section of the city full of Easter Eggs, references, inmates to fight, secrets to find, and side missions to keep you busy for far longer than the first game. Best of all, the game is packed full of post-game and additional content thanks to these side missions, the New Game Plus mode, the expanded Challenge Mode, and the impressive abundance of DLC. Including additional skins, a short post-game story, and two of my favourite Batman characters in Robin and Nightwing really helps to expand the lore of this interpretation of Batman’s world and offers far more replay value. For me, Arkham City is still the gold standard for the Batman: Arkham series (Various, 2009 to 2015) and, while Arkham Asylum finally offered all of Batman’s abilities in a fun and engaging way, Arkham City expanded on them to the nth degree and truly defined what it means to play as Batman in an open world environment and it definitely deserves all of the praise it earned upon release and even to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think about Batman: Arkham City? How do you feel it holds up compared to the original games and its sequels? Did you enjoy that the game world was expanded into a city-sized open world or did you prefer to more claustrophobic aesthetic of the first game? Which of Batman’s new gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever track down all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Which of the side missions was your favourite to complete? What did you think to the game’s DLC and would you have liked to see Robin and Nightwing playable in the main game? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham City, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the next Arkham videogame!

Talking Movies: The Batman

Released: 4 March 2022
Director: Matt Reeves
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $100 million
Stars:
Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, and Andy Serkis

The Plot:
During his second year of fighting crime, traumatised billionaire socialite Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) struggles to balance rage with righteousness as he investigates a disturbing mystery that has terrorised Gotham City. During his pursuit of the sadistic Edward Nashton/The Riddler (Dano), the Batman is forced to make new, unlikely allies to bring the corrupt to justice.

The Background:
Ever since his debut in Detective Comics, the Batman has been a popular staple of DC Comics and no stranger to adaptation. The Caped Crusader and his faithful sidekick, Dick Grayson/Robin, first appeared in live-action in a black-and-white serial back in 1943, but it was his outrageously vibrant adventures in the sixties that arguably catapulted the grim vigilante into a cultural icon. Writers such as Frank Miller helped to return Batman to his darker roots, and his mainstream perception was changed forever thanks to the grim and gritty Batman (Burton, 1989); though the character would revisit his campier roots in the latenineties, auteur Christopher Nolan and method actor Christian Bale brought the Dark Knight back on track with an extremely successful and influential trilogy of Batman films that grounded the theatrical vigilante in a hyperreality. However, following the outrageous success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros. were eager to establish their own interconnected cinematic universe; Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) was to be their first step in this process; however, a series of missteps and underhanded decisions saw the studio backpedal and re-evaluate their strategy to make the bizarre decision to tell standalone stories alongside interconnected films.

With Affleck out, Warner Bros. decided to recast and start over with a new solo Batman movie.

Initially, The Batman was to be solo project for Ben Affleck; however, the actor left the project after becoming disinterested in the character, production, and Warner’s treatment of director Zack Snyder. Director and lifelong Batman fan Matt Reeves replaced Affleck as director and reworked the script to focus on Batman’s second year of crimefighting and crafting a neo-noir story the focused on the character’s rage and detective skills. Former teen heartthrob-turned-method actor Robert Pattinson replaced Affleck and immediately tackled the role with a grim enthusiasm to undergo a physical and mental transformation and was encouraged by Bale to ignore criticism regarding his casting. Colin Farrell underwent an even more extreme transformation to play a new version of crime boss Oswald Cobblepott/The Penquin, and the film was clearly established as being separate from the existing DC live-action continuity. Reeves strived to incorporate horror elements and a stylistic noir tone to his film, and costume designer Jacqueline Durran drew inspiration from multiple Batman stories and interpretations to create a homemade look for the Batsuit. After being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Batman finally released earlier this month; as of this writing, the film has made over $300 million at the box office and has been met with near-unanimous praise; critics lauded the film’s ambiance and gritty noir feel, Pattinson’s grim performance was celebrated, and it was largely heralded as being one of the most gripping and compelling superhero films to date. Even before the film was released, the cast and crew revealed that The Batman was intended to be the first of a new trilogy of films and although a planned GCPD spin-off was recently cancelled, development has already started on spin-off television shows focusing on Arkham Hospital and the Penguin, respectively.

The Review:
Like many, I was somewhat sceptical going into The Batman, but probably for very different reasons; as much as I disagree with many of the choices made in the DCEU, and the direction Snyder took the films, at least we were finally getting DC movies where these wonderful characters actually co-existing and interacted. Now, though, Warner Bros. seem to think that it’s perfectly acceptable and understandable to have different variations of Batman onscreen at the same time, which is a far cry from the infamous “Bat Embargo” they usually place on their property. While I can just about get my head around this, I wonder how many in the casual audience will get that this Batman and this new world isn’t part of the DCEU as we know it, and is unrelated to the Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton Batmen that are in that universe. Personally, I feel things would’ve been much simpler if Warner Bros. had pushed for a new Batman solo film after Man of Steel, or simply recast Affleck with another grizzled veteran and retooled their script. However, I had no doubts about Robert Pattinson; he’s successfully reinvented himself as a high calibre actor and, at this point, I’m resigned to just hoping that these DC movies will be enjoyable in their bubbles and trying to ignore the absolute mess of the DC multiverse.

The film explores little of Bruce’s backstory and instead picks up with him in a dark mental state.

Similar to Batman and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016), The Batman begins with Bruce having been active as Gotham City’s bat-themed vigilante for some time. Specifically, he’s in his second year of crimefighting and is already relatively well established as a vigilante; many in the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) and positions of authority are aware of him and do not approve of his methods, but the city’s such a corrupt and rotting cesspool that there’s really not much of an effort being made to bring him in. Unlike pretty much every single interpretation of the Batman, however, we are spared a recreation of the night Bruce’s parents are killed; their deaths are still mentioned, and are a pivotal part of the plot, Bruce’s motivation, and the city, but the film very much takes inspiration from Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017) and assumes that the audience will have a working knowledge of who Batman is and how he came to be. Obviously, for myself and a lot of us, this is the case, but if you’re new to the Batman than you might struggle a little bit with understanding exactly why Bruce was driven to such extremes. The film, in many ways, is framed as though you’ve picked up a random issue of DC Comics; it drops you right into this hellhole of a city and forces you along this intense investigation with a haunted young man who stalks the streets night after night. one thing I really enjoyed was the use of Bruce’s voiceover and the depiction of him keeping track of his nightly activities in a journal, two things which are common staples of the character in the comics and really help to reinforce the film’s seventies-inspired crime noir feel, though Pattinson’s narration dies down for the majority of the film, so that one explicit window into his mindset is shut off from us and the film instead becomes a masterful exercise in subtlety and body language. This is a very different Batman from the ones that have come before, one that is both new and familiar in a lot of ways; like Michael Keaton, he rarely speaks and, when he does, it’s in a hushed whisper. Like Christian Bale, he clearly put his Batsuit together and is still finding his way as Gotham’s protector, and he has a physical intensity not unlike Ben Affleck but fuelled by a rage so intense that it’s almost surprising to find he has such a strong moral code against guns and killing. This Batman is also firmly grounded in the real world, perhaps even more so than Bale’s; it’s suggested that, rather than travelling the world to learn crimefighting and solving methods, he was trained to fight by his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Serkis), but he also demonstrates an extremely keen mind.

Apart from Gordon, Batman’s relationship with the GCPD is as strained as Bruce’s with Alfred.

More than any other Batman, this Batman is a detective; he works closely with Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Wright), who vouches for him, allows him access to crime scenes, and even calls for him using a makeshift signal atop a seemingly abandoned skyscraper. Batman’s relationship with Gordon is easily the closest ever seen on film; the two have a clear trust and respect for each other, and feel that the system is so broken that they have no choice but to turn to the other (one an extreme vigilante, the other one of the city’s few honest cops). Despite the disapproval of his peers and superiors, Gordon constantly stresses that the Batman is their ally and he even colludes with the brooding vigilante to help him escape police custody. Gordon is depicted as a jaded and bleak individual who’s clearly seen too much death and corruption in Gotham and is near the end of his tether, yet he continues to fight on for justice; we don’t explicitly learn much about his personal life outside of work, but it was pretty great to see the two literally teaming up to investigate clues and having a relationship that’s much more equal than in other interpretations. On the flip side, we really don’t get many interactions between Bruce and Alfred; clearly inspired by Batman: Earth One (Johns, et al, 2012 to 2021) and more than a little reminiscent of Sean Pertwee’s take on the character, Alfred clearly fully supports Bruce’s endeavours as Batman but, like other versions of the character, is dismayed to find that Bruce’s nightly jaunts have all but consumed his life. Indeed, this is truer here than of any other Batman; Bruce Wayne is merely a brooding shell of a man, one who is rarely seen in public and has made no efforts to put his wealth towards improving the city, and Alfred is dismayed that the young billionaire is letting his family’s legacy go to waste in favour of pummelling thugs as Batman. Having said that, though, Alfred assists in looking into the Riddler’s ciphers and helps Bruce to figure out clues to the madman’s next victims, and Bruce is delivered an unexpected blow when his last remaining member, whom he has long shunned, is critically injured after the Riddler targets Bruce Wayne. Bruce’s anger at this turns to feelings of betrayal, and finally appreciation for his elderly butler, after he learns that his father, Thomas Wayne (Luke Roberts), got caught up in Gotham’s underworld during his mayoral campaign.

Batman’s investigation leads to him crossing paths with numerous shady characters and tentative allies.

Similar to some modern Batman storylines, and Joker (Phillips, 2019), Thomas Wayne’s normally morally upstanding reputation is called into question after he is duty-bound to save mob boss Carmine Falcone’s (John Turturro) life and then to turn to the gangster to help keep a scandal under wraps. Though Bruce initially believes that Alfred has lied to him about this and that his father was as corrupt as the city’s system, he’s grief-stricken to learn that Falcone took extreme measures simply to have leverage over Thomas and that his parents were killed as a result. A prominent discussion point in the media, this Batman has taken the concept of inspiring fear into criminals and dialled it up to eleven; brutal and intimidating, he stalks his prey from the shadows and then engages with them, unarmed, with little regard for his own safety. He’ll take on gangs of thugs in the subway as readily as barging into the Iceberg Lounge to get answers from Oswald Cobblepott/Oz/The Penguin (an absolutely unrecognisable Colin Farrell), and utilises minimal gadgets beyond his tough and durable Batsuit, grapple gun, and somewhat unrealistic contact lenses (which record everything he sees and hears). It’s in the Iceberg Lounge that he first crosses paths with Selina Kyle (Kravitz) who, in just one of many homages to Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1985), is a working girl, barmaid, and frequent arm candy for some of Gotham’s seedier individuals. Selina is drawn to donning a figure-hugging catsuit in order to retrieve the passport of her friend and lover, Annika Koslov (Hana Hrzic), which one of the Riddler’s victims had taken to keep her quiet about her knowledge of Falcone’s illicit activities, and she ends up forming a rocky alliance with the Batman in order to track Annika down when she goes missing. Similar to Anne Hathaway’s take on the character, Kravitz never actually uses the pseudonym Catwoman, but she is depicted as a slick, cat-loving opportunist who is more than capable of fending for herself in a fight. Her vendetta against Falcone is deeply personal; she feels he owes her a shit-load of money after what he did to her mother and is so driven to making him pay for his actions that she’s willing to kill himself, which causes tension between her and Batman, who cannot abide the senseless taking of lives.

This version of the Riddler is a twisted psycho looking to expose Gotham’s corrupt system.

Speaking of which, Gotham City, already a powder keg of anarchy and crime, is gripped with fear when the absolutely terrifying and psychotic Riddler begins targeting prominent members of the city government and posting viral messages and threats in a bid to expose how corrupt the city’s system is. Garbed in a hunting jacket and masking his face behind a gruesome visage, the Riddler takes more than a little inspiration from the real-life Zodiac Killer to create a version of the character that is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. The closest analogy I could draw was with the Riddler seen in the Batman: Arkham videogames (Various, 2009 to present) and a mixture of “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) from Seven (Fincher, 1995) and John Kramer/Jigsaw from the Saw franchise (Various, 2004 to 2021), which honestly was exactly what I was hoping for for this film considering how heavily inspired the city and the presentation is by Seven. The Riddler is an unhinged psychopath who stalks his victims from afar and either bludgeons them to death or rigs them up to ghastly death traps to be eaten alive by rats or serve as a veritable suicide bomber; his televised threats are an incoherent and frightening example of a mind twisted and snapped, and his tendency towards leaving riddles and ciphers bamboozles the GCPD and hints at a deeper corruption within Gotham. The Riddler specifically addresses these puzzles to the Batman and comes to see the Dark Knight as his intellectual equal; in actual fact, the Riddler is so warped that he believes the Batman is his partner, an accomplice who can perform the physical tasks he (as in the Riddler) is incapable of, and his plot to expose Gotham even goes as far as to not only target Bruce Wayne but to flooding the city and recruiting a number of likeminded lookalikes to assassinate mayoral candidate Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson).

The Nitty-Gritty:
Although it starts in a very subdued manner, The Batman quickly escalates into an intense and gritty noir-style thriller than showcases a side to the Batman that we’ve really never seen before. Accompanied by a dark, haunting orchestral score from Michael Giacchino, this Batman is drawn into the Riddler’s twisted plot and spends the majority of the film attempting to figure out what the madman is doing and who his next target is. Perhaps more than any other Batman before him, Bruce has become obsessed, utterly lost, in his vigilante persona; he can no longer differentiate between day and night, sleepwalks through life as Bruce Wayne, and even pushes Alfred away all in service of his fixation on trying to salvage what’s left of Gotham City from the criminals and the corrupt. Consequently, this really isn’t a movie where you learn much, if anything, about Bruce Wayne; the differentiation between his private, personal, and vigilante life is practically non-existent and Pattinson spends almost the entire movie in the cape and cowl of the Batman. Furthermore, although he’s referred to as “The Batman” by the Riddler and the media, Batman actually believes himself to be vengeance personified, to the point where the Penguin and Selina both frequently refer to him as “Vengeance”, which is all part of the character’s larger story arc where he realises that he is actually making an impact in the city not just as an instrument of fear and revenge but also as a symbol of hope. The Batman may very well be the most visually interesting and stylistically aesthetic Batman movie ever made; every shot is like a work of art, with the camera frequently utilising odd angles and long, lingering shots to really sell the atmosphere of Gotham City and the character of the Batman.

This is a very back-to-basics approach to the character, and his suit and gadgets reflect that.

Gotham is shot almost entirely at night and in the rain; it is a moody, gritty, and dangerous city that feels like it’s on the brink of total collapse at all times. It feels very much like the cesspit seen in Joker and the grimy streets of Batman Begins’ (Nolan, 2005) Narrows but, again, dialled up to eleven. There are some shots of the city at sunrise and sunset, but there’s hardly any scenes that take place in the daytime, all of which really helps to make Gotham feel like an absolute hellhole and really helps sell the idea that Batman is facing an uphill battle. Previously, Batman Begins delivered easily the most grounded and realistic take on the title character ever seen, but The Batman takes that even further; many aspects remind me of director Darren Aronfosky’s God-awful pitch from back in the day, but these elements have thankfully been tweaked with clear inspirations from Year One, Earth One, and Batman: Zero Year (Snyder, 2013 to 2014) that show Bruce operating out of a subway beneath Wayne Tower rather than a more conventional Batcave or Wayne Manor and largely bereft of his usual gadgets and unparalleled efficiency. Even two years into his career, this Batman remains a flawed character; though extremely intelligent, driven, and observant, his body is riddled with bruises and scars and he takes quite a beating during the film’s vicious fight scenes. Although we don’t get a step-by-step insight into Bruce’s trauma and transformation into the Batman, much of this is wonderfully conveyed through Pattinson’s body language and demeanour; he is clearly a haunted, broken man filled with rage and desperate to protect others from the pain that has all-but crippled him. More than any other Batman, he says an awful lot just with a glare of his eyes and his mere presence is enough to leave roomfuls of people, even those already familiar with him, speechless. This is only aided by his absolutely fantastic Batsuit; clearly cobbled together by himself, presumably using some of the resources afforded by his wealth, his Batsuit is as realistically believable as the rest of the film, comprised of an armoured outer shell and a variety of practical gadgets such as his trusty grapple line (hidden in his wrist) and a gliding suit built into his cape. Batman’s use of gadgets is refreshingly limited; he uses the vague bat-shaped symbol on his chest as a cutting tool and has a taser function built into his gauntlets, but he isn’t busting out high-tech equipment at every opportunity and is largely reliant upon a torch and his grapple line. Taking inspiration from the likes of Gotham by Gaslight (Augustyn, et al, 1989) and Batman: Arkham Origins (WB Games Montréal, 2013), this Batsuit is surprisingly flexible and durable; Batman regularly tanks gunshots but can flip and swing about with ease, making him an agile and dangerous enemy to Gotham’s criminals. The only part of it I didn’t really like was the cowl, which seemed a bit too leathery and like it wouldn’t really protect him from headshots, but the suit is constantly shot in a way that makes it fearsome and impressive to behold.

Batman’s monstrous car and grim determination lead him towards a suitably dramatic finale.

Though Batman utilises a motorcycle for much of the film, he does bust out an absolutely mental rendition of the Batmobile; essentially a supped-up muscle car with a jet engine on the back, the Batmobile is like a roaring beast that tears through the rain-slick streets in a thrilling chase to run down the Penguin and a far cry from the overly tech-laden Batmobiles of the past. Also impressive are the make-up effects used to literally transform Colin Farrell into the bulbous, grotesque Penguin; portrayed as an underling of Falcone and proprietor of the Iceberg Lounge, the Penguin is a gruesome gangster who aspires to usurp Falcone’s position as Gotham’s top crime boss. As much as I would’ve liked to see someone like Ray Winstone take on the iconic role, Farrell absolutely steals the show in every scene he’s in, portraying the Penguin as a sleazy and manic mobster who seems to relish Gotham’s descent into freakish anarchy. Although not seen without his mask until quite late into the film, Paul Dano makes for a terrifying take on the Riddler; this isn’t Frank Gorshin’s madcap camp or Jim Carrey’s zany buffoonery, this is a Riddler who is dangerous and sadistic and empowered by his anonymity. Like Bruce, he has completely lost himself to his masked persona and addicted to the rush of breaking and taunting others, and is so far gone that he wants to literally wash away Gotham’s sins by flooding the city. This results in a finale where Batman is effectively powerless to stop the Riddler’s mad scheme and, instead, transforms into a symbol of hope for the terrified and endangered citizens. Although he gets plenty of opportunities to smash up the Riddler’s lookalikes, it’s his heroic actions in leading trapped civilians to safety that marks the turning point for Batman’s character, and potentially will result in him further refining his approach and mindset in a sequel. Although sequel bait is kept largely to a minimum and the focus is clearly on making an intense standalone film, The Batman definitely leaves the door open for continuations; the plot only scratches the surface of the corruption and degradation that threatens Gotha, there’s little hints and references towards the Court of Owls and even Doctor Thomas Elliot/Hush, and the filmmakers just couldn’t help themselves from included a brief, somewhat obscured cameo by Barry Keoghan as a maniacal Arkham inmate who proposed a team-up with the incarcerated Riddler.

The Summary:
As I said, there were doubts heading into The Batman simply because I’m tired of seeing Batman and other DC superheroes existing in self-contained worlds and am eager to see them interacting with each other. However, from the moment the first trailer dropped, I could tell that this was going to be a very different Batman movie from anything we’d seen before, and it certainly was that! “Intense” is the best word I can use to describe this film, which is so dark and gritty and so full of rage and brooding bleakness that you’d bee forgiven you’d walked into a crime thriller like Seven. This, however, is exactly what I’ve been waiting to see from Batman; a back-to-basics detective story where the Batman is met with suspicion, isn’t surrounded by high-tech gadgets, and is simply a broken man trying to fight an uphill battle against crime and corruption. Robert Pattinson brought an intensity to the role that rivals that of Christian Bale, clocking up so much time in the suit and maintaining a ferocity in and out of the cowl that paints Bruce Wayne in a very different light. While newcomers to Batman may be left wanting to know more about Bruce (it’s not even stated why he chooses the iconography of a bat here), a lifelong Bat-fan such as myself really appreciated that we just jumped head-first into the story and largely stuck with the Dark Knight throughout the story. The greater screen time afforded to Jim Gordon was very much appreciated, and more than maybe up for Alfred’s comparatively smaller role, and I loved how grimy and desolate the city was. The portrayal of the Penguin and, especially, the Riddler was fantastic; both actors really threw themselves into the roles and changed the assumed perception of the characters, transforming the Riddler into a calculating, sadistic psychopath and really bringing an intellectual challenge to the Batman. With so much room left to explore, I can’t wait to return to this gloomy new Bat-world and see what else can be done with this version of the character, which easily makes it to the number two spot for me (I still have to give the number one spot to Christian Bale for delivering an overall unmatched performance as Bruce/Batman).

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think to The Batman:? How do you feel it compared to other live-action versions of the character? Were you impressed with Robert Pattinson’s performance or are you too short-sighted to give up on your precious Ben Affleck? What did you think to the Batsuit, his car, gadgets, and setup? Did you enjoy the reinterpretation of the Riddler and Colin Farrell’s transformation into the Penguin? What did you think to the mystery, the noir-style presentation, and the inclusion of Catwoman? Which villains or story arcs would you like to see utilised in potential sequels? Whatever your thoughts on The Batman, or Batman in general, please sign up to leave a comment below or leave a reply on my social media, and be sure to come back for my Batman content later in the year.

Talking Movies [Christmas Countdown]: Batman Returns

Talking Movies

Released: 16 June 1992
Director: Tim Burton
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $65 to 80 million
Stars: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, and Michael Gough

The Plot:
Gotham City’s preparations for Christmas are interrupted by the emergence of Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin (DeVito), a deformed former circus performer who quickly wins the hearts of the city and is manipulated into running for Mayor by Machiavellian businessman Max Shreck (Walken). While Bruce Wayne/Batman (Keaton) works to uncover the Penguin’s truth motivations, he faces a secondary threat when Shreck attempts to murder his assistant, Selina Kyle (Pfeiffer), instead causes her to become Catwoman and wage a vendetta against him and Batman while also being romanced by Bruce!

The Background:
In the eighties, DC Comics readers saw the culmination of a long period of alteration for Batman who, for the majority of the sixties, had been transformed from a ruthless vigilante and into a colourful, camp, family friendly figure. One of the principal examples of this change was Batman (ibid, 1989), a dramatically different take on the DC Comics staple that saw noted auteur Tim Burton bring his signature gothic flair to the character, transforming both Batman from a spandex-wearing goof and into a stoic, armour-clad urban legend and “Mr. Mom” Michael Keaton into a brooding, tortured vigilante, and resulting in a surge of popularity for the character as audiences flocked to see the movie. Despite some criticism regarding the film’s tone and pacing, Batman was an incredible success, making nearly $412 million against a $35 million budget. Although Warner Bros. wished for a sequel to begin as early as 1990, Burton held back on returning to the franchise until he was ready, and, when he did return, he was successful and proven enough to be granted far more creative control over the film’s production.

The original draft of the film was quite different from the finished script.

Originally known as Batman II, Batman Returns underwent numerous rewrites, with both Harvey Dent/Two-Face and a version of Robin originally being included and the original character of Max Shreck originally intended to be the Penguin’s brother. The majority of the filming took place on sound stages that included full-size sets of downtown Gotham City and the sewers, the many real-life penguins featured in the film were given special treatment, and Keaton received not only top billing this time around but also a significant salary increase. Upon release, Batman Returns received largely positive reviews from critics and made over $280 million at the box office. However, there was a prevailing sense that the film was too “dark”; parents, especially, were horrified at the film’s macabre content and McDonald’s weren’t too thrilled at being associated with such a controversial picture, this backlash, of course, led to Burton being replaced by Joel Schumacher and a dramatic reinvention of the franchise for the two subsequent films but, for me, Batman Returns remains one of the quintessential formative movies of my childhood and an often overlooked entry in the series.

The Review:
Right off the bat (no pun intended), Batman Returns separates itself from its predecessor in a number of ways: first, it’s set at Christmas so Gotham City is blanketed by flurries of snow and full of Christmas trappings (if not yuletide cheer); second, it’s far darker and much more brooding in its atmosphere and tone. Burton’s vision for Batman and Gotham is of a nightmarish, gothic landscape full of ominous, intimidating structures, gargoyles, and an overall sense of foreboding hanging in the air. All of this is expertly punctuated not just in Burton’s distinct aesthetic style but also Danny Elfman’s peerless Batman theme, which is now mixed with a haunting chorus of chanting and a tragic ambiance amidst its bombastic and heroic overture.

Bruce is more brooding and violent than ever despite the catharsis he achieved in the last film.

Some time has passed since the events of Batman; it’s not clear or made explicit exactly how much time but Gotham has adjusted to the presence of Batman, with Police Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle) calling for the Caped Crusader’s assistance at the first sign of the Red Triangle Circus Gang. Though Batman’s relationship with the police, particularly Gordon, is much improved, he’s still a stoic and mysterious individual, talking very little and in a blunt, gravelly whisper. It seems avenging the death of his parents has done little to assuage his grief at their deaths or bring him any semblance of peace; instead, he’s more brooding than ever, literally sitting alone in the dark at Wayne Manor until being called into action by the Bat-Signal and more than willing to kill even regular thugs like the Penguin’s colourful goons.

In a city full of monsters, the twisted and manipulative Shreck fits right in.

Max Shreck is introduced as “Gotham’s own Santa Claus”, a beloved and well-respected businessman who has captured the hearts of the city between films. Shreck is, however, a devious and snake-like individual; he plots to construct a massive power plant to monopolise Gotham’s energy supply on the pretence of having a legacy to hand over to his cherished son, Chip (Andrew Bryniarski), but truly desires simple accolades such as power and control. In a world seemingly populated by freaks and monsters, Shreck fits right in as he is twisted on the inside, more than willing to threaten the Mayor (Michael Murphy) with a recall and to kill to get what he wants (he pushes his absent-minded assistant, Selina, out of a window with the intention of killing her and it’s heavily implied that he killed his wife).

Selina undergoes the most dramatic change from a meek victim to an aggressive vigilante.

Speaking of Selina, of all the characters in the film, she is the one who undergoes the most dramatic development throughout the story. She begins as a meek, helpless woman; she stutters and struggles to speak her mind to her boss, is little more than a witless hostage for one of the Penguin’s goons, and lives alone with nothing but her cat and her nagging mother’s voicemail for company. After her brush with death and subsequent…resurrection (seriously, Selina’s rebirth is one of the stranger aspects of an already-batshit (also no pun intended) film), she becomes an enraged, vindictive, aggressively confidant and capable woman. As Catwoman, she begins a short-lived campaign against Shreck but comes to violently oppose all men, especially those in positions of authority, and even women who allow such men to walk all over them.

Despite his eloquent persona, the Penguin is constantly at odds with his more animalistic nature.

Catwoman’s outward transformation into a monster pales in comparison to the Penguin’s position as an actual monster; far from an upstanding crime boss or distinguished member of high (and low) society, Burton reimagines the Penguin as a horrific circus freak who eats raw fish, spits black goop, and is completely maladjusted to humanity and society. And yet, the Penquin is an eloquent, intelligent, and ruthless villain; while Shreck believes that he is the one  manipulating Oswald, the Penguin is actually the master manipulator as he uses Shreck to glorify his ascension to the outside world in order to enact his twisted plot to kidnap and kill the first-born sons of Gotham. Like Shreck, the Penguin is fully capable of blackmail, murder, and violence but he takes this to the next level, eventually launching a desperate campaign against all of Gotham City once Batman scuppers his scheme.

Batman is noticeably more mobile and far better equipped this time around.

While Keaton’s range of motion is still restricted by his absolutely bad-ass Batsuit, Batman’s action scenes are much improved over the previous film; Batman fights with a simple, blunt efficiency, making full use of his many bat-themed toys and even busting out some new ones, like his inexplicably rigid gliding ability. Batman’s suit is far less anatomically correct this time around, resembling armour more than anything; as a kid, I disliked these changes but, now, I’ve come to regard the Returns Batsuit as one of the top live-action costumes for its impressive appearance, being both practical and frightening. Burton’s awesome Batmobile also makes a return, now sporting all kinds of new gadgets and even being featured in one of the most entertaining sequences of the film when the Penguin is bizarrely able to take control of the Batmobile, with Batman in it, and take it on a destructive joyride through the snow-strewn streets of Gotham.

Practical effects and miniatures are used to great effect throughout the film.

One of the most appealing aspects of Batman Returns is its fantastic use of practical effects, camera tricks, miniatures, and elaborate sets; Gotham feels noticeably more claustrophobic this time around but that actually adds to the ominous nature of the film and positions the city as an gloomy presence in its own right. Not every effect is a winner, of course; Batman’s glide through the bat-swept skies of Gotham hasn’t aged too well but the digital effects of the Penguin’s rocket-firing troops is still impressive, Penguin’s prosthetic make-up makes for an unsettlingly horrific villain, and Batman’s Batskiboat chase through the sewers and the destruction of the Penguin’s frozen zoo hideout are all impressively realised through the use of models and miniatures. The film also goes to some effort to tie up some loose ends and complaints about Batman; Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger) is mentioned a couple of times, with Bruce explaining that their relationship “didn’t work out” because he couldn’t give up being Batman and he and his father-figure and loyal confidant, Alfred Pennyworth (Gough), debating his much-contested decision to reveal Bruce’s identity to Vicki. As I’ve explained, I never had a problem with this scene but I’m sure it did a lot to quell the complaints.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Batman Returns contains some of my favourite moments of any Batman film, from Batman and Penguin’s intimidating first meeting outside of Shreck’s shop to the heart-breaking death of Oswald at the conclusion (I remember, as a kid, being somewhat distraught at Penguin’s emperor penguins being left without their master and wondering who would look after them with him dead). It also stands out as being one of the first big-budget superhero films of its time to not only feature multiple villains and masked characters but also to balance them extremely well. Sure, Batman still doesn’t have as much screen time as you would expect considering his name’s in the title but it’s easy to infer much of his motivation and development from Keaton’s characteristically stoic and haunted portrayal of the character and through the parallels between Batman’s dual nature and those of his villains.

Bruce continues to be more comfortable as Batman and struggles with his dark nature.

I can understand why parents and audiences were more than a little perturbed by Batman Returns when it was released as it’s not only full of dark, gothic imagery but also some puzzlingly ghoulish choices on Burton’s part. However, I watched this film as a kid both alone and with my parents and it never did me any harm; plus, I feel like Batman is a character and concept that can never be “too dark” and grisly as he works best when depicted as a dark and terrifying force in an increasingly insane world. Furthermore, Batman Returns is rife with subtle (and explicit) themes duality, humanity, and deception. All four of the main characters wear a mask of some kind, whether explicit or metaphorical (or both) and is hiding their true, darker nature. Bruce is, of course, one of the most obvious since he literally garbs himself in a heavily armoured suit and becomes an entirely different person when acting as Batman. There’s again a sense that he’s not entirely comfortable being in public or out of the suit as he is only truly able to confide in Alfred before becoming attracted to Selina and, though he openly opposes Shreck’s plans as Bruce, he’s seemingly only able to make a real impact on the city when operating as Batman.

Catwoman’s appearance degrades alongside her mental state as the film progresses.

Selina, too, hides behind a physical mask; after her rebirth, Selina becomes more and more disassociated with her former life and revels in the freedom and power of being Catwoman. Previously, she was timid and powerless but, once she has power, she exercises it without restraint or mercy; when she first encounters Batman, she attacks with a combination of sexuality and violence, seeing him as the ultimate symbol of patriarchy. He fractured state of mind only degenerates further as the film progresses and this is reflected in the explicit destruction of her alluringly skin-tight outfit; by the film’s conclusion, she’s hardly recognisable, resembling little more than a besmirched wild animal who feels she has to reject Bruce’s advances and offer of a “normal” life because of her altered nature that drives her to obsessive pursue Shreck’s death even at the potential cost of her own life.

Though a tragic villain, the Penguin is still a monstrous individual willing to slaughter all of Gotham.

The Penquin doesn’t hide being a mask in the way as his adversaries; indeed, because of his monstrous appearance, he is forced to literally hide from society first in the circus and then, for many years, in the sewers and when he does emerge into the limelight, it’s under the guise of being a misunderstood outcast. Ironically, this isn’t actually too far from the truth as the Penguin is a truly tragic figure within the film but, even as a baby, his violent tendencies are made explicit so, in many ways, he’s the opposite of Catwoman: his true nature is to be a wild animal and he masks it with the shroud of respectability. It’s an ill-fitting persona for Oswald, though, as his animalistic urges and lack of social graces make him undignified; indeed, as eloquent and charismatic as the Penguin is capable of being, he descends into a monstrous individual that salivates over the merciless death and destruction of everyone in Gotham.

Shreck’s true, twisted nature is revealed when he meets his gruesome end.

And then there’s Max Shreck; yes, I would have preferred Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) to have returned and supplanted this character but Christopher Walken sure as hell does steal the show, every time he walks into a room, the scene becomes about him, with the camera seemingly naturally focusing on him even when he’s standing next to vivid characters such as the Penguin and Batman. As fantastically alluring as DeVito is at portraying this nightmarish version of the Penguin, Walken’s natural charisma and bombastic acting method makes him an undeniable highlight of the film. Like the Penguin, Max doesn’t where an actual mask but his is a mask that is far more subtle and all the more dangerous in its application; having won the hearts and minds of the city, and being a wealthy businessman in a position of great power, Shreck represents the horror of aggressively ambitious capitalism and the power of the social elite. Confidant to the point of arrogance, Shreck exudes authority and ensures that he is always the most powerful man in any given situation; he barely flinches when he first meets the Penguin, immediately attempts to bargain with Catwoman, and defiantly stands up to both her and Batman but his true, twisted nature is revealed for all to see after he meet his gruesome, explosive end in the finale.

The Summary:
When I was a kid, I always preferred Batman to Batman Returns; I think this was mainly because of the iconography of the Joker as a character and it being a little less heavy-handed with its themes and imagery. As I grew older, though, I came to really appreciate all the positives of Batman Returns; in many ways, it’s a far superior film, which a much more unique visual identity, far superior costume design, and even improving on Elfman’s already flawless score. While it’s far more of a standalone sequel than a direct continuation, Batman Returns drops us into a twisted, nightmarish version of Gotham City that seems to have been physically changed because of the city’s adoption of Batman as its protector. My appreciation for the film’s themes of duality and humanity came to a head during my studies at university when, asked to produce a presentation on a film, I spearheaded Batman Returns as my group’s project and, in the process, delved deep into the way it deals with its complex themes. Getting an A in that presentation encouraged me to further pursue writing about the things I loved from my childhood and influenced my eventual PhD and I owe most of that success to Batman Returns, a film that, while probably not too suitable for young kids and despite not being massively accurate to the source material, remains one of the darkest, most visually engaging, and thought-provoking Batman movies ever made and, to this day, is a must-watch film during the Christmas season.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Batman Returns? How does it compare to the first film, and the other films in Batman’s long cinematic history? Did you see this as a kid; if so, did you enjoy it or were you traumatised by its dark, macabre tone? Perhaps you were one of those parents who kicked off about the film; if so, what was it that set you off and how do you feel about it now? What did you think to Burton’s twisted interpretations of the Penguin and Catwoman? Did you enjoy Christopher Walken’s performance? Were you a fan of Michael Keaton’s performance this time around? Which Batman film, and actor, is your favourite and why? Do you consider Batman Returns a Christmas movie and, if not, why not and what the hell is wrong with you? It’s set at Christmas! Whatever you think about Batman Returns, go ahead and drop a comment down below and be sure to check in next Saturday for more Christmas content!