Continuing this week's Incidental Christmas theme, I've chosen Batman Returns, which isn't the only Tim Burton film that happens to be set during Christmastime without actually being a Christmas movie. But I still think of it as a Christmas movie, even if it was released during the summer of 1992. Penguin Danny DeVito commanding an army of penguins equipped with weapons is pretty festive, right? There's also the wintry setting, Gotham's giant Christmas tree (based on the Rockefeller Christmas tree, duh), Max Shreck's holiday party and the mistletoe. You remember the mistletoe. "Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it." "A kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it." That is some straight-up poetry right there.
I always loved Batman Returns more than the first Batman film, for a couple of reasons: the production design is real kooky and lovely, and watching it makes you feel as though you've been transported into the miniature world of an intricately designed play set. The fake stage design of it all is part of its charm. It's like what happens when Adam and Barbara are transported into Adam's town model with Beetlejuice, only everything looks a bit more tangible and realistic. There's still something false and off about it, like a child who has been given millions of dollars to build the best superhero movie play set ever.
But let's cut to the real reason I love this movie more than the first one: Catwoman. Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman is gloriously nuts and pretty relatable. As a child, I loved her physical abilities, her beauty and that she wasn't going to put up with any shit from these dudes - not even Batman, regardless of her personal feelings for him. As I got older, I appreciated her story even more: here's an under-appreciated woman who works hard for some corporate a-hole, probably putting in 60 hours a week and totally forsaking a social life. Then she comes home to an answering machine full of messages that just make her feel worse about herself. Her mother is nagging her, a company is trying to sell her cosmetics to help her attract men (because the only way a woman can be pretty and get a boyfriend is if she buys the right cosmetics!), and it's all just too much for Selina Kyle. She's single, she's overworked, and all she has is a cat to keep her company. Selina Kyle is lonely, and the world around her is just validating and reinforcing her insecurities.
So when her boss shoves her out a window for knowing too much, Selina is resurrected (by magic kitty nibbles!) as a totally nutso Catwoman, who is not even dealing with any of this shit anymore. Catwoman is like a Riot Grrrl. She goes home, spray paints all over her regressive decor, tears a bunch of shit up, chugs milk straight from the container like IDGAF, and then DIYs the hell out of a costume for herself so she can set about taking revenge on her boss. She is making A Statement. Enough with this patriarchal BS. Enough with a beauty-obsessed society that perpetuates insecurities to encourage consumerism. Enough with this idea that she's not good enough and she'll just live alone forever with a cat. She's not a cat lady. She's a Catwoman.
As Catwoman, Selina feels more free. She's also kind of unhinged. But that's what makes her so awesome - not that taking revenge by murdering some dude who pushed you out of a window is the morally chill thing to do. Catwoman will not let men stand in her way, though she'll use them as needed to get closer to what she wants. And she's not going to be silenced or shoved aside or act like the mousy, submissive little secretary anymore. She's got a whip, which means she's in control now.
I obsessed over Batman Returns a lot as a kid, and obsessed even more over Catwoman, especially later that year when Batman: The Animated Series arrived on television. And nothing pleased me more than the end of Batman Returns, when Bruce Wayne stops his limo to pick up a stray cat, and as the camera pulls back over the city, we see Catwoman's silhouette crouching overhead. She didn't use up all nine of her lives after all. It's a Christmas miracle!