12 November 2020 685 Views

Joys of the Burton Batman Movies. With Special Guest: Cosplay Star, Melissa Marie!

by James Murphy

HOLY COSPLAY, BATMAN! We have met a new talent.

Melissa Marie brings Burton’s Batman movies to vivid life.

Sure, the lady does other characters. But what’s intriguing here is that the ‘89/’92 outings for the Dark Knight onscreen should have bypassed this young star.

Except that Melissa gets their appeal and sees an essentially timeless visual motif to their legacy. Hence, her creative engines get fired up by playing the Pfeiffer iteration of Catwoman and thereby bringing the Burton movies to vivid life.

Beetlejuice, Sweeney Todd and Nightmare Before Christmas also bring out Melissa’s fascinating work. But it is Batman Returns that appears to come out the strongest.

Whilst her natural look is arguably that of a young Jennifer Lawrence /Meryl Streep? Melissa manages to capture the essential paradox at the heart of the Burton take on Selina Kyle.

Neither heroine nor baddie; neither a ghost nor mortal but some anthropomorphic, playful, provocative sprite? That contrast defines the character. And it’s that kind of detail that makes a cosplayer stand out.

Can you capture the essence of the film to which you pay tribute, rather than simply do some dressing up. THAT is the art at its highest quality. THAT is why Melissa is a name to watch in years to come, I suspect?

As to why I like the Burton iterations of Batman? Well, Michael Keaton in the lead is a start. He is the best at capturing the fractured psychology. A placid and decent Bruce Wayne is nonetheless a ticking timebomb of twisted rage.

His mouth, eyes and awkward fusion between Gatsby like grace and screwball comedy in his movements, convey that bifurcation and desire to hold it back.

This is a man rendered insular by a childhood trauma/PTSD. So he is only at home, awakened, alive, when called to action by the Bat-signal. His smile is in the joys of a brawl on a roof at night. And however composite his martial art moves might appear, they’re punctuated like clockwork, by an occasional childish joy in the mayhem he both creates and contains. Psychological ballet!

Keaton tells that story in silent tableau every bit as effectively as in action. As did his hero, Al Pacino, playing Michael Corleone and showing the character’s faustian loss at the end of Godfather 2.

 

Tim Burton cast Keaton. The actor/director are inseparable. Which is why they should both come back. One without the other did not work, hence Michael leaving 1995’s Batman Forever (much as I love that, too).

Burton’s Bruce Wayne needed to be handsome and commanding, sure. But a matinée idol was not required.

So whilst Pierce Brosnan, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise et al were of course considered? The ‘89/’92 Batman had to at least look as though he was driven toward dressing as a Bat out of frustration and limitation as much as any kind of super-powered skillset.

Ironically enough, it is that very quality of misplaced everyman fused to feral fighter in a Batsuit that vindicates Burton’s decision. Keaton IS Batman. So much so that, somewhat hilariously, Jon Peters (producer on the first Batman and then on the numerous attempts at a Superman reboot) advocated casting Sean Penn as SUPERMAN: ‘Those eyes! Penn could KILL you!’.

Whilst the Nolan Dark Knight ‘trilogy’ mastered verisimilitude and cohesion in vision, via first rate casting of its own? And gave me THAT café in Florence ending, for which I am forever grateful?

The Burton Batmans remain a gold standard of superhero cinema. They know their limitations and are very goofy and silly every bit as much as they are ‘dark’ or ‘gritty’. But that’s the whole point.

 

A kid watching these (albeit one over 12, please 😉 ) will in turn become interested in more grown up, substantial Cinema, to which these fun action pictures pay tribute.

Metropolis, Citizen Kane, Dracula, Capra: all ‘there’, yet watered down such that these Burton Batman movies remain a self-contained, timeless paradox. They are set in some perfect amalgam of the 1930s, 50s, 80s and 90s; via specific splashes of Gothic and fascistic architecture.

Anton Furst and Bo Welch both harnessed the confines of studio space to build worlds that give one a guided tour of design through the ages. Danny Elfman’s march is unbeatable.

Bob Ringwood reinvented the underpants outside trousers aesthetic of super-hero attire, forever, via the rubber muscle suit. Daniel Waters and Sam Hamm’s scripts are plot light but distinctive in dialogue and motif.

And yes, these are political, even satirical thrillers in their way. Once again, mostly subtext. Occasionally biting history: Gulf of Tonkin and Watergate both get a mention. But none of the pretentious pseudo erudition and didactic lectures of today’s super-hero cinema.

Jack Nicholson’s Joker is a kind of meditation on crime itself, as much as it is hilarious fun and screen grabbing charisma unchained. Are we more frightened by the organised Mafia Boss? Or the disorganised terrorist? Both have menace but the latter is arguable easier to neutralise, despite his plans proving more evil, than one could imagine initially.

And as for Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck? He is not based on a comic book character, though owes much to regular Batman villain Rupert Thorne; and was almost Harvey Dent in the script drafts. But he is an industrialist. With brash, big, bold, blustering plans for world domination. Prone to petulant outbursts. A great showman. Gets involved in politics almost accidentally, as last resort. Does that sound familiar?

Batman and Batman Returns: Essential Lockdown viewing.

 

 



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