Screen Gems

Celebrate ‘Batman Day’ the purrfect way

Welcome to Screen Gems, Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a rewatch.our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a rewatch.

The Celebratory: Batman Returns

September 19 marks Batman Day (amazing how every franchise seems to be getting a day, no?). Since we have a certain love of the Caped Crusader–not to mention some fun fantasies involving Robin–we offer up this snarkiest of Bat-flicks, 1992’s Batman Returns. Director Tim Burton and original big-screen Batman Michael Keaton both returned for this sequel, though the real star is Michelle Pfeiffer, as the uber-stylish villainess Catwoman.

Make no mistake, Batman Returns is a near failure as a film about its title character–Batman is barely in the movie, and does almost nothing when he is. That almost seems a design: the script from Heathers writer Daniel Waters takes a much deeper interest in the origins and character arcs of Danny DeVito’s Penguin, and in Pfeiffer’s cat lady. In the latter case, that entails her leap from a put-upon secretary into a hypersexual villainess with a love-hate relationship with Batman.

And just how is any of this queer? Listen to Waters’ acidic dialogue for starters, and try not to quote it. The fetishistic costumes of Batman and Catwoman remind us of more than a few outfits we’ve seen at our favorite leather bar, and the dual identities of both characters evoke memories of life in the closet. Given Waters’ penchant for including LGBTQ themes in his work, we have a feeling that’s by design. Regardless, viewers should enjoy the splendor of Gotham City in this extravagant production, and Pfeffer’s kind of brilliant performance as its feline Fatale. Dark, twisted and always interesting, Batman Returns may fail as a Batman film, and as a film about heroism. It does, however, succeed as a portrait of villainy and a fabulous one at that.

Streams on HBO Max, Amazon, VUDU, YouTube and iTunes.