There’s been a lot of debate recently over whether Die Hard is a Christmas film. To wade into the debate: it absolutely is. Poor John McClane is just trying to get home to his family for the holidays and those evil terrorists are putting an end to the festive cheer. Of course, Die Hard isn’t the only ‘alternative’ Christmas film. There are many films set in the Christmas period that deserve to be considered a Christmas film and Batman Returns is absolutely one of them, even if it doesn’t follow the ‘traditional’ Christmas model.
A superhero film as a Christmas movie? Batman Returns, like the more recent Iron Man 3, certainly gets points for setting the movie during the Christmas period. But it goes beyond that; the Penguin, Catwoman and Max Shreck are not just threat to Gotham City but the Christmas spirit itself. This is Batman’s Christmas nightmare, facing a war on the snow-swept street of Gotham City. It begins with the lines “Merry Christmas!’ before the tree-lighting ceremony attacked by the Penguin’s crazed circus gang. Christmas shoppers are literally terrorised by manic criminals, shooting and wreaking havoc and sending the populace running in terror.
Batman might not be the most obvious defender of the festive spirit, but that is the role he finds himself in, while dual personality of Bruce Wayne embarks on his own Christmas romance with the sexy Selina Kyle. Be it fighting each other on the frozen rooftops as Batman and Catwoman and her giving him that sexy kiss under the mistletoe or their dance at Shreck’s Christmas party, Bruce and Selina are doomed lovers caught up in the festive madness around them.
There is great chemistry between Michael Keaton’s Bruce and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina, battling against the superb Christopher Walken’s Max and his capitalist machinations and power plays; you could argue that the debate over the love and compassion for one another versus the commercialism of Christmas is epitomised by his actions as he moves to subvert the will of the city to his own.
For that matter, you could also argue that the Penguin – aka Oswald Cobblepot – is a twisted subversion of the true Christmas lord and saviour, abandoned as a child by his cruel parents and emerging as Gotham’s hero just when they need hope. And the whole twisted idea of first-born sons being abducted from their beds while their parents party away at Christmas festivities is the ultimate Christmas horror story. Rather than waking up to presents and Christmas cheer, the Penguin would have them dragged into a watery grave in the cold, dark sewers beneath the city.
Just to add to this ‘Christmas nightmare’ you have the poor Ice Princess (Cristi Conaway) flung off a tall building and crashing into the box below, igniting the Christmas tree lights and sending a wave of bats flying over the Christmas hordes. Violence in A Christmas movie you ask – well isn’t Home Alone considered one despite Kevin’s borderline psychotic death traps and terrorising of the poor pizza delivery guy?
Batman Returns is essentially Batman saves Christmas and isn’t that what many great Christmas films are about, ensuring peace and goodwill to all? It might be wrapped up in a black bow of Tim Burton’s gothic charm, but this is still, unmistakably a Christmas film and deserves to recognised as one.