Sure, Donald Trump’s inauguration speech quoted Bane from The Dark Knight Rises — but that’s not the most prescient superhero movie. In fact, it’s not even the most prescient Batman movie.
Cobblepot ran for mayor in the second season of the Adam West TV series, and even held the office of mayor in Dan Slott’s Batman Adventures run and Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One.
But the Trump-iest Penguin of all is the one in 1992’s Batman Returns.
Reality television doesn’t exist in Tim Burton’s vision of Gotham, but Danny DeVito’s Penguin — a sideshow attraction who emerges from the city’s sewers and inexplicably wins its heart — is the closest thing it has to a reality TV star.
A grotesque figure, self-conscious about his flipper-like hands, The Penguin leads a deplorable gang of criminal outcasts, but manages to convince Gothamites that he — an outsider — is the only one who can save the city from corruption and crime.
“The glory that I yearn to recapture is the glory of Gotham,” he tells his adoring public.
The people are so desperate for a saviour, in fact, that they are willing to ignore clear signs that something is not right with Cobblepot.
At the outset of his campaign, he literally bites a man’s nose off. This bizarre behaviour has no adverse effect on his popularity.
An unrepentant sleaze, he gropes a young girl who sees him as a role model in full view of the public. His campaign is not about power, he says — “it’s about reaching out to people, touching people, groping people”.
One of those people is Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman — as soon as they meet, The Penguin moves on her like a bitch, telling her she’s “just the pussy I’ve been looking for”.
He even walks in on Gotham’s favourite beauty pageant winner, The Ice Princess, while she’s in her dressing room, under the false pretense that he’s a “talent scout”.
Ultimately, he is brought undone by kompromat, after Batman leaks a private conversation between the two of them in which The Penguin brags that he’s played the “squealing, wretched, pinhead puppets of Gotham” like a “harp from hell”.
Even as the audio plays, however, he tries to convince the crowd that it’s not his voice.
“I didn’t say that,” he tells them – but because this is superhero fiction, where bad guys get their comeuppance, the crowd doesn’t let him off the hook.
Despite all that, however, The Penguin may not even be the most Trump-like figure in the film.
That honour belongs to his partner in crime, narcissistic business mogul Max Shreck (Christopher Walken).
Originally, it was going to be revealed that Shreck and The Penguin were actually brothers, so it’s fitting that there are elements of The Donald in both characters. He’s something of an unholy hybrid of the two.
The most immediately striking similarity between Trump and Shreck is their distinctive speech pattern, with its staccato cadence.
Both Trump and Walken grew up in Queens in the ‘40s; both were born to Scottish mothers and German-American fathers.
“His speech pattern is very much that particular part of New York,” Walken told The Guardian last year. “I never met him as a kid, but he could’ve been one of those kids that I grew up with.”
Even at the time of Batman Returns’ release, viewers were convinced that Walken had based his performance on Trump.
“I’ve heard that,” Walken told the New York Times in ‘92. “Other people say that I speak like him. Well, we both come from Queens. It’s true in most movies I don’t use my own voice. I’m always from somewhere. Gotham City is really New York. I was born there. So I used my own voice. That’s it. I never thought about Donald Trump.”
Walken may not have been thinking about Trump, but watching the film today, it’s hard not to.
“One can never have too much power,” he tells Bruce Wayne. “If my life has a meaning, that’s the meaning.”
Despite the high likelihood that his wealth is inherited (Shreck owns “half the fire traps in Gotham City”, a source of income he goes to great lengths to keep quiet), Shreck insists that he’s a self-made man, and paints himself as “a poor schmoe who got lucky”.
He deflects legitimate concerns about The Penguin’s ties to a criminal organisation by turning the conversation into a class war.
“Crime boss? Shows what you know,” he sneers at Bruce Wayne, “to the manor born with a silver spoon.” (Later, Shreck accuses Wayne of being a “trust-fund goody-goody”.)
Of course, his interest in politics is purely for his own personal gain — by installing The Penguin as the mayor, he can get the go-ahead to build his shady power plant that will actually drain power from the city.
Unsurprisingly, Shreck is a terrible boss — he is the living embodiment of the patriarchy, and goes out of his way to belittle his female secretary, Selina Kyle.
“I’m afraid we haven’t properly housebroken Miss Kyle,” he tells his fellow rich white men when Kyle has the gall to speak up in a meeting, “but in the plus column, she makes a hell of a cup of coffee.”
“How can you be so mean,” Kyle later asks him, “to someone so meaningless?”
Shreck ‘kills’ Kyle, or at least he thinks he does, by pushing her through a window to her death. In an act of sheer defiance, she comes back to life, and is reborn as Catwoman – or, as she might call herself today, Nastywoman.
Eventually, Shreck and Catwoman face off in a scene that is so Trump-like, it almost doesn’t feel real.
Realising that Catwoman wants him dead, Shreck attemps to negotiate. “Let’s make a deal,” he says. “Other than my blood, what can I do for you?”
Finally, Shreck puts it together that Catwoman is Selina Kyle, and he’s quick to take action.
“Selina? Selina Kyle?
Yes. That’s actually the line.
Here’s the thing about Batman Returns. The previous film in the series, Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), was hailed as a ‘dark’ take on the character — and, at least superficially, it was. It was certainly darker than the Adam West TV show, anyway.
But Batman Returns was where Burton got really dark.
Batman Returns was the scary one, the one that slipped through the cracks somehow, the one parents got mad about. Batman Returns was the dangerous one.
That we are now living in a reality that so closely matches the grotesque world of Batman Returns — but without, you know, Batman — is something of a nightmare scenario.
But there is hope. If a map to 2017 can be found in Batman Returns, then Catwoman is the resistance. She is the Women’s March, and, in the film, she ultimately gets the better of her Trump.
As Batman himself put it, things change.