- "Bottom line, if she tries to blackmail me, I'll drop her out a higher window. Meantime, I got badder fish to fry!"
- ―Max Shreck discussing his plans regarding Selena and Penguin with his son Chip. [src]
Maximillian "Max" Shreck was a powerful, malignant, narcissist, as well as ruthless business mogul who served as the boss of Selina Kyle and an ally to The Penguin. His first and only appearance in the Batman franchise was in Batman Returns, apart from the comic book adaptation of the film. He was played by Academy Award-winning actor, Christopher Walken.
Max Shreck was introduced in the film as the ruthless and ambitious owner of the multi-million department store Shreck's. His only family was his son, Charles "Chip" Shreck, and it was implied by dialogue that he murdered his wife for unknown reasons.
In the film, Shreck's goal was to build a supposed "Power Plant" for Gotham City's future. Standing in Shreck's way, however, was Mayor Roscoe Jenkins, who believed such a Power Plant was unnecessary. Bruce Wayne was also unconvinced of the need for a new plant, and opposed Shreck's plans.
Deal with the Penguin
Later on, that same night, while Shreck gave the city a speech (he was viewed as "Gotham's Santa Claus"), a group of clown-like criminals known as the Red Triangle Circus Gang attacked Gotham Plaza and demanded Shreck.
Chip valiantly defended his father long enough for Shreck to escape, although Shreck was caught in a trap and he fell into the sewer, where he saw the same gang and met their enigmatic leader: a mysterious Penguin-like creature, whose rumors were spreading. The Penguin demanded Shreck help him make his way to the surface in a positive light, and when Shreck at first refused, the Penguin blackmailed him with incriminating evidence of Shreck's past crimes (the Penguin had studied Shreck for a while in preparation for that). On the condition that the Penguin help him out as well, Shreck agreed.
The Attempted Murder of Selina Kyle
Shreck then returned to his office, where he found his timid and shy secretary, Selina Kyle, doing a last-minute check-up for his meeting the next day with Bruce Wayne about the Power Plant. Kyle accidentally revealed that she found out the true nature about the Power Plant, that it would siphon off power from the Gotham electrical grid and give the Shreck Family a hugely profitable energy monopoly. Shreck, out of fear that Kyle might let it slip, and his refusal to risk what he considered his legacy to Chip, pushed her through a window to her death. Unknown to him, however, Selina survived the fall, and took up the mantle of Catwoman.
The next day, during a speech, Mayor Jenkins' baby son was kidnapped by a Red Triangle Gang member, who fled into the sewer, where he was "attacked" by the Penguin, who then "rescued" Jenkins' son, brought him to the surface, and became a public hero. Shreck witnessed that, and demanded that the Penguin be granted access into the Hall of Records to search for his parents' names, and in the process, learned of his human name: Oswald Cobblepot.
The same day, Shreck met with Bruce Wayne at his office, who also opposed the idea of the Power Plant and pointed out that Cobblepot was the leader of the Red Triangle Gang. Shreck denied that, however, and they were then visited by a heavily plastered but "amnesia-suffering" Selina, who displayed a more confident attitude and even impressed Shreck, who vowed to kill her only if she tried to blackmail him. However, Shreck said to Chip that Selina's "change" didn't surprise him.
The Penguin's Mayoral Bid
Shreck then revealed his plan: recall the elections by using the Red Triangle Gang's attacks and set up Cobblepot as a candidate for Mayor, who would approve of the Power Plant. Meanwhile, Selina, as Catwoman, started her own revenge crusade against Shreck and blew up an entire floor of his department store.
Later, however, Shreck's plans to make Cobblepot the new Mayor were ruined when Bruce Wayne, from the Batcave, jammed the microphones during Cobblepot's speech and played some insults that Cobblepot had made towards the city while he controlled the Batmobile with Batman inside it. Cobblepot's true personality and his schemes were uncovered, he lost his popularity, and was forced to return to the sewer, especially after Shreck abandoned him.
At Shreck's annual "Maxquerade Ball", the Penguin crashed through and informed the party that his henchmen were targeting their first-born sons to murder in the sewer (in a twisted act of revenge for what his parents did to him). Penguin's intention was to take Chip and kill him, but Shreck, in his first and only noble act, begged that he be taken instead, on the basis that it was he, and not Chip, who manipulated and betrayed him. The Penguin accepted (as he would like to see him die a horrible death), took Shreck prisoner, and held him in a cage above a deadly vat of toxic waste, into which he planned to dump Shreck along with the firstborn sons of Gotham.
- "Selina - Selina Kyle, you're fired! And Bruce Wayne...why are you dressed up like Batman?"
- ―Shreck to Batman[src]
- "Because he is Batman, you moron!"
- ―Catwoman to Shreck[src]
- ―Shreck to Catwoman before he shot Batman[src]
When Batman intervened and tricked the Penguin into firing missiles at the Old Zoo (under which the Penguin's lair was), Shreck managed to escape from his cage, only to be ambushed by Catwoman, who was determined to kill him then and there. Batman arrived, and Shreck attempted to bribe him, only for Batman to push him back and tell him of his impending incarceration. When Batman, however, removed his mask and revealed himself as Bruce Wayne, Shreck used The Fat Clown's gun and shot him. Narrowly, Batman played dead to protect himself. Shreck then fired four shots into Catwoman, who, thanks to her nine lives, was able to survive until Shreck ran out of bullets.
Catwoman used a taser, sacrificed her penultimate life to electrocute Shreck, gave him a "kiss" by forcing both the taser and seemingly her lips to his mouth, pulled one of the generator cables at the same time, which engulfed both herself and Shreck in a massive explosion which was revealed to have killed Shreck, which fried him horribly and reduced him to nothing but a scorched and skeletal corpse.
Behind the Scenes
In Daniel Waters' earliest drafts of Max Shreck was originally written to be Harvey Dent. The explosion at the end of the film was only supposed to scar Dent, which would then lead to him becoming Two-Face and set up the in the franchise. In another one of Waters' drafts, Shreck was discovered to be the Penguin's older brother, the "Golden Boy" of the Cobblepot Family, whereas the Penguin was the deformed outsider. Shreck was supposedly ashamed of his father, after he threw his baby brother into the sewer, and he emancipated himself from the Cobblepot Family as soon as he came of age. Shreck's name was a reference to the German actor, Max Schreck.
- Interestingly, Shreck was originally intended to feature a villain in Batman: The Animated Series, but his inclusion was scrapped and the character of Roland Daggett was created instead. Curiously, Dagget ended up becoming the powerful businessman John Daggett in the 2012 film, The Dark Knight Rises. This version of Dagget also came into conflict with Selina Kyle in the film.
- Shreck's role of corrupted businessman, who created one of Batman's villains, became the inspiration for two characters in Batman: The Animated Series: already mentioned Roland Daggett, who took a part in making actor Matt Hagen a Clayface, but more for Ferris Boyle, creator of Mr. Freeze. Both of them were "humanitarians" in public, but were really greedy, ruthless, and coldhearted, and in both cases their "creations" seeking vengeance for their "deaths".
- The grinning cat head that sat atop Shreck's headquarters was featured in the video game, Batman: Arkham City. Shreck was not mentioned in the game, but the store was used as the base for the Mad Hatter who hid in an alleyway a short way from the head.
- Despite being a scheming and selfish man, Shreck showed a few signs of nobleness in the film. Near the climax after the Penguin tried to take and kill Chip, Shreck convinced Penguin to take him instead; also, when he was locked in a cage in the Penguin’s lair and learned of Penguin’s plot to kidnap and kill all of the first-born sons of Gotham, Shreck showed signs of disgust and discomfort (thus showing that he had standards, and that there were crimes he didn’t like and lines he didn’t want to cross).
- Shreck may also be a reference to Max Zorin, Bond villain played by Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill. Like Shreck, Zorin sought to make colossal wealth through a monopoly, in that case the destruction of Silicon Valley, which gave his electronics firm a monopoly on the world market for a long time. Also, like Shreck, Zorin resorted to defenestration after someone refused to go along with his plans; an investor was thrown out of a blimp after he refused to endorse Zorin's plans to destroy Silicon Valley. (Unlike Selina, who considered it unethical, the investor said the investment amount was too expensive.)