- "I am the light of this city, and I am its mean, twisted soul. Does it matter who's mayor?"
- ―Max Shreck to Bruce Wayne.[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 Schreck worked with Fred Atkins in his store. One day, Max would kill Fred and put his hand in the toilet, hiding all the evidence. Later, he would tell the Penguin that Fred was fine, and that he was on a extended vacation (although Penguin didn't believe him).
Max Shreck became known as the ruthless and ambitious owner of the 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 her money. .
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"), he presented a public persona of being a philanthopist, stating in a speech that people may call him Santa Claus, but he is only "some poor schmoe who got lucky". While the speech was in progressm a giant novelty gift box lumbered towards the crowd, then the speech was cut short when, a group of clown-like criminals known as the Red Triangle Circus Gang emerged from the box, attacking 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). Shreck agreed to help the Penguin, but made it clear he wanted something in return, to which the Penguin agreed to such a deal.
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 Schreck 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 defenestration, as multiple awnings cushioned the impact. She returned home seemingly unharmed, but when her answering machine played a robocall advertising a perfume, she became unhinged and began assuming 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 accused Cobblepot of ordering the Red Triangle Circus gang to attack his speech. 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 to lower public opinion of Mayor Jenkins, then register Oswald Cobblepot in the election. Cobblepot thought this was a smart idea, and he promised to recompense Shreck by saying that the first action of Mayor Cobblepot would be to approve Shreck's power plant. Meanwhile, Selina, as Catwoman, started her own revenge crusade against Shreck and blew up an entire floor of his department store.
Shreck's plans to make Cobblepot the new Mayor were ruined, or more accurately, Cobblepot had sabotaged his own campaign. Earlier, Penguin attempted to murder Batman by crashing the Batmobile at high speed through remote control, which was thwarted by Batman. Penguin mocked Batman's impending doom by a video message played to the Batmobile, but his overconfidence was his undoing. Bruce Wayne preserved the message, part of which said how he had a low opinion of the citizenry of Gotham and how he will manipulate their sympathies to have him win the election. From the Batcave, Bruce Wayne jammed the radio frequency and caused the snippets from the Batmobile to play while the Cobblepot was debating incumbent Mayor Jenkins. Cobblepot's true personality and his schemes were uncovered, he lost his popularity, and was forced to return to the sewer. Shreck took advantage of the jeering crowd to disassociate himself from Cobblepot's idiotic move.
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, having discovered his involvement with the Red Triangle Gang's attacks on the city. Catwoman attempted to murder Shreck, but Batman tried to talk her out of it, claiming that Shreck deserved to stand trial and go to prison rather than be killed. When Batman, however, removed his mask and revealed himself as Bruce Wayne, Shreck used The Fat Clown's gun and shot him. Batman doubled over, but was feigning harm (as he was wearing body armor) in order to protect himself. Shreck then fired four shots into Catwoman. She was not killed by those (although possibly harmed) claiming she had nine lives.
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.
- Near the film's climax, Batman becomes determined to put Shreck behind bars, but there is no physical evidence to prove that he attempted to kill Selina and willingly allowed the Penguin and the Red Triangle Gang attack Gotham so that Penguin would become Mayor and allow him to build the supposed power plant to drain Gotham of its energy. Thus, Batman's reason for delivering Shreck to the authorities remains virtually unknown, but a possible theory is that he wanted Shreck to at least face the authorities for his crimes rather than let Selina kill him and become a murderer, which explains why he implored her at the same time to come and live with him in Wayne Manor.
- Like Carl Grissom, Shreck was not adapted from on any particular character from the comic books, but shared many similarities with him, such as playing a role in the rise of the film's primary villain and then becoming the villain's target.
- It was originally believed that Max Shreck was intended to feature as a villain in Batman: The Animated Series, but his inclusion was scrapped and the character of Roland Daggett was created instead, but series creators Bruce Timm and Paul Dini have since denied such a consideration, claiming that though they were inspired by Batman and Batman Returns, they wanted to create their own continuity. 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 only notable difference was that Shreck's plan was to seize power in Gotham while using the Penguin as a figurehead, while the Penguin was already born deformed and had already created his own agenda for Gotham's firstborn sons and sought to use Shreck for it, something Shreck was unaware of, as the Penguin had claimed that he only wanted to return to society and discover his true origins. Shreck did, however, play a pivotal role in Selina Kyle's descent into insanity and transformation into Catwoman, something that came back to haunt him and resulted in his demise.
- 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.)