Batman Returns Movie Review
Having defeated the Joker, Bruce Wayne will need to oppose three new enemies who are threatening Gotham and its citizens.
Directors: Tim Burton
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Michael Gough & Pat Hingle.
Run Time: 126 min.
US Release: 19 June 1992
UK Release: 10 July 1992
German Release: 16 July 1992
Welcome back to my DC movie review series, which I will continue with Batman Returns. Following the success of Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman, Warner Brothers decided to produce a sequel and brought back Tim Burton as director and Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The result is a very dark and spooky movie that did not fare well with the audience and studio, thinking that Tim Burton went too far. Nevertheless, it obtained generally positive reviews, even though it definitely is inferior to the 1989 superhero flick. Personally, I am not a big fan of Batman Returns, thinking it represents more Burton's inner mind than any Dark Knight comic.
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
The plot takes place during Christmas, 33 years after the Cobblepot’s got rid of their deformed child. The Penguin (DeVito) kidnaps industrialist Max Shreck (Walken) and blackmails him to help him be accepted by the people of Gotham. While mean, Shreck’s assistant Selina Kyle (Pfeiffer) figures out the businessman’s evil plan and is pushed out of a window, falling to her death. Cats swarm her body and she is being revived, develops a mental disorder, and fashions a cat costume to become the Catwoman.
During a meeting between Shreck and Bruce (Keaton), Selina surprises both of them and leaves Bruce enchanted by her beauty and quirky personality. Both have a short-lived date, when Batman is needed in Gotham but stumble upon each other again as their alter egos. Bruce is simultaneously checking on the Penguin, who together with Shreck starts a campaign to become mayor and thus supports Shreck’s plan for a nuclear power plant. Cobblepot also plans to destroy Batman’s reputation as Gotham’s hero and uses Catwoman to reach that goal. Batman will need to fight on both fronts; as Batman against the Penguin and Catwoman, and as Bruce Wayne against Max Shreck. This sequel started the multiple villain story arcs, presenting us with the Penguin, Catwoman, and to some extend industrialist Max Shreck. It feels a little bit crowded and disjointed at times, with the extreme dark tone and atmosphere being one of the reasons why it obtained such negative feedback from the audience. The other reason is the misdirection of some of DC’s better-known characters, which are turned into the typical Burton-esque gothic personas that have little to do with Batman and his world. The story itself is silly, even for a Batman flick, and very over-the-top but it also makes for a fun and entertaining Christmas movie.
That said, Batman Returns also has some really good qualities and entertaining dialogues, such as the conversation between the Penguin and Catwoman, who plan to turn the people of Gotham against Batman. This in-turn transforms the former hero into an anti-hero, wanted by the police. Although a little bit cramped, Burton manages to balance the different character stories pretty well, and the romance that blossoms between Selina and Bruce feels natural and is added with care into the story. Finally, the dialogues might be a little silly but are also witty and suit the tone of the plot.
Michael Keaton returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman and compared to his first appearance in 1989, this story focuses more on his superhero persona and his relationship with the different villains, which sprawl all over Gotham. Bruce has made some major characteristic changes, his relationship with Vicki Vale has not worked out and he is feeling alone until he meets Selina Kyle, who is portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer. Keaton manages to display those emotions very well and he has fantastic chemistry with Pfeiffer, who also did a terrific job. Selina Kyle’s persona, though, is depicted very differently to her comic book persona; a former prostitute and inspired by Batman to don her cat costume. In this blockbuster, she is a shy office assistant who gets tossed out of the window by her boss and is revived by cats.
Danny DeVito, who plays the Penguin in this adaptation, is the weakest character in the movie and I found it really irritating what Tim Burton did to the iconic character! What we obtain in this film is not the Penguin, but a deformed and disgusting psychopath. I am not a big fan of Danny DeVito and I don’t find him funny, he is scary, however, and serves Burton’s purpose. Still, his lines are extremely cheesy, while his plan to steal the firstborns of Gotham is simply stupid. DeVito fails to depict a good and interesting villain, after the fantastic performance by Nicholson as the Joker!
Christopher Walken portrays Max Shreck, Selina’s boss, murderer, and a business tycoon, who came up with the silly plan to rob Gotham of its energy and sell it back to the city, at a higher price. He is supposed to be the opposite of Bruce Wayne, thus more of a business opponent but it actually is just Christopher Walken playing a spooky version of himself. While I know that Sleepy Hollow came out seven years later, I couldn’t help but notice that Max Shreck’s make-up design is very similar to that of the headless rider (also played by Walken).
The cinematographic style is similar to that of the first film but with a much darker atmosphere. The colour palette shifts to a grayish blue, enhancing the grittier tone of the narrative. The special effects look better than in Burton’s previous Bat-flick and the music, composed by Danny Elfman, is one of the best parts of the movie and one of the most epic soundtracks for a superhero blockbuster.
Verdict: In the end, Batman Returns is a fun and entertaining Tim Burton flick, with a solid plot line and entertaining dialogue scenes but it is not a Batman movie! Burton took everything he knew from Batman lore and reshaped it to his liking, making this a very dark and gothic action-fantasy Christmas movie but it has little to do with the DC comics it is based on. While I like Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer in their respective roles, I simply hate what the writers and director did to the character of the Penguin and dislike Danny DeVito’s portrayal of the iconic villain, which is very over-the-top and silly. This contains also one of the few portrayals by Walken I did not enjoy. If you are expecting a Batman adaptation, this film will surely disappoint you but as a Burton flick it is quite all right and I will, therefore, give it a 7.0 out of 10.
Thank you very much for reading this review and if you liked it, be sure to share it with others. I will be reviewing all Evil Dead movies next week, which will lead to my review of the TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead at some point. My analysis of the Angry Birds animated flick, which will be released on Thursday, will be posted this weekend.