Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: June 16, 1992
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Stefan Czapsky
WRITER: Daniel Waters
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
Like with the first film, comic book fans have taken issue the deviations from the source material featured in “Batman Returns”. In this particular movie, Batman is pretty much a cold blooded killer more than in any other Batman film. The movie’s dark tone, violence, and grotesque Penguin have also turned people away from the movie.
In addition to all of that, Warner Bros. let director Tim Burton off the leash and he pretty much delivered them a Tim Burton film that also happened to feature Batman. In recent years, though, the movie has gained a stronger following but it is still a film where you either love it or hate it with very few fans found in between.
While I must admit that I don’t think that this film has aged as well as its predecessor, I still quite enjoy it. In the comic books, there are several versions of this character over the years and several one-shot stories that take a different look at the Dark Knight. I view “Batman Returns” as a version of the character as seen through the eye of Burton and his crew.
I must admit that the criticisms towards the film are all there. This is just a Burton film that happens to star Batman. It is more violent and Danny DeVito’s Penguin is a far more disgusting version of the character. Meanwhile, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is more of a deadly threat with a touch of the supernatural going on rather than just a cat burglar.
It also suffers from what every Burton/Schumacher film suffered from and that’s the fact that Batman is not the main character in his own film. The villains take more of the spotlight while Batman pretty much just stalks around looking for trouble.
Also, Batman does straight up kill people. Afterwards, Commissioner Gordon congratulates him for a job well done instead of arresting him like he probably should. Unless Batman was deputized by the police force, Batman is a genuine murderer.
Despite these flaws, though, I still quite enjoy this movie 25 years after its initial release. Michael Keaton is still great as Batman as is Michael Gough as Batman’s long-suffering butler Alfred. Despite the later Christopher Nolan films being stronger, I find that Keaton is still my favorite big screen Batman.
The action is also fun to watch, whether it’s Batman’s initial fight with the Red Circus Gang, his initial encounter with Catwoman or the harrowing scene where the Penguin has taken control of the Batmobile. Another factor that I love is one that most don’t like about the movie and that’s the fact that this truly is Burton’s version of the character.
I feel like Burton’s visuals and Batman go quite well together despite the lack of loyalty to the source material at the time. The movie also has a pretty decent theme about dealing with dual personalities. Selina Kyle is constantly dealing with her former self and the newer, more violent side that awakens when after her boss tries to kill her.
This also highlights Bruce Wayne’s own dilemma, wondering whether or not Bruce Wayne is just the mask for the Batman or whether both personas can exist at the same time. The movie doesn’t dwell on this theme too much (Nolan’s films would do a much better job in this department), but it is still a highlight of the movie when it does decide to focus on it.
Finally, the true standout among the villains is DeVito as the monstrous Penguin. Many have criticized his more bizarre origin story, but I actually think that DeVito’s portrayal at least makes the character way more interesting, even more than the character is in the comic books. The Penguin has always been one of my least favorite villains in Batman’s Rogues Gallery because he just bores me, but here DeVito turns in a great performance that stands out above the rest.
The movie is a flawed beauty that has not aged as well as other Batman films. Still, the action, the tone, the characters, and the story work for me and that makes this one of the more unique Batman stories ever told.