Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992, USA/UK)

  Batman Returns is undoubtedly the least “Batman-y” of any film in the Batman franchise. Bruce Wayne only features for around 30 minutes of the film’s 2+ hour running time, and his character is simply not that interesting or compelling. Yes, we are treated to Wayne manor, the Bat Cave, a few actions scenes with the Batmobile, and so on. However, Tim Burton treats these moments as passages to be gotten through rather than the driving motivation of the film. Burton, who supposedly was not very interested in directing a second Batman film, instead turns his eye to the film’s sumptuous mise-en-scene. The gothic sets and cityscape are filled to the brim with detail.

Burton also casts more attention to the film’s two villains – Penguin and Catwoman – than Batman himself. Penguin, whose deformities led his parents to abandon him to the sewer as a child, is played by Danny DeVito with a rabid intensity. His grunting, animalistic, and lascivious (was this movie really intended for kids?) performance is truly a tour de force. Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman is also great, although her overall role in the film’s narrative is somewhat muddled. Again, the narrative here is mostly secondary to the setting, mood, and overall atmosphere. It also seems that the script went through several rewrites.

Overall, Batman Returns is perhaps not the best Burton film, nor the best Batman film, but it is certainly one of the most interesting big budget studio ventures of the 1990s. Apparently sponsorship partners like McDonald’s were very upset with the film’s dark tone and the inability to sell toys based on the film’s characters, and this led to the further cartoonization of the series with Joel Schumacher’s dismal entries in the late 90s – Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Batman Returns is a film well worth revisiting during the Christmas season. 



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