Batman Returns is director Tim Burton’s second (and final) Batman film. With action, drama, and tons of Burton’s flair; there’s a lot going on in this movie. Mild spoilers are a given in this review (the film is over 20 years old after all). So let’s dive in and take a look back at Batman Returns.
The film starts with a flashback giving us our first look at (a baby) Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito). Cobblepot was born with flippers for hands and a pointed nose, almost like a Penguin (get it?). Not only was Oswald born with these birth defects, he also had animal-like instincts. We even see him grab the pet cat and (supposedly) kill it! This child was a monster in the eyes of his parents, and they needed to get rid of him. They ended up tossing his baby carriage into a river (like a twisted Moses), and he’s lived in the Gotham sewer system ever since. I completely get where Burton was going with the Penguin character. A tortured person who’s been rejected by his parents, and just wants to know where he came from. This is a very interesting story, and the fact that he’s the reverse of Bruce Wayne really makes it that much more intriguing. Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) was a child who was raised by loving parents, and is tortured because they were taken away from him. They could have played up this type of dynamic a bit more, and it would’ve added a lot of depth to the story. Another thing that could have helped this film was keeping The Penguin close to his comic book counterpart. I’m not one to rant and rave about a movie sticking to the source material, but this is one of the few cases where it was absolutely necessary. The Penguin is one of Batman’s more intelligent antagonist. A man who runs the streets of Gotham, and does in a way that keeps him from being arrested. I know that the argument can be made that this was the Joker’s role in the first movie, but I still think that they could have made a more comic book-accurate Penguin work.
The film transitions to present day where we meet Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer). When we first see Selina Kyle, she’s a lowly assistant to Christopher Walkin’s character, Max Shreck. The story of how Selina Kyle becomes Catwoman is much different from her comic book origin. In this film we have Selina working for Max Shreck, a corrupt businessmen who becomes a lackey for the Penguin. Long story short Selina finds out that Shreck is doing a shady business deal and gets caught. This leads to Shreck (trying to cover his tracks and) throwing Selina out of the window to her apparent death. We see a dead Selina on the ground with a cat walks toward her, and then a dozen more cats follow. They start licking her and nibbling at her finger tips until she opens her eyes. The cats seemingly brought Selina back from the dead. Not only did they bring her back, but they also gave her nine lives. When Selina gets up she’s different than how he saw her just a couple of scenes prier. She’s a shell of herself and she’s a little crazier. This event is the creation of Catwoman. First off, Michelle Pfeiffer does a great job as Catwoman, and while the character its self is kind of weak, Pfeiffer still plays it well. The whole cats bringing her back to life is pretty extreme, but it shows that Burton was given a lot of freedom when it came to Batman Returns. It definitely has an Edward Scissorhands type of vibe going on.
Catwoman has this love/hate relationship with Batman in the comics, and that is portrayed pretty well in this film. Sadly, the Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle relationship was not explored as much as I would have liked. Instead we have one good scene between the two outside of their costumes. Which leads to another problem I have with this film; we don’t have enough Batman. For this movie to be called Batman Returns you would have thought that Batman would be the main character, but he’s not the main focus. We don’t really get a Batman movie here. There’s no Commissioner Gordon, not much Bruce Wayne, and very little Alfred. The film mostly focuses on the villains, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing if I actually thought that they were interesting. Penguin and Catwoman usually do some crazy stunt (bites a man’s nose until it bleeds) or say some juvenile sex joke (“You’re just the pussy I’ve been looking for”). The type of humor in this film just doesn’t feel like Batman. In fact it feels like a PG-13 Deadpool movie.
I think the one lesson we should learn from Batman Returns is that just because the director has more freedom doesn’t mean that the movie will be better. Having Tim Burton work within the Batman mythos worked best with the 1989 film, but more freedom allowed more of his artistic style to shine through. On most occasions that is what you would want, but here it doesn’t work like it should have. If Batman was a creation out of Burton’s imagination then maybe Batman Returns would have worked as a standalone film. However being tied to a character as strong as Batman combined with how amazing the first film was might make this film seem like a complete departure from what we wanted to see. Tim Burton has a very unique style and maybe it just doesn’t fit major franchises like Batman and Alice in Wonderland. Maybe The first Batman movie was just pure luck. Or maybe Batman Returns was a good superhero film by 1990’s standards. There weren’t many superhero films back at that time so it could’ve been what audiences wanted to see: A live-action cartoon featuring characters we know and love. Fans didn’t expect a masterpiece when Batman Returns released. They just wanted a fun movie that featured Batman, and that’s exactly what they got. Batman Returns is far from being perfect, but maybe it doesn’t need to be. The film is entertaining and has a solid cast, and that’s all we needed from this film. Thanks for reading, and stick around for more as our 25 Days of Batman v Superman continues!