Property review: Batman Returns

Batman Returns 01

Photo cour­tesy of

Bat­man Returns

Warner Bros., 1992

Bat­man returns with a lit­tle fan­fare, but too many enemies

Bat­man Returns is solid, no doubt about it. Sure, it has some stum­bles and could use a lit­tle pol­ish­ing in the finer points, but like most Tim Burton-directed pieces, the Batman’s sec­ond out­ing on the big screen is an enjoy­able cin­e­matic set piece designed to bring the malev­o­lence, sex­ual ten­sion and tor­tured soul plat­i­tudes that can be mus­tered from Batman’s arsenal.

What we love the most about Bat­man Returns is the com­fort zone it presents. It’s directed as if it knows its Bat­man in the sec­ond round of the fight, and it’s OK with being Bat­man. There’s no fussi­ness with estab­lish­ing who Bat­man is and why he does what he does; the viewer already knows that — it’s already bank­ing on the fact that you’ve seen the first film.

Bat­man suc­ceeds here with the brash­ness expected of a box office expe­ri­enced sequel. Bur­ton pulls no punches let­ting you know that Bruce Wayne is a man used to get­ting his way and he will work as either the Caped Cru­sader or Wayne to achieve his goals. And this is where Michael Keaton suc­ceeds once again. His Wayne is more self-assured, more con­fi­dent in his approach to play­ing the dual role required. Michelle Pfeif­fer is deli­ciously deca­dent as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, though we never once bought the “Kyle is a meek woman” act at all. What­ever Pfeif­fer man­aged to build, she won­der­fully and mas­ter­fully destroys with a sim­ple meow to a stunned Bat­man and Pen­guin. Her Cat­woman is a mas­ter class in movie sex­i­ness. And all that needs to be said about Danny DeVito as the Pen­guin? He was born to play the role. And along with Christo­pher Walken, he man­ages to steal the film.

And that belies the prob­lem with the film. For all of its panache and star cast­ing, Bat­man doesn’t get enough screen time to jus­tify call­ing it a return. Keaton isn’t on screen nearly enough because there’s basi­cally three vil­lains all chew­ing scenery at once. Returns falls prey to — and is the prog­en­i­tor of — the con­cept of “Too Many Vil­lains Syn­drome.” When Batman’s atten­tion is split that many ways, the story’s focus suf­fers. It’s hard to wrap up Returns and it’s pretty obvi­ous in a spe­cific scene: Bat­man chases the Pen­guin and Cat­woman after Shreck’s Depart­ment Store blows up and each fly off in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion. Bat­man winds up not catch­ing either one because he really can’t fig­ure out how to catch one over the other first. That is not the dilemma your hero should have.

Bat­man Returns still remains one of our favorite Bat­man tales and favorite movies, in gen­eral. It’s got the dark, gritty atmos­phere that we’ve come to love from Bur­ton, and it remains the last real, viable and seri­ous Bat­man film until the Christo­pher Nolan tril­ogy of films were launched. Returns still pro­vides a good return invest­ment if you’re into the ori­gin of Batman’s sil­ver screen outings.

Like the comics?: 3

Cast­ing: 10

Plot: 8

Over­all score: 21 out of 30 or 7

How we grade

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in the case of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory, and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

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