[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B001CP4VNE][/pullquote] Tim Burton is a director with a well-known reputation for a dark, sinister and macabre vision when it comes to film-making. Batman is a comic book character known for having a much similar atmosphere, so the two were likely bed fellows. Batman, released in 1989 was a critical and commercial smash hit and necessitated a sequel. Batman Returns, released in 1992 not only beat the originals opening weekend figures, but went on to take more money worldwide too. Burton’s vision for Batman combined with the casting of high-profile Hollywood stars Michelle Pfieffer, Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito proved to be a popular decision.
Gotham City, Christmas time and Max Shreck (Walken) is an entrepreneur who is trying to build a new power plant in the city so that he can control the energy. During a speech while he turns on the Christmas lights, he is attacked and kidnapped by Oswald Cobblepot (DeVito), a deformed sewer-dweller, known as The Penguin. Together the two men strike a deal to turn Penguin into an underdog hero of the city. Shreck’s secretary, Selina Kyle (Pfieffer), then discovers the truth of the his plans for the power plant and is subsequently pushed from her apartment, but instead of dying is attacked by local cats and transforms into Catwoman. Meanwhile, Batman (Michael Keaton) watches on as this all unfolds on the television and is thrust into action to deal with the disparate elements.
As you can see the plot for Batman Returns is as contrived and complicated, but Burton is able to hold it all together with his unique story-telling, good direction and superb cast. Combine this with Danny Elfman’s exceptional theme and you’ve got the basis of a good film. The atmosphere is the epitome of Burton’s senibilities, with gothic architecture stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s set at Christmas, which means snow, nodding to Edward Scissorhands too. Everything about Batman Returns lets you know in every frame that you’re watching a Tim Burton film.
The acting in Batman Returns is good throughout, even if some lines are over-played. Pfieffer especially proved an important success as Catwoman, dressed head-to-toe in skin-tight leather. DeVito is suitably disgusting as The Penguin, if a little over-the-top, while Walken does his standard creepy, smiling, sociopath shtick to great aplomb, playing as a nice antagonist for Batman. The biggest disappointment is Michael Keaton, who somehow never quite felt like a fully committed Batman, a little to happy-go-lucky for the brooding dark knight.
The action is well choreographed, if a little childish and the whole film has the look and feel of one that wants to go the whole way and become incredibly dark and sinister, but just holds back enough to keep the mainstream audience happy. It’s a shame that Burton felt the need to play to the bigger crowd, but then the success of the original Batman and Batman Returns suggests he knew what he was doing.
Fans of modern comic films might struggle to deal with the twinkling, almost childish soundtrack combined with some horribly over-played one-liners, but Batman Returns remains a solid sequel to Batman. It lacks the same single-mindedness, but there’s plenty here to keep you entertained throughout, with Pfieffer and Walken playing beautifully off of each other.