Jun 16, 2015

Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Batman was as much a corporate entity as it was a movie after Batman of 1989. For Warner Brothers, you can bet that they were drooling at the prospect of future revenue streams from their bat-empire. Merchandising opportunities were pretty much limitless. Tim Burton himself wasn't all that pleased after working on such a "soul-sucking" movie and was ready to move on. Luckily for him, Warner Brothers gave him more creative control and most likely a significant increase in pay. What did WB have to lose after all? A sequel to Batman was most likely a slam dunk.

Unfortunately for them, Batman Returns was nowhere near as successful as Batman was. In the global box office it earned $144,526,570 less than Batman which is pretty significant. The budget had also increased by $45 million and marketing costs were probably higher as well which must've made for a pretty miserable summer at the offices of Warner Brothers. It's pretty unfortunate really because Tim Burton himself was much happier with the finished product and I have to say that I agree with him.


At a Glance

Genre: action, adventure
Directed by: Tim Burton
Produced by: Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi, Peter Guber, etc.
Written by: Daniel Waters
Music by: Danny Elfman
Running time: 126 minutes
Production company: Warner Bros., PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Distributed by: Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Entertainment, Falcon, etc.
Country: United States, United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: $80,000,000
Box office: $266,822,354 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli, Anna Katarina, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Rick Zumwalt, Paul Reubens



Tucker Cobblepot's (Paul Reubens) wife Esther (Diane Salinger) gives birth to their firstborn son Oswald. Unfortunately he suffers from a violent disposition and a physical deformity that gives him the appearance of a penguin. Disturbed and afraid of what this could do to their reputation as members of high society in Gotham City, Tucker and Esther dump Oswald into a river. Oswald drifts into an abandoned arctic zoo exhibit and is taken in by a flock of penguins. Finally in adulthood and having recruited a gang of mischief makers, Oswald (Danny DeVito) is ready to take his rightful place in Gotham.



In comparison to its predecessor, I think the easiest way to describe Batman Returns is that it's even more "Tim Burton-y" than Batman ever was. There's a healthy mix of black humour and general darkness that just isn't found in any other superhero movies, or at least not in this kind of quantity or quality. Take Batman as a character even. We're extremely far away from the Batman of the 40's or 60's who was cheery and closely allied with law enforcement. Keaton's Batman is a veritable freak and he toes the line between good and bad.

Danny DeVito as the Penguin doesn't steal the show as much as Jack Nicholson did as the Joker in Batman, but that's because he doesn't need to. His character comes to mind as one of the most pathetic villains ever put to screen and I mean that in the way that he makes you feel really bad for him. His story is one that easily builds sympathy. But then you combine that with how repulsive the Penguin is and what you get is an odd mix of heartbroken disgust.

Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman throws another wrench into Batman Returns. Is she a good guy? Is she a bad guy? It's not really all that clear, but one thing is that you can definitely add her to the list of strong female characters in movies based on comic books. Selina Kyle's feminist worldview isn't too forced thankfully and Pfeiffer absolutely chews out her scenes in scary fashion. It's definitely a little over the top, but definitely memorable too.

Like Batman, Batman Returns benefits from a close attention to detail when it comes to the rich and imaginative sets. Gotham still looks amazing and it still exudes that "rotten to the core-ness" as it should. A new set that was built for the film which is particularly impressive is the Penguin's arctic zone. As the lair of an evil maniac who calls himself the Penguin, I think it certainly fits the bill and it does it without any special effects wizardry either. 

Action is probably one of the few underwhelming parts of Batman Returns however. That's no different from Batman really. For whatever reason, I just don't think Tim Burton has it in him to direct a convincing action sequence. It's not in his abilities and that's fine. I can look past the disappointing action to a certain extent though since there's a lot in BR that works in its favour. Still, it's too bad a fight like Batman vs. Catwoman couldn't have been executed better than it was.

Batman Returns is Tim Burton unchained. While he's become guilty of stylistic repetition, Burton's style was still extremely fresh back in 1992 and BR still feels fresh even today. For how macabre Batman Returns really is, it makes you wonder how on earth it was marketed for children. A reason for the decrease in box office revenues maybe? I suppose the "unfortunate" direction that Batman went in for the next two movies makes sense now doesn't it? 



Related Reviews:

Batman (1943)
Batman and Robin (1949)
Batman: The Movie (1966) 
Batman (1989)  

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