Batman Returns Reviews
Keaton is better and shows more of Batman and the direction by Tim Burton is gothic and epic as now.
8/10 - Great
It takes a while before the full effect of Batman Returns can be embraced. The way that the antagonists enter the screen in a gothic circus fiasco fits the style of Tim Burton's auteur legacy very nicely, but at the same time it feels a little too familiar to the manner in which he treated Joker in the first Batman film. He increases his scope this time around and broadens his focus onto many more characters. Neither Bruce Wayne or Batman actually make an appearance in Batman Returns until 12 minutes into Batman Returns, and this once again this leaves a meandering level of exploration into the mind of Bruce Wayne and his superhero identity. Still, Tim Burton's big ambitions remain admirable. There are a lot of characters that Tim Burton wants to extensively characterize in Batman Returns, and though this may come at the expense of the titular hero once again, it allows for a large scale exploration of the Gotham universe which broadens things intelligently. There are always sporadic familiar elements in comparing Joker to The Penguin, but it is the innovations that take a more prominent stand than the familiarities in the sequel. As a result, Tim Burton creates a gothic spectacle that transcends the entertainment value of the first film.
The combination of gothic and cartoon element that Tim Burton explored in the first film are pushed further in Batman Returns, transitioning into even darker territory. The tale is much more sadistic and blunt, and there is a passionately nihilistic tone in the film which shows Tim Burton exploring his deepest reaches of creative madness. He explores the full extent of evil within the universe of Gotham by showing it on multiple fronts, exploring the crimes of multiple citizens and how their actions create more criminals in the process. There are many characters and subplots to the film, but audiences are never bombarded by the narrative as there is a consistent interaction between all of them. The script manages to balance out an understanding of most of the characters fairly well even if Batman doesn't get as much as he deserves, and the dialogue is both serious and occasionally comical in the style of the source material.
From a technical perspective, Batman Returns is a stunning feature. Though the film plays out almost entirely in the night-time, Tim Burton manages to find many different colours within this setting by lighting up the screen with a variety of shades and flashes of light. The scenery manages to perfectly convey the Gotham setting with extensive dedication added to the production design in support of this, and the cinematography captures the large scale of it all. But it's the costume design and makeup that really shines in this film. Batman returns in his iconic attire, but it's mainly the appearances of Catwoman and Penguin that really make a stand. Catwoman's suit is a sexy tight leather attire combined with the sight of inconsistent needle threads and the face of Michelle Pfeiffer made to look all the more pale. With Penguin, Danny DeVito has an artificial nose and even more pale skin combined with black rings around his eyes, as well as a formal suit complete with a top hat. The sights of these characters is unforgettable, and it makes for a strong visual experience. There are also some powerful action scenes in the film which are supported by the Academy Award nominated visual effects, as well as some strongly timed editing.
And with all this to support them, the cast of Batman Returns deliver some really powerful performances.
Michael Keaton is once again a solid lead in Batman Returns. Though his characterization and screentime is even less than it was in Batman, Michael Keaton still contributes enough of a cold-edged performance to make an imprint. The main focus of Bruce Wayne's characterization in Batman Returns centres around his relationship with Selina Kyle, as well as how he attempts to manage it and maintain his alter-ego at the same time. The chemistry he shares with Michelle Pfeiffer is one of a subtle passion, though the story does not descend into melodramatic romantic conventions in the process. The story doesn't capitalize fully on what Michael Keaton is capable of as Bruce Wayne, but it still emphasizes his heroic talents as Batman. Michael Keaton's talents for hand-to-hand combat are used more extensively in Batman Returns, and the scenes combine his skills with slapstick humour which proves to boast action value and a comic touch at the same time, oscillating between the two without converging them into some kind of silly action comedy. Given that Michael Keaton has a strong legacy for his comedic skills, it is refreshing to see him using them in a subtle fashion within a very action-oriented context. Michael Keaton is effectively dark and heroic in his return to the role of the caped crusader, losing none of his touch since the first film.
Danny DeVito is an actor known for his comedic persona as a short weasel with a temper, though he has proven to have a dramatic flair too. In Batman Returns, he combines both elements while going in an all new direction. As a result, he creates a truly dark and sadistic character who considers evil to be a sick pleasure. It would be easy for the character to fall into the territory of being a novelty, but in actuality Danny DeVito is brilliant in the role. He gets so lost in the part that he becomes bent on a psychotic obsession with bringing darkness to Gotham and destroying Batman. There are elements to the role which do feel borrowed from Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker from the previous film, but Danny DeVito makes them seem so inherent to him and the character that it feels natural. Danny DeVito epitomizes the full extent of Gotham's darkness in his portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot since he was born with deformities and abandoned by careless parents, becoming raised in the underground. The way that Danny DeVito conveys his character's absolute hatred for the world with a malicious physicality and line delivery that he spits out with a commanding tone of voice proves to make a very powerful impact on the experience. Danny DeVito's performance is one of the darkest by anyone in a Tim Burton film, and that is a hell of an achievement.
Selina Kyle is an interesting character. At first she is characterized as a stereotypical blonde character, a working girl who has the smarts but not the guts to take a stand for herself. Playing with conventional characters, Tim Burton characterizes her to at first as a stereotypical weak female character before giving her a massive change of course. The more conventional romantic subplot from the first film's given an innovative twist this time around due to the way Selina Kyle is treated once she transitions into being Catwoman. Catwoman essentially exists in her own universe as she is a damsel-in-distress turned antagonizing antihero whose motives are always personal as part of the film's odd pro-feminist message. Her independence and physical capabilities makes her a heroic figure while her intentions are conflicting. It's all very complex because Catwoman is characterized not as an extension of Selina Kyle but rather an entirely new creation, and the complex psychology of the character is captured flawlessly by Michelle Pfeiffer. But as well as this, she ends up being an innovative combination of campy sadism and slick seduction at the same time. Michelle Pfeiffer captures the complicated nature of Selina Kyle and Catwoman with unprecedented mental and physical dedication, making her an unforgettable asset to the feature. She is the real star of the show here.
Christopher Walken also brings in a strong supporting effort. He essentially plays an archetypal version of himself and perhaps the most generic of the main characters, but the star's natural charm and sophistication makes him more than convincing in the part. He plays with the manipulative nature of his character well and manages to subtly make an intimidating presence.
So although Batman Returns essentially reduces its titular character to being a secondary character in his own story, the multiple villains of the story constructs a large scale front for Tim Burton to explore his iconic gothic style in a dark action medium fueled by powerful set pieces and strong performances.
I must admit, though, I like the first half better than the second. It all gets sorta loud and obnoxious, and the focus on mood and atmosphere gets overshadowed by endless and kind of bizarre action sequences. I have this problem with action/fight sequences in general. It's hard to top the ingenuity of early 80s Indiana Jones. I find more exciting action sequences that are non-traditional--for example, Joan Cusack's race to get the news segment tape to the machine in Broadcast News. Choreographed fight scenes often bore me to sleep.
This film suffered from being more of a Tim Burton film than a Batman one in my eyes, and I don't know when I will come back to it for another look at this stage of things.
This sequel to the 1989 Batman