Tim Burton's sequel to the original Batman outing, Batman Returns is a rare case of a sequel that surpasses its original.
Although the film caused some controversy and led to Burton stepping away from the franchise its the crown of the 90’s comic book genre. Batman goes head to head with an array of eccentric villains in a darker and more gritty take on the adventures of Gotham’s dark crusader.
Originally Burton was unsure of returning to do a sequel. The 1989 release of Batman was a phenomenon and became the blockbuster that following blockbusters were measured by. The film not only broke box office records but took on a life of its own outside the film. Merchandise as well as tie ins and spin off showed Hollywood the potential money that could be made by branding a film.
Despite its box office success, Burton had not been granted the control he had wanted and felt uneasy with the finished film. After taking time away for a smaller personal film project, (Edward Scissorhands) he agreed to direct Returns if he had greater creative control. The film was released in 1992 and although the film was another box office hit commercially it didn’t compare with its predecessor. As well as the film taking less money certain tie ins and merchandisers cancelled deals with Warner Brothers due to the films sexualised and violent content. The film was seen as not family friendly and stalled the outside money making potential of the film. After a dispute with the studio Burton agreed to step aside from the franchise but stayed on-board as producer to the following film.
The action is bigger the villains are darker and story is more engrossing.
The other major criticism of the film is that is is too dark. Warner Brothers felt the sexualised nature of the film as well as the violence put families off. The real question is should Batman be aimed at families and children. Burton used his greater creative control on Returns to make a film that was closer to the gritty image of Bob Kane’s original comic. The film is darker, as it should be. Batman in his truest form is an angry, bitter orphan who channels his rage into a vigilante alter ego.
Its seems strange now to think that there was a major backlash when Keaton was announced as Batman. He was known primarily as a comic actor and Burton had worked with him on Bettlejuice. Burton defended his choice of picking an actor of average build and height by reminding fans that Batman is a hero but not super. He has no super powers to speak of but has wealth which allows him a super suit with gadgets and the Batmobile. Casting a hyperbolic looking actor is necessary for Superman but not a man who choses to defend his city dressed as a bat. With a role such as Batman you have to remember that the actor is playing a dual role, Bruce and Batman. Keaton plays the charming, defiant yet tortured Bruce to perfection. While the suit, Batmobile and Keaton’s cold gaze and stillness portray Batman. Keaton is a classic case of controversial casting choice who proves the doubters wrong.
Michelle Pfeiffer is amazing as Catwoman. She managers to play alluring, intimidating, sexy and vunlrable all at the same time. By intoduces us to Selina as a timid, shy, clumsy young woman the contrast to her Catwoman persona is all the greater. Phieffer has a real feline quality to her movements and she also worked hard for the role. Not only did she do stunt and whip training to prepare she endured being vacuum-packed into the costume to make it skin tight. Compared to Vicky Vale’s cliche love interest she has so much more to do. The chemistry between Pfeiffer and Keaton is electric and makes the audience route so much harder for the characters.
Danny DeVito’s transformation into The Penguin is truly grotesque. His deformed hands and green mouth and tongue makes the audience feel uneasy just looking at him. Growing up without parents makes him parallel to Bruce. While Bruce chose to channel his anger for good The Penguin channels his for power and chaos. DeVito turned what could have been a camp, silly villain into a real character role.
The Burton films have come under much scrutiny since the completion of Christopher Nolan’s Trilogy. Burton made Bob Kane’s Batman while Nolan made Frank Millers The Dark Knight. The two should never be compared not least because Burton never got the chance to complete his Trilogy. Nolan re-invented the once great genre by grounding it in a crime setting. Returns is an example of what the genre once was at its best. The genre stalled becoming campy with a concentration on action opposed to an interesting central characters journey.
Batman Returns is a truly twisted but enthralling take on the Batman tale. Regrettable Burton never got to finish his series and the franchise deteriorated until Nolan came along. But Returns is the superior of Burtons two outings. One of, if not the best of the hyper fantasized comic book adaptations. Burton created an entire world for his hero to inhabit along with his array of crazed villains. The genre has evolved since Returns was released now needing a more realistic feel to it but this doesn’t take away from past films as thrilling as Batman Returns.