DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
May Contain Spoilers!
It’s 1992. Tim Burton is now a major player in Hollywood, having re-imagined Batman as the Dark Knight and followed it up with the iconic Edward Scossorhands. But it wasn’t just going to be a straight up sequel for Batman, this was going to be a furtherance of the Tim Burton style, adding to the gothic stylisation of the first.
But Burton is never one to downplay his style, with the exception of Ed Wood, so this was going to be a little more than just a Batman film. It’s Christmas in Gotham City, even though the film was release in the summer, and The Penguin (Danny DeVito), a freakish character who was abandoned as a child by his rich parents and dumped into the sewer and raised by penguins, went on to run The Red Triangle Gang, the enemy of Batman.
But Max Schreck (Christopher Walken), uses him to run for Mayer in a recall election to help him push through plans for his power plant, which will actually be collecting power rather than generating it. Meanwhile his mousey P.A., Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), is seemingly killed by Schreck for discovering his true plans, by being pushed out of a window. But she is not dead, but is left mentally disturbed by the fall and becomes Catwoman.
Somewhere in this complex but actually well conceived plot, is Batman (Michael Keaton), but the focus is far from on this titular character, which is a shame, because the juries still out on which is the best Batman/Bruce Wayne, with the battle being between Keaton and Christian Bale. The action was good, though the emphasise was the plot and the morbid villains, as well as the over commercialisation of Christmas. (In May?)
Now, as a 15-year-old boy back in 1992, I can’t say that Batman Returns was what I was either expecting or wanting, with tragic characters, bleak sets and macabre plot twists for the sake of them, but as a 33 year man, I now feel that this is a worthy Batman film. It’s not as good as Batman, it does need a Joker type character is a way, as, as good as Penguin and Catwoman are, and they are very good, neither has the flair of Nicholson’s Joker, nor hold the screen as he did.
But the sick and tasteless jokes are abound in true Tim Burton style, as Catwoman takes a bath and Penguin rides around in a giant duck and shoots people with umbrellas! This is a different take again on the Dark knight, with Batman moving the franchise on from the legacy of Adam West, this built on Burton’s own world to create something even more gothic and visually interesting.
But its way to dark for kids and it’s not colourful or fun enough to sell toys. And there’s no doubt that Batman didn’t turn up anything like enough, but when he did, it was a real treat. But there was something about the relationship between Wayne and Kyle, both struggling with their duplicitous characters, and whist my hat is off for the exploration of this integral aspect of the Batman mythos, it’s still didn’t go deep enough
But Batman Returns did for Burton what Batman & Robin did for the entire franchise. Finish it. From this almost black and white affair, we went on to see Burton “promoted” to a producer role, though that was probably just a paycheck rather than providing any real input, and Batman Forever made with Joel Schumacher’s PG-13 (or PG in the U.K.) neon take, with lighter characters and more comic book looking sets.
But it wouldn’t be until 2005, with Batman Begins that the problems with Batman/Wayne’s characterisations would be resolved more satisfactorily, but if you take Batman and Batman Returns as a set, I believe that Tim Burton delivered an iconic vision of the Dark Knight, and two films that whist they both have problems, they are valiant efforts and are obviously miles better than the Schumacher versions.
Until 2005, Batman had never looked as good as he did through the Burton prism and even with the Nolan trilogy, they still not only stand up but look and sound great.