“Batman Returns” is a fun film but is also very flawed and doesn’t quite have a focus on knowing what it wants to be about. I would still recommend this film as the performances by the main cast are fantastic, as is the environment and score…this is just no longer a favorite. It is a solid film, but not a favorite as when I watched it the flaws were too many to make it a film I’d continue to come back to watch.
The film was directed by Tim Burton who was also one of the producers and written by Daniel Waters and also produced by Denise Di Novi.
The story arrives the Penguin (Danny DeVito) seeking power in Gotham by kidnapping and using businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to get him what he wants. Elsewhere Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is killed by Shreck and resurrected by cats into the Catwoman as Batman (Michael Keaton) investigates them all and tries to stop their plans.
The Pros: The World – Burton’s world is fantastic and I love returning to it, even if the story isn’t as good as the first film. This is a Gotham that feels both old and new in feel and that is overlayed by a Gothic feel giving it a dark and dying feeling that fits the characters who inhabit it’s world.
The Peguin’s Circus Gang – These guys are awesome! They hack the Batmobile, they wreak havoc on multiple occasions and have a really cool aesthetic, ranging from creepy clown faces, a lady in white and a bearded man in a top hat. I wanted more time with these characters and wanted to know how they came to be with the Penguin and why they worked for him.
The Action – This film has much more action in “Batman” (and Batman has a much higher body count because of it) as well as some great chase and fight sequences. Whether it is Batman v. Catwoman or Batman v Penguin’s Gang the action keeps you drawn in and I wanted to see what would happen next.
The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman is once again in his element as his score captures the horror and gothicness of Gotham as well as the internal struggles of the characters of Batman and Catwoman.
The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful as the Burton’s shadowy Gotham is presented with contrasts of dark and light like in the first film. Stefan Czapsky did a great job! The film is beautiful and it is largely thanks to how it is presented.
The Characters – The characters are intriguing and a pro, even if they aren’t always consistently written. I still enjoyed these characters even if some of the cons in how they were presented and written brought them down.
Max Shreck – Christopher Walken is a national treasure, he is wonderful as the two-faced corrupt businessman Max Shreck who kills Selina Kyle and manages to keep the Penguin at a safe distance and use the Penguin to his own ends. In the end Selina Kyle gets revenge against him as he meets a fitting end. He also nearly kills Batman as he sees that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same person and tries to shoot him. Not many people can claim this victory.
Alfred – Alfred is great in this and is the counselor to Batman once again. Michael Gough really makes a great Alfred and helps us see more of Bruce’s humanity.
Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne’s motivations in this are clear, he is Batman seeking to save the city and as many people as he can around him who aren’t part of Penguin’s Gang or the Penguin. We also see his seeking of normalcy too as he shows Catwoman who he is and expresses a willingness to do anything to bring her back from being Catwoman. In her he sees his own fractured identity and an escape, which I wish could have been explored more.
Okay/Pro: Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Selina Kyle is a secretary for Max Shreck who he murders when she accesses confidential documents. From here she goes from nervous and unsure to empowered and sexual. She is a good threat too and manages to hurt Batman on multiple occasion as well as finally getting revenge on Shreck. Sadly her motivations are unclear through most of it as the script decides to present her largely as crazy…which was a waste of character.
Okay: Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin – Like Catwoman, Penguin’s motivations are unclear. He wants revenge, but he wants power, he wants to be accepted, he wants sex…the writers seemed unable to decide what it was he actually wanted and because of this it kept him from being like Nicholson’s Joker whose agenda was clear. DeVito put in a great performance but in the end he is only okay because I didn’t know what he was about or what he wanted.
The Cons: Commissioner Gordon – Gordon is there to light the Bat Signal, seriously in the Burton films he isn’t used at all and shouldn’t have even been put in the script. He’s just an extra body with a familiar name.
The Mayor – The Mayor like Commissioner Gordon is a non-entity who is only there to be protected by Batman and overthrown by the Penguin. What a waste of a character.
Catwoman’s Motivation – We never get her motivation…at first it’s revenge but she never follows through with it and she never seeks revenge against the Penguin even after he tries to kill her. I had no idea why she did what she did, she was just presented as insane. I didn’t know her motivation beyond keeping her job when she is Selina Kyle.
Batman’s Hypocrisy – Batman won’t let Catwoman kill, even the character is bad and a villain and he is doing it all the time. This was really annoying and I hated it as it just made Batman look like a big hypocrite. It only would have made sense if we hadn’t seen him kill people in the last film and this one and if he had stated that his motivation was not to kill but to turn people into prison.
An Inconsistent Penguin – He wants revenge, he wants to be Mayor he just wants to be left alone, he hates everyone, he loves everyone…what did this character want in the end? He seemed to have the destruction of Gotham plot going for a while so why did he even bother running for mayor?
Lack of Narrative Focus – The lack of narrative focus is best illustrated in the unclear motivations of Penguin and Catwoman, who are two major characters we follow whose desires and plans are never fully realized so it leaves their arcs up in the air and unfinished…
This was a film that was trying to do too much and fell because of it. It still manages to be a good film but the inconsistently written Penguin, Catwoman’s unclear motivation and the lack of clear narrative focus keep this film from being great. To any lover of Burton’s work this is still a must see but the flaws are much more obvious than the first “Batman” film. The world and characters make the film worth the watch though and the cons do not keep this from being a good film and one of the better “Batman” films.
Final Score: 8.5 / 10