"Batman Returns" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
After the major success that was Tim Burton's "Batman", Warner Bros. decided to bring him back for a sequel, letting him have full control over what he is going to create for Bruce Wayne's next adventure. Bringing in The Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) to rival Batman, Burton's sequel is perhaps a step-down from his first film, leaning too much into the classic Burton wackiness and sacrificing story for style.
I think perhaps one of the most interesting things about this film is how the titular protagonist is barely in it. It seems like Burton is not interested in telling the story of Bruce Wayne, giving him practically no character arc. Instead, the movie is focused on DeVito and Pfeiffer's characters, showing how they became the cruel villains they are when Batman fights them. I do think this is a very interesting route to go down, especially since the movie should be more concerned with the hero it's trying to portray.
However, when we look at these two characters, I think both DeVito and Pfeiffer do a pretty good job. Let's face it - DeVito is a pretty lovable celebrity. He is hilarious just being himself, so him and Burton had to find a way of disguising that charm and instant likability; I think they did a pretty good job of creating the Penguin. From his costume design to makeup to the way DeVito expertly portrays his character, it doesn't seem like we are watching the beloved actor on screen. We are genuinely seeing a deformed, terrifying character that the audience loves to hate.
Yet, I think Pfeiffer is the standout here. Her portrayal of Catwoman is spot-on, and even to this day, I think she has given the best performance as the cat-like supervillain. She is able to portray the nerdy, awkward Selina Kyle, who is the assistant to Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), but when she dons the leather cat suit, it seems like she turns into a completely different person. She is sexy and irresistible, but is also able to make the character smart and cunning. In my opinion, she is the best thing about this film, and it would have been awesome the see Pfeiffer don the cat suit once again.
It's obvious Burton knows how to tell the stories of villains and make them so great on-screen, but what about the story for Batman? There's practically no story for him. Burton put him on the back burner, leaving the viewer want more of this classic hero. Keaton portrayed a great Bruce Wayne/Batman combo in the first film, so I'm not exactly sure why he was left out so much from this one. Even in many shots, it just shows him walking awkwardly in the bat suit, heading to defeat the villains that are trying to destroy Gotham.
Since the first film did so great, it seems like they let Burton had full control of what he made for this one. For me, personally, I think he went a little too overboard. Every frame of this movie is dipped in that wacky, weird style that Burton loves to create. Look at his films like "Edward Scissorhands" and his remake of the Disney "Alice in Wonderland". I think those work really well as they have his unique style, but not so much where it is suffocating. The same can't be said here, as it seemed like Burton tried to add in as many wacky elements as possible, overpacking the film.
Because of this, it really takes away from the story. Like I mentioned in my review for the first film, I think he has a slew of great ideas, but doesn't know how to convey them. Consider towards the end of this film, when Penguin decides he wants to slaughter a bunch of children in Gotham. It seems like he wants to go down the darker route of the Batman story, but the Studio won't let him. So they revolve it quickly in less than a minute, and decide to go down the route of Penguin having an army of actual penguins attack Gotham. At the same time, the story is just boring and slow for the most part, and I didn't find myself drawn into what was actually happening. Even though the set design is beautiful and seems interesting, there really is nothing exciting happening.
It's obvious Burton really tried to make this a great Batman film in his own style, but he unfortunately struck out. Similar to its predecessor, this film has great performances and ideas, but Burton ultimately can't bring them to life. There are numerous things I wish he could have changed about this movie, including adding more Batman into the mix, but I can appreciate what Burton tried to create here as a follow-up to his successful superhero film.