Batman Returns (1992)

Starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Andrew Bryniarski, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli, Steve Witting, Jan Hooks

Directed by Tim Burton

Expectations: Moderate. The last time I saw this, it wasn’t all that hot.

Batman Returns is proof positive that bigger is not always better. I’m sure there are people out there that thoroughly enjoy this one, but I found it overlong, stupid and without much of the charm of the original. There’s a lot of potential here for a good Batman movie, but therein lies my biggest problem with Batman Returns: it’s not a Batman movie, it’s a Penguin movie. If they wanted to title it correctly they’d have gone with something like Penguin Begins or The Dark Penguin Rises, or perhaps they could have gone completely obvious and went with Penguin and Catwoman.

Batman Returns opens with Paul Reubens and his wife, disgruntled with their flipper-handed infant. They decide to throw him off a bridge, thus giving rise to the most annoying Batman villain ever to make it on-screen. I’ve never been a Penguin fan, and this fucking movie isn’t doing him any favors. There’s also the Catwoman’s origin as a sub-plot and Batman’s literally just along for the ride. Michael Keaton probably had no more than twenty lines in the entire movie… give or take a few.

Batman Returns runs with the idea that everyone saw Batman and knows the character of Batman well. There’s nothing learned or explored with Batman in this film, as the filmmakers apparently thought, “He worked in the first film, let’s just leave him as is.” Which is fine, but give him something to do other than chime in for an action scene or kiss Michelle Pfeiffer. Instead nearly all the available runtime is devoted to building up the Gothic tragedy of Penguin. I have to wonder if Tim Burton was allowed more influence on this film than the first, as this storyline has his general feel all over it. There are some good moments sprinkled throughout, though, so I might recommend it to fans of Batman regardless of its shortcomings. I especially enjoyed the sequence when Penguin takes control of the Batmobile and drives it around via his mini-Batmobile kiddie ride, all while Batman flails about inside the real Batmobile hoping to rid the vehicle of the Penguin’s influence.

DeVito fits the Penguin as naturally as Nicholson fit the Joker, but his character is much too loud, obnoxious and annoying to be in the movie this much. DeVito is perfect, though, and it’s a shame that I have to end up hating a performance this good. I love the scene when Christopher Walken gives Penguin a fish and then takes him downstairs in his soiled undergarments to announce him as the new mayoral candidate. The fact that no one notices or mentions the fact that he’s fiendishly gnawing on a trout and walking around in his underwear is too damn absurd not to enjoy.

Catwoman is also grating and boring as a character. Her intro is nice, as is her transformation, but I just shook my head at nearly everything else. Of the main three, this only leaves Batman to hold down the fort, and as previously mentioned he’s given so little to do here that he couldn’t possibly make this film bearable. He has more gadgets in Batman Returns, but they don’t feel better than the ones he used in Batman, they feel worse. A fucking toy poodle catches his batarang mid-air for God’s sake. I know this a comedic moment where I’m supposed to laugh (and I did), but I should be laughing at the bad guy’s inept attempts to thwart Batman, not how lame his new electronic batarang is. It completely undermines Batman’s control of the situation and the film.

So as you can tell, I’m not much of a fan of Batman Returns. I think this will be my last time watching it, and if I ever talk about giving it another chance, please remind me not to.

Next up it’s Batman Forever, a film I hear nothing but shit about, but it’s one that I watched obsessively when it came out. I can’t wait to revisit it for the first time in at least 10 years.

12 comments to Batman Returns (1992)

  • Stephen

    I remember enjoying this as a kid, but also being really confused by it. Seeing the trailer I sort of understand why. I’m also not liking what I see of Michelle Pfeiffer in there. Maybe its because I just saw Anne Hathaway do the same job way better.

    I’ve always wondered what I would think of this film now, but reading this has made me less interested in finding out.

    • I only saw it a couple times as a kid, so I didn’t have the nostalgia going into this one like I had with the original. But I remember every time I did watch it, I liked the first half but was always disappointed with the rest. I literally had the exact same reaction to it now. It is boring and confusing, and completely focused on Penguin.

      Ah man, so you saw the new one! Say nothing!

  • This is my second favorite Christmas movie of all time.
    This is a timeless movie in which Burton gets a change to stretch his gothic sensibilities. Didn’t care much about Walken’s performance, but the guys is almost as overrated as Bill Murray.
    It is interesting to see if history will give Hathaway the “definitive Catwoman” title: everybody seemed to dismiss her right away when she was cast.

    • I have a sneaking suspicion there’s never going to be a consensus on the “definitive Catwoman” debate, Fredo, it’s like trying to pick the definitive Bond or Doctor Who.

      • Haven’t seen it, but don’t forget Halle Berry.

        • Stephen

          I’ve got a friend who loves Halle Berry and Catwoman, so he obviously loved the combination. I suspect he’s in the minority, but for what it’s worth, I have to agree with him that none of that movie’s problems were Berry’s fault. Given better material to work with she could have been a lot more popular in the role.

          Like Rodney said, everyone’s going to have their favorite. If I had to pick one, I would probably go with Adrienne Barbeau simply from pure childhood nostalgia.

    • Burton definitely stretched that Gothic sensibility alright. Too much for my taste, completely losing sight of Batman in the process. Walken is fun at the beginning, but like everything in this movie I just got so annoyed and bored by him as it went on.

      Not having seen Dark Knight Rises, I would still say that Hathaway would get the title. I’m assuming that movie is better than this one, and therefore the general public will embrace her performance more. I think the questioning stance that most took after she was cast was similar to what happened when Heath Ledger was cast as Joker, and now that the movies are out I think those fears will fade away except for with big movie fans like us.

  • I’m not a fan of comic-book films where the villain gets more screen-time than the hero – why not call this film “Catwoman and The Penguin…. featuring a few cameo appearances by Batman” and be done with it. Burton’s Batman era certainly had the right look and visual tone, but came undone with some truly ordinary scripting and choices of humor and action. Burton should have just made a straight-up action flick, left either Catwoman or the Penguin to one side (focus on one bad guy, not two… or three if you count Max Schrek)and got on with Batman’s story. One can only imagine how the franchise might have turned out had Burton co-directed this with Nolan. Burton’s visual style with Nolan’s hard-edged storytelling techniques… oh man.

    I said it in my own review, but I think Pfeiffer simply played a caricature of Catwoman, instead of playing her as an actual character. DeVito got it – he plays the Penguin as an actual person, while Pfeiffer is hamstrung by a plethora of feline-themed jokes at the expense of her believability.

    • They definitely should have focused on one villain. I hate that sequels always up the ante by adding multiple villains. Nolan seems to have done it well from the popular opinion, but I still question the decision having not seen it.

      I disagree on your Burton/Nolan team-up though. While I see where you’re going with it, I think Nolan’s realistic world is perfect for his Batman.

      Yeah, after Catwoman is setup, she is just a series of dumb cat jokes until the end of the movie. It’s so tiresome, like everything else in this movie. By far the worst Batman movie of all-time. Yeah, you read that right.

  • This is my least-favorite Batman film, and a large part of it comes down to the Penguin. And I actually like the idea of the Penguin as a Batman villain, and think he could be done well in a Batman movie. But this isn’t it, and it’s largely because this isn’t the Penguin. The Penguin in the comics was odd-looking, yes, but he was never a ghoulish barely-coherent wretch. He was every bit the sophisticated socialite he purported to be. Show me the aristocratic arms dealer, and I might be interested. This is just a travesty.

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