This is a movie I definitely would not show a kid. While Batman was a tad on the dark side (by late 80s/early 90s standards), Batman Returns is darker, bloodier, and overtly sexual. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this film sparked debate over what tone comic book movies should take, and whether they are inherently for kids.
I do have memories of Batman Returns being released. I was definitely aware of Batman at this point, and wanted to see this movie, even though I could tell from commercials that it was “scary.” Luckily my parents took movie ratings to heart. PG-13 meant “no, you’re too young,” which was a good call in this case. Danny DeVito’s Penguin is excellent, but an eight year old shouldn’t see him bite a guy’s nose. Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the best incarnations of Catwoman, but she’s far too sexy for kids. It’s clear this movie was meant to take Batman to a more adult level, and it succeeds.
While I enjoy Batman Returns, I think Batman is a better overall. The main issue here is that casting Pfeiffer opposite Michael Keaton showcases how poor a Bruce Wayne he is. He’s a great Batman– he has the voice, the perfect chin, and nails the action sequences. He holds his own against Catwoman, and convincingly establishes the Batman/Catwoman relationship as that of equal advisories. Keaton’s Bruce Wayne, however, is goofy and bumbling. He seems nervous around the emboldened Selina Kyle, when he ought to be a sauve playboy. They should be equals even when not in costume, but here Kyle seems to have the upper hand. This wouldn’t be such an issues if Keaton and Pfeiffer didn’t share so much screen time.
I prefer this film to the original. I think the villains are better and Michael Keaton has grown into the role of Batman. He’s still a mediocre Bruce Wayne, and he lets the film down a little bit. Danny DeVito is great as the Penguin. I know we all said this about Jack Nicholson when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker, but I can’t see anyone playing the role as good as DeVito does. He is grotesque as the half human/half bird man and is clearly having fun with the role. Michelle Pfeiffer is Selina Kyle/Catwoman and she’s never been sexier. She is a true femme fatale, you really feel for Batman having to try and stop her. It would’ve been a really hard thing to do.
It’s interesting watching these films after Nolan’s Batman films. His films are so dark and grounded and these Burton films just seem so fantastical when compared to Nolans. The physically disfigured mutant Penguin doesn’t seem like he’d be turning up in Nolan’s universe at all. When Selina Kyle eventually turns up, she’s a regular cat burglar and is never referred to as Catwoman throughout the film. These films are still good, it’s just a shame that the Christoper Nolan films are so much better.
Tim Burton recreates his Gotham City well, keeping the city looking very old. It looks like it’s still stuck in the 1930s, but then a character mentions Nixon, so you don’t know what era the film is set. It’s very pretty though, if somewhat run down and gothic.
My biggest problem with this film is Batman. Keaton tries hard, but I just don’t buy him as this great superhero. Batman is meant to be the greatest fighter in the world, yet he has trouble taking down a deranged secretary in a catsuit. When combined with his poor Bruce Wayne portrayal, he is very much the weak link here. The film would really struggle if the villains weren’t so memorable.