I just saw Batman Returns in its entirety right now. Before, when I was young, I had only seen some scenes when I would visit my aunt’s house (she had all of the movie channels, which in the 90s was really awesome). Now that I’ve seen it fully, I have context to what I saw before. I was truly blown away with what I saw.
The entire movie is very melancholy and brooding. Although it’s the Christmas season in Gotham, the city doesn’t feel cheerful. It feels low key and dark. Christmas tree and decorations don’t feel festive; they feel futile for a city in such a hopeless state. The Christmas time period seems like a cruel joke, like dangling candy in front of a hungry, homeless child. It’s symbolic in that it shows you what it should be like but that never comes to fruition.
The characters are even more fleshed out than in the earlier Batman movie by director Tim Burton. Batman has more mystery about him but the focus of the film is never truly on him. It’s more on Bruce Wayne and his relationship with Max Shreck, his butler Alfred and, of course, Selina Kyle. Michael Keaton is wonderful as the Dark Knight and as the millionaire Wayne and is wonderful at giving Bruce Wayne subtlety and depth. Most of his best scenes are when he’s not talking at all and all of his dialog is in his face and body language.
Christopher Walken plays a good yet minor role as Max Shreck in which he is the only true villain in the film, which is in itself a conundrum since he’s not that much of a villain to begin with. The Penguin is played very well and is such a disguising figure, from his appearance to his mannerisms he is never appealing to watch. However, that works towards the character’s story as the movie challenges you to pity this horrid “thing”. The Penguin’s death scene is probably the most depressing scene in the movie.
The most depressing character however belongs to Selena Kyle aka Catwoman. Michelle Pfeiffer is absolutely wonderful as the titular female lead and give the performance not to be missed. Her intentions are never clear and you always feel such a sense of self deprecation in her character. At first, it’s pretty blatant (“Honey, I’m home! Oh I forgot. I’m not married”). However, as she becomes the more brazen Catwoman, it’s not as obvious. You expect her to become more confident as she runs around in a leather suit and starts and relationship with Bruce Wayne. However, towards the end, you begin to realize that nothing changed and that she has just gone to extremes in order to change herself, only to discover that she just never liked herself. She doesn’t believe in herself enough to allow herself to be happy, neither with Bruce or personally. She is easily my favorite part of the movie and its just a pleasure to watch Selena Kyle and Bruce Wayne on screen together.
The story is the only thing where I feel the quality is shoddy. This movie succeeds because it’s a character film. The story to get the Penguin elected mayor and then to kidnap all the first born children is a bit dodgy. It’s never fully presented why this is such as good idea or why this character would want to do that. The final Penguin fight with the army of penguins is a little silly, in contrast to the tone of the rest of the film. Another weak point are the action scenes. When Batman does battle the villains, no sense of power is given to the scenes making them fall flat.
Overall, I would say this is my second favorite Batman movie, beaten only by The Dark Knight. However, in some respects that’s not a fair comparison. Although The Dark Knight is intelligently written, it’s still an action film. Batman Returns feels like a drama, almost a psychological one, considering all the mental and emotional scars all the main characters seem to have. It’s a depressing film, which is why I like it because I truly feel for all these characters. I honestly would loved to have seen another Tim Burton Batman film, maybe one that keeps Catwoman in it.