Before Christopher Nolan all but completed the Batman franchise with his reimagining of the legendary comic book figure, there was the gothic interpretation, with Tim Burton directing and Michael Keaton returning as the Caped Crusader, after the 1989 Batman film.
One of my local cinemas occasionally puts on films of yesteryear, usually cult classics, so I’ve started a new segment called ‘Blast From The Past’ and this is the first one I’ve caught. Batman Returns was probably my favourite Batman from the 90s, but all I remember was that featured the grotesque-looking Penguin villain.
I forgot how dark the opening is, as a young Cobblepot is born but discarded into a river on Christmas. Fast-forward 33 years, and there are rumours floating around, that a Penguin-Man has been sighted and living in the sewers. And in true Tim Burton style, the film is filled with gothic stylisation and shadows aplenty. From the opening scene with costumes the Cobblepots are wearing, to the tall shadowy buildings that surround Gotham City, Burton has really dressed the screen in his gothic imagining.
Michael Keaton continues his role as Batman and protecting Gotham City, but doesn’t actually show up until the Red Triangle Gang cause havoc during the annual turning on the Christmas tree lights, with a speech by Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). Shreck is kidnapped and blackmailed by The Penguin (Danny Devito) in the aftermath, to make sure he becomes an up-standing citizen of Gotham City after being cast away by his unknown parents.
The character of The Penguin reminds of Nolan’s interpretation of The Scarecrow, being a character that has a dark persona hidden by the public figure, especially as he discovers his true name of Oswald Cobblepot. Shreck in an effort to get his dodgy power planet authorised pushes Penguin to run for mayor so they can aid and abet each other. And Danny DeVito and Walken play these characters to perfection, as you become to dislike them as people and their slimy exterior.
And of course Tim Burton continues to dress the screen in dark colours throughout the 2 hours+ running time, otherwise would it even be a Tim Burton film? But some of the sequences included within Batman Returns are incredibly dark and strange. I mentioned the opening scene, where the child is abandoned to the sewers, but also Selina Kyle’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) transformation into Catwoman, but as Hello There transforms into the statement Hell Here is just brilliant imagery by the director.
Selina Kyle does becomes integral in this story, as she discovers why Shreck is a dodgy dealer when it comes to the power plant, but also the transformation becomes one of the key turning points in the struggle for Gotham City. And that’s what happens, you become wrapped up in this film and feels like you’ve been there for hours, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because of the enjoyment from watching a nostalgic classic on the silver screen.
That being said though, Tim Burton loves to drag out an ending doesn’t he? The climax of this film feels like it does drag on for a good half hour, but this is probably down to the three narrative interjections coming to a close. There are some cringey moments within Batman Returns from it’s one-liners, to the tight clothing of the Princess. But these issues do not necessarily overshadow the film as a whole.
The choreographed action sequences are what you would expect from the early nineties, but they are fun, especially the aerial efforts from the Red Triangle Gang. It was fun to see this film up on the big screen after all those years of not watching it, and it’s richness in texture and laced with the gothic imagery that Tim Burton just adores.
The film is not one of the classics, it’s fair to say. It’s just not. It hasn’t aged well at all. But it doesn’t matter, because the enjoyment trumps that completely. It’s two hours of over-egged performances from the star-studded cast, but it’s a fun way to spend two hours. And it’s not just Christian Bale that seems to be a moody Batman, Michael Keaton does his best at this as well.
6.9 Bats out of 11.