Batman Returns

Well, it’s been a while – but OD on Films is back up and running. I’m currently writing for Stuff.tv, writing about gadgets and gizmos – and, periodically, films.

Among the film-related pieces I’ve written recently is a look at Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992), in which Michael Keaton’s Batman tangles with Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s slinky Catwoman.

Burton’s 1989 Batman famously dragged the Dark Knight back into the shadows after years in which the popular perception of the character had been shaped by Adam West’s campy Caped Crusader. Of course, comics fans were plenty familiar with a more sober, gritty Batman, as seen in Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ 1970s rendition of the character and the infamous 1980s graphic novels, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

The 1989 Batman doesn’t entirely feel like Burton’s film, though. He’s said as much himself, commenting that, “It got away from me a little bit.” That’s evident in jarring elements like the Prince soundtrack, and a script that bears all the hallmarks of studio-imposed rewrites during production (why exactly does the Joker climb to the top of the Gotham City Cathedral?).

Batman ReturnsBatman Returns, though, is Burton’s film through and through. With the clout to impose his own vision on the film, he conjured up a Gothic, whimsical confection that’s closer in tone to Edward Scissorhands than the first Batman film.

The artificial, enclosed sets, the camp, snowbound cheer of a Gotham Christmas, the Frankenstein stitching on Catwoman’s outfit, the spirals and stripes on the Red Triangle Circus Gang, the misfit, Uncle-Fester-a-like Penguin… it all feels like Burton emphatically imposing his artistic sensibilities onto Batman.

The film’s come in for some criticism over the years – I suspect because Bat-fans who loved the grit of the previous film didn’t like the whimsy and self-conscious artifice of Burton’s sequel. And in retrospect, the later Joel Schumacher films may have retroactively tainted Batman Returns in fans’ minds, by taking the film’s camp elements and dialling them up to eleven. But I find it rather appealing, because it’s so emphatically a Tim Burton film – moreso than the 1989 movie, Batman Returns is Burton’s vision of the Caped Crusader.

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