Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken, Paul Ruebens
Written by: Daniel Waters and Sam Hamm, based on characters created by Bob Kane
Directed by: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 126
Date: 06/16/1992

Batman Returns (1992)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Beyond the 'Bat'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Armed with massive amounts of creative control after the success of Batman (1989), Tim Burton nonetheless turned in for the sequel this bizarre mixture of poetic brilliance and clumsiness.

Michelle Pfeiffer arguably steals the show as the vinyl-suited Catwoman, a psychotic dominatrix that gives girl power a new meaning. She's a perfect romantic match for Michael Keaton's quietly disturbed Bruce Wayne/Batman. Danny DeVito is more or less right as the Penguin, but both villains are merely pawns to Christopher Walken's Max Schrek, who manipulates the entire game. In one way, Schrek allows us to identify more closely with the misfit bad guys, but at the same time he takes away their fun.

Burton begins the film with an astonishing origin-of-Penguin sequence (co-starring Paul Reubens, fresh from his movie theater scandal). It's a beautiful, scary Viking-funeral sequence -- completely absent of dialogue -- in which the Penguin's heartbroken parents set his cradle afloat toward Gotham City's sewers. But the dialogue doesn't stay down for long; it ludicrously crops up again during the film's fight scenes (which should have stayed silent).

Batman's costume has dramatically improved, allowing Keaton more movement underneath the cowl. But why does he have to take off the mask during the climactic battle?

In any case, Batman Returns looks spectacular, set at Christmastime with Gotham looking even grimmer under all the ice and snow; it has become annual holiday viewing, and, as time goes on, its flaws tend to become less relevant. And Burton's two films are far darker and more daring than Joel Schumacher's two films that would follow, Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997).

In 2005, to coincide with the DVD release of Batman Begins, Warner Home Video re-released the previous four Batman films in double-disc DVD Special Editions, and in a box set. The Batman Returns disc comes with a dazzlingly remastered picture and sound and a new Tim Burton commentary track. The bonus disc comes with a bunch of featurettes, character profile galleries, and a music video: "Face to Face," by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

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