“Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it,” says Batman. Catwoman replies, “But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”
Tim Burton’s 1989 classic Batman was the very first film I had ever seen on the big screen, and it was an experience that I’ve never forgotten. It also marked the birth of the modern superhero film genre, and its success ultimately gave Burton more creative control for its sequel. He went in a darker direction and set the film at Christmas time, and upped the ante by having the Caped Crusader take on three villains. I had wanted to see the film at the time of the film’s original release, but no one would take me to see it. I ended up seeing most of Batman Returns on cable growing up, but it wasn’t until the Museum of the Moving Image’s Tim Burton retrospective in 2003 that I was finally able to see it completely and on the big screen. Finally seeing it on the big screen was a real treat and a very enjoyable experience.
1992’s Batman Returns follows Bruce Wayne/Batman as he investigates a new arrival in Gotham City called Oswald Cobblepot as well as the shady business dealings of the business tycoon Max Shreck, who is blackmailed into helping Cobblepot (also known as the Penguin) become a citizen of Gotham. Wayne also becomes attracted to Shreck’s secretary Selina Kyle, who becomes the mysterious vigilante Catwoman after Shreck tries to kill her. Burton’s direction is as solid as ever. Returning cast members include Michael Keaton (as Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Gough (as Alfred), and Pat Hingle (as Comissioner Gordon), while they are joined by newcomers Danny DeVito (as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin), Michelle Pfeiffer (as Selina Kyle/Catwoman), Christopher Walken (as Max Shreck), Michael Murphy (as the Mayor of Gotham City), and cameos from Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger (as Cobblepot’s parents). Keaton is excellent once again as the tortured Wayne. Pfeiffer is mysterious and sexy as Selina, conveying her character’s traumatized psyche. DeVito is simultaneously sympathetic and evil as Cobblepot. Walken steals the show as a shrewd scumbag of a businessman who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants, including manipulate and kill.
Daniel Waters’ screenplay was terrific (how could you not love that dialogue?). The production design by Bo Welch was incredible (I loved all of the Russian and German Expressionism-inspired architecture), as was the noirish cinematography by Stefan Czapsky (which captures the film’s tone perfectly). Bob Badami and Chris Lebenzon’s editing keeps the film moving at a good pace. The costume designs by Bob Ringwood and Mary Vogt were first-rate (I loved the upgrading of the Batman costume, as well as the work on the costumes for Catwoman, the Penguin, and the Red Triangle Gang). The Oscar-nominated makeup design by Ve Neill and Stan Winston was superb (especially the work on the Penguin), as were the Oscar-nominated special effects (a combination of miniatures, CGI, and practical effects that blend together very well). Danny Elfman wrote an incredible sequel score, nearing operatic levels (his music for the final sequence with the Penguin is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard). Bob Kane’s creation has endured for 75 years, and Batman Returns (still an immensely underrated film to this day) stands as my favorite of the two Tim Burton-directed Batman films. There is so much to enjoy in this holiday (or anti-holiday, depending on your viewpoint) classic.