When it first debuted in 1992, Batman Returns was one of the most anticipated film sequels of all-time. That’s a good indication of why the film was successful, and why the filmmakers were given a lot of freedom with it, which is coincidentally why Batman Returns is so terrifying. The movie was a direct follow-up to 1989’s Batman, and saw the return of both star Michael Keaton and director Tim Burton. For reasons why Batman Returns is messed up, look no further than Burton. The original film strayed quite far from Batman’s comic book persona, and the sequel was no different, taking the Dark Knight in a bizarre, Burton-esque direction. In fact, it could be argued that Burton received more leeway to “be himself” when it came to directing Batman Returns than in any other film, and the results are obvious.
Looking back on it all, it’s easy to write-off Batman Returns as the beginning of the campiness that would come to dominate the franchise when Joel Schumacher stepped into the director’s role. However, that’s not an entirely fair assessment. There’s plenty of camp to be had in Batman Returns, from the performances to the costumes, but it’s balanced out by the sheer darkness Burton manages to imbue in the franchise. Despite its funny page origins and Christmas setting, the movie actually includes a number of outright horrifying elements, and plot points that can only be described as truly twisted. The film simply does not get enough credit as the darkest installment in the long history of Dark Knight tales.
Catwoman And Casual SexismPhoto: Batman Returns/Warner Bros.
Batman Returns does some interesting things with its female anti-hero, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. The first time we see Selina Kyle on screen, she’s bringing coffee to her corporate masters and bearing the brunt of their comments about her lack of “house-training.”
Before her transformation into Catwoman, we mainly hear Selina complaining about the lack of good men in her life, including the twice-repeated gag of her coming home and shouting “Honey, I’m home! Oh wait, I forget I’m not married.” Not exactly an optimal portrayal of a traditional feminist icon.
Danny DeVito’s Penguin Is Easily The Most Terrifying Batman VillainPhoto: Batman Returns/Warner Bros.
Just on appearance alone, Danny DeVito’s Penguin makes for a more disturbing villain than any other comic book antagonist seen on film. His horrifying face and rotten teeth are bad enough, but his weird, lumpy body and awkward gait really solidify his monstrous nature. The Penguin is an awful, awful bad guy for myriad reasons, his political aspirations chief among them.
While it might have been considered humorous at one point, the notion of a physically grotesque, obnoxious, and openly misogynistic populist politician billionaire playing on people’s fears and rising to power isn’t so funny anymore.
The First Action Scene Is Utterly InsanePhoto: Batman Returns/Warner Bros.
Some of the things in Batman Returns are darker than they originally were, thanks to the addition of historical context. For example, the first action scene is played slightly for laughs, with the Penguin’s Red Triangle Gang showing up in a giant giftbox to a public gathering and attacking the crowd in terrifying circus-themed outfits.
That’s scary enough, but it gets taken up a notch when the Gang opens fire on the civilians with a Minigun, almost certainly killing at least a few. Essentially, the conflict in the film begins with a mass shooting in a heavily crowded area, and its perpetrated by a bunch of clowns and skeletons. That’s a little too close to home for modern Americans.
Michael Keaton Only Expresses Himself In Brooding SilencePhoto: Batman Returns/Warner Bros.
Tim Burton’s Batman movies are so dark that even Bruce Wayne, who is supposed to be Batman’s swinging playboy cover story, is a somber, brooding individual. Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the man behind the bat is almost always smoldering with pathos and bad intentions, and he spends much of the movie in contemplative silence.
The separation between Batman and Bruce Wayne is next to nothing, with Wayne getting in Max Schreck’s face in decidedly Batman-like fashion on a few occasions. Even Keaton’s “warm” interactions with Selina Kyle leave the viewer suspecting he could murder her at any time.