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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 34.12%
Average: 18.82%
Pretty Bad: 4.71%
Total Crap: 7.65%

6 reviews, 134 user ratings

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Batman Returns
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by Jay Seaver

"Quite possibly the best screen Gotham City, though not the best Batman."
4 stars

A few minutes into the Brattle Theatre's Christmas presentation of "Batman Returns", I was willing to trade all three of Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batmovies for one more by Tim Burton with Michael Keaton, back when they were at their peaks. That's impossible, obviously, and I had talked myself down to maybe something like two for one by the climax, but was delighted to find that it was both weirder and more fun than I'd remembered it being.

I think it's a fairly reasonable reaction to have as the film starts and the audience gets reacquainted with Burton's Gotham City, an expanse of towering, interconnected skyscrapers with similarly-scaled status that looks like somebody built Fritz Lang's Metropolis in the 1920s and it's been decaying ever since. There's an opening that establishes Oswald "The Penguin" Cobblepot as an impossibly bad seed, though his parents' secretive attempt to dispatch him is similarly awful. Then it's the present day and garishly costumed villains are unveiling magnate Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) at the behest of the adult Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) while Batman (Michael Keaton) is busy with goons.

This vision of Gotham is probably the best ever put on film, and not just because it is full of references to silent movies I love (and remember, this was before Metropolis had the two restorations that returned it to its deserved prominence). Burton and his team create a city that is larger-than-life and run-down at the same time, but in a balanced way. As clearly as one can see that this is not a great place to live, even from aerial shots, it's not quite a post-apocalyptic hell, either. Better than any other adaptation - or indeed most runs on the comics - the filmmakers create a city that people would believably stay in, even as it drives them insane.

That's the other thing that works impressively well - Batman's villains get locked up in an asylum rather than a prison, and both DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer (in the role of Catwoman/Selina Kyle) are fantastic at being quite mad. It's different flavors - the Penguin is a murderous sociopath even if his rage is understandable, while Catwoman, afraid of nothing having survived a fall that should have killed her, is slowly losing her mooring to humanity (Pfeiffer is great - she makes a funny self-referential line into something also quite heartfelt). A lot of Batman's instability happens via production design - look at how empty Wayne Manor and the Batcave feel - though Michael Keaton complements Pfeiffer well as a troubled man also trying to be sane but not quite sure he knows how.

In some ways, that exposed the main issue not just with Batman Returns, but with most of the superhero movies of its era: There is a Bruce Wayne-shaped hole in the middle. The popular wisdom was that they were only as good as their villains, and while Marvel has made a mint in recent years focusing more on the heroes than their adversaries (quick, name an Iron Man villain!), Burton and his screenwriters focus so strongly on the villains that sometimes Batman can be shoved to the side of his own movie, leaving Michael Keaton with very little to do and less resolution at the end.

So he mostly stands around, posing in fight scenes that are relatively stiff, but still fairly lively. As things escalate, Burton and company make the action simultaneously bigger and weirder, and while things frequently threaten to careen completely out of control, there's always a sense of grand tragedy to go along with the absurdity of the situation. It's strange and sort of grotesque, but there's nothing that doesn't actually fit, especially in this insane setting.

And that's why, despite Christopher Nolan's "Dark Night" trilogy being more thought out and grounded, I can't help but think that this movie is the one that represents Batman best on-screen. It reflects the heightened reality comics can do almost as easily as realism, and I would love to see Gotham City's madness approached this way again.

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originally posted: 01/12/15 07:39:47
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell ok 3 stars
1/15/15 the truth bloated and unfocused sequel with good art design; typical of giving Burton carte blanche 3 stars
9/02/14 G.G.H. ok 3 stars
7/28/12 Kcaj couldve been worse! My nose could be gushing blood!! 4 stars
6/10/12 Brad bauer One of the best movies in the history of cinema 5 stars
2/28/10 Steve Hock Dark, noir, icey, gothic, Catwoman, Batman, Burton bundle of fun! 5 stars
1/20/10 Stanley Thai It gets interesting at first, but slowly goes downhill from there. 3 stars
6/21/08 David V Too artsy. 3 stars
6/09/08 jm Some parts of this movie are great! This movie could have been great if it made sense. 4 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White Danny makes the movie 4 stars
7/13/07 Arg Watch it again n ull see how cheap it really is!!! 3 stars
5/03/07 Abs excellent 5 stars
2/13/07 johnnyfog DeVito was bad casting, otherwise great 4 stars
2/03/07 Vip Ebriega The best Batman ever!!!! 4 stars
1/25/07 Bitchflaps Better than the first film, anyone expecting realism is missing the point. 4 stars
12/04/06 DasuberDing Dark, dark, and dark but brilliant! Burton's best 5 stars
9/24/06 Farnsy Alright! A movie mature kids can watch without the little brats bugging you 4 stars
9/12/06 Eden Burton's brilliant gothic fairy-tale, with great visuals. The best Batman film 5 stars
7/19/06 Michael Superman does not kill. Batman is not Superman. 5 stars
7/14/06 David Cohen Too many subplots, Penguin goes from menacing to silly 3 stars
6/10/06 Billy Lacking the X Factor but still good. 4 stars
6/06/06 ES two words ruin this 'ok' at best nightmare of celluloid- giant penguins. 2 stars
5/31/06 raul valdez Jr this movie is delicously entertaining although cheese other movies would die 5 stars
5/10/06 omar my favorite burton movie and the best batman ever. watch it 5 stars
4/17/06 Jack A Dark and Gruesome movie. I like it! 4 stars
3/28/06 Brian Meyer Dark and sexual. a true combo of Bat and Burton! 5 stars
3/24/06 Dethbyhashi BATMAN DOES NOT KILL!!!!!!! 2 stars
3/03/06 Anthony Feor A great sequel, fun for everyone 4 stars
1/04/06 cody Terrific followup to first batman, plus michelle gives a sexy great perf. as catwoman***1/2 4 stars
12/29/05 tony Good sequel. I dont hate this one 4 stars
8/25/05 salamone Definitely an acquired taste. 4 stars
8/23/05 Eden Good sequel, the penguin drags it down but Pfeiffer makes it awesome 5 stars
8/23/05 ES Six foot, giant penguins move DeVito's body into the water without so much as touching him 2 stars
8/06/05 Zack Terrific sequel! 5 stars
7/21/05 Brandy Harrington It's okay. 3 stars
7/02/05 Rik Sheer Burton cinematic genius. 4 stars
5/17/05 E-FUNK Oddly cheaper-looking sequel... but the reason to see this is Pfeiffer... Fantastic. 5 stars
4/26/05 Indrid Cold Distinctively dark comic Burton, but only OK action and plot. 3 stars
4/18/05 Jeff Anderson Tim Burton outdoes himself brilliantly in a great & worthy sequel. Keaton & Pfeiffer ROCK!! 5 stars
2/17/05 Cody micheal and michelle are cool as Batman and Catwoman . michelle is best catwoman! 4 stars
12/09/04 Kristina Williams Pfeiffer IS Catwoman! 5 stars
11/18/04 chris not bad 3 stars
10/23/04 Shadya Catwoman kicks butt!! I love her!! Michelle is the one and only TRUE catwoman!! 5 stars
9/04/04 T.B. Catwoman make me laugh 3 stars
8/20/04 DM Much like the first 4 stars
4/21/04 Daveman A competent sequal that unfortunately disappoints when compared to the first. 3 stars
3/20/04 Jack-pyschO-Lantern A more darker & film-noir sense... Should've stayed that way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/01/04 STUFU One of the oddest mainstream films ever. Burton at his best? I think so. 5 stars
12/05/03 john excellent sequel - as good as Nicholson was in the first deVito is even better 5 stars
11/01/03 American Slasher Goddess The best comic book adapation ever. 5 stars
9/18/03 I Would Too much emphasis on the annoying Penguin character. I wanted more Batman and Catwoman. 3 stars
8/04/03 FILM BUFF Burton has done it again!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
6/08/03 earl hoffert devito is so rotton, it's quite lovely 4 stars
5/28/03 Zach Great sequal to the first. Almost a continuation like Halloween. Well.... Sorta.. ;) 5 stars
5/15/03 Narikelon Maybe it was too dark, but it was a masterpiece of its own 4 stars
5/12/03 Jareth Second best in the series. Not much compared to the 1st but leagues ahead of the other 2. 3 stars
4/19/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik Tis inferior to the original. Big deal. At least it is decent n not da black hole 3&4 were. 4 stars
3/28/03 Steve CRAP 1 stars
3/26/03 Spiderfan729 It makes my top 5 Hall of Shame! 2 and a half hours wasted! 1 stars
3/22/03 Jack Sommersby The best of the series. Uneven and flawed, but quite entertaining. 4 stars
11/29/02 Ahhhhh!!!! Now this is the way Batman is supposed to be - dark, gothic, and tragic. Easily the best. 5 stars
11/19/02 Nevz Smart & Dark. No more words. 5 stars
10/19/02 Kim BATMAN RETURNS=German Expressionist Masterpiece. Burton at his best. 5 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum Pfeiffer is the only reason to see this- meouch! 4 stars
10/14/02 R.W. Welch They didn't spare the bucks here but it still has a cobbled together air about it. 3 stars
10/03/02 Ron Sanchez This movie rocked ass , fuck you all 5 stars
8/16/02 Shaun its dark, fun, and well acted. Gotta love Devito 4 stars
7/11/02 CVJ NWO bloody brilliant the best of the the four 5 stars
6/07/02 Allison Lafferty Some really wanted bad for TEQUILA SUNRISE not to be Michelle Pfeiffer's worst film! 1 stars
5/13/02 Phoenix I was very dissapointed with this one. Michelle Pfeiffer was very sexy though. 3 stars
4/27/02 maximal01 Decent, but there should NEVER HAVE BEEN two villains. Catwoman's hot.. 4 stars
4/24/02 Danielle Ophelia Grittier than the first...yet somehow sillier. Go figure. 4 stars
3/24/02 Butterbean This movie should have Catwoman as the only villian. Pfeiffer was excellent! 4 stars
3/19/02 MovieFan Beverly, your jokes suck ass. This movie rocks! 5 stars
3/09/02 Beverly Drake If Michelle Pfeiffer is an actress, Mike Tyson is an ear surgeon 1 stars
3/02/02 Alan Smithee The best of the Batman films IMO. Gotta love Pfeiffer in that leather body suit! 5 stars
2/14/02 Shaddup You're an idiot, Tiffanny. This is easily one of Pfeiffer's best roles. 5 stars
2/05/02 Tiffany Thunderhurst Someone must've wanted BAD for TEQUILA SUNRISE not to be Michelle Pfeiffer's worst role! 1 stars
10/07/01 jawsboy clowns suck, yellow ducks also, devito is good but bad. great action, acting & set peices. 4 stars
9/26/01 Shane Robert Myers!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The freakish emoutionaly disturbed seqeul is a masterpieace from Tim Burton!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/06/01 spaceworm If I had to watch one of this series again, this would be it (pause poised for Pfeiffer). 3 stars
8/31/01 ColemansLoveChild BATMAN RETURNS=German Expressionist Masterpiece. Burton at his best. 5 stars
8/31/01 Henry Ginsberg The absence of Jack Nickolsen provents this from being as good as the original. 4 stars
8/07/01 Mr. Hat (formerly Joe Zappa) A little TOO dark, but Batman DOES save the day, so I won't complain TOO much. 3 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk Superior to original in action...Michelle Pheiffer is hypnotic...Burton at his finest 5 stars
8/02/01 KC Au Not as good as the 1st one. Very slow pace and lacked energy. 3 stars
6/15/01 Bada Bing Crosby The only one in the series worth your time. Wonder what Aronofsky will do??? 5 stars
6/10/01 Turtle This is the way Batman should be done. The best of the series. 4 stars
5/22/01 mjm103171 I love batman and will see all of them but these sequels do not impress me much 3 stars
5/21/01 Ray McCoy Arty, a very mature handling of the Batman franchise, heavily influenced by Expressionism 5 stars
5/14/01 Penguin man of sewer You're just jealous because I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask! 5 stars
4/13/01 Kel-C I had a feeling Batman was meant to be more Gothic. Viva la Burton and Elfman!!!!!!! 5 stars
4/03/01 Mike Dean A beautiful Gothic fairy tale that is easily the best if the Bat-films. Just wonderful! 5 stars
3/31/01 Cauchemar Had unbelievable potential, unfortunately fell to overendulging input of the wrong people 4 stars
3/27/01 Deckard Movie kicks ALL forms of ass. Praise the gods for men like Burton, Keaton and Elfman! 5 stars
2/16/01 Joseph Lewis Two lame villains and a stiff bat= total trash. 1 stars
2/15/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi Darker and more gothic that the previous, but still far superior to the next two. 4 stars
2/12/01 john d(THE DUDE) the darkest and best of the series 5 stars
12/26/00 Turtle Much better than the horrid original, very entertaining. 4 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla good flick, but not as good as the original, but i still liked it 5 stars
10/31/00 john mallko second outing marred down by coutless plotholes, though much better than the 3 and 4 4 stars
10/27/00 Evil Cartman Everything about this movie is hella AWESOME! Gotta love how hella cool Keaton was as bats. 5 stars
10/26/00 dan great music, great photography, great direction, great acting, great set designs... 5 stars
9/16/00 uknowme? Beautiful gothic fantasy about damaged, neurotic outsiders. Burton's best! 5 stars
8/03/00 Terrie Smith Dark and depressing and quite unlike any Batman (movie or comic) ever made. 4 stars
7/28/00 Deckard Great cast,awesome Direction,and a very intelligent script makes this the BEST Batman film 5 stars
6/29/00 Hal Go to hell,"Jed"! You wouldn't know a GOOD movie if it bit you on the ass! 5 stars
6/10/00 Mike Farwell Cool 4 stars
5/31/00 danilo what's good in this movie? I dunno. It's sooooo boring! 1 stars
5/19/00 Elvisfan easily the best 'batman'- michelle & danny are great & tim is a great moviemaker 5 stars
4/30/00 Matt LOVELY SHITE! 5 stars
4/16/00 BB-15 Best Batman movie. Michelle Pfeiffer is great as Catwoman, and the plot is tighter. 5 stars
3/22/00 Bruce The first is still best but this is still very cool 5 stars
3/10/00 David Rogers Michel Phiffer may be hot, but she's a bad actress. Batman's worst sequal. 2 stars
2/28/00 Jana WOW! Even better than the first! The second best of the series, just behind B & R. 5 stars
2/28/00 Richard Wright Disturbing-yes. Scary-without a doubt. Entertaining-NO. What a boring, shallow film. ! 2 stars
2/11/00 Kyle Broflovski Mr. Burton's brilliance proves that the Batman franchise did have soul one upon a time... 4 stars
1/31/00 Hmmm.. Best sequel to a Bat flick!But a little too much like an episode of Seinfeld. 4 stars
1/27/00 Paul Great 5 stars
1/19/00 k.tomkowski Very cool and intelligent. Well done Mr. Burton. The best of Batman movies. 5 stars
1/13/00 Jedi15 Far and away the best of the Bat series. All the ones after this dove deep into the cheese! 5 stars
12/22/99 Deckard Burton at his best!A movie that was too dark,'slow'and 'weird' for its mainstream audience 5 stars
12/12/99 Ted Wetzel This movie is NOT meant for kids. It's actually a darkly atmospheric fairy tale. 5 stars
12/10/99 Paull A slow beginning but still enjoyable 4 stars
10/30/99 Bozo Burton, DeVito and esp. Pfeiffer are at the top of their game-love it better than the first 5 stars
10/26/99 Karahde Khan Burton should have seen his previous movie again. And read one or two Batman comic books. 2 stars
10/17/99 Zeelod The best Batman movie. Big, loud, senseless, but at the same time absorbing and beautiful. 5 stars
7/02/99 Cage Not as good as the first, but a dark, fun sequel. 4 stars
6/28/99 Arkansas Jon Burton has Gotham's gothic style. Dark fun, but penguins with missiles on their backs???? 4 stars
2/09/99 Bob, Lord of Evil Oho, this was by far the superior to the frst one. Batman might not be the star, but so? 5 stars
11/03/98 grunter THE defining Bat-movie, pitch-black and gothic, brilliant Burton moments 5 stars
10/05/98 Negative Creep Children's COMIC!!!? Drasord youre an Idiot! This film deserves better. 4 stars
9/09/98 Johny Better than those that came after it 2 stars
9/02/98 J-Guy saw it twice, after that I was SURE it sucked. 2 stars
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  19-Jun-1992 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Oct-2005



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