Review for Batman Returns
I did it again, I went for the ‘lesser’ option. The version of Batman Returns to get on Blu-ray, indeed any of the Burton/Schumacher franchise, is the Blu-ray bundled with the 4k re-mastered UHD release. Personally, I just wanted to revisit the film, and for that purpose, the cheaper, 2010 release was more than sufficient to watch. Once again, having had my memories of that comic book movie era tainted by the Val Kilmer and George Clooney entries, I’ve steered clear of the first two films ever since. I now feel the urge to see what these films are really like, although having a somewhat disappointing experience with the first Batman (it’s more a Joker movie than a Batman movie, and the Prince tie-up is too blatant), I’ve reset my expectations for Batman Returns accordingly.
If your newborn baby is eating the pet cat, maybe you won’t be judged too harshly if said baby winds up floating in his crib down into the sewers. 33 Christmases later, Max Shreck is a prominent businessman in Gotham, looking to develop a new power plant, a facility that the Mayor isn’t keen on. Shreck tries appealing to the people at the lighting of the Christmas tree, but not only does his secretary Selina Kyle forget his speech, the party’s gatecrashed by a gang of criminals, an attack that is thwarted by the Batman. But people aren’t talking about the Bat anymore; he’s old hat. Now the rumours are about a mysterious ‘Penguin’ terrorising Gotham. It’s no rumour though; the Penguin is real, although more of a tragic figure, the kind of sympathetic person who Max could use to stand for Mayor against the incumbent. As for Selina, Shreck fired her... and left her for dead. Only she winds up brought back to life by a ‘herd’ of cats, and she gets a change of personality and a thirst for vengeance into the bargain.
Batman Returns gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English, DD 5.1 Surround English French, German, and Italian, 2.0 Stereo Spanish, and 1.0 Mono Spanish and Portuguese, with subtitles in these languages and Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Norwegian, and Swedish. It’s another fair transfer, not quite the crystal and 3D poppy image you’d expect from a proper restoration, but the image is clear and sharp, detail levels are good, and colours are rich and lavish when needs be. There is a fair level of grain, and the experience is properly filmic. While the volume levels are a tad low, that is easily rectified with a push of a button on your remote. The surround is effective, the action comes across well, and the dialogue is clear. Danny Elfman returns for the film’s music, and he builds on the themes established in the first film. Once again, the film with autoplay with the lossy track, and you’ll have to use the pop-up menu to switch to the Dolby TrueHD audio.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray, which autoplays the film when you insert it into your Blu-ray player. Escaping to the main menu will bring up the film’s extras, so if you want to change audio or subtitles, you’ll have to use the pop-up menu. The following extras are on the disc.
Commentary by Tim Burton
The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin (21:54)
Shadows of the Bat Pt. 4: Dark Side of the Bat (30:19)
Batman: The Heroes x2 (7:08)
Batman: The Villains x3 (11:22)
Beyond Batman –
- Gotham City Revisited: The Production Design of Batman Returns (11:27)
- Sleek, Sexy and Sinister: The Costumes of Batman Begins (13:31)
- Making-Up the Penguin (8:15)
- Assembling the Arctic Army (9:34)
- Bats, Mattes and Dark Nights: The Visual Effects of Batman (11:34)
- Inside the Elfman Studio: The Music of Batman Returns (11:25)
Music Video: Face to Face by Siouxsie and the Banshees (4:21)
Theatrical Trailer (2:35)
I had my issues with the original Batman, and some of those do carry over to Batman Returns, but even with that, the sequel is a markedly better viewing experience, not least because it isn’t a star vehicle for someone like Jack Nicholson. The casting is certainly more balanced in this film, and while Batman still fails to take centre stage in the way the character needs to, the character’s presence is strong enough for this to feel like a Batman movie instead of a Joker movie. Once again, this is a film that introduces a classic Batman villain, only to dispose of them by the end credits, which isn’t good in a genre where villains usually survive to show up another day.
One good thing that the sequel does is to embrace the theatricality. Batman had its difficulties balancing comparatively realistic character development with its Gothic sensibilities and arch theatricality. It didn’t always sit right. In Batman Returns, we get the full Tim Burton treatment, and subtlety of characterisation is left by the wayside. Penguin is a grotesque, while Catwoman embraces her feline side as much as possible, although thankfully not to the extent that she’s coughing up furballs. And Christopher Walken gives the kind of manic and intense performance as the villain Max Shreck that we’ve come to expect from him.
While no one steals the movie the way Jack Nicholson did (although Michelle Pfeiffer comes close), the trio of villainy does overshadow Batman once more. Given the mutual animosity that develops between Penguin, Shreck, and Catwoman, the characters’ respective rise and subsequent downfalls come more from their internal dynamic, and at times Batman does feel like an observer of events than an active participant. However, the relationship that develops between Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne is a lot more effective, and certainly more interesting than the Bruce Wayne, Vicky Vale relationship in the first film.
Batman Returns is a lot more satisfying as a Batman movie, the characters are more interesting, Catwoman is fantastic, the story has more in the way of depth, and I enjoy it a lot more than the first film. Michael Keaton is understated as Bruce Wayne, and a Batman which doesn’t always play to the character’s strengths, but there is still a lot to appreciate in his performance. The only real criticism I have of Batman Returns is that the demise of one of the villains is downbeat and ultimately unsatisfying.