I rewatched Batman Returns recently. It’s a visually beautiful movie. It reminded me constantly of an over-the-top production of an opera–an impression helped along by a lushly operatic soundtrack by Danny Elfman. For visual effects CGI can’t rival, the movie has the young Michelle Pfeiffer, frequently in skin-tight rubber, if you like that kind of thing–and Michael Keaton with a collagen-assisted beestung lip, if you like that kind of thing. Every scene is a visual explosion: whether it’s the most spectacular Batsignal-hits-the-sky scene ever filmed, or thugs machine-gunning a Christmas tree, or a hundred cats licking a shattered Selina Kyle as she lies convulsing in an alleyway, or myriads of penguins mounted with rocket-launchers converging on downtown Gotham, or a gigantic rubber duck floating ceremoniously through a dark sewer big enough to be a train-tunnel. Everything is wildly vivid, oversize, Gothic, stylized, intense.
And, apart from that, everything is boring.
Not everything, maybe. The are periodic signs of life: Max Shreck’s attempted murder of Selina, for instance, brings out the best in Walken and Pfeiffer, and some of the banter between Batman/Wayne and Alfred is pretty good.
But in general the spectacular action-spectacles of spectacular action are poorly motivated. People don’t seem to have a reason for doing the things they do, especially the Penguin. Danny DeVito plays a brilliant monster (see Heist, or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia etc.), but the plot here requires him to be several different monsters in its tortuous arbitrary course (criminal gang leader; fish-eating sewer monster with no contact with society; would-be corrupt politician conducting a campaign of slander; infanticidal maniac; city-destroying maniac) and these personalities are never plausibly stitched together. Also, his character supports the widespread notion that plump ugly little balding men are inherently evil, a stereotype I particularly
What story there is gets told very inefficiently, too. There are long scenes of the Penguin walking or going through old written records, the Batcar surreptitiously driving down dark streets, etc. I wanted to take my big transtemporal megaphone and shout at Tim Burton “GET ON WITH IT!” but this has a distorting effect on the time stream and is usually more trouble than it’s worth. (Don’t ask, unless you’re one of the few who remember West and East Dakota.)
Anyway. I guess the movie’s better than Batman Forever (“Riddle me this, riddle me that, who’s afraid of the big, black bat?”) and Batman & Robin (“Vhy don’t you… chill out?”) But anyone looking for a blast of circa-1990s Batman nostalgia would be better off with the animated series or the original Burton Batman, both of which hold up pretty well.
That’s all I got.