You’re just jealous cause I’m a genuine
freak and you have to wear a mask!

Burton’s eagerly anticipated sequel came to the screen three years after the first film and scored an even bigger opening at the box office. However, it was heavily criticised by some for supposedly straying too far from the comic book mythology and being too dark and perverted for kids. It was this that led to Joel Schumacher taking over the franchise and putting his decidedly campy stamp on it.

The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin as imagined by Burton.

However, despite the backlash, Batman Returns is a real treat for Burton fans. It’s a far more personal movie than the original and a rare example of a blockbuster which is actually an art film. The visuals and score are even more stunning than in the first film, and the characters and performances have far more depth. Burton brilliantly uses the three villains to emphasise different aspects of Batman’s psychology. This is best illustrated by Catwoman (an unforgettable performance by Michelle Pfeiffer) who, aside from being a far more fascinating romantic interest than Vicki Vale, also shows how close Batman is to going over the edge in his vigilante escapades.

Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken also turn in brilliant performances and it is the interaction between these four characters who are all scarred in their own way that stays in the memory long after the action scenes are forgotten. It’s one of the few comic book movies where, despite the freakish look of the characters, they actually feel like real people. The films ends on a pretty downbeat note and it would have been interesting to see where Burton would have taken the Dark Knight next if he had completed the trilogy, but alas it was not to be.

The long-awaited 2-disc special edition DVD of the film is a real treat for Burton fans. The remastered picture and sound make the movie better than ever, and Burton’s audio commentary is sparse but entertaining. You can really feel that he has a more personal connection with this sequel compared to the first film. You only get one of the film’s two trailers on the first disc, but it’s hard to complain when there’s so many other great extras.

And disc 2 is where you’ll find them. First up is a vintage documentary, The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin, hosted (for no particular reason) by Robert Urich. This is more entertaining than the usual making-of’s. Even better is Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 4. This offers a retrospective look at the production, with nearly everyone involved offering some insight. It even tackles such controversial subjects as Sean Young’s attempt to get cast as Catwoman by breaking into the studio in costume (the actress gracefully offers her thoughts on the experience) and the parental backlash against the film when it was released. While it’s not as in-depth as the documentaries for the first film (and the lack of any new interviews with Michael Keaton or Pfeiffer is disappointing) this is still a very well-produced documentary.

You’ll also find profiles of the heroes and villains of the film, the Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery, which examine the production design, costumes, make-up, visual effects and music, and the Face to Face music video from Siouxsie and the Banshees. Overall, this is a great DVD for an underrated masterpiece.

Arran McDermott 2004


Batman Returns score review
Batman Returns screenplay
Internet Movie Database page for Batman Returns
Rotten Tomatoes review roundup


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