Burton began production on the sequel
to his blockbusting superhero film in
1991. He wasn't keen on the idea of
a sequel at first, since he didn't feel
as close to Batman as his other
films. However, his initial reluctance
was overcome when Warner Bros., eager
to bring him back into the fold, gave
him carte blanche to make the sequel
his way. This time Burton decided to
film the production in L.A. rather than
reuse the sets that had been kept at
Pinewood. His reported reasons for this
were to give the film a different feel
and so he could use more American actors
that he liked.
Burton wanted to resist making the typical
sequel in nearly every way, including
not having a number two in the title.
As he said in the introduction to the
making of book, "Batman Returns
is not really a sequel to Batman. It
doesn't pick up where the first film
left off . . . The point was to make
it all feel fresh and new."
To aid him in this, Burton replaced
the original film's screenwriter, Sam
Hamm (who would still receive a story
credit), with Daniel
Waters - best know for scripting
the superb black comedy, Heathers
(1989). Waters script was so bizarre
and out there it later required "normalising"
by another writer, Wesley
Michael Keaton was now well established
in his role as Batman, so all the attention
was on the casting of the villains.
It was no surprise that Danny DeVito
was the first choice for the Penguin,
but there were some problems with the
casting of the third main character,
Bening was originally cast in the
role, but when she became pregnant she
had to bow out of the film.
much every actress in her 20's or 30's
wanted the role. One actress who felt
she was perfect was Sean Young, especially
as she had lost the role of Vicki Vale
in the first film. She famously snuck
onto the lot in a homemade Catwoman
costume to try and audition for Burton.
While she didn't find Burton (there
are rumours he hid under a desk) she
did find Keaton and producer Mark Canton
and announced, "I am Catwoman",
before being ejected.
Young later went
on the Joan Rivers Show in
costume to talk about the incident and
demand an audition. Not surprisingly,
her request was not met, and Michelle
Pfeiffer (who had been a fan of
Catwoman since she was young) was cast
in the role instead.
Robin was once again a victim of last
minutes cuts. His character, played
by the young Marlon
Wayans, was to be introduced as
a mechanic who helps Batman in the last
act. However, these scenes were abandoned
before shooting as the film was already
The production went fairly smoothly
though studio secrecy meant the characters,
especially the Penguin, had to be constantly
hidden from prying eyes. Burton couldn't
help being amused at everything the
actors had to go through, especially
their uncomfortable makeup and costumes.
The hype for Batman Returns was slightly less extreme than for the
first film, but audiences still eagerly
awaited Burton's tale of The Bat, The
Cat and the Penguin.
Batman Returns was the first Burton film to feature a pre-credits sequence. The Penguin's birth is depicted in a stunning sequence that, aside from Danny Elfman's lush score, is almost silent.
The baby Penguin grabbing a cat and pulling it into his crib/cage foreshadows the future relationship between him and Catwoman.
|As the unfortunate infant is thrown into the sewer, the main titles appear. The title unfolds like a pair of batwings as a swarm of bats fly into the camera. The baby carriage's travel through the sewer tunnels is played like an epic journey, before it finally comes to a rest at the feet of several real penguins. The sequence is so perfectly realised and takes the viewer so deeply into Burton's world that it's easy to forgive the rather perfunctory scenes that follow.
|The early scenes of Batman Returns, while stylish and not without wit, feel rather flat. Burton is clearly setting up the plot and characters for greater things, but the scenes lack spark. When Selina realises she's forgotten to give Shreck his speech at the beginning there's a shot of various pictures on the wall featuring Shreck with real life celebrities, including Sammy Davis, Jr.
Things improve once the Penguin launches his attack on Gotham, causing Batman to be alerted (guess they only call him for the really weird criminals).
The opening action sequence is chaotic with some hellish imagery (such as Gothamites on fire) but it's not as exciting as it could have been.
When we see Bruce Wayne sitting in his dark study waiting for the signal, it's almost as if he no longer has any life outside of Batman.
With the first action sequence out of the way, the characters are drawn together as Burton weaves a dark fairytale about a group of animalistic freaks running amok in Gotham City.
||The chilly location of Artic World is the perfect setting for the nefarious meeting between Shreck and Penguin. When the camera flies through the spectacular miniature of Artic World it travels through a tiny gap in the gate. The top of the gate was actually computer generated, which meant this previously impossible shot could be done in one take.
|The creation of Catwoman is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the film. The scene where Max Shreck toys with his secretary, Selina Kyle, after she finds out about his crooked dealings is a brilliant mix of humour and menace. Shreck convinces her he is going to kill her and then laughs it off. Then he decides to push her out the window anyway, in a genuinely shocking moment.
||The sequence that follows, like the birth of the Penguin, is played almost entirely without dialogue, and is all the stronger for it. Selina is raised from the dead by a pack of alley cats and returns to her apartment, where she promptly flies into a rage and trashes everything cute in her apartment (after a message on her phone suggests she get Gotham Lady Perfume to impress her boss).
|She makes her costume and the sequence ends with her declaring, "I feel so much yummier". The neon sign in Selina's apartment originally reads "Hello there" but after her transformation is broken so that it reads, "Hell here".
The scene is Burton at his finest, and the people who complained there was no logical reason for Selina becoming Catwoman are missing the point.
Like Edward being made out of a robot with a cookie heart, it's a fairytale origin, not one that’s meant to be taken literally.
There's a goof in the film where the Penguin visits his parent's graves and brushes past a tombstone that wobbles like cardboard. An unintentional mistake or Ed Wood homage? You decide.
As Catwoman joins the menagerie the
characters begin their struggle to earn
either acceptance from Gotham or gain
power over it. In the case of Batman,
he has to prove his innocence after
he is framed for the murder of the Ice
Princess (the rather dim police and
public of Gotham turn against him very
quickly despite all the good he's done).
The Penguin, who runs for mayor at Shreck’s
urging, briefly seems genuine in his
desire to be loved.
Catwoman, meanwhile, is just as tough on the victims as she is on the criminals (even though she herself was saved from a criminal by Batman).
After she plays tic-tac-toe with the face of a mugger/rapist, she berates the woman for always expecting some Batman to save her and announces, "I am Catwoman, hear me roar."
As with Edward Scissorhands, there's an attempt to "normalise" the Penguin when the image consultants give him a cigarette holder and gloves because research shows "voters like fingers".
He shows the most animalistic behaviour of the main characters, even biting people who offend him, such as the annoying Josh.
The vampiric Shreck just wants to suck the city dry and when the Bat, the Cat and the Penguin finally meet up outside his department store, the results are literally explosive.
The plot takes a backseat for the rest of the film as it becomes a study of how the four main characters react to each other and loyalties keep shifting.
Batman and Catwoman switch between fighting and flirting with dizzying speed. The scene
where Bruce and Selina are making out
and almost reveal each other's injuries
from their costumed fight is particularly
The later scene where Catwoman licks Batman's face is very memorable.
The sequence with the out of control Batmobile delivers on spectacular destruction at the expense of logic (Batman punches through the armoured Batmobile like its made of wood). The Penguin has an amusing line after Batman escapes his sabotaged Batmobile: "He didn't even lose an eyeball, a limb, bladder control."
He also comments on the absurdity of movie clichés when, after his speech goes wrong, the Penguin says, "Why is there always someone who brings eggs and tomatoes to a speech?". Composer Danny Elfman was one of those hurling fruit and vegetables offscreen.
In the end, the relationship between Batman/Bruce and Catwoman/Selina turns out to be the most interesting part of the film. It's appropriate that, at Shreck's Maxsquerade ball they're the only two not wearing costumes.
Perhaps due to rewrites on the script, the Penguin keeps changing plans, going from wanting to be mayor, to capturing and drowning the first born sons to eventually deciding just to blow up Gotham with his penguin army.
The sight of penguins with rocket launchers is twisted genius, though again some found the notion too absurd.
|The final confrontation and eventual fates of the characters is surprisingly moving. Bruce unmasking himself to Selina (while upsetting for comic book purists) works emotionally, as does his plea, "We're the same. Split, right down the center." Unusually for a Hollywood blockbuster, there are no real winners at the end. All of the main characters are either dead or emotionally damaged.
Selina rejects a fairytale ending in her desire for revenge and leaves Bruce alone. The funeral of the Penguin is bizarrely moving, with the Penguins sadly carrying their fallen master into the water.
The last scene of Alfred and Bruce in the car is a much more somber conclusion than the first film. It ends
with a similar shot of the camera rising
up above Gotham, this time to show Catwoman
looking at the Bat symbol.
last shot manages to mix live action
footage projected into miniatures seamlessly.
The final shot of Catwoman was added
late after audiences were confused over
whether her character survived. Originally
an animatronic puppet of Pfeiffer was
created, since the actress was no longer
available. However, this proved unsatisfactory
and a stand-in was used instead.
for a blockbuster, Batman Returns
is character-driven, not story-driven.
Burton even said in an interview in
Entertainment Weekly, "Haven't
you heard? There is no plot." That's
a little harsh, but it's true the plot
is not what makes the film interesting.
It's a fascinating exploration of animalistic
personalities (it’s no accident
that “the bat, the cat and the
penguin” was used as a slogan
on much of the advertising). The fact that
Batman faces three enemies may
seem like overkill but each one represents
a different facet of the Caped Crusader's
personality (that's my pretentious take
on it, anyway).
Burton's drawing of Jimmy the Hideous Penguin Boy
|The comic Penguin had no "psychological profile" according to Burton, so his character would be the most radically changed in order to fit into Burton's world. Indeed, the inspiration for this new version of the Penguin was a character Burton had already created in a sketch, "Jimmy, the Hideous Penguin Boy" (and who would later turn up in his book "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories"). In the film, the Penguin is the orphaned and bitter outsider/freak that Bruce Wayne could have become under other circumstances. As the Penguin says to Batman at the end, "You're just jealous because I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask".
perverted mutant is a perfect role for
Danny DeVito, who even manages to bring
some pathos to the role, which was what
the Joker lacked. DeVito reportedly
stayed in character throughout the shoot,
even eating raw fish and scaring some
of his co-stars.
|He clearly relished the character's perverted lust, no doubt a side effects of being stuck down in a sewer with little female company. The makeup by Stan Winston banishes all thoughts of the rather effete character portrayed in the comics and TV show. The character is a genuine freak, and the makeup allows DeVito to vanish in the role. The amount of bile he spews reportedly disturbed the studio.
Since the film begins with the birth
of the Penguin and ends with his death,
it could also be read as a subversion
of the classic hero's journey, with
the Penguin as the main character. In
many ways the character could be seen
as the dark side of Edward Scissorhands.
Catwoman is the dark side of Batman,
a costumed crime fighter whose basic
goodness is undermined by her violent
nature, showing how close Batman is
to going over the edge in his vigilante
escapades. She also represents his perverse
relationship with the opposite sex,
and makes a far more fascinating romantic
interest than Vicki Vale.
The feline aspects of the
character are played up, including the
nine lives (Batman, Penguin and Shreck
all take some of her lives away). Selina
Kyle actually has three different personalities
in the film - Selina pre-accident, the
more confident post-accident Selina
and, of course, Catwoman.
played up the feminism aspect of Catwoman
and though Burton toned some of that
down in the final film there is still
a lot of feminist rage in the character,
who wants to get back at all the men
who have mistreated her. From Selina's
very first scene we see the casual sexism
and patronising attitude the men around
her have. There's also a sadomasochistic
element in her relationship with Batman
in both their costumes and their violent
encounters. When they finally discover
each other's secret identities Selina
even asks, "Does this mean we have
to start fighting?"
Pfeiffer really threw herself into the
role, which was far removed from any
of her previous performances. She manages
to be believable as a mousy secretary
who becomes a sexy, feminist avenger.
She convincingly portrays
the emotional breakdown of the character,
laughing hysterically when she dances
with Bruce and completely unraveling
in her final confrontation with Shreck.
||The fight scenes between Batman and Catwoman are impressive. Michelle Pfeiffer trained to do pretty much anything with a whip, and her enthusiasm adds a lot to these scenes. Pfeiffer even did the scene where she whips the heads off the dummies in Shreck’s department store for real. The fact that she and Keaton did a fair amount of their own stunts added more intensity to the fight scenes.
|Finally we have Max Shreck (another wonderfully menacing performance from Christopher Walken) who is the true villain of the piece. Beloved by Gothamites, he is Bruce Wayne without the conscience, despite his claims that he wants to hand out "world peace and unconditional love, wrapped in a big bow". The
character’s name is one letter away from Max Schreck, the actor who played Nosferatu.
Aside from emphasising
the German Expressionist feel of the
film, it also fits with Shreck's vampiric
plan to suck power from Gotham City.
The only moment the character ever shows
any humanity is when he sacrifices himself
by convincing the Penguin to take him
instead of his son, Chip.
As for Keaton, he brings more humour
and introspection to his dual-character
this time. It took him a while to find
the voice for his character again during
filming (he found himself almost imitating
his own performance), but in the end
it seems effortless. The depiction of
the character is bleaker than in the
first film. When Bruce tries to save
himself and Selina and she rejects him,
the result is devastating.
also clearly jealous of the attention
the Penguin receives (as Alfred asks, "Must you be the only lonely manbeast
in town?") though he also seems
to feel some empathy for him as a fellow
orphan at first. As in the first film
Bruce is somewhat unsure of his
own identity - when he first meets Selina
in Shreck's office he says they've met
before and then quickly corrects himself
by saying, "I mistook me for somebody
Michael Gough is given better comedic material this time as Alfred. Bruce's faithful manservant is always on top of things, being the first to sense the Penguin's presence onscreen and later showing he's something of a computer wiz.
It's also nice to see Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger (Pee-Wee and Simone in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure) cameo as the Penguin's parents.
The Red Triangle Circus Gang (which
includes the late, great Vincent
Schiavelli as the organ grinder)
are appropriate henchmen for the Penguin,
though after the clown henchmen of the
Joker in the first film, some may tire
of the circus motif. The Ice Princess
and Chip Shreck are pretty much stereotypes
of bimbos and male machismo respectively.
Waters’ script mostly improved
on the dialogue in the first film, though
Burton wisely cut back on some of the
more lengthy dialogue that would have
taken away the characters' mystery.
The script even pokes fun at the first
film and Vicki Vale's rather vapid character,
with Bruce rather testily asking Alfred
at one point, "Who let Vicki Vale
into the Batcave?"
There's a lot of innuendo, especially
in the Penguin's dialogue, both scatological
("I was their number one son, and
they treated me like number two")
and sexual ("Just the pussy I've
been looking for"). There're also
some political and pop culture references
in the dialogue, such as when the Penguin
and Max discuss how to start a recall
vote and Bruce worries that Selina will
think he's a Norman Bates/Ted Bundy
type (prompting the witty response,
"Sickos never scare me. At least
Burton was clearly more prepared for
working on a big blockbuster this time,
and his confidence shows. Aside from
the somewhat slow first act, the films
moves quickly with all the dead weight
from the first film (cough, Vicki Vale)
cut. The action scenes, while still
somewhat formulaic and lacking in tension
are generally better executed than in
the first film.
Burton manages to infuse a silent film
quality into many of the scenes, particularly
the opening sequence, the birth of Catwoman
and the Penguin's visit to his parent's
grave. The film also has a much better
paced and more satisfying conclusion.
Unlike the first film, Batman Returns bears Burton's directorial stamp from
the first frame to last.
The cinematography by Stefan Czapsky
is stunning. There's a memorable shot
where the camera hurtles into the Penguin's
black mouth. Only some slightly clumsy
focus pulls (such as when Bruce and
Alfred are watching the Penguin on TV
for the first time) mar the camerawork.
The sets by Bo Welch are far more Burtonesque
than the ones in the first film. The
Penguin's lair in particular is stunningly
realised through sets and miniatures.
While the sets are fantastic, the small
number of extras used to populate them
does reveal some cost cutting in the
film's budget. Batman Returns came out
just before digital crowd scenes began
to be used frequently. The sets were
air conditioned both to show the actors's
breath and to keep the penguins comfortable.
This led to the unusual sight of people
emerging from the sets into the hot
LA summer with thick coats on.
The Penguin's various umbrellas, which feature a flamethrower, a hypno-unbrella which makes a big bang, a Pied Penguin umbrella (which recalls Betelguese's carousel hat), a sword-brella and a mini-helicopter, are lots of fun.
The Penguin also rides a giant rubber duck, emphasising how his character takes childlike imagery and twists it.
Costume designer Bob
Ringwood returned to some of the
original concepts for the first film
to create a sleeker, more armour-like
bat suit. Catwoman's costume was for
many the highlight of the film, and
it manages to be sexy without being
sleazy. In a brilliant touch, her costume
(stitched together like Sally the Ragdoll from The Nightmare Before Christmas) becomes more frayed and ragged as her
sanity unravels towards the end.
The editing by Chris
Lebenzon (who would go on to edit
all of Burton's later directorial efforts),
manages the difficult job of juggling
all the characters and subplots. There
were very few deleted scenes but the film fell victim to censorship in the U.K. A glimpse
of nunchaku and the shot of Catwoman
loading aerosol cans into a microwave
was removed by the BBFC,
making the subsequence explosion of
Shreck's department store rather confusing.
The visuals are far superior to the
first film, with the reported $80 million
budget being well spent. The model work
is less tacky, and early computer effects
were used to enhance the film in subtle
ways, such as creating digital bats
and penguins and even allowing previously
Elfman's score is even better than his
previous one. Aside from the return
of the classic Batman theme, Elfman
created a slinky, scratchy theme for
Catwoman and a tragic, choral theme
for the Penguin. The way the three main
themes are juggled together is flawless.
Another bonus of Burton being allowed
more control is that instead of Prince
music we have a Siouxsie
and the Banshees song, "Face
to Face", which fits well with
the characters of Batman and Catwoman.
There's also an instrumental version
of Rick James hit "Super Freak".
The film is one of the more interesting
Burton has made on a psychological level.
As previously mentioned, each of the
three villains represents a different
facet of Bruce Wayne's psyche. Hence,
the film could actually be read as an
exploration of a man at war with his
own split personalities, confronting
them and defeating them until only he
One theme that some people read into
the film that the filmmakers definitely
didn't intend is the claim that the
Penguin is an anti-Semitic character.
While there are some religious parallels
with the Penguin resurfacing after 33
years and his plot to murder the first-born
sons, the idea that the character was
designed to be a caricature of Jews
is both ridiculous and offensive.
The penguins in the film were created
through a variety of methods. Most were
real, but some were animatronic puppets
and computer generated penguins were
used for crowd scenes. The emperor penguins
(the ones that carry Oswald to his watery
grave) were little people in suits.
Robert Wuhl's character of reporter
Alexander Knox was supposed to return
for a cameo and be killed by the Penguin,
but Burton reportedly told Waters that
he doubted any actor would want their
character to return only to be killed
in an off-hand way. Max Shreck’s
character reportedly started off as
Two-Face (with Billy Dee Williams set
to reprise his role from the first film)
but was then changed to an original
character. A subplot where Max Shreck
reveals he is the Penguin's brother
was also removed.
Overall, Burton's underrated sequel is one of
the best superhero movies ever made.
There are moments that drag, and not
everything works, but you have to respect
a summer family blockbuster that begins
with a deformed baby being thrown into
a sewer. Like Scissorhands it improves on repeat viewings and there
are some interesting psychological statements
amongst the gadgets and costumes.
It's a far more personal movie than
the original and a rare example of a
blockbuster that 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. It is the interaction
between the four main characters, all
scarred or disturbed in their own way,
that stays in the memory long after
the action scenes are forgotten.
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
Burton's eagerly anticipated sequel
was released three years after the first
film and scored an even bigger opening
at the box office, earning over $45
million in three days. However, it was
heavily criticised by some for being
too dark and perverted for kids.
were not particularly kind to the film
- while some praised Burton's twisted
vision (Peter Travers in Rolling
Stone wrote, “But the best
gimmick is neurosis: Everyone has one.
Batman and Catwoman, unable to function
without dressing up their psychic wounds
in fantasy, are a dysfunctional Romeo
and Juliet.”) others, such as
Leonard Maltin, complained that it was
a "nasty, nihilistic, nightmare
movie" with a “dark, mean-spirited,
and often incoherent screenplay”
(as if that in itself made it a bad
film). Burton himself was amused that
some journalists thought the film was
much darker than the first one while
others thought it was lighter!
In the long run, Batman Returns was
not as big a hit as the first film,
earning around $160 million in the U.S.
compared to the original's $250 million.
Comic books fans were less happy with
the film, especially with the changes
to the Penguin and Catwoman's origins.
The claims that Burton didn't respect
the comic chronology were pretty feeble,
though, since DC itself doesn't respect
its own history, changing the origins
of many of its characters in the Crisis
on Infinite Earths series, for example.
As Burton himself said when he was making
the first film: "If you look at
the Batman Encyclopedia, the fucking
thing changes every fucking week".
The film also suffered a backlash from
parents who considered it too dark and
twisted for younger Bat fans. In particular,
McDonald’s came under fire from
parent advocacy groups for promoting
the film with their Happy Meals. They
cancelled the tie-in and it would be
the last time the fast food company
would promote a PG-13 film to tots.
Catwoman was the one aspect of the film
that most people agreed was a success,
it was no surpise that Burton was set
to make a Catwoman spin-off
movie with Michelle Pfeiffer reprising
her popular role. But it got stuck in
development hell before finally being
made in 2004 with Halle
Berry in an awful costume.
At the same time he was directing Batman
Returns, Burton finally got to
start production on a long-cherished
project for Disney, around ten years
after he first came up with the idea.
CHAPTER: EDWARD SCISSORHANDS
CHAPTER: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS