Batman Returns (1992)—An Underrated Christmas Movie
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Sequels. They can build upon or break a franchise. In the past, several movie series such as The Godfather (1972), Lord of The Rings (2001), and Spider-Man (2002) experienced great successes due to their sequels. Why not bring some of that sequel charm to the world of Batman? Directed by the one and only Tim Burton, here comes a Batman and Christmas movie you’d never expect!
After Warner Brothers’ huge success with Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), they decided to make a sequel as soon as possible to cash in on their Batman success. Ironically, Burton didn’t want to return as he thought making a sequel would be pointless without any new or innovative ideas to bring to the drawing board. During this time, numerous scripts were produced, with even a few actresses being considered for the role of Catwoman. To convince Burton to return, Warner Brothers decided to allow him complete directorial control if he accepts. It would be another Tim Burton film featuring the characters from Batman, rather than a Batman story directed by Tim Burton.
The film begins with the story of Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin. When Oswald was born, his hands and face were disfigured, prompting his rich socialite parents to dump him in a river. He survives the ordeal and lives in the sewers, the only company he has being penguins. Cobblepot begins to plot his revenge on Gotham City, especially the rich people of Gotham. To do this, he teams up with Max Shreck, a powerful businessman, and the two try to take over Gotham through the means of politics, with Cobblepot running for mayor. Meanwhile, Selina Kyle, a miserable secretary working for Max Shreck, is killed by her boss after discovering her boss’s evil plans. She is revived by several stray cats and becomes the seductive Catwoman, hell-bent on exacting her revenge on Shreck. Her quest for revenge eventually leads her to Cobblepot who teams up with her to get rid of Batman. With these two major villains working together, it is up to Batman to save Gotham.
Michael Keaton reprised his role as The Caped Crusader. In interviews, Keaton described the process as rather difficult, as he thought he couldn’t bring anything new to the character, and felt as if he were playing a parody of himself on set. Danny DeVito was cast to play Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin. Unlike the comics, Cobblepot in this movie is more monster than man, taking on more grotesque features, such as a long, curved nose, ashen skin, sunken eyes, and flippers for hands. DeVito mentioned that the special effects makeup helped him stay in character even off screen. Michelle Pfeiffer was cast to play Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. Initially, Annette Benning was cast to play Catwoman, but later had to turn down the role due to pregnancy. When Pfeiffer expressed interest in the role, Burton jumped on the chance and immediately cast her. Pfeiffer said that she had to undergo months of intense physical training, consisting of Olympic weightlifting, martial arts training, and bullwhip training under a certified whip expert. In addition to the physical aspect of playing Catwoman, Pfeiffer mentioned that the latex leather cat costume initially made her feel uncomfortable and even immobile.
The soundtrack was done once again by Danny Elfman, who composed the theme for Burton’s first Batman movie. Like the original soundtrack, the soundtrack of Batman Returns consists of a unique blend of a grand orchestral and gothic mix with the more traditional uplifting superhero track. My personal favorite was the music during the opening sequence, where we see it is snowing in Gotham and the music has this very gothic feel to it. Another one of my favorite instrumental pieces is the piece that played when Selina Kyle snapped and trashed her apartment, eventually becoming Catwoman. The set for Gotham City was completely designed, rather than using a pre-existing city as a reference. Each individual living space was designed with the characters in mind. For example, Bruce Wayne’s mansion is large, with looming shadows from large windows covering the walls. Selina Kyle’s apartment was inspired by New York apartments that one of the production designers saw. Her apartment was made to be very tiny decorated with pink walls, which she later spray paints black to reflect her transformation.
When Batman Returns (1992) was first released in theaters, it was met with generally positive reviews. However, some critics saw the film as containing more style over substance, citing a nearly nonexistent character arc for Batman compared to that of the villains. Critics and parents at the time also complained that the film was too dark, with much more blood and suggestive imagery involving Catwoman. In addition, toy companies found it difficult to sell toys, due to the grotesque look of The Penguin scaring kids. These complaints eventually convinced Warner Brothers to hire Joel Schumacher as director and demote Tim Burton to a producer role in the sequel, Batman Forever (1995). This is sad, as I do believe that Tim Burton is one of the few directors that has both style and substance in his films. It’s a shame that he mostly works on Disney live action remakes nowadays. You can tell that every set piece and every shot in Batman Returns (1992) was made with passion and inspiration.
The film does take a more somber and darker tone than the first movie, something that not a lot of people may have liked at the time, but was certainly enjoyable for me. While many of the criticisms presented by other critics are applicable, I believe that they add more character to the film rather than detract anything from it. Unlike a lot of other superhero movies, this one takes place during Christmas. While many people may point to Shazam! (2019) as the first superhero Christmas film, know that Batman Returns (1992) did it first. Despite lacking a bit in story, the film is a joy to sit through. So for this Christmas, sit back, relax, and enjoy the intense, action-packed, and crazy film that is Batman Returns (1992)!