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Batman Returns (1992)

The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 126 minutes

UK Certificate: 15


It’s always a surprise and a pleasure to come across a sequel that outshines its original. In the case of ‘Batman Returns’, given its fantastically dark and macabre nature, “outshines” is perhaps the wrong choice of word. “Overshadows” is probably far more accurate. If there’s one thing the teeth-chatteringly cold Gotham City has no shortage of, it’s shadows.

After creating a visual feast in ‘Batman’ but largely neglecting the story and many of the characters, director Tim Burton returns to bring us a considerably more accomplished vision of the brooding comic book hero. Michael Keaton is also back on board as the Caped Crusader, though once again it’s Gotham’s array of ne’er-do-wells that tend to take centre stage. Last time, Jack Nicholson grabbed most of the plaudits with his portrayal of the Joker. For my money, Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito are even better in this one as Catwoman and the Penguin respectively.

The film tells the tale of how Oswald Cobblepot (DeVito), dispatched into the sewer by parents repulsed by their hideously deformed baby and subsequently raised by penguins (bear with me!), emerges as an unlikely mayoral candidate for Gotham at age 33. But, when Batman foils his plans to take over the city alongside wicked tycoon Max Shreck (a wild-haired Christopher Walken), ol’ Penguin-face retreats back to his giant rubber-ducky in the sewers to plot his revenge. Quackers.

Meanwhile, klutzy secretary Selina Kyle (Pfeiffer) starts going through a few life-changes, which tellingly leave her drinking lots of milk, catching small birds, and hiding her own poo in the garden. Talk about catty!

To say Batman himself has an almost superfluous role would be unfair, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be Burton’s main focus. While we get to see the origins of both Penguin and Catwoman, the background of the pointy-eared one’s true identity Bruce Wayne is again left out of the picture. As a result, Batman – unlike Superman or Spiderman or even the Hulk – is a tough character to care about. His dark side makes him in many ways a more interesting superhero than any of those others, but it’s an aspect that Burton devotes little time or attention to.

Both Pfeiffer and DeVito are absolutely superb, and Keaton, despite the limitations of his role, looks in hindsight like the perfect choice for the part (especially having seen the dismal attempts of Val Kilmer and George Clooney in later abominations). Another massive plus point is the marvellous score provided again by Danny Elfman.

This is a far more accomplished piece of work than ‘Batman’, for many, many reasons. The music is used to greater effect, the plot is stronger, the subject matter is funnier (in an extremely dark sort of way, natch), and it’s also got an even greater sense of the macabre about it. Burton’s approach to the task has its faults, but in this one it’s as close as you’ll get in any of the ‘Batman’ movies.

It's Got: An army of cackling sewer-dwelling circus freaks.

It Needs: A vast improvement on the DVD front – any chance of a special edition any time soon?

DVD Extras Just some filmographies. DVD Extras Rating: 1/10


The best ‘Batman’ film – entertaining and visually fantastic. You’ll never look at penguins in the same light again!