Tim Burtonís nocturnal caped-crusader returns for another dark, rubber-clad adventure on the violent streets of Gotham City, where a corrupt industrialist, an overweight and deformed bagman and a concussed secretary are all scheming the demise of the city and of the Bat.
On a dark and snowy night, a child with hideous deformities is born to upperclass parents. Reviled by their progeny they dump the child, pram and all, into the Gotham sewer where it drifts and finally comes to rest in the underground remains of the dishevelled Gotham zoo.
Fast forward 33 years and evil industrialist Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) is planning to steal and store Gothamís electricity. When Schreckís mousy, timid secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) learns of his evil scheme, he tosses her from his top floor office window to the pavement below.
Meanwhile, all grown up, our deformed orphan crawls from the Gotham sewers to rediscover his long lost parents and claim his birth-right. Befriended by Schreck, Gotham opens its arms to The Penguin (Danny DeVito), and this sad figure slowly learns of his true identity; his tale of sorrow endearing him to Gotham's citizens.
Selina, seemingly unharmed, arrives back at work like nothing has happened. Moreover, another masked misfit has appeared on the Gotham skyline dressed in skin-tight vinyl, cracking a bullwhip and calling herself Catwoman. Little does Schreck know the grief he has unleashed on himself.
To enact his evil scheme, Schreck convinces The Penguin to utilise his newfound celebrity to run for mayor. But, when dirty campaign tactics are unearthed, the fickle citizens of Gotham turn on The Penguin and he flees back to the sewers to hurl the full weight of his repressed psychoses on the unsuspecting city.
With several interwoven themes featuring manís cruelty to his fellow man, the tone of Batman Returns is wholly dark and sombre; lacking the capering of Jack Nicholsonís Joker to lighten the mood. Although the writers have increased Batmanís quota of one liners in an attempt to replicate the humour of the original, there are fewer laughs on offer and the mood is very sombre indeed.
As in Batman, itís the colourful villains that carry the film, and the performances of Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer rise to the challenge. DeVito, at home playing podgy social outcasts, combines all his previous roles into one big, flippered ball of hurtful resentment and bilious revenge. Pfeiffer, who has done nothing remarkable before or since, provides the perfect Catwoman; her transformation from frumpy secretary to cart-wheeling, whip-cracking, ball-breaking super-minx is stunning. With that black cat-suit, Pfeiffer ushered the full-body, skin-tight black leather number back to cinema prominence; with it regularly cropping up in various forms ever since.
But all in all, despite the performances of DeVito and Pfeiffer (and I dare say that cat suit...), these villains donít have the impact of the original Joker. Sure these criminals are evil, full of hateful revenge even, but they just arenít evil enough. Theyíre not psychotic, not like The Joker anyway, and you get the feeling that all they really need is a big hug. The result is a film that, whilst proving a successful formula in the previous instalment, canít quite carry Burtonís style-over-content approach for another two hours. The plot drags somewhat in the middle. Beautifully filmed and with stunning visuals that even outclass Batman, Batman Returns is a testament to Burtonís skill as a director. However, try as it might, it just doesnít satisfy like the original. But hey, thatís sequels for you.
Batman Returns is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a single-sided single-layer disc. The image is 16x9 enhanced. After being a tad disappointed with the transfer of Batman I must say I was pleased to find a much improved effort by Warner for Batman Returns. Straight out of the gate, this is a much, much cleaner print than that used for the original film. Although some film artefacts can still be seen, they are sparse and aren't easily spotted. The small amount of grain that affected the transfer of Batman is removed, as is any sign of compression artefacts.
Like the original film, black level and shadow detail are critical to the transfer's success. Thankfully, both live up to expectations. Batman Returns also displays more colour on average, with some scenes (intentionally) heavily saturated indeed. At all times this colour is well balanced, with skin tones perfectly reproduced. Overall, the transfer is nice and sharp, without introducing too much aliasing. This sharpness provides a level of detail that does justice to Burtonís magnificent production design.
It's in the sound department that Batman Returns is a clear improvement over the original; improved from the outset by the notable exclusion of any pop songs from the turd formerly known as. In addition the aggessive 5.1 mix provides an immersive sound experience. The surrounds are utilised to great effect throughout the film, with the soundtrack literally teeming with spectacular directional effects, and an almost continuous level of ambient sound Ė from wind to crowds to penguins.
Like the first film, the subwoofer is also used to great effect providing body to Danny Elfmanís fantastic score and really shining during the action scenes. With explosions of every description, the subwoofer is kept very busy indeed.
In terms of extras, there's even fewer than the first film, with Warner providing only cast and crew biographies. With an improved transfer, Iím not surprised there is less room for extras, but in the light of a mountain of production material that must be available for this popular franchise, this lack of extras is very disappointing indeed.