I’m a bit of a DC geek, with my first exposure to the comics being in the corners of my local public library. You see, with comics, I didn’t have to worry as much about getting overwhelmed by sounds or bright, fast sequences playing out on screen. No, I could see them all play out on the page and start theorizing about what would happen next to some of my favorite characters. I did this a lot when it came to the BATMAN comics. I didn’t quite understand as a child why it was such an issue for a man to hide his identity. Why couldn’t he just own up to this side of himself that lurked within? As I’d come to realize as I got older, this duality would be the crux of interest for many creators and fans when it came to the caped crusader. While many have tried to capture the argument and conflict of his duality, the recent films have either taken the subject of his duality too seriously or they’ve completely neglected that internal struggle altogether. However, I was reminded of one movie that seemed to really do it for me. None have captured the feeling of Bruce Wayne’s duality more, in my opinion, than Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS.
The film starts with an opening sequence which sets up the origin story for one of the main villains of the film, Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin (Danny DeVito). We see the young child abandoned to live in the sewers after his parents find him to be too much of a handful (it is implied that the boy has severe homicidal tendencies via a poor kitty encounter). We then jump ahead about 30 or so years to present-day Gotham City where the obviously, no-good ambitious businessman Max Shreck (played by an ever terrifying Christopher Walken) is hoping to expand his business by any means necessary. However, this opens him up to blackmail to the Penguin, who arranges early on in the film by his goons to successfully kidnap the businessman. The Penguin gives Shreck a proposal he can’t refuse. If he helps the Penguin become mayor of Gotham City, he will help Shreck get what he wants in the end.
However, there are two obstacles that get in Shreck’s way. There is Batman (played by Michael Keaton once more) who will do nothing to stop evil from taking over the city. And, there is Shreck’s assistant, Selena Kyle (played by the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer), who accidentally discovers that the businessman’s plans for the city are not beneficial to anyone except for himself. This prompts him to try to kill her but, in an amazing cat lady sequence pulled directly from my dreams, Selena is revived and soon transforms into the dangerous, beguiling Catwoman. She eventually teams up with the Penguin to destroy Batman, but soon finds herself falling for both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Needless to say, calamity ensues.
While Tim Burton’s BATMAN toyed around with that middle grey area of silliness mixed with darkness, BATMAN RETURNS swings fully to the dark side that is both fun yet thoughtful. The film doesn’t go out of its way to be dark in an obviously edgy sort of way like, for example, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The darker tone I think really highlights what makes the film so special because the darkness balances out the absurd comic quality that the film still carries. This overall dark feel is reflected in the sets that take on an almost German impressionist quality to the color palette used throughout the course of the film. The 4K treatment really helps lift the various dark tones up, bringing out the details that were otherwise lost in the original footage. All of this is what I thought the 1989 BATMAN would have tackled, but it looks like BATMAN RETURNS was where Burton was really allowed to explore and play around creatively. This exploration is what really helps to make the film my favorite of the BATMAN movies.
In terms of the performances, I’d say that everyone was great across the board. Danny DeVito’s Penguin is honestly all I’ve ever wanted in a live-action performance of the character. Whilst buried in all that makeup, he still delivers a performance that is full of charisma, heartbreak, villainy, and sass. Christopher Walken as Max Shreck is legitimately terrifying, but that may be more influenced by how I feel for him in each film he’s in. Something about those eyes and that wry delivery of his just makes a person want to shudder. Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle is absolutely amazing. Her version of Catwoman has always stood out among the pack and this is even with actresses like Eartha Kitt making the character their own. She is just the right blend of manic mania, sex appeal, and mystery and I would have no one else play Catwoman if I could. Michael Keaton was good with the role that had been written for him. As was I think my complaint with the previous film, I do wish we had spent more time with his character. The villains really did take away the focus, which is never really a good sign.
Overall, BATMAN RETURNS still holds it own almost 27 years later. The 4K makes the film itself crisper and the colors and details pop up a lot more without doing any damage to the original print. As Burton always incorporates so many details into his work, it was a nice treat to see how much detail we could pick up in this newly revitalized 4K. For fans of the movie already, you will not be disappointed by the 4K version. In fact, it’ll enhance your love for the film more.
BATMAN RETURNS will be a part of a four-film collection, which includes BATMAN, BATMAN FOREVER, and BATMAN & ROBIN. The films are available now as 4K UHD singles and will also be available as a four-film collection on September 17. The 4K UHD singles and the four-film collection available in September will also include remastered Blu-ray discs of the films.