After the success of 1989’s Batman, Tim Burton could basically take the franchise in any direction he pleased. Thus 1992’s Batman Returns, the Tim Burton-iest Batman movie that ever Burton-ed. (Translation: it’s weird.) When it first came out, audiences ate it up. And with good reason — Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken all deliver fun performances and Burton’s distinctive visual style hadn’t yet lapsed into self-parody. But there was also a lot of violent and disturbing stuff that caused parent groups to label the film too extreme for kids.
Watching Batman Returns today, what was once considered edgy seems positively quaint when compared to the visceral Christopher Nolan Bat-films to come. Also, much of the plot makes zero sense, begging A LOT of questions, like…
1. Why is it set during Christmas? It was a summer movie.
2. No, seriously, why is this movie set at Christmas? Penguin’s big plan is to murder a bunch of kids. At one point, he bites a dude’s nose and says he wants to teach a woman his “French flipper trick.” Every other word out of his mouth is a filthy pun. This movie is about as un-Christmas-y as you can get.
3. Wait, so Penguin’s dad is played by Paul Reubens? And his mom is Diane Salinger, who was Simone in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure? Does that mean that Pee-wee dumped Dottie, married Simone, changed his last name to “Cobblepot,” and spent his latter years as a wealthy Gothamite with a monocle and a freakish infant? Can we ignore Big Top Pee-wee and just pretend that this is Burton’s official sequel to his big screen directorial debut?
4. So Oswald was raised by penguins before joining up with the Red Triangle Circus Gang? Okay, fine. But then why does he drool black liquid? I don’t remember Morgan Freeman mentioning anything about that in March of the Penguins.
5. So Selina Kyle was resurrected by cats, huh?
6. Really?? Resurrected by cats? And that’s what inspired her to become Catwoman? So if, say, roaches had swarmed around her, she would’ve return to get revenge on her evil boss Max Shreck as “Roach Gal”?
7. Speaking of Max Shreck, what exactly is Christopher Walken doing in this movie? Oh, sure, he’s plenty awesome in the role. But his diabolical power plant scheme is set up as the movie’s big plot point and then it’s immediately dropped in favor of Penguin running for mayor. And what’s the deal with his hair? Was Christopher Lee busy?
8. Why didn’t Bruce Wayne fire Alfred after he let Vicki Vale into the Batcave in the previous movie? In Batman Returns, he gives Alfred grief for exposing his secret identity to a story-hungry reporter, but that’s about the extent of the repercussions from what was a huge blunder. You have one job, Alfred — keep Bruce’s one-night stands out of the Bat Cave.
9. Does Batman really need a programmable Batarang? Why not just throw multiple Batarangs at the Red Triangle members instead of taking the time to program one fancy Batarang that was probably put in the movie as a possible toy tie-in? Also, shouldn’t Batman’s gadgets come with some sort of anti-poodle theft fail-safe?
10. Did Batman really strap dynamite to a circus thug and then smile manically? Yes, I know that movie Batman breaks the “no killing” rule from the comics. But certainly there are other less obviously homicidal ways to deal with an overweight carny who poses very little threat to a guy wearing several layers of padded armor.
11. Was Catwoman really planning to eat Penguin’s pet bird? Because if so, eww.
12. How did Penguin and the Red Triangle Circus Gang get a copy of the blueprints to the Batmobile? That doesn’t seem like something you can just stumble across during a routine DMV records search.
13. Also, how did Penguin make that awesome Batmobile video game that somehow controls the actual Batmobile? And why couldn’t we play it in the mall arcade during the summer of ’92? (Sidebar — good thing Penguin enlisted the only circus folk who can also hotwire an advanced armored car.)
14. Why does Bruce Wayne’s CD player have a Bat logo on it? Is he planning on releasing a line of portable Bat-stereos in an effort to beat the Sony Discman folks at their own diabolical game?
15. Why does Selina Kyle have a neon “Hello There” sign in her apartment? That’s a pretty ostentatious decoration for a single mousy secretary type.
Ah, so someone built that sign just so Catwoman could knock out the “O” and “T” for this brief visual gag? Totally worth it.
1. Why does Gotham employ a scantily-clad Ice Princess for what is ostensibly a family-friendly holiday tree lighting ceremony? And does she really think the Batarang that Penguin stole is a camera? It’s shaped like a bat. You live in the city with the vigilante who dresses up like a bat. Come on, Ice Princess.
2. Isn’t it a little convenient that every society person in Gotham showed up to the masquerade, er, “maxquerade” ball, leaving their children at home to be kidnapped by Penguin? Wouldn’t they at least have babysitters or servants watching their kids? What, Alfred is the only butler who raised a snooty Gotham rich kid?
3. So if Penguin’s big plan all along was to get revenge on Gotham’s wealthy elite by killing their children, how do the rocket-toting penguins factor in? He just had them sitting around waiting in case everything went South?
4. Also, are penguins really the best delivery system for explosives? They can’t fly, they’re really slow, and they might get confused and wander off into a nearby river. I get that Oswald has a penguin thing, but wouldn’t literally any other bird be a more effective method of rocket conveyance? Admittedly, the scene where Oswald addresses his army of penguins has to be one of Danny DeVito’s greatest cinematic achievements.
5. Isn’t Max’s reverse power plant scheme still a problem? His son Chip is still alive, after all. Couldn’t he still drain all of Gotham’s power for his own nefarious gain? Does Burton just expect us to ignore this dangling plot thread — wow, that painting of Christopher Walken behind Chip here is pretty amazing.
6. Isn’t Batman still wanted in connection with the Ice Princess’ death? Penguin never confessed to causing her murder. She was also surrounded by bats when she fell off the building and the GCPD still has Batman’s fancy remote controlled Batarang as evidence. At the very least, Batman would be wanted as an accessory to murder and also for ruining Gotham’s annual holiday festivities.
7. Fine, Selina has nine lives because cats brought her back to life or whatever. But how is her costume perfectly intact in the final shot? What, she went back home and sewed it up after electrocuting herself and Max? And for that matter, why didn’t we get a Catwoman spin-off movie with Michelle Pfeiffer? Why did we get the Halle Berry abomination like a decade later? This is all somehow your fault, Burton.