For some reason, I don't seem to remember there being nearly as much hype around the opening of Batman Returns as I remember the hype around the first movie. I'm not saying that there wasn't any, I just don't remember it as much. I'm pretty sure that I saw it on opening night with a group of my friends, and I remember being pleased to hear that Tim Burton was the director once again. I also recall being disappointed that The Penguin was going to be one of the villains, as I always felt that he was one of the lamer of Batman's villains. (I mean, he's no Killer Moth, after all.)
I don't even really remember my first impression of the movie. I think that I liked it; I just didn't like it as much as the first one. I remember a lot of people telling me that they didn't think that it was very good at all, including my parents when we watched the VHS copy that I got on my birthday. It was panned by a lot of people, and let's just get it out of the way: the penguin army and the penguin pallbearers were over the top and lame - that's a given.
Still, what's odd is that over the years, whenever I got the urge to rewatch the Batman movies, I started to find myself liking Batman Returns more than the first one. I even suggested that to a friend once and he looked at me like I was crazy. Why would I think that? Was it just that I hadn't watched it nearly as many times as the first one that it just seemed fresher?
After watching it again, and thinking about what I'm going to write, I realized why I think that it's a better movie. That's because it's a better movie.
But how? Overall, I think that it has everything that was good about the first one and not as many things that were as bad about it. Let's break it down a bit.
1. Just like the first one, it looks great. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it looks even better. Gotham feels even more like a real place, as surreal as it is, than a set. The character designs are fantastic as well, and the fight scenes between Batman and the Red Triangle Circus Gang look like a comic book come to life. The winter/Christmas setting was a nice touch as well.
2. Christopher Walken as Max Shreck. Walken is a pleasure to watch in pretty much anything, but he's the real villain in this movie. He also makes for a nice contrast with Batman/Bruce Wayne. Instead of being a rich person who uses his resources to better the world, he only uses his resources to obtain more power. (Wanting to create a power plant that drained power from the city was a good, if perhaps a bit obvious, metaphor. Hey, superhero stories aren't known for their subtlety!)
3. Michelle Pfeifer as Selina Kyle. Why didn't I say Catwoman? Keep reading and find out. Anyway, watching her transformation from the frumpy secretary to the confident and slightly deranged femme fatale is always fascinating. I love the bit where she goes nuts in her apartment and destroys all of the cutesy crap that she had lying around. (The stuffed animals in the garbage disposal being the highlight.)
4. The dialogue. While certainly clunky in places, there are a lot of parts that really zip by. Off the top of my head, the scene between Shreck and Kyle where he pushes her out the window is a nice bit of acting. It definitely doesn't have the same problem as the last movie did.
5. The Penguin. As I stated earlier, he's one of the lamer Batman villains, even though one of the most well-known. While I was annoyed as a teenager that they totally changed his origin from the comics, I now appreciate the different origin from the movie. It's more interesting, and once again, we have a nice contrast with Batman. His line, "You're just jealous because I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask!" is a nice touch. Also, the movie touched on, but barely developed, that Batman actually felt a connection with this villain, as they are both orphans - although the Penguin was rejected by his parents.
How about the bad?
1. Michelle Pfeifer as Catwoman. She hams it up way too much whenever she's in costume. She's using the old 60s TV show as a guide, obviously, and that just doesn't work. While it's good to have a different voice while in costume, it just doesn't have the right sound to it. Also, what exactly is motivating her? Why should she be fighting Batman? It makes sense that she wants to go after Shreck, but that's forgotten until the end of the movie. Perhaps the movie should have made her more of an anti-hero, a partner that Batman reluctantly teams up with. That would have made more sense.
2. Too much story! While the first one really doesn't have a compelling plot, this one suffers from several possible plots that are all pretty intriguing. But it's all too much, and there isn't enough time devoted to any one of them for there to be much of a payoff.
3. Penguin army - just in case you forgot. Whatever.
While watching this, I was heading for a B+ for the first 45 minutes. It starts to unravel and everything that is set up doesn't really pay off after that. So, I give it a B-. That's right, it's better than Batman.