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Some superhero movie sequels are terrible (Thor: The Dark World, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer), while others are not only better than their predecessors, but so good that they deserve to be hailed as masterpieces (Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Tim Burton’s Batman Returns quite easily falls into the latter category, and is without a shadow of a doubt a contender for the best Batman movie. That’s undoubtedly high praise when you think back to 2008’s The Dark Knight, but Catwoman’s twisted origin story and subsequent descent into madness are every bit as compelling as what we saw from Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance is as good as Ledger’s, and while Selina Kyle’s origin story is…strange…there’s no denying that her story arc is both memorable and original. Dealing with a complete mental breakdown, the secretary’s (sorry, executive assistant) Catwoman transformation is extremely fun to follow, while her duelling nature as she looks to teach the abusive men around her a lesson (a theme which feels particularly relevant watching the movie today) leads to a lot of gripping twists and turns. Neither a villain nor a hero, she operates somewhere in between, and that makes her budding relationships with both Bruce Wayne and Batman all the more enjoyable.
Talking of the Caped Crusader, Michael Keaton really finds his footing as both sides of the character in Batman Returns and it’s a crying shame he never got a chance to reprise the role for a direct sequel (thank God for The Flash, eh?). Adding even more personality to rthe eccentric billionaire while clearly having a great deal of fun as Batman, this Dark Knight remains a divisive figure – he grins after blowing one goon up – but Keaton still cements himself as the best big screen Batman here. While the villain doesn’t quite steal the spotlight from him this time around, Danny DeVito’s Penguin is still incredible. Despite being another character with a bizarre origin story, that actually ends up working really well, and his rise and fall is an arc which often takes centre stage and works better than what we saw from The Joker in Batman. The actor’s transformative performance is unmissable, and a clear career highlight.
Just like Keaton is clearly extremely comfortable in Batman’s cape and cowl this time around, Burton also appears to have become a far more confident filmmaker with this sequel. He makes a number of fascinating choices, both visually (Penguin’s grotesque appearance is a sight to behold, while it’s not at all hard to see why Catwoman’s costume is now iconic) and with the story. One moment which stands out comes during a masquerade ball where the only people not wearing a mask are Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle as they wrestle with their alter-egos and the implications they have on their lives. A solitary Bruce being lit up by the Bat-Signal in Wayne Manor emphasises his loneliness before he crosses paths with Selina for the first time, and the Gotham City Burton has created is as unique and exciting as ever.
Changes to the source material won’t be to every fan’s liking, but as a standalone Batman story (it doesn’t even matter if you’ve seen the 1989 movie), it works on all levels, and we’re left with an amazing masterpiece of a film which deserves to be somewhere near the top of every list of the best superhero movies.
Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is a masterpiece, and the tour de force performances from the trio of Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Danny DeVito are nothing short of iconic.