Batman v Superman is right around the corner, and I’m really looking forward to two thirds of it. Those two thirds? Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and motherfucking Batfleck. The Bat looks pretty rad, and I’m looking forward to seeing him chokeslamming nameless thugs this weekend when the movie opens. Grumpy old attitude? Rad. Gray suit? Rad. I’m all in for the Batman stuff.
What better way to reflect on this new take on Batman than by celebrating the undisputed greatest Batman movie, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns? That is a trick question. It is always a good time to talk about the Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin no matter what movie is coming out. We’ll probably rerun this article when they release Sausage Party just because.
Now, the standard answer for ‘what Batman movie is the best?’ Is The Dark Knight, and while I could spend a lot of words explaining why it’s not (and I’m gonna), that would take away from talking about Batman Returns, which is the best. So with respect to Heath Ledger and his legendary performance, let’s move on.
Batman Returns features a returning Tim Burton, and the amount of confidence he’s gained since 1989’s Batman is outstanding. This is a full powered, ‘fuck yes, I just made Edward Scissorhands,’ Burton at the helm, working absolute magic with a screenplay by the writer of Heathers. Seriously, that is a match made in creepy dead Burton tree heaven. With one Bat blockbuster already under his belt, Burton really leans into the weirdness of animal-themed vigilantes, making bold outlandish choices and having a blast doing it.
Michael Keaton is back as Bruce Wayne, and he’s got the billionaire recluse completely figured out, playing crazy of the man who once screamed ‘you wanna get nuts?!’ while wielding a fire poker with a cold detachment, fire poker guy lurking on the surface at all times.
There isn’t a single wasted move in Batman Returns, and that shows in the villains. Gone are the faceless goons of the modern superhero blockbuster: every member of the Red Triangle Gang is a fully formed character, and each of them gave me recurring nightmares as a child. If I had to choose between being chased infinitely by Ledger’s Joker or the Red Triangle gang, I’d pick Joker.
Christopher Walken has a blast chewing scenery as corporate devil Max Shrek, playing evil megalomaniac with the bravado of a man dancing in a Fatboy Slim video. He’s turned it up to a Walken 11 in this movie, but somehow Burton keeps it all balanced beautifully. And we haven’t even hit the marquee villains yet.
Danny DeVito’s Penguin is not the comic book Penguin, and I’m honestly pretty fine with that. He’s creepy and gross and weird, and fuck all he’s super fun and ridiculous. Do you know what I kept wishing for while I was watching Dark Knight Rises? A small army of rocket launcher wielding penguins, whose actions are being reported on by a detached and bored lady clown, and being led by a hideous Penguin man biting people in the face.
Speaking of ladies and biting and faces: Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle is incredible, and is right behind Ledger on the ‘Bat people who deserved an Oscar’ list. Both her breakdown as she turns into a crazy cat lady and her last stand with Max Shrek are incredible scenes. If you are typing ‘yeah but’ go back and watch them. They are fucking flawless. That woman is absurdly underrated and deserves all of the gif love you can give her.
Burton’s Returns is fantastic because it is extraordinarily fucked up and dark, but still manages to be FUN. I know it doesn’t seem dark when you think back on it, but don’t forget that sponsors literally rebelled against Warner Bros for delivering such a batshit fetish movie to theatres. McDonald’s being terrified of this movie is the sole reason the bat suit got nipples.
Because of that rebellion, Burton would walk. It’s a shame, because he hit his stride in the Burton Batverse with this movie. One can only wonder what his rumored Catwoman spinoff or Batman 3 would have been like. Spoilers: They probably would have been fucking awesome.