Whatever your opinion of Tim Burton, his style fits Batman perfectly. The dark, gothic, whites and blacks that made up Batman Returns gives Gotham, Batman and his villains, Catwoman and Penguin, the perfect look that was much more in line with the comics than anything Joel Schumacher ever did. In fact Tim Burton pretty much got everything spot on with his interpretations of Batman, both the original, with Joker played iconically by Jack Nicholson, and this sequel, where again he cast the two villains perfectly.
Ever since Spiderman 3, it has always worried me when a film decides the way to up the peril for a superhero is to add two villains rather than one. I know Spiderman wasn’t the first superhero movie to do this but a lot more added to the death of the initial Batman franchise than just the strange combination of Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy. Spiderman 3 had a great villain in Sandman who could have held the film on his own. Venom could have done the job even better and should always be treated as the sole villain. Instead, Raimi managed to sidetrack both villains! Burton doesn’t do this.
In fact, Burton manages to flesh out both Penguin and Catwoman, giving them loads of screen time and huge development, something that would be repeated later with Nolan’s treatment of both Joker and Two Face in the same film. Both Catwoman and Penguin get origin stories, even though both seem pretty silly compared to the actual comic book version of the pair. That would actually be my main criticism of the film. Burton’s versions of both Catwoman and Penguin are too silly.
Catwoman is a cat-like thief. She’s obsessed with cats and even has loads of them but she doesn’t actually have the powers of the cat! It’s not a major gripe but it feels out of place having Selina Kyle suddenly get nine lives from her being bitten by cats. The same with Penguin, he is a business man who resembles a penguin. He doesn’t actually have a huge obsession with fish and spew oily gunk when he speaks. I can overlook the trained penguins but only just…
It’s a shame because the casting of both these characters is brilliant. Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman is an inspired choice and the only way that Anne Hathaway can even compete is by taking the character in a completely different direction (something I’m sure Nolan would want to do anyway.) The same with Danny DeVito as the Penguin. The make-up and mannerisms of the character are superb and I don’t think anyone else could ever play this character as well (even though it would have fit Nolan’s “realistic” Batman perfectly.) In fact the design of both the characters, as well as Gotham itself, is what adds to the appeal of the film.
The story isn’t great but Burton’s Batman film’s were never really about story. They could have very easily played on the “framed Batman” story much more and fleshed that out alongside the Penguin for Mayor to a larger extent but Burton makes up for that shortcoming by creating a visual spectacle. The penguins marching, the opening set-piece against the circus gang and even the bat-boat chase through the pipes are all very cool and considering it was made way ahead of Nolan’s chase over the rooftops in the Tumbler, it does a decent job. I’d even say that the Bat-Wing crash from Burton’s original Batman rivals anything Nolan’s done for cool Batman film moment.
Alongside the great casting of Pfeiffer and DeVito, Michael Keaton, for me as a kid, was Batman. He could do the voice while wearing the cowl much better than Bale does and played up to the millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne much more naturally. It’s a shame he never got to make Batman Forever as I actually remember that film quite fondly (I am re-watching it soon though so that could change.) It’s a shame he isn’t used more in this film compared to how well he is used in Burton’s first Batman film.
Overall, Tim Burton does overuse the same style, something he is proving with Dark Shadows, but that style fit Batman perfectly. It was dark, moody and gothic which was a great style to show off his also brilliant interpretations of both Catwoman and Penguin. It was silly in places but at least it stayed on the much more faithful side of Batman, especially compared to what Joel Schumacher will do with his second try at a Batman film.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)