After seeing off The Joker, the Caped Crusader comes up against two deadly criminals who plot to take over Gotham City. The demented, ravenous Penguin and power hungry villain Max Shreck.
And so Batman Returns with A vengeance that must surely tax even the most optimistic Warner executive's credulity. Having created one of the biggest-grossing movies of all time, the hope must have been that, with any luck, Batman Returns would do the expected sequel trick and pull in 75 per cent of the original's take.
Instead, of course, Tim Burton pulled it off once again, smashing Batman's opening weekend record of $42 million with a $47.7 million take in the US. In fact, the extraordinary success of both movies comes as something of a surprise, since these are intensely personal affairs, with Batman Returns coming across as even more of a Tim Burton Film than did the original.
Gothic architecture, adorned with bizarre gargoyles, is constantly powdered with snow (Edward Scissorhands), the Danny Elfman score swells around the action like a tempestuous sea (Edward, Batman) and the oddball characters are constantly preoccupied with their outsider status (Edward, Batman, fee Wee's Big Adventure). Indeed, despite Burton's professed irritation at having his work described as "dark", it is hard to conceive of film being any darker than Batman Returns if the audience are to see anything on the screen at all.
Despite the absence of the late Anton Furst's set designing skills, Gotham City is if anything more impressive here, with the soaring buildings brilliantly created via special effects and the street-level sets immaculately detailed and strangely compelling. Jack Nicholson's Joker is, of course, replaced by Danny De Vito's hideous Penguin as Batman's nemesis, with the little man frankly doing a far better job, at once sadly pathetic and evil-minded. Meanwhile, the mousey Selina Kyle (the excellent Pfeiffer) is transformed into Catwoman in a uniquely Burton moment (i.e. it's never explained why or how she does it), and between them they succeed in getting up The Dark Knight's nose, with The Penguin allying with the evil Max Shreck (Walken) in a bid for the office of Mayor of Gotham and Catwoman perpetrating athletic revenge on the arrogant, patronising and (in Walken's case) murderous men in her life.
Despite some tortuous one-liners, the shock here is the remarkable lack of any humour, as if Burton and screenwriter Daniel Waters are somehow taking the whole thing too seriously, a surprise since Burton has proved himself a highly competent director of comedy. He does, however, once again prove himself as a filmmaker of rare vision here, with the atmosphere of a city on the brink expertly created by a man who knows exactly what he wants to say. That so many people seem prepared to listen is a testament not to Warner's vast marketing machine but to Tim Burton's uniquely twisted vision.
Burton continues to capture the essence of the Batman legend and more importantly his audiences imagination.