With the new characters introduced, Tim Burton delves even deeper into the dark comic-book psychology established in the first film. Cat Woman has always been the most interestingly ambiguous of villains in the Batman canon because she was divided between wrongdoer and sexual attraction. (Indeed, she is the only thing approaching sexuality to ever enter into the strictly bachelor world of Batman and the decidedly dubious relationship with Robin in the classic DC comics). The film weaves her character into an even more complex meditation upon the first films use of psychological masks and alter egos. The psychology may not always ring the most believable Selena goes from a mousy secretary to an acrobat and a master whip wielder in about two days but Daniel Waters script makes the Batman/Catwoman relationship into a joyously jousting battle/attraction of mutual insecurities (not to mention a goldmine of eminently quotable one-liners). The film culminates in the remarkably haunting epiphany where Batman unmasks himself to her and pleads, We both have a split down the middle. Come with me, to which she responds, Id like to come and live in the fairy-tale house on the hill but I couldnt live with myself.
Michelle Pfeiffer, who can be a bland and distant actress for all her superstar status, has an absolute ball with the part. She lets all stops out in what threatens to be an amazingly broad performance but instead delivers something that comes extraordinarily well balanced between jagged psychosis, playful kittenishness and PVC fetishism. Danny De Vito, unrecognisable behind the makeup and padding, has an equal ball with the part of The Penguin, introducing a real venomousness and obscene randiness into the part that the comic-book never had. For De Vito, usually cast as over-the-top villains with rottweiler personalities in films like Ruthless People (1986) and Other Peoples Money (1991), this may well be the best thing he has done. Indeed, the villains are so much the stars of the show it takes nearly half the film to set their stories up that the character of Batman almost gets sidelined.
With the Christmas setting, Batman Returns is almost a Dickensian fantasy in this fantasy, people are cast into one or either extreme the very rich or the down-and-out. The contrast between Batman and Cat Woman becomes an amusing play on class war. She comes with a working class background the film making amusing and deliberate parallels between he smoothly changing in the Batcave and she fumbling to get into costume in her beat-up VW. This version of Cat Woman may be the only comic book character we have seen in a film actually sewing their own costume, as opposed to Batmans question about how he will repair the Batmobile, something that the film pointedly never deigns to answer.
The mood of the film is seamless. The design team create an extraordinary fairy-tale metropolis, filled with cathedral-like sewer systems, Gothic mansions, city roofs where crowded black cross-girders stitch together over a navy blue skyline and a zoo filled with statues of black metallic crustaceans, all in a singular colouration of black metal dusted with perpetual white snow. There is another moody and magnificent score where Danny Elfman obtains great mileage out of the darkly thematic use of Christmas carols.
Disappointingly, Tim Burton departed the Batman series following this. Batman Returns was the last worthwhile entry in the modern Batman series (discounting the excellent 1992-4 animated tv series) before Joel Schumacher inherited the reins with Batman Forever (1995) and the infantile Batman & Robin (1997) and turned the films into a $70 million version of the 1960s tv series. It took more than a decade for the series to recover again with Christopher Nolans Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), as well as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). For some time after Batman Returns, a separate Cat Woman film had been mentioned as a project, with various names including Sean Young and Ashley Judd being touted in the role. This eventually appeared as the disastrous Catwoman (2004) starring Halle Berry and, although Batman creator Bob Kane was credited, this was an entirely different character to Selena Kyle. The young Selina Kyle, played by Camren Bicondova, appears in the Batman origin tv series Gotham (2014 ). Cat Womans daughter also appeared in Birds of Prey (2002), a live-action tv series featuring the women of Batman, although this only lasted for thirteen episodes.
The other Batman films and tv series are:- Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949), two 15-chapter serials from Columbia; the campy tv series Batman (1966-8) starring Adam West and Burt Ward, which produced one film spin-off with Batman (1966); the animated tv series The New Adventures of Batman (1977-8); the excellent animated series Batman (1992-4) inspired by the Tim Burton films and its follow-up The New Batman Adventures (1997-9), which spawned several film spin-offs with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero (1998), The Batman Superman Movie: Worlds Finest (1998) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), as well as the later DC Universe Original Animated Movies Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Batman: Year One (2011), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part I (2012), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013), Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014), Son of Batman (2014), Batman vs. Robin (2015), Batman: Bad Blood (2016), Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) and Batman and Harley Quinn (2017), as well as Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), a compilation of anime Batman shorts; Batman Beyond/Batman of the Future (1999-2001), the futuristic follow-up series from the same creative team featuring an ageing Bruce Wayne and his young apprentice, which also spun off one animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) and another animated tv series Static Shock (2000-4); the animated series The Batman (2004-8), which badly revised the basics of the series and was also spun off into a film with The Batman vs. Dracula (2005); two further animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-11), which placed Batman alongside other DC superheroes, and Beware the Batman (2013-4); the live-action tv series Gotham (2014 ), which tells the origin stories of the familiar characters and villains as Bruce Wayne grows up; Batman turns up as an animated character in The Lego Movie (2014) and gets a whole film to himself in The Lego Batman Movie (2017); the animated films Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (2015) and Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (2015) spun off from a line of action figures; and the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) featuring a return of Adam West and Burt Ward. Batman also makes appearances in the line-up of superheroes in various other DC-related animated series such as SuperFriends (1973-7), The All New SuperFriends Hour (1977-9) and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-5), as well as the films Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) and Justice League Dark (2017).
Tim Burtons other films of genre interest include the kitsch Pee-Wees Big Adventure (1985); the bizarre ghost story Beetlejuice (1988); the genteel artificial boy fairy-tale Edward Scissorhands (1990); Ed Wood (1994), a biopic of the worlds worst director; the alien invasion comedy Mars Attacks! (1996); the ghost story Sleepy Hollow (1999); the remake of Planet of the Apes (2001); Big Fish (2003) about an habitual teller of tall tales; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005); the stop-motion animated Gothic Corpse Bride (2005); the horror musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007); Alice in Wonderland (2010); the film remake of the tv series Dark Shadows (2012) the stop-motion animated Frankenweenie (2012); and Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children (2016). Burton also produced Henry Selicks darkly brilliant stop-motion animated fantasies The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and James and the Giant Peach (1996); as well as the live-action conte cruel Cabin Boy (1994), the animated 9 (2009), Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016). The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015) is a fascinating documentary about Burtons failed Superman Lives project.