It can only be hoped that “Batman Returns” is not representative of the state of Tim Burton’s mind. If it is, I’d like to recommend extensive therapy. While it’s true that Batman has always been about the dark weathers of the human soul – particularly to outsiders – Burton’s movie does little to explore them. This is one of the most depressing movies he’s ever made. It’s a nasty, nihilistic and uncompromisingly ugly little movie that practically marinates in misery and despair.
That wouldn’t be so bad if I could get a handle on why the tone of this movie is so unpleasant. The Batman that I know is dark and brooding, the story of a lonely soul forever trapped in a cape and cowl that he sees as a personal prison. That’s a great story, but it only provides the template; Batman is the psychological springboard upon which Bruce Wayne goes out every night to beat criminals to a bloody pulp. If you can imagine what it would be like if he threw away the vigilante justice angle and just stewed in his misery all day then you ‘ve pretty much got an idea of what this movie is like.
In the previous film Burton gave us a sort of film noir world ruled by the criminal element that Batman was peppering with an atmosphere of paranoia. Here we get the sight of a freak baby who was thrown in the sewer and grew up to become the Penguin, not a socialite but a disgusting creature that inspired in me the urge to be anywhere else. Even Catwoman rings a false note. Yes, Michelle Pfeiffer is fine but what is this character? What’s her connection to anything? Why should I care about her? Watching the movie again I had the same feeling that I did the first time I saw it. Why should I care about any of this?
Why should I care about a grim and gloomy movie that takes me into a world where the sun never seems to come out?