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The Return of the Bat (1992)
Tim Burton's Unconventional Approach to the Batman Sequel

When the inevitable desire for a sequel to Batman came from the Warner Brothers brass, many critics and fans alike doubted whether Tim Burton could avoid the "sequel doldrums" attributed to most secondary installments of films.

Tim Burton (in my eyes at least) successfully overcame this sequel superstition to make 1992's Batman Returns, a film that refused to be a carbon copy of the original, yet was still an excellent portrayal of Batman on film. Tim Burton's directing talents were complemented yet again by a musical score by Danny Elfman, and another compelling portrayal of the Dark Knight by Michael Keaton.

Batman Returns was a film that dealt with the isolation and frustration of the two new villains, The Penguin and Catwoman, and also of Batman. The Penguin, a disfigured mutant from birth (with flippers instead of hands and other penguin-like characteristics) felt the isolation of a child deserted by his parents, and the frustration of not being like everyone else. Catwoman, the other villian, felt the isolation and frustration of a meek secretary who broke from her timid shell to don the new personality of the Catwoman. The isolation and frustration of Bruce Wayne is dealt with, as he attempts to connect with Selina Kyle / Catwoman and lead a somewhat more normal life than that of the Batman.

In actuality, it's hard to label The Penguin and Catwoman "villains" in Batman Returns, because of the sympathy that the film prompts us to feel for them as well as Batman. This is a mix of masterful direction by Tim Burton, a wonderfully emotional score by Danny Elfman, and outstanding performances by Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer. It is much easier to view Max Shreck as the real villian of the film, as we feel little sympathy for him as he uses Oswald Cobblepott / Penguin for his gain by attempting to elect him mayor of Gotham City. Again, this is partly due to the acting talents of Christopher Walken as an coldly manipulative Shreck.

Once again, Michael Keaton turns out an exceptional performance as the quintessential Batman. In this film more than Batman, the despair felt by Bruce Wayne is explored, in his desire to have a normal relationship. I'm not one to overanalyze symbolism in movies, but the scene where Batman rips off his mask to reveal the face of Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle, it seems to be symbolic of Wayne wanting to tear part of himself from his Batman persona. Some might criticize this scene for making Batman not totally dedicated to crimefighting, but I think it makes for a more dynamic and believable portrayal of a man who dresses up like a bat to protect Gotham City. I mean, the guy can't be all there, can he?

This movie was criticized by many for being "too dark," but I find this comment somewhat amusing. Batman is a character that is inherently dark; he is a vigilante, and takes the law into his own hands. The modern approach to Batman (especially since Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns) has been of Batman as a dark, ominous, yet just character. Therefore, the investigation of what makes Batman (and the other characters) tick is fitting to this theme. Overall, this movie was exceptional, and made for a sequel that was not just a rehash of Batman, but one that put a new spin on the character explored more of the psychology behind bats, cats, and penguins, and those who look or dress like them.