Amy’s Movie Review: “Batman Returns”Posted on January 18, 2024
Stranger Things is a series that draws inspiration from classic movies—films showrunners and Durham natives, Matt and Ross Duffer, grew up loving.
The Museum of Durham History’s Stranger Times exhibit has partnered with the Carolina Theatre’s Retro Film Series to invite you to experience (or re-experience!) a few of these classic films with your family.
We asked MoDH volunteers to sit in on the movies, and write about the connections between the movies and the hit show. For Batman Returns, we heard from Amy Chou, a Duke student and long-time Museum volunteer. Check out her website, where she reviews all sorts of movies and books. Thanks so much, Amy!
“When we started to see TV commercials for Tim Burton’s Batman, it looked like the most mind-blowing thing I’d ever seen, Matt Duffer says. But we weren’t allowed to see it—it was [rated] PG-13. About a year after it had come out, once it was on VHS, we were so annoying to our parents that we finally got to see this movie. It lived up to our expectations and then some. That was really the first time we realized what a movie director was—Tim Burton’s style was just so distinct. Then we started to watch all of his films. His visual style, his art direction, the music in those films really had a very personal stamp on them.”
I had the opportunity to watch Batman Returns for the first time in the Carolina Theater as part of their RetroFilm series (in collaboration with the Museum of Durham History): https://carolinatheatre.org/series/retro-film-series/, and this was one of the best cinematic experiences I have ever had. Maybe it was the simple and surprisingly soft neon green seats that made the viewing experience “different” (I am accustomed to the heated and reclining fancy AMC chairs), or maybe it was the welcoming and joyful atmosphere at the theater that made today so special.
Growing up in the 2000s, Christopher Nolan’s Batman was the “Batman” I knew. Heath Ledger’s joker performance brought the villain to life, but Batman was still largely about Bruce Wayne. In addition, the image of Gotham city in my mind was crime-ridden as portrayed in Joker (2019): just another disorderly and busy city.
So, when I saw how surreal and fantastical Gotham city in Batman Returns was during the first 10 minutes of the movie, I was positively surprised. As seen in the quote by the Duffer brothers, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns has a very distinct artistic and cinematic style that made the movie very fun to watch. For so long, I have wanted to watch a movie that felt like it was pulled from a comic but was not set in NYC (so many action movies are set in NYC with buses, trains, and taxis running around and hitting characters). More importantly, this movie was not about Bruce Wayne. The movie spent a respectable amount of time on Selina Kyle and how she became Catwoman. Selina went from being a cowardly, stuttering “secretary” in front of authoritative men to a powerful fighter. She did not immediately fall into the arms of Batman when she saw him, which I almost expected given how superhero (and 007) movies typically play out. In fact, Bruce Wayne did not get together with Catwoman in the end! She was an independent character with a respectable origin.
Furthermore, Oswald Cobblepot may be one of my favorite villains. The movie begins by showing his origin and how he became Mr. Penguin. With a completely ludicrous origin and no superpowers, he was destined to lose in a proper fight against Batman. However, this is where the movie gets interesting: Batman Returns is not about who can fight the best (there are only a few fight scenes), but rather who is the smartest. This movie was about greed, money, power, and revenge for Oswald (Penguin), Catwoman, and Max. Oswald wanted to find his birth parents who abandoned him for looking different. He was never loved or cared for by anyone. What he really wanted was to be
admired despite his unconventional looks. Were his acts of violence justified? No. But can the audience understand where he is coming from? I believe so. Catwoman was murdered by Max Schreck after discovering his corrupt schemes related to the power plants of Gotham City. After she survives the fall, she spends the remainder of the movie trying to overpower those already in power: Max, Oswald, and Batman. Then there is Max, who is our typical corrupt official who would do anything and switch to any side within a blink of an eye to advance his goals.
Batman barely made an impression. Michael Keaton as a batman was not particularly charming and his Batman persona dims in comparison to that by Christian Bale or Robert Pattinson. His car was fancy, and he had some cool gadgets lying around, but the emphasis was not on his superhuman abilities. Batman was just a man in a suit who has had fighting lessons–he was realistic. The 1992 Batman almost felt like a side character, and I loved this.
The perfect combination of realistic scenarios in an imaginary world in Batman Returns is a direct opposite to impossible scenarios in the real world in most other Batman movies. And this makes Batman Returns my favorite Batman movie. Finally, this movie was hilarious. The actors, with Danny DeVito as Oswald and Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina, were fantastic: I was so immersed in the movie that I felt as though I was a citizen of Gotham City!