Batman Returns is the bleakest meditation on sexual dysfunction in arrested adolescence ever to be licensed for a McDonald’s Happy Meal.
Against all odds, Tim Burton had turned the first Batman into a character study about artistic ego and sexual competition, in the guise of an action film. When given total freedom for the sequel he turned what could’ve simply been Batman II: The Adventure Continues into a whirlwind tragicomedy of feminism, class struggle and kinky fetishism.
Batman isn’t my favorite movie of all time but it may be the film I’ve seen the most times and thus had the biggest influence on my young mind.
I don’t think that makes me as fucked as a kid whose Bat-proselytization came from the ponderous Chris Nolan movies or mindless Arkham Asylum video games. Tim Burton’s animation background gave him the command of visual language necessary to make the film feel like a living comic book, which besides encouraging kids like myself to explore comic books also instilled a love for the graphic mythology of these larger-than-life characters: Batman the noble vampire clashing with the malevolent demon called The Joker against the backdrop of Gotham City, which isn’t anything like a real city but instead the ultimate hallucination of urban hell. To take this rich iconography and vulgarize it into a guy wearing black body armor fighting a guy in wet Juggalo makeup on a Chicago location shoot really wastes all that storytelling potential.
The secret of the 1989 film’s appeal is that like most superhero comics, its subtext is adolescent sexual frustration, and what’s more universal than that?