Chris’s review published on Letterboxd:
Batman Returns sees Tim Burton dive head first into gothic expressionism to craft a sequel that is much more to his sensibilities. But that is the main problem. This film is supposed to be about Batman, his name is in the title, yet he's barely the focus and the whole thing comes off more like a pity party for a bunch of grotesque caricatures.
I can understand the appeal. This kind of bizarre mainstream film rarely gets made, especially in the superhero genre, and a director with a vision getting free reign is always interesting. But the issue is it goes too far into nihilism, creating a world without a shred of hope and a hero as twisted as the villains he pursues. I don't know what Batman's goal is here but it certainly isn't to help people. He's even more psychotic than last time as his acts include setting someone on fire, blowing a thug up with a bomb and scarring Catwoman with acid.
The villains don't work either. The Penguin isn't sympathetic or menacing, he's simply repugnant. He just waddles around spewing sexual innuendos and being generally hostile. His scheme to become mayor is like something out of the Adam West series (who is voting for this oddball?). Catwoman is basically a disgruntled secretary out for revenge with an absurd origin thrown in for good measure. Max Shreck is a non-entity and wasting Christopher Walken in such a dull role is unforgivable. None of the actors are at fault because they're fully committed, especially Michelle Pfeiffer.
Returns biggest strength is the atmosphere, which is created by a combination of Burton's eye for distinctive visuals and Danny Elfman's melancholic score. The Noir inspired tone of the 1989 film is smartly traded in for a more suitable snow covered gloom. Yet this film feels very set bound and overly artificial. There only seems to be about 50 people in the entire city and they only ever congregate around the central square. The action scenes are once again lacklustre and the climax involving penguins with missiles on their backs is ludicrous (anyone blaming Schumacher for leaning into camp needs to give this another look).
People like to call this dark and tragic, but it's more unpleasant and absurd than anything else. Returns is glum to the point where it becomes dreary and with nothing to connect to it drags a lot. I admire what Burton was trying to do, I just don't think it works.