Given how well Batman did in 1989, Warner Bros. wanted to capitalize on the movie’s success by pushing for a quick sequel. Batman Returns premiered on June 19, 1992, pairing director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton for their third collaboration (which included Beetlejuice). Daniel Waters, the writer behind the satirical black comedy Heathers, wrote the final script based on the story developed by himself and Sam Hamm (writer of the ’89 Batman).
In what was a more complex plot than the previous film, Bruce opposes Gotham City business mogul Max Shreck on his plan to build a new power plant. Penguin emerges from below the streets of Gotham and blackmails Shreck into becoming his liaison to the people, who then situates Penguin to become the new mayor.
Selina Kyle starts the movie as Shreck’s secretary, but becomes Catwoman after he pushes her out a window for discovering the true purpose of his power plant. While planning to take vengeance against her former boss, Selina/Catwoman encounters Bruce/Batman as both of their counterparts and the mutual attraction ignites a passionate love/hate relationship.
Penguin instigates mayhem to prove that Gotham needs a new mayor, but his efforts are thwarted by Batman. He then seeks revenge by threatening to kill the first born children of Gotham, so Batman must stop him and simultaneously convince Catwoman, who now knows Batman’s identity, not to become a killer by murdering Schreck.
Burton’s particular aesthetic was more obvious in Batman Returns, exemplifying his ability to magnify the strangeness of the status quo. It still had noir elements but was a more gothic production reflected in everything from set design to costumes to the muted color palette that tended toward black, white, and gray. Penguin’s makeup was more garish than the Joker’s look, and Catwoman’s costume reflects that of a torn and resewn stuffed animal. The henchmen are more creatively designed in the guise of circus performers, though in a menacing, dissociative manner.
Batman Returns received mostly positive reviews for the expanded story, moody atmosphere, dreamlike weirdness, and performances by the four lead actors. Audiences flocked to the theater, giving it the highest opening weekend at the box office in ’92 with $45 million, and made it the third-highest grossing movie of the year with a total of $162 million. Accompanying the box office success, it was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup.
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