Tim Burton’s Batman Returns was too dark and violent for the summer of 1992, now it celebrates its thirtieth anniversary.
The second installment of Warner Bros.’ initial Batman film series saw the return of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman take on the Penguin (Danny DeVito), who wants to kill Gotham’s firstborn sons, Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), a corrupt tycoon and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), who seeks vengeance against Shreck. Batman Returns was released to theaters on June 19, 1992, the sequel to the 1989 film Batman.
Originally Tim Burton was not wanting to return to direct a second Batman movie, but when Burton was granted more creative control, Burton agreed to return to the director’s chair. Burton was unhappy with the original script written by Sam Hamm and commissioned Daniel Waters to rewrite the script. Waters would write a social satire of an evil mogul backing the Penguin for Mayor wanting to show that villains won’t always be wearing a costume. The idea of having the Penguin run for Mayor was taken from the 1960’s television series starring Adam West, “Hizzoner the Penguin” and “Dizzoner the Penguin”. Waters would write a total of five drafts for Batman Returns.
Waters attempted to give Batman (Michael Keaton) a larger presence after taking over screenwriting duties, giving the hero more to say but Michael Keaton himself demanded that he have less to say. Keaton was also willing to take his character darker, which is very characteristic for Batman.
The character of Harvey Dent appeared in early drafts and Dent’s transformation into Two-Face would have happened at the climax of the movie when Catwoman kisses him with a taser to the face disfiguring Dent, of course Dent was scrapped altogether and replaced with Max Shreck. Early versions of the script would have revealed Shreck as the Penguin’s long-lost brother.
Annette Bening was initially cast to play Selina Kyle, but had to drop out after becoming pregnant, allowing Michelle Pfieffer’ to step in becoming what some would call the definitive depiction of the anti-heroic, feline femme fatale. The final shot in Batman Returns showing Catwoman standing and looking at the Bat-Signal was requested by Warner Brothers during postproduction with someone else wearing the costume.
Batman Returns would have the highest opening weekend of any movie for 1992 and would go on to earn a total of $266.9 million worldwide. Batman Returns would finish as the third highest grossing film domestically and the sixth highest worldwide.
Michael Keaton and Tim Burton would not return for a third Batman movie, instead Warner Brothers would turn over directing duties to Joel Schumacher for 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman and Robin. While Batman Forever with Val Kilmer is an okay Batman movie, Batman and Robin is just downright horrible.
While many complained in 1992 that Batman Returns was to dark and violent the bigger mistake was made by Warner Brothers by listening to critics and fans, taking Burton out of the directors’ chair, and giving it to Schumacher. I sometimes wonder what a Burton/Keaton Batman trilogy might have looked like? Would Billy Dee Williams have returned as Harvey Dent/Two-Face? Would Burton have introduced a Robin or would have Batman been left to fight crime alone once again?
Batman as a character should be dark as the character lives in a gritty crime ridden city and iterations of the character since shows the character can be successful. Matt Reeves “The Batman” and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy has shown Batman can be dark, violent and succeed at the box office. Burton’s vision of Batman was a little before its time for the studio to realize Burton had a better grasp of the character than they realized and thirty years later “Batman Returns” and 1989’s “Batman” easily stands with the best of the modern Batman movies.
Categories: Movie Anniversaries