Batman Returns 4K UHD Review


A Die for a Die

“I’m no cat,” sneers Michelle Pfeiffer, seconds before she’s pushed through a window and turns into, of course, Catwoman.

Director Tim Burton has a thing for the obvious. Take his Planet of the Apes, with discussions of race and inequality so outrageously broad as to railroad the theme all together. But this is Batman Returns. The comically overdone, self-referential dialog fits in Gotham’s surreal world. A baby who grew up with penguins become the Penguin; he even eats raw fish, and has a beak for a nose. Then a capitalist who seeks power by trying to build a gigantic capacitor – to hold literal power.

Bats in the cave (of course), Catwoman falling into a truck of kitty litter (who transports kitty litter that way?), and to bleed the misery dry, Batman Returns sets itself at Christmas for full irony.

This is the better of the two Burton Batman’s. Danny DeVito is all joy on screen, sniveling and sniffing as Penguin and marching rocket-launching penguins into the streets. It’s expensive hokum, bizarre and surreal in Burton’s decorative way, with a dollop of camp on top. By this second movie, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) still lacks definition as a character. He’s fueled by a sense of right, that’s clear, but who Wayne is beyond a screen superhero isn’t explored.

In looks, Batman Returns and Batman bathe in design splendor

Partly, the thin characterization comes from a lack of screen time. It’s a movie with a lot to do. Batman Returns becomes a sexual tug-of-war, with Catwoman coddling both sides, and at times via an uncomfortable streak of erotic violence. Pfeiffer battles sexism, embarrassed at an all-male board meeting when she dares suggest an idea. Penguin fawns for her; that’s his only interest. Bruce Wayne isn’t much better.

There’s a political campaign too. Penguin – or Oswald Cobblepot – wants admiration and praise. He’s eventually undone, and looking back from 2019, Cobblepot’s loss in the public eye is Batman Return’s most fictional twist. A demeaning recording plays over loudspeakers, to which Gotham’s citizens immediately find repulsive. In 1992, that correlated to the Nixon tapes. Now, it’s implausible.

At least there’s a smidgen of substance this time, even as hackneyed and awkward as it’s so often delivered. The same visual prowess remains. Gotham is a Gothic masterpiece, with perpetual snow layering and bringing out contrast to balance seedy cinematography. In looks, Batman Returns and Batman bathe in design splendor. Rich, atmospheric, and dominating, enough to cover the wimpy story material.

Video

Warner debuts a new scan for this release, a strong one too. A bit less shadowy than Batman, the sequel injects additional light, providing rich contrast. Some black crush is left, although part of the cinematography and not this transfer. You can tell by the other instances of sublime shadow detail. Batman’s black suit shows rubbery texture into each crevice. The same goes for Catwoman.

Catwoman’s reflective leather brings out highlights, asking for and given a hearty HDR pass. That’s evident in fire too. Batman Returns doles out explosions extensively. Max Shreck’s office holds a skylight that lets in some heavy sunlight, adding to the already potent contrast.

Color grading takes on a more modern tint. It’s certainly digital in nature, in particular the amber hues and some teals. Always blue by design, the dominant color looks tweaked a touch too, brighter than before. While not offensive changes, these weren’t necessary either.

Produced on fine grained film stock, there’s little for Warner’s encode to do. Grain is light, natural, and well preserved. Behind it, superlative fidelity. Facial texture pops and the make-up on DeVito is readily appreciated for its perfection. Some dazzling street views and softened composites (by their nature) keep the visual effects gorgeous.

Audio

This is an active Atmos offering, wild and freeing as Gotham comes to life. Ambiance stretches far. In panic as Penguin’s forces attack, the crowd spread jumps from channel to channel. Bikes pan front to back, flawless when they transition. Catwoman’s whip spirals with full attention to proper placement. Note some sound effects were added to this track, and the original audio is not an option. Gunfire makes the new additions notable.

Only one scene disappoints. That’s the Batmobile chase, especially as Batman plows through a crowded street, pushing cars aside. There’s so little low-end to take note of, notable considering the scale of this action. Elsewhere, LFE produces some mammoth jolts. Fireballs flare with proper density and weight. When everything begins collapsing in the final moments, it’s a stream of all-out dominance.

Extras

On the UHD, there’s a Tim Burton commentary, shared by the Blu-ray with nothing new in tow, but it is complete. A ‘90s EPK runs down the production for 22-minutes, pretty bland compared to the retrospective titled Shadows of the Bat. That’s a half-hour and offers more detail. Better still is Beyond Batman, six parts, primarily delving into visual effects for over an hour. A few short featurettes on the villains and heroes don’t offer much. A music video and trailers round this one out.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Batman Returns
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

The better of Tim Burton’s superhero offerings, Batman Returns creates interesting villains and political dynamics to cover a thin story.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 46 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: