How does Batman ’89 compare to Batman Returns?

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Photo: Batman (1989) Courtesy DC Universe PR

For a while, Tim Burton’s two Batman movies were two of the few silver screen adventures featuring the Caped Crusader. With Batman ’89 turning 30, how has it aged? Is it better than its sequel?

Tim Burton’s Batman just turned 30. Think of how much Batman media has come out during those three decades, between the cartoons, movies and other TV shows, many of which were inspired by Burton’s Batman. It directly led to the creation of Batman: The Animated Series, and The Dark Knight heavily borrows from Burton’s first cinematic outing with the hero. Tim Burton’s films will always hold a special place in history because, for a generation or two, they gave fans the definitive Batman. Despite all the Batman media that followed, let’s look at Burton’s two takes on the Caped Crusader and ask the all-important question: which one is better?

Photo Credit: Batman Returns/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc Image Acquired from DC Entertainment PR

Story

Tim Burton’s Batman films have a lot in common. Both movies pack a romance, a villain’s origin story and the usual plot structure (in which a bad guy has a heinous plan and the protagonist must stop them) into roughly 126 minutes. Batman avoids the mistake of focusing on the night Bruce Wayne lost his parents; the viewer doesn’t see this iconic scene until the film is more than half over. Everyone knows that story already, so why waste precious screen time on it? (Sorry, Batman Begins.) But neither film effectively captures who Batman is. In the first installment, he comes off as a rich guy who’s trying his best to deal with the traumatic loss of his parents. But Burton barely scratches the surface in his examination of the Dark Knight’s character. The analysis is even more lacking in the sequel, though. It’s almost entirely absent until the climax when he tells Selina Kyle the two of them are the same.

With both films, the love story is cheesy at best. Vicki Vale is just a damsel in distress for Batman to save. Batman Returns gives Selina a good amount of agency, and it doesn’t shoehorn in a happy ending. Burton may have been better off leaving romance out of the films but, to be fair, the second installment makes it meaningful.

An effective superhero movie also needs strong villains. None of the antagonists in Burton’s Batman films have particularly compelling motives, and this lack of intrigue hamstrings both movies.

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