Having defeated the Joker, millionaire vigilante Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) continues to battle the criminals of Gotham City under the guise of the formidable Batman. Little does he know, however, that the fetid streets of the city are about to give birth to two more nefarious criminal masterminds. Abandoned by his parents as a child, the hideously deformed Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) has grown up in Gotham's sewers, his only friends a colony of penguins from the local zoo. Bitter and twisted, Cobblepot takes on criminal alias The Penguin and hatches a vile plot to take over Gotham.
Meanwhile, meek and mild secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) discovers that her boss, corrupt tycoon Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), is involved in a scheme to siphon off Gotham's power supply for profit; a discovery that gets her thrown out of a window by the ruthless mogul.
Miraculously surviving the fall, Kyle takes on even more feline characteristics as she becomes slinky villainess Catwoman and sets off on a crime spree that will bring her in league with The Penguin and claw-to-claw with Batman.
After 1989's Batman became a box office and merchandising bonanza, a sequel was inevitable and Tim Burton was clearly handed the keys to the candy store for this imaginative yet flawed follow up. Remarkable production design and enormous sets bring the director's wonderfully gloomy vision of Gotham to life, but the complex script makes a hash of juggling three separate villains.
While Keaton's frisson with the alluring, rubber-clad Pfeiffer adds spice to the proceedings, DeVito's plan to level the city with rocket firing penguins takes the film into ludicrous territory that even the original Adam West Batman TV show would have baulked at. That said, the performances are strong, particularly DeVito's repellent flipperfingered fiend and Pfeiffer's purr-fect Selina Kyle, the first-class costumes going a long way to selling their OTT characters. Meanwhile, Walken's silver-haired scoundrel gets lost in the mix slightly and Keaton is sidelined, and relegated to reacting to the antics of the much larger-than-life villains.
Ultimately, this is Burton's show, however, his foibles and preoccupations with unloved outsiders and life's dark cruelties taking centre stage. This may be to the detriment of the story, but Batman Returns provides a fine showcase for the director's sinisterly spectacular visual panache.