and lusts after his interns.
Remarkably, the film has a class conscience, too. Its real villain is neither the Penguin nor Catwoman but Christopher Walken's shock-wigged robber baron Max Shreck, named for the actor who played
Nosferatu but plainly modeled on a younger Donald Trump. He is, of course, another distorted mirror image of Batman - a Bruce Wayne looking to prey on the people instead of protecting them. "The law
doesn't apply to men like him," Pfeiffer's Catwoman astutely says of her boss, the man who pushed her out of a window to complete her supervillain origin story. Years before Christopher Nolan sent Bane to
occupy Wall Street, Burton more casually sent a jolt of class warfare through Gotham.
As an adaptation, Batman Returns plays as fast and loose as, well, the first Batman. Burton was quick to admit, in the memoir Burton on Burton, that he wasn't much of a comic-book reader - a confession
that underscored his disregard for canonical backstory and elements such as the character's traditional aversion to killing. For some diehards, his Batman movies are heresy. Certainly, they hail from a
less faithful or fan-pleasing era of comic-book blockbusters. Yet their exaggerated visual pleasures and splash-panel-sized performances have their own fidelity to the original medium, a kinship of pulp
spirit. They reject realism, which might be the more suitable approach to the story of a guy who dresses up as a bat to clobber those with a similar flair for the dramatic.
What really marks Batman Returns as a product of a very different age of superhero spectaculars is the decisive victory of authorship Burton claims over his borrowed intellectual property. Joel Schumacher,
Nolan, Zack Snyder, Todd Phillips - all these film-makers have found ways to put their own brand on the Batman mythos. But none of them so fully, successfully molded it into the shape of their own
preoccupations and obsessions. Batman Returns is a Tim Burton movie first, a Batman movie second. And to watch it today, at a time when finding the directorial soul of a superhero movie often requires some
true detective work, is to bask in the eccentricity of its achievement. The bat signal just can't compete with the freak flag Burton flies over the Gotham skyline.