Fresh on 4K: ‘BATMAN RETURNS’ – Holy high definition, Batman!

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

BATMAN RETURNS

Rated PG-13, 126 minutes.
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and Michael Gough

This is the second in a series of four reviews covering the 4K releases of the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher BATMAN films. 

Movie Grade: A

After the harrowing success of Tim Burton’s BATMAN starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, a sequel was inevitable. Warner Bros had found their tent pole blockbuster franchise and essentially told Burton that he could do whatever he wanted with BATMAN RETURNS. And boy, did he take their advice. BATMAN RETURNS is the epitome of a 1990s Tim Burton film. Its tone, subject matter, character and color palette are all gleefully dark. It has a hint of twisted comedy thrown in for good measure, much to the chagrin of Warner Bros. (who had heavily marketed the film as a light-hearted romp for the whole family).

After the events of the first film, Gotham has accepted Batman as the savior of their city. Crime has all but vanished from the city streets, and Christmas Day is around the corner. But good things can’t last forever. A monstrous crime lord that dwells within the sewers of Gotham is finally ready to come out to play, and only one man can bring him to justice.

Interestingly enough, Batman himself feels more like an obligatory inclusion rather than a protagonist in RETURNS. Burton seems far more interested in his villains than his hero. Danny DeVito delivers a bone-chilling performance as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin. His tragic backstory as an orphan abandoned by his family (for being an ugly baby combined with an atrocious penchant for sexual deviancy) simultaneously evokes sympathy and disgust from the viewer, and it’s brilliant. Another newcomer to the series is Selina Kyle/Catwoman, played to absolute perfection by Michelle Pfeiffer. Her transformation from a timid secretary to a leather-clad, psychotic cat burglar is truly a sight to behold.

BATMAN RETURNS is a masterpiece through and through. With cutting edge special effects and a wholly unleashed director free to fully embrace his vision for a genuinely nightmarish take on Gotham City, this is one of the greatest Batman films ever made. 

Courtesy of Blu-ray.com

Video/Audio Grade: A+

Like the other three films, RETURNS was derived from a native 4K digital intermediate, and the results are utterly superb. Skin textures and finer details on the various costumes all have the expected increase in clarity and sharpness, with Penguin’s Oscar-nominated makeup effects looking crystal particularly. The heavy use of practical effects in the opening action sequence on the streets of Gotham is bursting with detail. Snowflakes blow in the wind, dozens of extras run through the chaos, and the Batmobile tears into the fray as Batman straight-up murders a nameless henchman with the afterburner of his iconic vehicle.

Owners of the previously released Blu-ray version of the film will notice an immediate improvement in color depth, thanks to the inclusion of HDR10. Similar to its predecessor, there is a noticeable absence of Dolby Vision, but the HDR10 is more than enough for a premium viewing experience. Burton’s films are notoriously dark in tone and color, and the increased color pallet makes these shots incredibly vivid. With the three main characters, each clad in a combination of black and grey costumes, they thankfully never feel derivative of each other. 

The new Dolby Atmos audio mix will have your audio system running on all cylinders. The aforementioned action sequence in Gotham is gloriously realized on the audio side of things. Danny Elfman’s score soars through deep punches and high pitched screams and squealing tires. Additionally, the transformation sequence for Selina Kyle as she decimates her apartment is chillingly mixed. Overall, this 4K release is simply the greatest way to experience this Tim Burton classic. 

Extras Grade: B-

As with the previous film, the 4K disc only features the direction commentary track when it comes to extras. All other features are included in the packaged 1080p Blu-ray. The continuation of the “Shadows of the Bat” brings a sense of unity to these individual releases. It is too bad that the supplemental content is once again not included on the 4K disc, but it does look like this is becoming the industry standard for the foreseeable future. 

Full list of extras can be found below:

  • Audio Commentary: Director Tim Burton.
  • The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin
  • Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 4 – Dark Side of the Knight
  • Batman Returns: The Heroes
  • Batman Returns: The Villains
  • Beyond Batman
  • Music Video: “Face to Face” by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Grade: A-

BATMAN RETURNS is a gleefully dark film, and this new 4K remaster is by far the best the film has ever looked. Fans of the Bat should add this disc to their collection without a moment of hesitation.

BATMAN RETURNS is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

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