Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is still one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time.
Whenever one thinks of the Christmas movie genre, many great films come to mind. Some of them include classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Home Alone. While films like those truly evoke the Christmas spirit through-and-through, some movie buffs often get into debates about films in other genres that may not come across as explicitly Christmas movies, but are considered part of the genre due to the fact that they merely take place during the holiday. Die Hard is perhaps the most common film to be associated with this reputation of being a Christmas movie by virtue of its setting, but beyond the pop culture trivia element of that fun fact, the film is primarily remembered as one of the greatest action films of all-time. So based on these arguments, where does this place Tim Burton’s Batman Returns?
Released in 1992, Batman Returns is the sequel to Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman. Michael Keaton reprises his role as the Caped Crusader, and this time he faces off against two new foes: The Penguin and Catwoman, both of which are the product of iconic performances from both Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer respectively. Batman Returns finds Gotham City celebrating the holiday season, and Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), a wealthy businessman dubbed “The Santa Claus of Gotham,” seeks to overtake the city for himself.
Right off the bat (sorry), Tim Burton’s signature style covers Batman Returns from head-to-toe. While his 1989 film was more restrained from his eccentric, whimsical tone, Batman Returns completely envelopes itself within it. The Christmas setting helps bring Gotham City to life in a way that’s rarely been seen, particularly in live-action form. The use of the holiday season tied in with Tim Burton’s knack for darker and eccentric storytelling as well as Danny Elfman’s iconic score parallels with another one of Tim Burton’s most iconic productions, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Many of Tim Burton’s films tend to have a gothic aesthetic, with cinematography that often feels cold in its presentation. So cold, that the viewer may feel the need to keep warm with a blanket. In the case for Batman Returns, this is used to perfect effect given the nature of the story’s setting as well as how we encounter certain characters amidst the environment. For one, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough) is shown trimming the Christmas tree in Wayne Manor. Plus, the fact that Christopher Walken’s character Max Shreck is a greedy tycoon dubbed “The Santa Claus of Gotham” speaks for itself.
Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is more than just a superhero movie that also works well for the Christmas genre. It’s a unique film that explores its villains deeply as tragic, lonely misfits trying to find meaning during the holidays. In many ways, it passes the “Christmas Movie Test” that goes beyond the typical loophole in which it must take place during the holiday and succeeds thanks to the director’s iconic style perfectly evoking the spirit of the holidays in more ways than one.