Re-watching the two Burton "Batman"s I was shocked to find I liked "Batman Returns" more than the 1st. True, the film has nothing to compare with the wonderful over-the-top craziness of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, but in some ways Nicholson so overpowered the 1st film that it felt out of balance. At the same time, and – for me – even more problematic were the very un-Tim Burton like touches (the Prince songs? the endless, not very exciting climactic battle, the weak CGI) that seemed grafted on to make some studio executive happy.
"Batman Returns" seems much more a Tim Burton film; weirder, more perverse, funnier and more unpredictable than its predecessor. While the film lacks Nicholson's magic, it gains a great, funny, and twistedly sexy performance by Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, her dark, dual personality mirroring Batman/Bruce Wayne's schizophrenic existence, and drawing these two "enemies" together like moths to flame.
Also fun and often fascinating are Danny DeVito's so pathetic you could almost like him, but so dark he's unredeemable Penguin. And Christopher Walken is a blast comparatively underplaying evil capitalist billionaire Max Schrek.
The film looks gorgeous, arguably better than the first. And if the production design can't match the grandeur of Anton Furst's sets for "Batman". these have a lot more Tim Burton surrealist fun-house/nightmare aesthetic.
What's missing is much of a clear plot, story elements coming and going a bit randomly. And, like the first film, "Batman" himself is made less interesting than the bad guys. But Burton has always been at his best exploring outsider characters, and creating nightmare dreamscapes, and he gets to do a lot more of that here. As one critic put it; this is a somewhat weaker "Batman" film, but a much better Tim Burton film.