Steve Beckley’s review:
Batman Returns is a step down from its predecessor, Tim Burton's Batman (1989). You can tell he had a bigger budget and indulged himself creatively more in this one. The makeup, set design, and costumes bring to mind the ghoulishness of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. Danny Elfman's again uses his great Batman theme but infuses it with a choir of Christmas magic.
Though there are three villains, I don't think that is the problem. Each of them have their primary motivations, but the problem might be that they have no previous connection to Batman- at least none quite as strong as the Joker's past as the murderer of Batman's parents. Catwoman comes the closest in her alter-ego's dates with Bruce Wayne but they didn't really have much chemistry.
Batman/Bruce Wayne takes a back seat to the villains seemingly in screen time and in the development of his character. The filmmakers go through a lot of trouble to have the Penguin and his gang frame Batman for murder and mayhem, but that plot thread just seems to be dropped. It's like the citizens of this Gotham have a super brief attention span. The viewer can have a short attention span and enjoy this movie though, because it is fast paced. Maybe not as fast paced as the first one, because there does seem to be more dialogue (more villains = more things to discuss.
Christopher Walken's Max Schrek is my favorite villain in the movie, which might seem strange, but the others were just so over the top cartoony. The Penguin is my least favorite. I enjoyed him more as a kid, but now I'm just distracted by all the things about him and his life that are not grounded anywhere near reality and are easy to nitpick (his hideout, the umbrella copter.) Selina Kyle/Catwoman was very over the top, both as an awkward secretary and as a feminist re-venger. Michelle Pfeiffer did an amazing job pulling it off. Still, as in the first installment, the character that grounds the hole thing is Michael Gough's Alfred. Most amusing are the scenes where he has to hear Bruce or Selina come up with excuses for skipping out on each other, and ends up finishing their sentences.
I think Batman Returns is very enjoyable as a kid or upon first time watch, most due to the Burton design elements. Upon re-watches it loses some magic for me, but it is still a lot of fun because of the nostalgia factor and because I love the character of Batman. Winter and Christmas were more identifying factors than Gotham itself- the out-of-time city from the first one. The snow sets it apart, but it also makes it a lesser film because of how much I liked the former Gotham.