10 Taboo Realities DC Followers Dodge About Tim Burton’s Batman Series

There are numerous aspects of Tim Burton’s Batman movies that many DC fans neglect to mention, instead focusing on other elements of the two-film arc.

Split image of Michael Keaton as Batman and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in front of a large Batsignal

Tim Burton’s Batman movies remain beloved even decades after their release, and there are many things that fans simply won’t admit about the director’s two movies centered on the Dark Knight. Batman is undeniably one of the most popular and recognizable heroes in pop culture, and his iconic status has transferred over to the big screen on multiple occasions. Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman and its 1992 sequel Batman Returns are considered some of the best Batman movies ever made, thanks largely to the director’s quirky gothic charm and unique vision.

Despite their continued popularity, the movies aren’t without their faults. In fact, fans of the characters and stories of DC Comics often overlook some of the weaker elements of Burton’s Batman movies, particularly as they have gained classic status in the years since their release. There are multiple issues with Burton’s approach to Batman and his world, particularly in relation to other actors’ versions of Batman when compared directly. With that in mind, here are 10 things that no DC fan will admit about Tim Burton’s Batman movies.

10. Michael Keaton Was An Odd Choice For Batman

Keaton Doesn’t Fit The Traditional Batman Appearance

Michael Keaton with remote-control Batarang in Batman Returns

There are many harsh realities about Tim Burton’s Batman movies, but perhaps the harshest is that their leading actor is an unsual pick for the role. Michael Keaton’s turn in the iconic cape and cowl has been much celebrated over the years, with many fans considering him their favorite version of the hero. Though Keaton is an incredibly talented actor who did well with Burton’s scripts, there are elements outside his control that make him a poor fit for the character.

In relation to the more traditional comic book version of the hero, Keaton lacks the physical features that would make him a perfect Batman. He’s not particularly tall or muscularly built, making him a less comic-accurate take on the imposing expert combatant the character is typically written to be. His performance may be very good, but the fact remains that he simply doesn’t inherently fit the role all that well.

9. Burton’s Movies Are More About The Villains Than The Hero

Burton Made Batman Take A Back Seat To His Antagonists

Jack Nicholson's Joker looks surprised in Batman 1989

Over the characters’ cinematic history, there have been many major villains in Batman movies, some undergoing multiple iterations across different decades and continuities. Burton’s main villains stand out, partly as they’re two of the hero’s most well-known adversaries. Batman featured Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and Batman Returns featured Danny DeVito as the Penguin. Burton’s takes on the two villains are unforgettable, and it’s fair to say that they steal the show from Keaton’s Batman.

In fact, Burton’s movies place more focus on the antagonist than they do on the hero himself. More time is spent exploring the characterization and motivations of the villains than on the hero, skewing the movies in the antagonists’ favor. Though it may have been an intentional choice by Burton, it ultimately undermines the overall feel of his two Batman movies.

8. Inserting Joker Into Batman’s Backstory Was Unnecessary

Having Joker Create Batman Was A Pointless Addition

Young Joker shooting the Waynes in Batman (1989)

Many actors have played the Joker in live-action, but Burton’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime was played by Jack Nicholson, and the director gave him a distinct backstory. Burton went further in exploring the villain than most iterations, establishing him as a member of an organized crime syndicate. The latter part of the 1989 movie reveals that it was in fact the Joker who murdered Bruce Wayne’s parents, thereby creating his own future nemesis.

This addition from Burton was entirely unnecessary. The Joker of the comics has had no concrete backstory over his long history, and the mystery of the villain makes up part of his appeal. What’s more, the cyclical nature of Joker and Batman creating one another in Burton’s movie is decidedly on the nose, and feels overly forced within Batman’s narrative.

7. Gimmicky Set Pieces Hurt Burton’s Gothic Approach

Burton’s Use Of Silly Elements Lessened His Movies’ Impact

Jack Nicholson as the Joker without makeup in Batman (1989)

Tim Burton is a director known for his willingness to include quirkiness in his movies, and for the general gothic vibe he inserts into his work. His Batman movies had plenty of both, establishing one of the most unique takes on Gotham City to appear on the big screen. Unfortunately, there are times when the two characteristic elements of Burton’s work begin to undermine one another.

The use of sillier set pieces – such as the Joker’s Smilex commercial or the Penguin’s car shaped like a large rubber duck – come across more as gimmicks than anything else. The extravagant nature of Burton’s villains works to undo some of the more serious elements of his two movies, with the antagonists’ heinous crimes all but forgotten after their ridiculous behaviors. Though Burton’s use of silly gimmicks in set pieces is certainly unique, it doesn’t entirely mesh with the overall tone of his Batman movies.

6. Burton’s Action Sequences Left Much To Be Desired

Batman’s Fight Scenes Were Incredibly Underwhelming

Michael Keaton's Batman battles Danny DeVito's the Penguin in Batman Returns

Batman may be the world’s greatest detective, but he’s also one of DC’s most skilled hand-to-hand combatants. Many of the most popular Batman stories share the focus between detective work and action, but the character’s cinematic outings often require more of the latter to appease audiences. Though Burton tried to do so in his Batman movies, he simply wasn’t able to achieve success in any real way.

The action sequences in Burton’s Batman movies are underwhelming, to say the least. In fairness, superhero cinema has evolved massively in the decades since, and expectations for superhero action have become far greater. However, compared to more recent takes on the Dark Knight, Burton’s movies feature very little genuine action, with many fights boiled down to lightly comic and cartoonish skirmishes that speak more to Burton’s quirkiness than his actual understanding of the character.

5. Burton’s Penguin Went A Little Too Far

Danny DeVito’s Penguin Seems Written For Shock Value

The Penguin talks to an advisor in Batman Returns

Over the years, many actors have played Penguin in live-action, but Danny DeVito’s version arguably remains the most memorable. In the comics, Oswald Cobblepot – A.K.A. The Penguin – is a crime boss of diminutive stature with a penchant for birds and all things bird-related. Burton opted to lean further into the idea for his own version of the character, and in doing so, went entirely too far.

Burton’s take on the Penguin is characterized as utterly cartoonish and almost inhuman, having been raised by penguins in Gotham Zoo. The villain’s unpleasant and unhygienic habits involve eating raw fish and drooling black goo, which, combined with the decision to push his design into gothic monster territory, make him a truly uncanny villain. Rather than attempt some semblance of comic accuracy, Burton opted for pure shock, and the resulting character hasn’t aged as well as many fans believe.

4. Burton Never Addressed Batman’s Central Dilemma

The Dichotomy Of Bruce Wayne & Batman Should Have Been Explored

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne in Batman costume in Batman

Tim Burton creating a rich and vibrant take on Gotham City for his Batman movies to occur in, and he also conceptualized creative takes on many popular Batman characters. For all his world-building, Burton seemingly forgot to explore one of the key facets of Batman’s character: his dual identity. In the majority of Batman stories, there’s an inner conflict as the result of his two starkly different personas, with a constant fight to achieve balance between the life of Bruce Wayne and the crusade of Batman.

Burton’s movies do practically nothing to truly explore the main character’s difficulty leading such a life. There’s very little examination of Batman’s dual identity at all, with the hero seemingly being somewhat at peace with his place in the world as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. This may allow Burton’s story to speak for itself, but it also makes his take on Batman ring somewhat hollow in comparison to so many other versions.

3. Tim Burton’s Batman Had An Unsustainable Villain Approach

Killing Off Iconic Villains Would Never Have Worked Long-Term

Jack Nicholson's Joker Dies in Tim Burton's Batman 1989

One of the most frustrating elements of Burton’s Batman movies is also one that DC fans so often overlook. Burton introduced multiple villains across his two-film narrative arc, including the Joker, Penguin, Harvey Dent, Catwoman, and original character Max Shreck. The director’s use of these villains, however, should have raised significant cause for concern, thanks to his habit of killing them off.

The ending of 1989’s Batman sees the titular hero kill Joker in their climactic battle when the villain falls from the roof of Gotham Cathedral. Batman Returns sees Penguin fall into contaminated water during a fight with Batman and subsequently die of his injuries. Max Shreck was also killed by Catwoman at the climax of Batman ReturnsBurton killed three major antagonists in the space of just two movies, highlighting just how unsustainable his approach to Batman’s mythos really was.

2. Keaton’s Batman Was Severely Underdeveloped

A Lack Of Character Development Made Burton’s Batman Less Interesting

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne looking confused in a tuxedo in Batman

The character of Batman is perhaps one of comics’ most complex heroes, as he’s molded by his childhood trauma into something that’s more than human, despite his own limitations. The complicated nature of Batman’s obsessive crusade on crime and his past is one of the most compelling aspects of his story. Sadly, it’s not one that Tim Burton opted to explore in any real depth.

Burton’s two movies do very little by way of development for Bruce Wayne or Batman. He doesn’t evolve as a hero, and he doesn’t evolve as a philanthropist. Instead, Burton’s hero is introduced fully formed, and he stays that way as Gotham’s streets are flooded with a variety of criminals. Michael Keaton’s turn in the role is decidedly iconic, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the overall narrative makes Batman one of Burton’s dullest characters.

1. Burton’s Movies Are Still Some Of The Best Batman Stories In Cinema

Batman & Batman Returns’ Quality Are Often Overlooked

Michael Keaton as Batman smiling in Batman Returns

Though many DC fans seem all too happy to overlook the flaws of Burton’s Batman movies, they also appear content to not afford them the reverence they deserve. While they are widely appreciated, they aren’t always considered fairly among more recent iterations of the hero as groundbreaking adaptations of DC characters. For their time, Batman and Batman Returns helped to develop the modern superhero genre by bringing the comics to life in live-action.

Burton’s movies may not be perfect, but they still rank among the most inventive comic book adaptations of all time. The two stories brought many Batman characters to life in a unique and unforgettable fashion, and also delivered a distinct and atmospheric exploration of Gotham City and its most prominent figures. Though it seems all too obvious to some, there are other DC fans who fail to admit just how good Tim Burton’s Batman movies actually are.

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