Tim Burton may be a legend to movie fans today, but there was a time when his controversy nearly wore out his box office welcome. In a new interview with Empire Magazine, on sale June 9th, the filmmaker is looking back at his time helming the Bat-franchise, recalling the criticism he endured for his artistic choices. As fans look back at Burton’s controversial sequel Batman Returns on its 30th anniversary, it seems the response to his films has come full circle, as evidenced by Warner Bros. bringing back Michael Keaton for its upcoming film The Flash. Burton himself is able to laugh at some of the experiences now, although a few things still sting the director, as MovieWeb reported. “Go f**ck yourself. Seriously,” the director said of the criticism he endured.
These days, we’ve gotten used to the darkly weird and wonderful in Tim Burton films, which made it possible for the new cinematic incarnations to go even darker, although they are often grounded in a realistic grittiness the Tim Burton films never embraced. In 1992, however, when Burton went even more twisted than his landmark 1989 blockbuster, fans and the studio recoiled. The pushback led Burton to walk away from doing a third film, with Warner Bros, making the fatal mistake of going campy with Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, which gave us the infamous Bat-Nipples on Val Kilmer’s suit. “That’s the funny thing about it,” Burton says today about the response to Batman Returns. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Okay. Hold on a second here. You complain about me, I’m too weird, I’m too dark, and then you put nipples on the costume? Go f**k yourself.’ Seriously.”
Batman Returns, though heralded for its characters and moody visuals, also raised controversy for its moments of shocking, mean-spirited violence and sexual innuendo. For a generation raised on Adam West’s Batman, many of the elements in the film were hard to accept. Even today, some of the content raises eyebrows. There’s a deformed baby in a cage that kills a cat, the Penguin bloodily tries to bite off the nose of a sarcastic campaign worker, and Michael Keaton’s Batman uses the Batmobile to set one of the Penguin’s goons on fire. And especially today, most of us would hesitate to laugh when Danny DeVito objectively tells Michelle Pfeiffer that she was “just the pussy I’ve been lookin’ for!”
Although dark, moody, and weird are staples of any Tim Burton movie, the director admits it was not his outright intent for the Batman films. There was a conscious effort to move away from the tone of the Adam West series, with some inspiration from the Neal Adams comic books of the 1970s. He called it a cinematic experiment, the results of which many weren’t ready for. “I’m not just overly dark. That represents me in the sense that… that’s how I see things. It’s not meant as pure darkness. There’s a mixture. I feel really fondly about it because of the weird experiment that it felt like.”
Post-9/11 movie fans are much more accepting of the darker tone of the Burton Batman films, and even Collider called Batman Returns the “best anti-blockbuster movie.” The director himself can now laugh at the response. At least a little. “It is funny to see this now, because all these memories come back of, ‘It’s too dark’, so, it makes me laugh a little bit.” Seeing Robert Pattinson play perhaps the darkest Dark Knight yet has created a fondness of sorts for the original trailblazer. Indeed, the fondness for the Batman Tim Burton created is evident in the response from fans upon hearing that Keaton would once again don the Bat-cowl in The Flash and Batgirl movies. Even Keaton himself has found personal and professional vindication, especially after being snubbed from winning the much-deserved Best Actor Academy Award in 2015 for his performance in Birdman.