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In Batman Returns she is a lot more, thanks to Waters, who wrote Heathers, the brilliant 1989 tale of feminine competitiveness and desperation (and on Batman Returns got story help from Sam Hamm and dialogue "normalizing" from Wesley Strick). "We didn't want to make her a macho woman," he says, "or a sultry, coquettish uber-vixen curling on a penthouse couch. We wanted her tied deep into female psychology. Female rage is interesting: we made her a mythic woman you can sympathize with. Catwoman isn't a villain, and she isn't Wonder Woman fighting for the greater good of society. That has no meaning for a lonely, lowly, harassed secretary toiling away in the depths of Gotham City. But she does have her own agenda. She's nobody's toy. She's a wild card -- the movie's independent variable."
Waters sees the story of Bruce and Selina, Batman and Catwoman, as a parable of the strangers men and women are to each other. "In the daylight they have a sweet, tentative romance," he says, "but at night their ids are out, beating the heck out of each other. In costume the ids are active. No kissing there, only one good lick." It is the reverse of a fantasy like Pretty Woman. Pretty Woman goes into the store and shops; Catwoman goes in and whips off the heads of the mannequins. Julia Roberts tells Richard Gere she wants the fairy tale. Cat tells Bat, 'I would love to live with you forever in your castle, just like in a fairy tale. I just couldn't live with myself. So don't pretend this is a happy ending.' "
Batman Returns could mark a happy beginning for Hollywood -- not because it might make a mint but because it dispenses with realism and aspires to animation, to the freedom of idea and image found in the best feature-length cartoons. Most directors think pictures have to be anchored in the narrowest form of reality: the one that Hollywood has presented since the dawn of sound 65 years ago. Burton, once an animator at Disney, understands that to go deeper, you must fly higher, to liberation from plot into poetry. Here he's done it. This Batman soars.