Arguably Burton's most championed work, the film has a lot going for it. The cotton candy vision of suburbia was quite new in its time, before derivative crap like Cat in the Hat made it cliché. And Johnny Depp's performance remains the finest of his career -- innocence and loss perfectly realized in his pinched, silent-era expressions. Buster Keaton would be proud. But the critical giltterati chose to ignore the embarrassing final half hour in which the neighborhood bully, played with a fat layer of "must-rid-myself-of-16 Candles-awkwardness" ham by Anthony Michael Hall, gets in a deadly confrontation with Edward. All warmth and ingenuity are drained away as Burton hastily solves all problems with a standard-issue bad guy death. What a shame.
This late 80s hit could have been so much better. Burton clearly wanted to get back to the darkness of Bob Kane's original comic book series. But he couldn't completely escape a fondness for the "POW! SPLAT!" campy essence of the 60s television series. The result was a confused mess (as opposed to Christopher Nolan's brilliant films with Christian Bale). Burton got things right with the casting of Michael Keaton and the fetid stench of Gotham City's police corruption. He got things wrong with Jack Nicholson, whose performance went squarely for the Burgess Meredith/Frank Gorshin paradigm. Still, the biggest problem with Batman remains Burton's biggest problem as a director. He cannot stage an action sequence, even a little bit. When Batman takes "flight" or chases down a villain, the scene demands a fluidity and elegance commensurate with Anton Furst's grand guignol production design. Unfortunately, Burton resorts to inset cuts (see Batman lifting off, cut to his feet landing) which effectively kills rhythm and detonates the main character's almost superhuman physicality.
I have far more hope for Burton's next film, Frankenweenie, an allegedly animated remake of his cute 1984 short film. Pure animation, as opposed to the hybrid mess of AIW, clearly relaxes Burton. In this world, where he started his career as a Disney concept artist, he finds the emotional fringes of his characters. That's why The Corpse Bride remains Burton's best work.
Sometimes, it takes the stroke of a pen and the tap of a computer to find the beat of a heart.