What happened? That was the question many of us asked after Batman Forever and the question we didn’t even bother with after Batman & Robin. After a marketing campaign built around a question mark, the movie provided little answers.
The two films in the Batman canon from director Joel Schumacher were regarded first as something different, moving the franchise in a lighter direction and then as an unmitigated disaster, a movie to be ignored and apologized for. While I share those feelings as well, perhaps now is the time to look back at the Schumacher films and try to figure out what really happened with the movies, from the people involved to the creative process behind them.
To place the blame squarely on Joel Schumacher is completely unfair. People judge him as a director on these films alone. Briefly, the man has made The Lost Boys, Falling Down, Tigerland and Veronica Guerin. He can be just as dark, serious and violent as Tim Burton and I think, pushes himself to try different genres and styles with his films. So, why did Schumacher turn in two movies that were less Lost Boys and more unlike anything he had done at that time? I think we can attribute that directly to Warner Bros. After the dark nature of Batman Returns, they were clearly looking for a return to the lighter feel of the Batman TV show. It has been well documented that both
Furthermore, Warner Bros. flexed their muscle when it came to casting. They wanted huge names for their third Batman movie, the one they would have the greatest control over. Besides bringing in Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones and the hottest movie star on the planet (at the time) Jim Carrey to play the new villains, they cast Val Kilmer as Batman. They got a movie star to play a role bigger than any movie star. The casting of Keaton and later, Christian Bale tapped into the belief that an action star was not needed to play Batman, but someone who could tap into the emotional pathos of Bruce Wayne to give a performance that would gives audiences someone to care for under the cape. Which is not to say that Kilmer or George Clooney are not good actors, because both of them are very talented. But, they have larger than life personalities that most people were not able to dismiss when watching them on screen. Bruce Wayne is anything but public.
But, more importantly, maybe we should look at the stories themselves. In the third movie, by introducing the Robin character, the film had an opportunity to greatly expand on the Batman character and universe, by showing us the lighter side of Bruce. Sadly, this chance was missed. By casting Chris O’Donnell, the movie garnered zero sympathy for a twenty five year old orphan. The scripts moved away completely from the tone of the comics from Two-Face flipping his coin until he lands the desired result to using super soldier serum in completely changing the character of Bane. From skates and surfboards to the Batmobile climbing walls, even the action sequences could not suspend the belief of comic books fan, who live and die under the idea that a mask changes your facial features enough to avoid identification from loved ones. After Batman: The Animated Series had brought about a gradual change back to the tone of the books, the movies reversed course one hundred and eighty degrees from that and gave us one dimensional villains with complex costumes and dreadful dialogue. Courtesy of Akiva Goldsman, who has admittedly gotten better, the chilling villain dialogue went from “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” to “Ice to see you” and other cold weather puns.
So, the movies sucked. Who cares? Tonight at all those memories will be erased. Talk to you tomorrow, same bat time, same bat blog.