Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Defense of Joel Schumacher

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 Burton and Michael Keaton were interested in coming back for a third film. But, the studios had concerns about getting another movie like Returns. When director Kevin Smith was brought onboard by the studio to write for their new Superman movie, he described the script they were developing as “very campy, like a Superman version of the old Batman TV show.” The studio wanted bright colors and smiling faces to put on their posters. And Schumacher gave them what they asked for, right up to the canted angles on the villains. But, he also had some creative freedom on the films and while he did ramp up the camp, he also tuned up the sexuality of the films, taking it from black latex, whips and Kim Basinger to lingerie, plunging necklines and Elle MacPherson. And yes, of course, nipples of the suits.

This is undeniably sexy.

This... not so much.

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 midnight all those memories will be erased. Talk to you tomorrow, same bat time, same bat blog.


The Mad Hatter said...

DEFENDING Joel Schumacher!!??

That, my man, is maverick bloggerism.

Great piece, I'm beginning to think that I'm one of the very few who actually enjoyed BATMAN FOREVER. It was a mess, but at least it was a fun my seventeen year-old eyes anyway.

Gotta love that soundtrack though!

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I love Batman and Robin.

Always winterize your pipes.

Michael J. Mendez said...

Hey, those movies are awful guilty pleasures. But, I think it's unfair to point the finger at Schumacher is all. Yea, I dig Forever, but it's a terrible film. But neither of them are Schumacher films.

My name is Big Mike. Learn it well, for it is the chilling sound of your doom.

elgringo said...

Alicia Silverstone was the reason I saw Batman and Robin. Seriously. My childhood crush stemmed from Aerosmith videos all the way to this movie and powered through until Blast from the Past.

Does the movie suck? Many would say so, but there is no arguing with the power of a childhood crush.


Michael J. Mendez said...

Alicia Silverstone did having it going on back in the days. But, her character was woefully underwritten and she's just a bad actress. That being said, I still own every Mariah Carey album, so yes, a childhood crush can captivate and control you completely.

Anonymous said...

Ah, my boys!!! Batman and Robin, yes I remember it well ....And aren't they good looking guys????

Love you,
Mike and Matt's Mom

Furious D said...

Defending Joel Schumacher!

I used Batman Forever as a model of how not to make a comic book movie.

Fletch said...

I actually don't think Forever is a third the travesty that the 4th film is. That shit went off the rails stupid.

The third just tried too hard to be too clever, too actiony, too many characters (the downfall of just about EVERY superhero franchise - why do they feel the need to overload?).

Though I can't complain about nipples on the Batgirl suit. I'll mark both those pics as sexy.

Oh, and I had a big time crush on Silverstone as well, though I wasn't a child. I was her age. Mmmm - Cryin' video.

Michael J. Mendez said...

Forever isn't a terrible movie, it doesn't really hold up. None of them do now actually.

Forever had WAY too many characters, heroes, villains, villain's sidekicks, etc. Oh, where did they go right?