Batman: The Joel Schumacher Years

Batman Forever

“Batman Forever” (1995)
Directed by Joel Schumacher,
Starring Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent / Two-Face,
Jim Carrey as Edward Nigma / The Riddler,
Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian,
Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

As a response to the highly controversial and overly morose “Batman Returns,” Warner Brothers produced “Batman Forever,” a flashy popcorn movie with Joel Schumacher at the helm. Tim Burton was the executive producer, but I have an inkling that he didn’t have too much creative input. Audiences looked to past Joel Schumacher films such as “The Lost Boys” and “Flatliners” for reasons to be optimistic. Before there was IMDB, you would scope the posters in theaters to see which movies were “coming soon.” The teaser poster of “Batman Forever” was ingenious. The Batman logo was surrounded by a question mark. You knew that The Dark Knight was returning to the cinemas and that he would have to contend with The Riddler. Any questions?

Val Kilmer took over as Bruce Wayne / Batman. His interpretation of Bruce was closer to the comics than Michael Keaton’s in that he portrayed a brooding and lonely orphan who knew to always keep up his public image as a dashing playboy. Bruce Wayne was a recluse in the two Tim Burton movies, but in Joel Schumacher’s Gotham City, Bruce is the toast of the town. Conversely, Val Kilmer’s Batman was lacking in my opinion. He didn’t really seem like a “Dark Knight,” especially when comparing him to Michael Keaton. Once the cape and cowl went on, Val Kilmer came across as a generic Saturday morning cartoon superhero. It’s a good thing that he’d already played Doc Holiday to perfection in “Tombstone” and built up a lot of goodwill. I’m not going to comment on the nipples or enlarged codpieces that defined the Batman and Robin costumes in this flick. Enough had been said and written about over the years in regards to bat-nipples.

As I mentioned, everyone in Gotham City is entranced with Bruce Wayne, none more so than Edward Nigma, an underappreciated and somewhat unhinged technician employed by Wayne Enterprises. This was during the height of Jim Carrey-Mania. He had three massive hits in 1994, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “The Mask,” and “Dumb & Dumber.” Some have complained that he wasn’t menacing like Frank Gorshin was as The Riddler back on the 1960s TV series, but I think that Jim Carrey gave a decent performance. I surely preferred him to Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent / Two-Face. Whether Jones was trying to emulate Jack Nicholson’s Joker or he was fearful of being upstaged by Jim Carrey’s Riddler, he gave an uninspiring and cackling performance as Gotham’s disgraced D.A., with none of the pathos associated with the character. During promotional interviews, Tommy Lee Jones spoke of Jekyll & Hyde, but I saw none of that influence in his portrayal of Two-Face.

Tim Burton’s Bat-films are more highly thought of nowadays than Joel Schumacher’s glorified toy commercials, but back in 1995, audiences were digging “Batman Forever.” It was probably the second highest grossing film of 1995 (“Toy Story” being number one). Val Kilmer was a heartthrob for the ladies and Jim Carrey was becoming a mega star. So was Nicole Kidman, who circa 1995 was just about the most attractive woman in Hollywood. She played Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian. It’s hard to come up with a word that properly described her beauty at the time. Elegant? Radiant? Exquisite? I’ll go with exquisite. Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Nicole Kidman. Batman sure has a things for blondes back then.

What is there to say about Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin? The boy wonder had to be brought into the film series at some point. Yes, Chris O’Donnell was too old to be adopted by Bruce Wayne, but that was the 90210 trend in the early to mid-1990s. Twenty something actors cast as teenagers, so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

So, is Joel Schumacher history’s greatest monster as was stated on “Robot Chicken?” He turned Gotham City into a giant techno inspired nightclub with strobe lights in every direction. I guess it all boils down to personal preference. Myself, I prefer the Michael Keaton batmobile much more than the one in “Batman Forever.” I also prefer Danny Elfman’s score to Elliot Goldenthal’s. “Batman Forever” is entertaining, but was never my cup of tea even though Jim Carrey and Nicole Kidman elevated their star status by appearing in this movie.

Batman & Robin

“Batman & Robin” (1997)
Directed by Joel Schumacher,
Starring George Clooney as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze,
Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin,
Uma Thurman as Dr. Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy,
Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson / Batgirl,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

Yikes. Criticizing “Batman & Robin” is such commonplace, especially on the internet, that there’s virtually nothing negative left to say. I’ll just do my best to find some new and exciting ways to bash this piece of crap… This insult to the Batman mythos. I went easy on Joel Schumacher when it came to “Batman Forever,” but he’s left me with no choice this time around.

This movie never even remotely took itself seriously. There were far too many failed attempts at humor. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze had 23 (by my count) lines of dialogue which were ice related puns!!! And I don’t know what was going on with the production design. The Mr. Freeze suit looked utterly ridiculous. A real clunky mess. I guess that Uma Thurman was so-so as Poison Ivy, or at least she was no worse than the other cast members.

George Clooney, who is now a huge star, was quite simply miscast. Sorry. He’s fine as a billionaire playboy, the part he was born to play, but he was a lackluster Bruce Wayne and there was no attempt made whatsoever to effectively portray The Dark Knight. His Batman was nothing more than George Clooney in a cape and cowl. This movie is filled with borderline unwatchable action sequences like the batmobile driving across a giant statue of a naked man. The animated “Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero,” which was released on VHS around the same time, had more substance to it than this live action atrocity.

Akiva Goldsman, co-writer of “Batman Forever,” penned the screenplay of “Batman & Robin” on his own. This movie actually had a screenplay? Well, an uninspired one to say the least. Speaking of uninspired, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl was what is known as uninspired casting. She wasn’t even Jim Gordon’s daughter. And don’t even get me started on the characterization of Bane. Since when is Bane a grunting simpleton? He’s suppose to be a Latin Hannibal Lecter, jacked up on steroids.

Commissioner Gordon, played by Pat Hingle, never had too much to do in this Burton / Schumacher series. He and Michael Gough were the only actors to appear in all four of the films. In “Batman & Robin,” Commissioner Gordon was made into a complete and utter buffoon, though Michael Gough had some nice moments. Bruce sitting beside the deathbed of Alfred was the only redeeming scene in this film. It’s only fair that I point out something positive.

Back to the negative. There was a motorcycle race with Coolio as the emcee. Give me a break. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson bicker like an old married couple. I guess that’s reasonable since Bruce has created a surrogate family for himself and families will have their disagreements and argue from time to time. I cannot, however, defend those silver suits and a bat-zamboni? Why would Batman have ever constructed a zamboni? I can understand all his other bat-vehicles, but a zamboni? And what’s with the silver suits? Were they special anti-freeze suits? Give me one damn line of dialogue to justify these new suits.

The legacy of Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin” is that it killed the franchise (for eight years). A fifth film, “Batman Triumphant,” was to have featured The Scarecrow as the main antagonist and possibly the return of The Joker. Those are my two favorite members of the Rogue’s Gallery and would’ve enjoyed seeing them in the same movie. “Batman Triumphant” was cancelled because of the negative response to “Batman & Robin.” From the ashes would rise Christopher Nolan to give us a new beginning to the Batman cinematic saga.

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About domcappelloblog

New York based screenwriter.

Posted on June 30, 2013, in Batman, DC Comics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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