Batman Retrospective: The Joel Schumacher Years – Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997)

Batman Forever

Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle

Batman Forever

Batman Forever (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writers: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman

Director: Joel Schumacher

Viewed: Tuesday 24 July 2012 @ Home on Blu-ray.

I’ll begin by admitting that Batman Forever was my favourite of this series when I was growing up, and I found myself being able to recite more than a couple of the lines during my most recent viewing. Released in 1995 it came out when I was nine yeas old and just beginning to discover my love for movies and the cinema (I can still remember collecting the promotional glasses that McDonalds released alongside the film. A nice moment of nostalgia when these are shown during a featurette in the special features), one reason for this Batman appealing to me so much I guess is because it is a movie aimed more toward the age group that I was when it came out, when compared to the previous two. Right from the opening line about getting drive-thru in the Batmobile, we know we’re in for a very different ride than the one Tim Burton had taken us on.

Val Kilmer has taken over from Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight and he’s busy fighting his demons with some help from Dr Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman wearing only a nightgown or less for most of the movie), a psychiatrist with an obsession for men in rubber, when he’s faced with the menace of Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), the former District Attorney who had acid thrown on him and now takes his psychotic, schizophrenic tendencies out on the citizens of Gotham, and The Riddler (Jim Carrey) a former employee of Wayne Enterprises with an obsession (lots of that going on) with both Bruce Wayne and cutting letters out of magazines. While the two new baddies are teaming up to discover the true identity of Batman, Bruce Wayne is taking on Dick Grayson, an acrobat left orphaned by Two-Face, who will be Robin.

Batman Forever is actually a fairly decent movie. After two outings in Burton’s darker, more adult Gothem, the Studio wanted something that would appeal more to families and be easier to promote. Schumacher succeeds in putting his own spin on the world by delivering both a brighter, flashier Gotham and Batman, while also giving us a Bruce Wayne that is still tortured by the ghosts of his past and doomed to live a life fighting them. What happens here is really nothing more extreme than the change we see to Harry Potter’s world between Chambers and Azkaban, and Schumacher perhaps doesn’t quite deserve the rap he sometimes gets for this.

As always, the villains are played to complete-over-the-top-extreme by some talented actors. Tommy Lee Jones really can’t be bad in anything and he seems to be having some awesome fun here. He throws everything into his Two-Face and doesn’t let some heavy makeup that means half his face can hardly move effect what he brings. Jim Carrey is playing the character that made him a huge star through the 90’s, before anyone realised he could play serious. This could just as easily be Ace Ventura or The Mask Vs Batman. He is great at his “rubber face” routine though and bounces off Tommy Lee well. The Batman movies had always made great casting choices with their villains and it’s no exception here. Some particularly outstanding costuming for them both helps pull it all off as well. The Riddler even has a good scheme, stealing the intelligence of the City’s residents and seeing into their minds (via a blender-looking contraption of every television beaming to a super-big-blender-looking contraption an his custom-made island. Sounds like the life, no?). The Riddler is an interesting character because he’s the first Batman baddie we’ve seen who isn’t turned into a super villain by some traumatising, damaging experience. He’s just an evil, crazy guy who wants knowledge and power. Two-Face doesn’t have much reason for doing anything other than being scarred, fucked up, and hating Batman (there’s a whole Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote thing going on between the two of them), though you have to forgive him because those are the motives of so many baddies in this world.

When it comes to the good guys, Val Kilmer does a convincing job of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, I like him in both roles here. He has to deliver some silly one-liners while also playing a man who’s haunted and unsure of his place in the world as either of his persona’s. Kilmer gets a chance to explore Wayne a little more than Michael Keaton ever did. Chris O’Donnell plays Dick Grayson as an angry, vengeful teenager who wants blood. Robin manages to be introduced into the story without harming the proceedings or bogging anything down (something Burton couldn’t manage). This new Gotham is the perfect environment to add the side-kick as someone for Batman to bounce off, I think this is another area where Schumacher deserves a little credit.

Michael Gough survives all the changes and Alfred even gets a little bit more to do this time around (though he should probs look in to that “Intruder Alert” system he has installed in to the Bat Cave. I love how it makes everything light up, activate and the Bat Mobile to rise up from it’s hiding spot. Exactly what you want an intruder to see.) . Pat Hingle doesn’t fare so well, returning with very little to do as Commissioner Gordon. This was one character that never got utilised anywhere in this series.

It’s a new Batman, a new side-kick, a new Gotham, and new villains, but it all works well enough. Schumacher amps up the colour and the action to entertain a broader audience but still delivers a show that fans can really enjoy. Now that I’m a little older and a little wiser though, I can’t help but appreciate the Gotham Tim Burton created just a little bit more. The tone, look, feel and story he brought to a Batman that nobody expected (as well as some electrifying villains) set a standard that the flash and bang of Schumacher (no matter how much fun it is to watch) can’t achieve. For all these reasons I give Batman Forever 3 ½ Rant and Rave Points.

Batman & Robin

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle

Writer: Akiva Goldsman

Director: Joel Schumacher

Batman & Robin (film)

Batman & Robin (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Viewed: Friday 27 July 2012 @ Home on Blu-Ray

Well. Batman & Robin. Universally renowned as the Worst Batman Movie Ever. And it really is. There’s not a whole lot to enjoy here and a fresh viewing made me appreciate the eight year hiatus between this and Batman Begins, because Batman needed the rest.

Firstly, Batman himself. George Clooney is by far the worst Batman and Bruce Wayne we’ve seen. He has absolutely nothing behind the eyes when he’s wearing the mask and seems to spend much of his time staring ahead into the distance. His Bruce Wayne is just terrible. Aloof, suave, care free, he seems to have completely forgotten all the troubles of his past and now just enjoys running around dressed as a giant bat fighting crime. I’ll give him some credit and note that it’s obviously not entirely his fault that Wayne has been taken in this direction, but he really does nothing to help the character.

Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most iconic roles are those in which he says very little. There’s a reason “I’ll be back”, just three words, is his most famous line and that he was apparently paid over $21,00 per word for Terminator 2. Why then would you cast him in a roll with some of the worst one-liners in movie history? He is pretty damn terrible as Mr Freeze, the brilliant-scientist-turned mad-man after he falls into a tub of cryogenic liquid while trying to find a cure for a fictional disease his wife has (that causes him to put her in a tub of the same stuff that screwes him up. Will she be crazy if he ever gets her out of there??). It’s a shame really because it’s the first major miss-step in the casting of a villain that these guys have made. He still wrangles top-billing from George Clooney though, so good for him.

Uma Thurman fares slightly better as Poison Ivy. She at least doesn’t have as many shocking lines to utter and has the advantage of being the sexy but deadly vixen. Uma goes over the top, sure, but up against Arnie the performance seems so thespian that you love any time she’s on screen. Starting out as mild, meek Dr Pamela Isley, Ivy is created when Pamela discovers her boss injecting her experimental mixtures of plant toxins and animal venoms into prison inmates. He kills her by burying her in a grave of the same mixture. Big mistake. Now Ivy wants to create a floral utopia and is going about town seducing men and kissing them to death with her venom-lips. She also has a big Venom-enhanced henchman named Bane who’s strong and spends most of his time repeating one word instructions and smashing though things (making you appreciate what Nolan brings to the character in Rises).

When it comes to the side-kicks, Chis O’Donnell is pretty comfortable by now in his Robin roll. He gets to argue against the authority a little here in his battle with Batman lusting over Ivy (and respect), while also getting to become a bit of a mentor himself with the arrival of Barbara Wilson/Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone). Silverstone is horrible as Barbara. She doesn’t pull off the innocent-school-girl-to-hardcore-biker-chick transition and is completely unbelievable as Batgirl. There’s nothing about her that makes me think she could be out there kicking arse.

Schumacher seems to realise that the best surviving institution he has in this series is Michael Gough and Alfred becomes a big part of the storyline in Batman & Robin, getting some meatier scenes. His character is treated with the most respect out of anyone here. Pay Hingle gets the short end of the stick with Commissioner Gordon and gets even less dialog here than in Forever (he’s apparently not even guarding the Bat Signal anymore as it’s just lit up for no good reason when Ivy and Bane go up there to tamper with it).

There’s an interesting featurette in the special features on this disc where Joel Schumacher addresses a lot of the flack he’s received over the years for this movie. He admits that the Bat Mobile looks as ridiculous as it does so it would look better as a toy. The same with the Bat Gadgets. He concedes that the script was aimed more towards children who would also purchase the merchandise, acknowledges that the movie was pushed out to make money off the success of Batman Forever, but he also says that he still set out to make a movie that the fans could enjoy, and there he kind of fails. There’s a lot of action to be had here (right from the start in the impressive frozen museum set where the ice-skating baddies and heroes are obviously using roller-blades) but it’s more of the BAM! WHACK! POW! variety. The villains have interesting motives for there actions, but as intriguing as their back-stories may be, they’re the least impressive of the series. Batman is now just a strange rich guy who dresses in rubber fighting crime with the kid who lives with him, and there are so many neon lights and colours brightening Gotham city that you have to wonder how any of it’s residents ever get to sleep (this also seems to have seeped into the Bat Cave). For all these reason I give Batman & Robin 2 Rant and Rave Points.

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About Rant and Rave Reviews

I grew up in a smaller town and going to the movies was always my favourite thing to do. Whether it be with a large group of friends, in a twosome, or even as a one-some, it was always a couple of hours of escaping the world in to one designed purely for your enjoyment. I'm not necessarily a professional film, food or theater critic, but I certainly love all these things. I also have my opinions...which I love to have heard. I just wanted a way to get them out there. And so is born Rant and Rave Reviews. A chance for this (maybe not so) average 26 year old office worker in Brisbane, Queensland (having left the small town behind). I've been told plenty of times that I love a good rant so this is my chance to review my experiences about this awesome city. I'll always be honest and, in the end, give each of them an overall score out of 5 Rand and Rave Review Points. View all posts by Rant and Rave Reviews

One response to “Batman Retrospective: The Joel Schumacher Years – Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997)

  • DoctorRy

    I would come close to agreeing with everything you wrote here :) Batman Forever is a lot better film than people give it credit for, and Batman & Robin has pretty much no redeeming features (Alicia Silverstone looks hot in that suit but is terrible as Batgirl…)
    Thumbs up to you :)

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