When it comes to comic books, everyone has their favorite superhero. Some prefer Spider-Man. Others are more of a Superman type. But most people who I have spoken with over the years are Batman fans. What’s not to love? By day, he is billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. But when the sun goes down, he dons cape and cowl and fights crime as The Dark Knight Detective!! One of the things that drew me to Batman was the fact that he is basically what any one of us could be given the motivation and opportunity. Instead of super powers of any kind, he battles villainy with sheer athletic prowess and unparalleled martial arts skills, a keen analytic mind as well as an array of impressive gadgets.
Arguably Batman has had the most on-screen appearances of any other superhero that immediately springs to mind. There was the 1966 movie starring Adam West, the 1989 – 1997 films with Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney, the Nolan trilogy featuring Christian Bale and the soon-to-released Batman VS Superman starring Ben Affleck. While the latter has yet to be seen and the original mention is unquestionably iconic and campy in it’s own right, it is the 1989 – 1997 grouping that brings up the most commentary and fervor among die-hard Batfans such as myself. That is the grouping of movies on which I’d like to focus on for the purposes of this particular entry.
I should think one would be hard pressed to find someone who claims that, of these 4 films, the first 2 which were directed by Tim Burton were not the best of the group. The original 1989 film starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson was both record-breaking and ground-breaking in many aspects. It set the tone for all superhero movies to come. And then Joel Schumacher came along….. There were several reasons why Tim Burton did not come back for the remaining installments. One of the main reasons being that Warner Bros. wanted the films to move into being more “family friendly.” As a result, we ended up with garish colors, over-the-top sets and mediocre films (at best). Still, they are Batman films and I own them ALL on Bluray as any good Batfan should. 🙂 Now focusing in on these last two movies, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, is where the debate really gets good. Generally speaking, people quickly throw out Batman & Robin as the worst of the series. I would argue quite the opposite! It is actually Batman Forever that is the lemon of the group. Allow me to elaborate:
First, I’ve always said that anybody can put on the suit and be Batman. Playing Bruce Wayne is the hard part. George Clooney had the suave playboy thing down cold. Val Kilmer, in many of his scenes, looked like he was more or less trying to be Michael Keaton playing Bruce Wayne. Secondly, I would point to the horrible way in which the character of Two-Face was handled. (A.) Two-Face is one of Batman’s most formidable opponents and they end up treating him like Riddler’s sidekick. (B.) They get a powerhouse actor like Tommy Lee Jones to play the part and then waste it by making him some psychotic, giggling goon. I suppose it’s just one of the unfortunately side effects of trying to cram too many super-villains into one movie. (Even if Tim Burton did manage to get it right in Batman Returns.) And let’s not forget the invented love interest. There is no such character in the DC Universe as Dr. Chase Meridian. (This would be a sticking point for me as well when it comes to the character of Rachel Dawes in the Nolan films, but there was so much awesomeness there, I could let it go.)
Now: here’s what Batman & Robin got right. First of all, everyone loves to blame George Clooney for killing the franchise. And, yeah, being the fall-on-your-own-sword” kind of guy Clooney is, he’ll even be willing to take the blame. But, as I stated earlier, he played Bruce Wayne perfectly!! The fault for the dialogue can’t be assigned to the actor. Nor can poor direction and storyline. Again, all of that rests mostly with Mr. Schumacher. Another problem people seem to have is with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Mr. Freeze. However, prior to the movie, the character of Mr. Freeze had just been re-invented and the costume and Schwarzenegger’s take on the character (puns notwithstanding) were not all that bad. I also liked the rebellious push between Robin and Batman. This dynamic did a great job of playing up the Jason Todd aspect of the character since this Robin was meant to be a conglomeration of the first 3 Robins from the comic books.
Was it a great movie? No. After all, Batgirl is daughter of the police commissioner, not the niece of Bruce Wayne’s butler. And Bane had just masterminded the downfall of Batman in the comic books, but here in Joel Schumacher’s vision, he was just the grunting toady of Poison Ivy. Batman & Robin was campy, cheesy and way, way, way over-the-top. But I still say it was a notch above Batman Forever. Say what you will. I refuse to be convinced otherwise.