Batman 1989-1997: From Burton to Schumacher Part 2

8 Mar

Tim Burton’s Batman films were met with critical and box office acclaim. Burton was contracted, along with Michael Keaton, to do yet a third entry, but Warner Brothers pulled Burton as director  and Keaton refused to reprise his role as Batman if Burton wasn’t in the director’s chair. As a result, Joel Schumacher was hired to direct, Tim Burton was set to produce, and Val Kilmer was to star in the 1995 film “Batman Forever.”

In “Batman Forever”, Gotham is in trouble yet again as former DA Harvey Dent/ Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones) teams up with Edward Nygma/the Riddler (Jim Carrey). Their plan is to use one of Nygma’s inventions which simulates 3D television to read the minds and gain the knowledge of the citizens of Gotham. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Kilmer) has to fight both of them while beginning a relationship with psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) and watching over Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) after Two Face kills his entire circus performing family, The Flying Graysons.

From the plot summary alone, you can begin to see that this movie is a lot less dark then the previous Tim Burton films, both aesthetically and contextually. Along with a more cartoonish plot and villains comes a much more cartoonish Gotham. The streets are lit almost entirely with neon lights and on particular gang is lit almost entirely using black light. This is a very interesting way to portray Gotham and the exact opposite of what Burton did.

Val Kilmer is ok as Batman, but his Bruce Wayne is a little on the dull side. It is clear the Kilmer is trying, but he just comes off as lackluster. Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are great as the villains, playing them appropriately over the top and fun to watch. Nicole Kidman is fine, but has some pretty cheesy dialogue that made me laugh a few times. Another cool aspect of the film is seeing Dick Grayson discover who Bruce Wayne actually is and find himself and his purpose through the creation of Robin,

“Batman Forever” is not a bad movie at all. Schumacher clearly has a completely different style than Burton, but it works on a whole. It’s also fun to see the differences between the two versions of Gotham and its characters. The colors are flashy, the action is fun, and the characters are entertaining. Unfortunately, Schumacher’s success was short lived.

In 1997, Schumacher completed and released the fourth film in the Batman series: “Batman and Robin.” In this film, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger)  is running amok in Gotham, stealing diamonds that he uses to power his “cold suit” and find a cure for his cryogenically frozen dying wife. Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) also struts onto the scene with Bane in an attempt to use Mr. Freeze to freeze all of Gotham so she can start to create a world ruled by plants. Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce (George Clooney) has to deal with Dick’s (Chris O’Donnell) rebellious attitude and Alfred’s (Michael Gough) worsening illness. Alfred’s niece, Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone), also shows up and soon discovers who Bruce is and becomes Batgirl.

Does this movie seem overstuffed? Well that’s the main problem. There is way too many characters, conflicts, action, puns, and bad dialogue. The movie itself almost becomes a satire of Batman lore. All Mr. Freeze says are bad puns about being cold, cool, chilly, or icy. That starts out as a silly joke but becomes annoying very quickly. There’s not much to say about Poison Ivy except that she was overdone and annoying. She struts across screen, says something seductive, and that’s it. Bane is just a mockery of the character he was originally made to be by making him seem like a strongman without a brain.

Clooney is a pretty good Batman, and really brings out the Bruce Wayne side of the character and Gough still makes the best Alfred. In fact, Alfred is the only character in this film that I cared about. O’Donnell’s Robin made me chuckle a few times, but is ultimately boring and repetitive. Alicia Silverstone served absolutely no purpose as Barbara Wilson or Batgirl and really did not need to be in the movie at all.

The psychology of the previous Batman films are thrown out the window and replaced with an overused and thoughtless theme of “family.” That might work in a number of different dramas, but not so much in a Batman film.

A fifth Batman film was planned, but after the overwhelmingly negative reviews that “Batman and Robin” got, the fifth film was cancelled. That pretty much sums up how horrible this movie is.

In the end of it all, Tim Burton’s Batman films are two examples of excellent comic book films. Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever” is entertaining whereas “Batman and Robin” is almost unbearable. Three out of four isn’t bad and more fun than annoyance is to be had with these films. I recommend “Batman” and “Batman Returns” very strongly to any comic book/Batman fan. Approach “Batman Forever” with some caution. Stay away from “Batman and Robin.”

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