Batman in Theaters Part 2 – The Burton/Schumacher run

In this part of my look back at how Batman has been portrayed in theaters, we look at the films from the ’90s (and 1989).  Those include the Tim Burton directed films Batman and Batman Returns, along with the Joel Schumacher films Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.  The animated Batman:  Mask of the Phantasm also was released during this time, but I’m going to hold off on featuring it until a later date.

The Burton films

Batman (1989)
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Jack Nicholson as The Joker/Jack Napier
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale
Robert Wuhl as Alexander Knox
Jack Palance as Carl Grissom
Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon

Batman tries to stop the Joker from poisoning the citizens of Gotham City, while also dealing with an investigative new love interest named Vicki Vale.

So, in this movie, Jack Napier/Joker is the one that killed Bruce’s parents.  I really don’t like that.  I just think that it turns the story of Batman wanting to stop crime into a story of Batman wanting revenge.  And why would Alfred just bring Vicki Vale into the Batcave.  Seriously, they’ve gone on a couple dates, and Alfred brings her in right after Bruce found out that Joker killed his parents.  That makes no sense.  Alfred wouldn’t do that because revealing that Bruce is Batman isn’t his call to make.  (Heh, just saw the scene in Batman Returns where Bruce questions Alfred about that.)

I still enjoy Michael Keaton’s performance in this movie.  To me, he’s the one that portrayed the difference between Bruce Wayne and Batman the best.  And I really don’t have a problem with Nicholson’s Joker in this movie.  It was a nice psychotic madman.  Maybe a bit silly at times, but you can get away with that with a character like the Joker.  Grant Morrison in Arkham Asylum described it best when he said the Joker’s mind is a jumbled mess, causing him to one day go on a killing spree, the next want pull silly pranks on everyone. 

Batman Returns (1992)
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Danny DeVito as The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot
Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman/Selina Kyle
Christopher Walken as Max Shreck
Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

Batman must stop The Penguin and Max Shreck from taking over the city, while Catwoman follows her own agenda.

I really have a problem with Catwoman in this movie.  I can accept that the near-death experience would change her personality.  What I can’t accept is that this near death experience caused her to suddenly become proficient with a whip and learn martial arts.  And sure, she could have known these skills before hand, but that makes even less sense.  And then she aligns herself with The Penguin in order to get at Batman, even though The Penguin is aligned with Max Shreck, whom she is trying to get revenge on.  It’s just weird.

Another question that bugged me is, why are there so many penguins running loose in the sewers of Gotham City.  Seriously, there really are a lot for a city that is in the continental United States.  I figured that if they were escaped from a zoo, that someone would be searching for them.  But no, there is a large flock of penguins roaming free in Gotham City.  And while we’re on the topic of penguins, I greatly prefer the business man Oswald Cobblepot rather than the monster that is presented here.  But maybe that’s the influence urban penguins have on babies.

Overall, the Burton movies, while I still enjoy them, I am noticing more things that bug me.  These movies are a bit silly.  The first movie has a bit of a dance scene, and a parade scene.  Sure, it’s the Joker, so it can be off the wall, but it’s still silly.  Batman Returns has a flock of Penguins with rockets on their backs, and guidance systems for themselves.  That’s downright silly.  Even if you accept that there can be that many penguins running free in Gotham.

Secondly, I used to think that Schumacher dramatically changed the design of Gotham City when he came in, but that’s not the case.  In Batman, Gotham looks pretty realistic.  However, in Returns, things start to take a turn towards the more outlandish.  There are statues and faces randomly inserted into walls that you would never actually find.  Sure, Schumacher upped the usage and added bright colors, but it starts in the Burton movies.

The Schumacher films

Batman Forever (1995)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman
Val Kilmer as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Jim Carey as The Riddler/Edward Nigma
Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face
Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian
Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson/Robin

Batman must take on Two-Face and The Riddler, who is trying to steal all of the knowledge in Gotham City, while helping an orphaned acrobat named Dick Grayson.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this movie, but I will mention Val Kilmer’s performance.  He was a fine Batman, but he was not a good Bruce Wayne.  Although, not all of that is his fault.  They had this sad, depressed Bruce Wayne, and it was really odd, that he would be all depressed and dealing with the memory of his parents now, in the third movie.  And I suppose you could say that the death of Dick Grayson’s parents brought up these memories, but that’s pretty flimsy.  And why not mention the stuff in the first movie, about how you ended up getting revenge for your parents.  Batman Forever wasn’t intended to be a reboot, so the events of Batman really did happen.

Batman & Robin (1997)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Akiva Goldsman
Arnold Schwartzenegger as Mr. Freeze/Dr. Victor Fries
George Clooney as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy/Pamela Isley
Chris O’Donnell as Robin/Dick Grayson
Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl/Barbara Wilson

Batman and Robin deal with a growing rift between them while trying to stop Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze from freezing the city.

Oh where to begin with this movie.  I’ll discuss the villains when discussing both films.  So, let’s discuss the heroes.  I didn’t really have a problem with Clooney in this movie, but you have to view him as an older Bruce Wayne/Batman, one that no longer has a need to be Batman, but rather someone that wants to be Batman.  A Batman that is ready to expand the family, so to speak.  Of course, that leads us to Batgirl.  Let’s just say it, Alicia Silverstone was not good in the role.  There are many reasons, the least of which was the history they gave her.  I could overlook different history so long as she was believable, and she wasn’t.  On a scale of believability, she was slightly higher than Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.

Making this movie more depressing is the fact that under the 30 pounds of crap that is the main story and villains, is a pretty good story about Dick Grayson growing up and wanting to move on, and become his own person.  Unfortunately, this is brought on by Poison Ivy.

Overall, both Schmacher films have terrible villains.  Well, they way they portray the villains is awful.  Honestly, Poison Ivy might have been the only good villain performance amongst them.  Everyone else was completely off character, generally by just being way too damn silly.  It’s as if Schmacher watched the Adam West Batman stuff, and decided that he wanted to make his villains just like that.  It’s terrible.  Two-Face, The Riddler, and Mr. Freeze are not goofy villains.  They are quite serious.  And don’t get me started on Bane.  I just don’t have the energy.  Let’s just say that I was not pleased that the person who orchestrated the destruction of Batman was turned into a mindless beast.

As stated earlier, I really like the way the setting of these movies look.  It’s too outlandish, and too colorful.  It’s simply too unbelievable.  Batman is the most real-world hero there is.  He has no powers.  Most of his villains have no powers.  There is no reason that you can’t make a plausible Batman movie.

Next time we’ll be looking at the Christopher Nolan films.


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