DVD Dungeon: Schumacher’s Batman films

This week's DVD Dungeon remembers a time when Batman was distinctly uncool...

Batman & Robin

July sees the hotly anticipated The Dark Knight finally land on our cinema screens. Certainly from a personal point of view, it’s the film I’m betting the farm on this year. Its release also brought to mind the other Batman films that we’ve been previously treated to.

It’s generally regarded that Michael Keaton’s efforts were, and still are to a certain extent, decent incarnations of the black bat. It’s also common knowledge that Joel Schumacher’s efforts were not.

It’s easy to forget that Schumacher had previously directed the brilliant St Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys and Falling Down and has since gone on to make one of my favourite war movies of all time, Tigerland. For the facts of the matter are that if you watch his efforts starring the caped crusader – Batman Forever and Batman & Robin – it’s inconceivable that they were made by the same director.

The problems with both films are so multi-layered, it’s best to break down the points.

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1. Problem one: Getting dreadful performances from great actors Val Kilmer and George Clooney have both produced performances before and after their Batman roles that prove what great actors they are. Whether it be playing Jim Morrison, Doc Holliday, Seth Gecko or Archie Gates, each has proven their acting wares on the biggest stage. So why is it then that despite a wealth of source material, both look as though they’ve only just left Uncle Harry’s school of acting, having achieved barely an E grade between them?

The Cloondog is often unfairly tagged as the worst performance of the pair, but for me Val Kilmer deserves the award. Clooney was playing it for laughs, whether you agree with the direction or not (and just to make it clear I really don’t). Kilmer on the other hand clearly tried to imbue some of the angst-ridden trauma inherent in Bruce Wayne, and utterly failed. Charmless, unlikeable, and rather slimy, this is a Bruce Wayne totally unrecognisable from the chap we have all come to know.

2. Employing dreadful actors in other roles Chris O’Donnell. Alicia Silverstone. Uma Thurman. Jim Carey. Nicole Kidman. That’s a list of Hollywood stars that would make anyone reach for the hills. Batman & Robin in particular is a shocker, with O’Donnell and Silverstone making you want to cheerfully throttle the casting director. Thankfully, they’ve done precious little since.

3. Superheroes going camp-tasticTaking the wrong direction with everyone’s favourite tortured superhero, Schumacher opted to make him and the universe around him camper than a day out with The Village People at a gay pride parade. Gritty action is replaced with cartoon-like shenanigans as all concerned with these films wanted to please the kids following concerns that Batman Returns had alienated younger audiences. Particular scenes that stick in the mind are any of Carey’s ridiculously over the top performance as the Riddler, the leather-clad bottom and breast close-ups in Batman & Robin, and Ah-nuld’s Starlight Express-like goons. Oh, and the ‘comedy’ sound effects in Batman & Robin really don’t help matters.

4. What’s with all the colour?It’s medically proven that if you watch both Schumacher’s Batman films back to back, you’ll experience a headache so severe, your eardrums will burst and your eyes will pop out. When I say medically proven, I mean completely made up, but still a valid point I think.

For some odd reason, the director decided that a garish, fluorescent palette was the way forward for the franchise, the way to mark these out as his interpretation of the legend. The ball in Forever. The freakish clown-thugs in Batman & Robin. The constant rainbow cascade of neon interrupting proceedings. Distracting and completely unnecessary.

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5. You can write this shit, but you can’t say it Scripts for both films throw up some dreadful prose but Batman & Robin takes all the honours here with some of the worst lines I think I’ve ever heard put to celluloid. While Robin’s “Cowabunga!” is a real standout moment, it’s Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze who takes all the plaudits. Step forward Ah-nuld:

“What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age.”

“Let’s kick some Ice.”

“Ice to see you.”

“I’ll kill you next time.”

And the prize for the worst line in superhero cinema history is…

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“If revenge is a dish best served cold, then put on your Sunday finest. It’s time to feast!”

Quite apart from all the awful dialogue, the film’s plots are also woolly, throwaway shit biscuits of cinema.

It took eight years after Batman & Robin for audiences to be treated to a decent interpretation of the caped crusader. It will take me far longer to forget how Schumacher nearly killed the superhero franchise off entirely.

Alarmingly, you can purchase both films as special edition DVDs from all good retailers.