director Joel Schumacher
Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin is considered one of the worst movies of the last 20 years, and it certainly was a franchise slayer, the final nail in the coffin of the original Batman film series. But you know, it’s predecessor, Schumacher’s 1995 movie Batman Forever with Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris O’Donnell…it’s pretty freaking bad on its own.
Now Joel Schumacher has made a lot of movies, D.C. Cab (1983), St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), The Lost Boys (1987), Flatliners (1990), Falling Down (1993), 8mm (1999), Phone Booth (2003) and Trespass (2011) to cherry pick a few. So whether he is remembered for those or other films or largely for his two completely awful Batman movies, history will have its say.
Apparently Warner Brothers wasn’t satisfied with the commercial performance of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) and had Burton merely produce the third installment. Michael Keaton, without Burton at the helm, decided to hand over the cowl and mantle of Batman to Val Kilmer, who stepped into the batsuit for this one film. And Warner Brothers had what the wanted, a more commercially successful film. But also a braying and annoying camp confection.
Schumacher dispatched the darkness of the first two Batman movies, focusing on the comic book colors and the Batman television show of the 1960’s for a colorful, theoretically more kid-oriented adventure film. Also a more fetishized Batman with shots of batsuit nipples, Kilmer’s rubberized butt, and codpieces. Apparently no one seemed to get along on the movie set either. Kilmer always has had a notoriety of being “difficult” but Jones was also apparently not the most magnanimous of personas either.
Largely it suffers from Schumacher’s camp approach and the resultant performances that he eked out of Carrey and Jones. Carrey in 1995 was just cresting in his career and this film did him no damage, only good. But he’s Jim Carrey circa 1995, whose overt and showy comic sensibilities made him a sort of Jerry Lewis of his day, loved by the masses, hated by any with taste (I personally was conflicted about him around the time. I’d discovered him early in the 1980’s and thought he was very funny, but by the 1990’s when he was finally getting his recognition, I could hardly stand him. I’m not sure where I sit with this anymore).
While Carrey’s performance as Edward Nigma/The Riddler was typical Carrey. Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face is totally God-Awful. Jones plays against type and the result is strained over-the-top screaming and (again) camp that is almost painful to watch. Especially in the scenes he shares with Carrey, it’s almost like you can see that Jones realizes that he’s not good at this super-villain stuff and Carrey is much more natural.
Actually between the two of them it’s amazing that there is anything left onscreen because they chew scenery like no one has chewed scenery before.
As for Kilmer, it seems like he hoped to be in a Tim Burton movie, not a Schumacher one. Schumacher made numerous snide comments about Kilmer, mostly based on personal dislike. While a lot of the actors here were at the tops of their games in 1995 and went on to more and more commercial and critical success, this was around Kilmer’s turning point toward career crash. He’s not bad in the movie, though.
Chris O’Donnell. Jeez. Maybe I’ll save criticism of him when we watch Batman & Robin. I, like a lot of people, just never liked the guy. Not necessarily for any good reason.
The whole film is a horror. The writing is trite and embarrassing. The performances over the top and blaring like a fire alarm. And the outright commercialism, adding characters (action figures) to an over-ripe stew of “too much is never enough” filmmaking…man. It’s terrible. Worse than I remember, honestly. In some ways it’s amazing that this film didn’t kill the franchise. My guess is that Carrey’s heyday popularity helped make this the financial windfall it was an set the stage for the final act.
Man oh man oh man.