Theory: Joel Schumacher isn’t totally to blame for “Batman & Robin”

By Christian DiMartino

Joel Schumacher died a few weeks ago… so, why am I just now talking about it? Well, if you MUST know, I got to thinking… and here we are.

Schumacher’s directorial career was a bit all over the place. Most probably associated him with the bad films to his name (the silly but ridiculously entertaining The Number 23, for example- guilty pleasure for me personally) while others probably choose to look at the good ones he churned out, like The Lost BoysFalling DownFlawless, and so on. Yet no matter what you associate his name with, there is always one movie to his name that, well… you’ll probably see it on his IMDb page and think, “He made THAT? Yikes.” It’s a movie so infamous that even the cast members have all apologized for it… and so has Schumacher himself. I, of course, am talking about Batman & Robin.

Many perhaps hated Schumacher’s Batman Forever too (I do not, but I can see why you may), but few comic book movies, or, well, movies, have gotten the reputation that Batman & Robin still has 23 years later. Man, do people hate this movie. Why? Well, simple: it’s awful. I admit that I admire the color scheme (Schumacher, even in something as goofy as The Phantom of the Opera, knew how to dress up a movie, at least), and it does border on “so bad it’s good” territory compliments of its horrible writing. Have I seen worse? Yes, but I have seen a lot of garbage people, and it doesn’t change the fact that Batman & Robin is a dumpsterfire. Many people are to blame- the actors (each either dull, over the top, or sometimes both), the writers (the ice puns… I’ll leave it at that), and of course, Schumacher. Yet seeing as he is the director, and he reportedly showed up to the set every day convincing people that “they were making a cartoon,” he would seem like the main one to blame. You made the movie, you approved of the script, and you directed this cast to say such cringeworthy drivel… and yet, after all of these years, I do not believe that Schumacher is totally to blame.  “What ever do you mean? What are you saying?” you may ask. Well, hear me out people: I have a theory.

Let’s first dive into the details of the original Batman film series. Before Christopher Nolan revived the character and saved the day (it’s kind of his thing), there was a previous Batman film series. Beginning with Tim Burton’s Batman, a smash-hit. I admit I wasn’t as interested in this film as a kid, for some reason, but as an adult, it’s a ball. Following that was Burton’s Batman Returns, which I think is unlike any comic book movie made to this day- it’s dark, it’s bizarre, it’s creepy even. It’s pure Burton, and personally this is my favorite of the original series… but it rubbed people the wrong way. The reasons why I enjoy it are the reasons why people in 1992 didn’t. They were creeped out, for reasons of grotesqueness and, even to a degree, kinkiness. And seeing as McDonald’s ruled the world in 1992 (I guess?), they figured that they couldn’t sell McDonald’s toys featuring characters that were grotesque and kinky. That, mixed with the timid reception, got Burton steel-toed out of the director’s chair and replaced with Schumacher.

Schumacher’s Batman Forever, like Batman & Robin, is campy and over the top. Yet it was my favorite as a child, and the one I have seen the most, because of my undying love for Jim Carrey. I think it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s definitely goofy, and, call me crazy, a good time. Yet Batman & Robin did what Batman Forever did, but it took it too far. Awfully far. Yes, both films were Schumacher’s doing, but maybe, just maybe, his Batman films wouldn’t have been so damn campy if it wasn’t for the fact that, well, that is what Warner Bros. and, I guess, McDonald’s wanted.

Right before Schumacher’s death, coincidentally, I began looking into a supposed 170 minute cut of Batman Forever. It was rumored to be significantly darker in tone. It also supposedly had more Jim Carrey (never a bad thing) and more character development and emotional context. With Schumacher’s death, this cut has made quite the brewhaha, and it turns out, said cut DOES exist. Whether or not we ever get to see it remains to be seen (do it cowards!), but this definitely did get me thinking… which, I know, is rare.

Sure a 170 minute cut would have its fair share of goofy moments, but from I gather, it seems as if Schumacher WANTED to make something similar to what Burton pulled off. He didn’t want the whole thing to be a camp spectacle. Yet test audiences, along with Warner Bros. and McDonald’s, shot it down, and ultimately cut 40 potentially promising minutes out of his movie. It was clear that they wanted something much lighter and goofy, a la Adam West. So, why else do you think that for his next film, he would deliberately go a fully campy route? Like, a really really campy route? Because THE MAN wanted him too. He tried to go for something else, and they weren’t having it, so rather than try to do his own thing, he made the movie that they wanted him to make, and…

Yeah, it was Batman & Robin.

I of course haven’t seen this cut of Batman Forever. Who knows, maybe it’s worse. All I’m saying is, at this point in time, I do not think Schumacher, in this case, is fully to blame. Doesn’t mean it isn’t an awful movie. It totally is. Yet THE MAN wanted him to make that garbage, and because of its failure we ended up getting The Dark Knight trilogy. A win for us, an L for Schumacher… but again, don’t think it’s totally his fault. The Bat Booty montages and Bat-nipples though? That… is another story.

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