June of 2020 is a sad month for Batman months. First, Dennis O'Neil passes away and now, Joel Schumacher has passed away, as well. Joel Schumacher was the director of two Batman films. He directed 1995's Batman Forever and 1997's Batman and Robin. After Batman and Robin came out, it became common to mock Joel Schumacher and make fun of him. I believe he didn't get the respect he deserved and I'd like to take a moment to reflect on what made Joel Schumacher a good director.
Believe it or not, Tim Burton wasn't a fan of comics. Although he did like Batman and the Joker, he wasn't a superhero expert. He still managed to make two amazing Batman films, but he was an unconventional choice. Joel Schumacher is a different story. He had grown up being a big fan of the Batman comics, similar to how Adam West grew up reading Batman comics. Joel loved Batman and when Warner Bros. decided they didn't want Tim Burton to direct a third Batman film, they went to Joel Schumacher. Joel was thrilled to be given the job. A lot of Batman fans seem to act like it's Joel's fault, that his two Batman films are so lighthearted and comedic. However, the blame deserves to go to Warner Bros. Tim Burton's second Batman film, Batman Returns, got good reviews, but caused controversy for being too inappropriate for Batman's younger fans. Batman Returns had a toy-line at McDonald's and parents were upset about a highly-adult film being promoted as a film that kids could watch.
Joel Schumacher actually wanted to make a serious adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One comic. However, Warner Bros. wanted a lighter, more kid-friendly version of Batman, in order to make more money and avoid causing controversy with parents. Joel did what the studio wanted him to do, by directing Batman Forever. Joel purposely made a more colorful and lighthearted Batman film. The gothic, menacing villains of the Tim Burton films were replaced with Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face and Jim Carrey's Riddler, who were very playful and silly. Tim Burton's murderous Batman was replaced with a more traditional and heroic Batman, who convinces Robin to not kill Two-Face.
Although Batman Forever didn't get good reviews, it made a lot of money. It had one of the biggest opening-weekends and Batman's younger fans seemed to enjoy the film. Due to Batman Forever's success, Joel got to direct a second Batman film, which was called Batman and Robin. Once again, Joel had a more upbeat and comedic Batman film. In fact, Batman and Robin is typically considered to be goofier and more kid-friendly than Batman Forever. The villains became obsessed with puns, Batman had a bat credit-card, Robin got his own signal in the sky, Bane became a simple-minded henchman and Mr. Freeze enjoyed singing songs from Christmas-themed cartoons. In other words, it was a campy film.
Batman and Robin wasn't a money-making hit, which led to Batman not having another live-action for over five years. Also, the film got terrible reviews. Batman and Robin was considered to be the worst Batman film and it's often considered to be one of the worst films, in general. Because of this, Batman fans and movie-critics gave Joel a hard time, for the next two decades. They acted like Joel ruined the franchise and some people jokingly called Joel the most evil Batman villain.
An important thing, that the critics and fans seemed to not be aware of, was that Joel Schumacher was a great person. He was kind, easygoing, respectful and almost-always had nice things to say about the people he worked with (Val Kilmer and Tommy Lee Jones both gave the crew a hard time, while making Batman Forever, so Joel, understandably, didn't get along with them). Joel has been very patient and calm, despite all the mean things people said about him. He even apologized for making Batman and Robin and apologized to Batman fans, for making a film they didn't like. It was never Joel's intention, to make films that the fans didn't like. He was just a hardworking and friendly guy, who had to deal with Warner Bros. pressuring him to make marketable Batman films.
I've long thought that Joel and his Batman films didn't get the respect they deserve. I'm not going to pretend that Batman Forever and Batman and Robin are the best Batman films. However, they both have several elements I enjoy. Both films have a very unique and lovely-looking sense of style. Joel did a great job, when it came to directing the action scenes. In addition to that, both films are very entertaining blockbusters. Batman Forever had the scene-stealing antics of Jim Carrey's Riddler, along with a wild Two-Face. Batman and Robin has the delightful duo of Arnold Schwarzenegger's pun-loving Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman's eloquent Poison Ivy. I often enjoy re-watching the films.
A lot of modern versions of Batman have Batman act out-of-character, by being an anti-social jerk and a murderer. Joel's Batman films have a Batman, who actually respects the people around him and saves people. Instead of killing Mr. Freeze, Batman reasons with him and helps Mr. Freeze save his wife. Joel's Batman is an actual hero, unlike some other versions of Batman.
Overall, I believe Joel Schumacher was a good director and most importantly, a really kind person. Even if Batman fans don't like his films, I believe they should respect what a kind and fair person he was. Joel's Batman films played a big part in my childhood (I still have some Batman and Robin stickers on the desk I'm currently using.) Thank you, Joel, for all that you did for Batman. I miss you, already, but I don't plan on forgetting you. Rest well, old chum.