When Dominic and I recorded the most recent episode of Hard NOC Life, I mentioned the 25th anniversary of Batman Forever (as well as the 15th and 31st anniversaries for Batman Begins and Batman ’89, respectively, but more on the latter in a second). June used to be a big month for Batman movies. I mention those anniversaries as a launching point for a broader conversation about being a different kind of fan and accepting different interpretations of our favorite characters. And for the last few weeks, I had started reconsidering how I felt about certain films, including the double feature of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, both directed by Joel Schumacher, who died of cancer on June 22.
Batman Forever premiered on nearly 3,000 screens on June 16, 1995. I was graduating from high school that week, but was more excited about seeing the movie on opening night with my brother. In the lead up to the movie, we were all in on the hype. We consumed all of the TV specials, bought all of the tie-in novels, and collected all of the action figures and novelty glass mugs from McDonalds. And that glorious soundtrack! Everyone remembers Seal, of course. But no other movie soundtrack captured my eclectic music tastes quite like Forever did. Where else would teenage me find PJ Harvey, Brandy, Sunny Day Real Estate, Method Man, and the Flaming Lips on the same album?
The first Tim Burton Batman was a revelation for me. It was the first movie I watched over and over again at the theater. It was also the first movie to be released on home video in the same calendar year it was in theaters. I know because it came out two days before my birthday (which I had at Pizza Hut since that nostalgia was trending in the zeitgeist for some reason).
I turned 12 when Batman came out. The perfect age for that movie to cement itself into my developing brain. I was already a zealous Batman fan, but Michael Keaton as Batman sent it into overdrive. When its sequel, Batman Returns, was released in 1992, our family was on vacation in Canada. Regardless, my brother and I made sure to find a local theater playing it on opening night. Batman movies were events not to be trifled with in our household!
Since the internet didn’t exist yet, and I wasn’t perusing entertainment magazines as a teenager, I was unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations that forced Keaton and Burton out and brought in Val Kilmer and Joel Schumacher. It also didn’t matter. I mean, by 1995, Hollywood was on its fifth James Bond. This was just a thing that happened. There were no “cinematic universes” then. The marketing promised an exciting adventure featuring my favorite superhero. What could go wrong?
When we left the theater, we were enthralled. It was definitely more colorful than the previous two movies, and Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones were definitely bathing in the same river of ham that gave us Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Danny DeVito’s Penguin. Most of all, it was fun. While Chris O’Donnell’s performance may not have aged well, 25 years ago, it was thrilling to see Batman and Robin together on the big screen for the first time. That said, experiencing a Batman movie at 12 and again at 18 is different.
After re-energizing the Batman franchise, Schumacher returned for a follow-up two years later. This time George Clooney donned the Bat cowl, and the camp factor for Batman & Robin was dialed up to 11. I remembered not liking the movie the instant I left the theater. I had a friend who always said Batman movies were like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s good. Well, this was the kind of pizza that gives you food poisoning before Game Five of the NBA Finals. (For what it’s worth, Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” in Utah was exactly one day before the B&R Hollywood premiere).
I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it. Widely panned by critics, its star Clooney often joked about being the guy who killed the franchise. By 1997, I could tell I was aging out of the demographic that these movies were targeting. But because I was a committed nerd, I arrogantly assumed that the fault lied with the filmmakers and not my own changing tastes. It’s safe to say 1997 was an inflection point because it was also the year of the Star Wars Special Editions and the beginning of the prequel era. It’s no coincidence that the most toxic fans of a certain age have the same vitriol for the Schumacher Batman movies that they do for the Prequels.
Here’s the thing: taste is inherently subjective. Just like Batman 89 enthralled me when I was 12, there were kids who were 12 during the Schumacher years who were just as enthralled. This is true for Star Wars. It’s true for Harry Potter. It’s true for the MCU. Not everything has to be everybody’s cup of tea. And that’s okay. Accept that a thing you love might be for someone else. You don’t have to love it. But you don’t have to hate it either.
On the same day Joel Schumacher died, news also broke that Michael Keaton is in talks to return as Batman in the upcoming Flash movie. (Whether or not this Flash movie ever gets made is fodder for another time).
Seeing my news feed flooded with posts about Michael Keaton as well as tributes to Joel Schumacher was a bittersweet experience. But I’ve finally realized that at the end of the day, my friend was right. Even if Batman is bad, it’s still good. Because it’s Batman.
Or as one of my favorite YouTubers, Patrick Willems, said:
This is all Batman. Batman is all of this. He has been, and will continue to be, many things to many people. They all count. There’s something for everyone.
Rest in peace, Mr. Schumacher. I’m sorry for being a bad fan about your Batman movies.