The Entertainment Chuckwagon: “Batman Forever” is 20
Riddle me this. What do you get when you take an established franchise and replace the lead actor and director who take the film in a new direction thanks to studio politics?
Much has been made of the controversial casting of Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming film Batman vs. Superman, due out in 2016. Before we jump into Batman Forever, let’s recap the first two films in the Batman franchise.
In 1989, fans were incensed by the casting of comedian Michael Keaton as Batman, a decision made by director Tim Burton. Fans worried Burton was planning to make the film in the style of the 1960s television show, instead of the darker, edgier portrayal they craved. Their fears went unrealized. The success of the grittier take on Batman prompted Warner Bros to ask for a sequel.
Keaton and Burton, however, had already moved on to a new project, a sequel to Beetlejuice dubbed Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian. After being assured he would have total creative control over a new Batman film, Burton agreed to make the sequel, with Keaton returning in the title role. The sequel to Beetlejuice was shelved.
The sequel, Batman Returns, was released in 1992, and proved to be a hit albeit a controversial film in its own right. Originally, Burton and screenwriter Daniel Waters wanted the Caped Crusader to battle only the villainous Catwoman, but studios heads insisted he also face off against The Penguin, since he’s #2 on the list of Batman villains according to the series’ mythology. Burton said he didn’t want The Penguin to be portrayed as “a boring fat man in a tuxedo” and cast Danny DeVito, who wanted to play a gruesome villain, in the role. Michelle Pfeiffer was purrfect as Catwoman and Christopher Walken also joined the cast as the evil tycoon Max Schreck.
Parent groups protested the release of Batman Returns, claiming the film was too dark and scary for childen and even lashing out at McDonald’s for promoting the film via Happy Meal toys.
On top of the backlash, Batman Returns cost Warner Bros more to make than the original film and grossed less at the box office. A third film’s future seemed murky, as the studio was nervous about the continued success of the franchise. After a meeting during which Burton later said he felt the studio executives didn’t want him to return to the helm as director, the parties parted ways. Warner Bros selected director Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, Flatliners), who agreed to direct the film only if he had Burton’s blessing, which Burton gave.
In the summer of 1994, Keaton announced he would no longer be playing the title role, citing a feeling he had after his first meeting with Schumacher that “creatively, it wasn’t happening.” Keaton expressed concerns “the character he’d lived with for two films wasn’t going to be developed the way he wanted it to be developed.”
At the time, Schumacher said, “Even Sean Connery left James Bond.”
Keaton later told CBS Sunday Morning that Batman Forever “sucked! Yeah, it was just awful.”
Enter Val Kilmer, who received critical praise for his portrayal of Jim Morrison in The Doors. A younger leading man called for a younger love interest, so actress Nicole Kidman was cast as Dr. Chase Meridian, a role originally intended for actress Renee Russo.
In Batman Forever, the Caped Crusader faces off against The Riddler and Harvey Two-Face. Robin Williams had always been mentioned as a possibility to play The Riddler in a sequel.
However according to a 1995 Variety article, it was said the Williams wouldn’t commit to the film quite yet, hoping to see a script rewrite. Now that Burton had been replaced by Joel Schumacher, a decision was made instead to cast rising comedian Jim Carrey, who lit up box offices with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and The Mask, in the role.
In 1989’s Batman, Burton cast Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Two-Face but Schumacher decided to replace him with Tommy Lee Jones, who was box office magic in the 1993 film The Fugitive, for which he was awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
However, Jones apparently was not a fan of Carrey’s. During a 2014 interview with Howard Stern while promoting Dumb and Dumber Too, Carrey revealed that there was indeed tension on the set. Carrey stated Jones and he were having dinner in the same restaurant, and that Carrey went over to say hello. However, “I went up to say hi, and the blood drained from his face, in such a way that I had become the face of his pain or something. He got up shaking, and hugged me, and said “I hate you. I really don’t like you. And I cannot sanction your buffoonery.”
In the role of Batman’s teenage sidekick Robin, Schumacher had two leading contenders, a pre Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio – then an unknown – and Chris O’Donnell who starred in Scent of a Woman opposite Hollywood giant Al Pacino. He cast O’Donnell.
Schumacher’s Batman Forever was lighter and more family friendly and was the #1 film of the year following its June 1995 release.
Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges