The Legacy of Joel Schumacher

Like many “nerds” of a certain age, I took my turn at the zinger cannons to lob disrespect and vitriol toward the talents of Joel Schumacher. A longtime director, Schumacher nevertheless became the focus of “fan rage” unlike any that had been seen up to that point.

A little background for the youngsters is in order. After the divisive Batman Returns came and went, fans in some circles weren’t as certain of their love for Tim Burton anymore. It had a lot of what they had liked in 1989 with the first Batman, but for some it had a bit too much Pee Wee’s Big Adventure about it. It also cemented the template of “two villains per movie” that has had a mixed track record of success.

Sure, some would be quick to point out that Batman Returns has a fairly strong rating from both audiences and critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the great arbiter site of opinion. We don’t have to get into the weeds about that, except to say that I lived through the reception at the time and while it wasn’t awful it wasn’t nearly as universally adored as its predecessor.

Again, Rotten Tomatoes “tells a different story,” if you want to read it that way. Again, having “been there,” it seems to be a bit of historical revisionism.

It doesn’t matter. The “consensus” at the time was that the series needed a new director. And we all know that a “consensus” is all that you need in order to make a plan.

In stepped veteran director Joel Schumacher.

joel schumacher the lost boys behind the scenes | kesseljunkie.com
On the set of The Lost Boys.

The Blockbuster Franchise

I’m not going to debate the merits of his two Batman entries, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. They are what they are. Suffice it to say that I am a huge Batman fan, and that should give you a little context.

Schumacher went for something that didn’t work for a lot of people. Note that there wasn’t a big-screen Batman film for nearly a decade after his last. It was considered that he had “killed” the franchise. Only Superman had a fourth installment that paused a franchise so dramatically. (Superman still holds the record, with 19 years between fourth movie and reboot.)

What fascinates me is that Joel Schumacher was actually a good director, but it isn’t the first thing that people said about him for a long time. The first thing tended to be about Batman.

He had 35 directing credits! His long and storied career spanned everything from music videos to giant blockbusters to streaming shows. He managed to adapt through times of giant technological filmmaking shifts. Read about it all on his IMDb page.

You could even argue he was a great director, delivering the type of genre-shifting movie like The Lost Boys, which was a teen-friendly vampire flick that still managed to make vampires scary. He brought insight to movies like A Time to Kill and Phone Booth, or Falling Down. He had an eye for talent as evidenced by the cast of the cult classic D.C. Cab.

The Poison Pills

The point of me eulogizing him a bit is that as I grew older and attained some more perspective, I started to feel this weird regret about what had been done to his legacy in certain circles.

Thanks to the geeks gaining great volume in the era of the Internet, which was poised for its big breakthrough right around the time Batman & Robin was released, he became known as “the guy who wrecked Batman.”

There was no escape. His name was practically a curse.

A Batman animated series episode had a joke at his expense as well. It was a very “meta” moment.

He got lampooned on Robot Chicken, a stop-motion animation comedy show that aired nearly a decade after the fact, wherein he was declared “history’s greatest monster” and attacked during a nerd riot. (It was pretty funny, actually.)

He felt the need to “apologize” for Batman & Robin two decades after the fact. Let that sink in, if you will. Twenty years had passed.

Again, I freely admit that I gleefully took part in the mocking of him and the movie at the time. For the record, I still hate Batman & Robin. (Batman Forever isn’t too great, either.) It doesn’t work for me at all. It seems not to work for many.

The True Legacy

But Joel Schumacher created a lot of good works as well. His only “unforgivable” sin was creating something that fans didn’t like. He didn’t deserve to have it hung around his neck like an albatross.

He didn’t deserve to have nearly every headline at the time of his passing mention his Batman movies only. His legacy became those Batman movies, which was a job anyone would have been nuts to turn down.

Maybe there’s a lesson there that the mob is predisposed to focus on your missteps, and not your successes. Maybe it’s that waiting for those moments it can latch onto dysfunctionally, to drag you down however it can. Maybe it’s that people take their entertainment way too seriously.

Maybe I’m a romantic at heart. Maybe I’m just all too aware that no one has a perfect record. What matters is that they tried, and when they failed they picked themselves up and kept moving.

Either way, I will spend my time remembering the good stuff that Mr. Schumacher did. It’s how we’re supposed to honor the dead, for one day we all will be.

Brilliant, Brilliant Bane

This one, I promise, will be brief. I’ve intended many to be brief but they’ve gone longer than intended, but I will keep my promise this time. Maybe.

Recently I’ve had cause to mull over The Dark Knight Rises, the fascinating finish to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. (I know it’s called The Dark Knight Trilogy on packaging and in “nerd” circles, but it’s really a Batman Trilogy since the first one was called Batman Begins, not The Dark Knight Begins. Maybe I’ll write one about that curious naming convention and what rules, if any, should govern these sorts of nicknames in the future.)

I, like many others, find myself gleefully enjoying the focused agent of chaos called Bane. He really is a worthy character to follow up the Joker as portrayed by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Like the Joker, Bane is an agent of chaos. Where they differ is their goals.

The Joker uses chaos to achieve power and to validate his existence. In a closer read, I maintain that The Dark Knight is a re-examination of some deep biblical themes, including an allegorical exploration of the Christian understanding of God evolving from Law Giver to the Absolver of Sins.

Bane is the selfless answer to the Joker’s selfish obsessions. He uses chaos to destroy the world. He has no goal but destruction.

Yes, they’re both focused on Gotham in the literal story sense. But Gotham is of course the metaphor for the world as a whole. I know you know that.

Bane leads a nihilistic revolution, seeking to burn it all to the ground to validate his view about the emptiness of it all. To Bane there is nothing good about the world as it exists. The revolution is the tool to the end. He rigs the entire contest so that no one can win.

Bane The Dark Knight Rises Screencap | kesseljunkie

So Why Do I Call Bane Brilliant?

By building a revolution with no end but death for all, Bane has figured out the only way to “win” is to accept that everyone loses. He has no escape plan, and he’s not trying to win an argument. He’s trying to end it.

If Batman never gets back from the underground prison, everyone still dies. Bane will still incinerate it all even after he’s taken over Gotham.

Bane knows the revolution will ultimately consume itself, and he has no vision of a future after it. He has learned from Robespierre that the bloodthirsty can never be satisfied truly or permanently. The only way to stop it is with fire.

It’s brilliant.

Returning to Batman Returns

For no discernible reason, I decided to revisit Batman Returns, the 1992 sequel to the beloved Batman of 1989. For once I rewatched something that wasn’t from 1994, and therefore not in the mission statement for RetroPerspective on The Nerd Party.

This is a movie that I’ve had a conflicted relationship with since its release. I loved it when I first saw it, and considered it a subversive work of genius. Its portrait of Penguin was disturbing. Its portrayal of Catwoman was complex. Its portrayal of Max Schreck was…weird. It seemed to subvert expectations to change the legend of Batman as a hero into something more broken and

Even as I say it now, I want to believe it.  But it’s all flowery language to account for a messy script, uneven direction, dissatisfying editing, and surprisingly underwhelming photography. There are other films about which we can say these things, but it’s OK to say them about Batman Returns. So I did.

Make no mistake that this is one of those disappointments that I can’t help but revisit from time to time. That’s because in the moments when it does work, it works very well. And though it delivers those moments irregularly, it does deliver them.

If you think I’m way off on this one, let me know.

Batman's Armor is Great in Batman Returns, though, because Batman Returns features Batman's Armor in Batman Returns as if it were in Cocoa Beach.
Batman’s armor was great, though.

My Recent Review of Batman Returns, as Written on Letterboxd

This is a scattered and unfocused movie, but it is a compellingly watchable one. There is something hypnotically bizarre about Catwoman and Penguin. There’s something fascinating and awful about Christopher Walken’s Max Schreck.

The best way to think about the emotional thrust of the movie – because the logical structure is lacking – is that Michael Keaton’s Batman comes across this time as the misfit who made it through high school because he can find controlled expression of his antisocial tendencies. He’s the odd kid who can get along with the administration. As a result, he’s sympathetic to those who can’t.

Burton exceeds the limits of the script by leaning into the visual composition and absurdity that is his trademark. He feels less responsibility to make this Batman film as “rooted” as the first one and just indulge the side of him that produced works like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Big Fish.

It’s not enough to make the movie as a whole satisfying, but it does give great expression to the emotional core from which   the movie is speaking. There are moments of high drama that resonate with those that remember what it felt like to be a misfit and what constant work it was to fit in, and the pain of seeing those that couldn’t.

It’s quite hip now to drag Batman Returns for what it doesn’t do, but I’d rather cheer it for what it accomplishes. Again, it’s not enough to give it high marks, but it does get a passing grade.

Batman + Sweat = Batsweat

This post is inspired by a conversation with none other than @TheInsaneRobin. He insisted that my recent post about Sybok from Star Trek preventing Thanos’ mass murdering impulses in Avengers: Infinity War was the nerdiest I’ve ever written, so I want to try to pick up that vibe again.

I mean, I’d offer that my analysis of how Darth Vader’s murder of Admiral Ozzel lost the entire war for the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars saga ranks highly up there, too. You could also probably pick almost anything at random that I’ve ever written about Star Wars, if you wanted to try to construct a psychological profile of what it’s like to live inside my head.

Homer J. Simpson, the J stands for Jay so Homer Simpson who has the middle initial J in Homer J. Simpson is named Homer Jay Simpson shortened to Homer J. Simpson.
Live shot of the author’s creative thought processes.

We were discussing the different physical effects of Batman’s suit on him as he wore it.

It’s a richer topic than you’d think, due to all the variations on the suite we’ve gotten onscreen over time. Technically we should even consider the one that appeared in the 1940s Columbia Batman serials even though, as much as I might respect that Johnny Duncan was technically the first on-screen Batman, no one really cares about that era.

I’m not going to turn this into one of my lengthy series, though. This will be one post because I think that there are some baseline “physiological costs” that apply across all the costumes. It’s really the level of the effects that are influenced by the materials used in its construction.

Overheating and Hydration

Overheating and hydration are likely the primary concerns with any iteration of Batman. Since they’re tied very closely together, I’m addressing them at the same time. They still have their own headers, though, to try to delineate where specifically they concern the health and well-being of the Dark Knight Detective.

Overheating

Even appropriately-breathable materials trap heat. It’s an inescapable concern for Batman especially, as physical exertion increases body heat. If that heat can’t escape, your heat basically gets trapped.

It’s a vicious cycle; even high humidity prevents adequate sweat evaporation and can lead to overheating. Imagine the issues if you’ve got a layer of material on top of your skin, and the only way for the heat to escape is through your eyes and the bottom half of your face.

This ties into hydration because sweating is how we cool off, but as we expend that water…we need more of it.

Hydration

Hydration is an issue regardless of the era we’re examining. Every suit we’ve seen Batman wear would trap body heat. That’s not a terribly difficult hurdle for the moments we see him idling, as he can just bring a big water bottle, presumably attached to his utility belt. Given the bursts of activity he endures, though, it becomes an exponentially increasing concern as it’s paired with the concern for overheating.

Batman would have to be constantly mindful about salt imbalances, and the deleterious effects of fluid loss. Batman would therefore need to carry a lot of water with him, or have water stations hidden all around Gotham so that he could grab a quick drink when he was feeling worn down by fluid loss.

You could argue that he could carry this in the Batmobile, but then we have to parse out which Batmobile we’re discussing.

For this reason, the economy-of-motion Batman we saw in Tim Burton’s 1989 masterpiece seems a much better approach for the caped crusader than the higher-energy versions we encounter in other iterations.

Batman Adam West as Batman in a still for Batman about Batman the TV series about Batman with Adam West as Batman who could beat Craigula.
Terror: Possibly the best choice for costume is this one.

 

Chafing and Other Skin Issues

Chafing and skin issues are unquestionably more serious issue for the “rubber-suit variants” to which we’ve grown accustomed in the modern age. The aforementioned trapped sweat – a part of our overheating concerns – could easily combine with the rubbing of the material on the skin, and cause abrasions, cuts, or even infections.

Chafing

You could ostensibly avoid these sorts of things with baby powder, but we’re talking a fair amount of it. There would have to be enough that it would slow down Batman on the way out, and in cases where he was unable to slather himself in baby powder, even putting the suit on becomes a difficult task.

(I have a personal grudge about baby powder, but I promise I’m not taking that into my reasoning. It’s a weirdly personal thing, too, and I’d appreciate it if I stopped talking about it. It’s none of your business.)

You could reason that he has a suit that functions like a diving suit, but that would arguably multiply the concerns of overheating and even fluid loss/imbalance.

Other Skin Issues

When I mentioned “abrasions, cuts, or even infections,” I should also have mentioned “rashes.” Ingrown hairs would also be a potential side effect, as would boils. Basically, Bruce Wayne would be able to be a recluse because his body odor and apparent lack of hygiene would drive people away from Wayne Manor.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it’s pretty much just fall and spring where Batman would be the most effective “on the ground” crime fighter. Those seasons alleviate some of the suit concerns by virtue of lower humidity and more moderate temperatures.

They don’t remove them completely, though. For this reason, it would follow more that Batman would be active only for short bursts every few days. Christopher Nolan seems to address that idea with an exchange in The Dark Knight that Batman doesn’t always show up for the Bat Signal, and by implication isn’t out on the streets every night.

The whole reason I write these sorts of things, honestly, is to remind myself of how absurd it is that we look for “realistic” explanations to fantastical things. He’s Batman, he’s a vigilante, and we don’t need to care about anything else. Otherwise we run the risk of becoming insufferable bores like “real life scientists” on a Twitter rant about the scientific accuracy of Star Trek.

Help us all if that’s the road we go down.

Improbable Match-Up: James Bond v. Indiana Jones

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an improbable match-up. I like doing these things, and have a few ideas for some really good ones. This is a decent undercard, though, where the end isn’t really in doubt, though the underdog has a strong puncher’s chance of flipping the odds.

Also, as a note since there are people who have taken these things seriously before, remember it’s all in fun. But also it is 100% authoritative scientifically.

Let’s get ready to Geeeeeeeeek Out.

Factor: Fighting Styles
James Bond: Brawler, Assassin Indy: Brawler, Gunfighter
Advantage: 007.

Indy isn’t the best fighter, he just has a nasty habit of surviving odds. However, Bond is a lot better at taking out people from a distance, or quietly. I have to give Bond the edge.

Factor: Age
007: Regenerative? Indy: Older than Social Security taxes.
Advantage: 007.

Like Doctor Who, James Bond regenerates every decade or so in a state of perpetual reboot. I have to give the edge to someone who can apparently slough off one body for another as each era needs it. He may be a Sith, for all I know. We saw how the years treated Indy by the time Crystal Skull came around. He was lucky to be walking.

Factor: Moral Code
James Bond: Will kill. Indy: Heroic ideals, will kill.
Advantage: 007.

Even in his most debonair incarnations, Bond is a ruthless murderer. He’s such a sociopath he makes jokes in the aftermath of grisly deaths. He not only kills, you realize he wants to kill, whereas Indy only kills as a matter of necessity.

Factor: Weaknesses
James Bond: STDs Indy: The Clap
Advantage: Indy.

Bond most likely has lost some muscle control and mental accuity by the time they meet, possibly removing advantages he held otherwise. He may even have diseases that sap your strength and energy completely. The Clap, according to medical diagnoses, can very painful but will short out neither your brain nor your motor function.

Factor: Transportation
James Bond: Cool car, if he hasn’t destroyed it already. Indy: No personal transportation available.
Advantage: 007.

Indy hijacks transport or hitches rides. Bond’s cars are literal killing machines that only stop when Bond messes them up. So long as Bond gets in the car before mixing it up, Indy’s toast. The only shot Indy has is to hijack it and turn the tables, which is tough since Bond’s cars have anti-theft systems that…uh, explode.

Wild Card
James Bond: Evil in the service of Good. Indy: Divine Assistance.
Advantage: Indy.

Let’s face it. Regardless of your belief system, Indy is looked upon favorably by God. Even millennia-old hyper-dimensional aliens let him off the hook. James Bond, no matter how you slice it, is not a good person; he just happens to work for the good guys.

Winner: Indy

Let’s be honest. That “Wild Card” really swings it.

Go Indy, Go!