I recently rewatched the original series of Batman movies. The general consensus on these films is that the Tim Burton films, Batman and Batman Returns, are the superior movies, while the Joel Schumacher films, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, are among the worst films ever made. I've disagreed with this train of thought for some time now, but after finally getting around to rewatching these movies again, I'd like to go a little more in depth with my reasonings.
The big thing that has irked me for some time is the avid hatred the Schumacher films receive. Batman & Robin especially. The first time I saw this movie appear in some magazine's "worst movies of all time" list at the #1 spot I was genuinely confused. That was several years ago, and since then, this movie has been bashed and torn to pieces by haters all over the internet. But the thing is, it's not a bad movie. I thought that then, and I still think it now.
Yeah, the Schumacher films are really campy. The villains are over the top, the set pieces are oftentimes absurd, and the script has a tendency to be really goofy. But do these aspects make them bad movies? Lets look at the Burton films, which are still to this day highly praised. The tone in those two is much darker, more gritty. These movies aren't as out in the open with their silliness as the Schumacher films, but there's still plenty to be had in them, such as Bruce Wayne sleeping upside down like a real bat, for instance.
The original Batman in particular has one major flaw holding it back. The entire Vicki Vale plot is just horribly written. So Bruce has one date with this woman, and suddenly Alfred spends the entire rest of the movie urging Bruce to completely trust her and let her in on his secret. And he almost does just this, and after only one date! When Alfred nonchalantly invites her into the batcave, I couldn't help but facepalm. Really? Really?!
And why is everyone even after this woman anyways? Even The Joker conveniently has a thing for her. This entire nonsensical plot line just about ruins the whole movie for me. And the funny thing is, before rewatching this movie, I didn't even remember anything of it! Most of the love interest sub-plots in the Batman movies are pretty horribly written, and the fact that Batman & Robin all but completely removes this element works in its favor.
And then we get to Batman Returns. This one often gets praised as the best of the original series. I feel it is by far the worst. Mr. Freeze was not the worst handled character in the series. That distinction belongs to none other than The Penguin. And I don't blame Danny DeVito for this, he did the best he could with the crap he was working with. But this movie was in desperate need of an entire overhaul, and every single aspect of his character needed to be redone, because Tim Burton's "vision" for The Penguin is a complete abomination. This movie was just overly disgusting for the sake of being gross, and it felt like Burton was going out of his way trying to make it as dark as possible, for no real logical reason. Hell, after this movie, I'm glad they took the franchise away from him. He just lost all direction with this series and apparently became full of himself after the first, producing the lousiest excuse of a Batman flick in the process.
As for the best in the series, I used to think it was the original, but now I'm leaning towards Batman Forever. Yeah, Two-Face and The Riddler are both extremely silly, but it's something I grew to love as the film goes on. This is just a really fun movie when those two are on. The love interest, while at times a groaner, isn't nearly as in-your-face and obnoxious as the first film. And the Batman/Bruce Wayne moments are much better handled than the prior films. Yeah, in some ways it does sort of feel like retreading old ground, but given the introduction of Robin and his origins, it fits. And Val Kilmer is definitely the best Batman of the original series. It's a shame he didn't show up for the finale, as George Clooney is the worst.
Getting back to Batman & Robin, I've often said that the story is essentially exactly the same as Batman Forever. Just replace Two-Face and Riddler with Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, and do the same for Robin and Bat Girl. But I still don't understand why this movie gets hated on as much as it does. It's not a great movie, but it's hardly one of the worst films of all time. Like Forever, it's just really campy, really silly, and a whole lotta fun. It's not super dark and gritty and serious, but it never pretends to be, either. It's well aware that it's just a fun, goofy action flick.
So there's my thoughts on the original Batman series. The general opinion is that the Burton films are the stronger movies, but I'd honestly lean more towards the Schumacher films. They're highly underrated, and their goofy nature has helped them age a lot better than Burton's movies. Now, note that none of these films holds a candle to Nolan's movies, which aren't just great Batman movies, or even great superhero movies, but are what I'd consider to be all around great movies in general. And I refrained from comparisons between the old and new series just because they're quite frankly unfair. Nolan's blows the originals out of the water in every single way, shape, and form imaginable. But while the originals aren't exactly great, there's still a whole lotta fun to be had with them. It may have sounded like I really hated the original Batman, but I don't. It's a good, fun film, despite its flaws, just like the Schumacher movies.