It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Robocop remake. First, HitFlix’s Drew McWeeny got his hands on a copy of the script for the film and trashed it. Then it was revealed through an interview with friend and fellow director Fernando Mereilles, that the remake’s director Jose Padiha was becoming “bitter” with the process of making the film.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, Hugh Laurie drops out of the role of Ray Sellars, the villainous head of the corporation that makes Robocop.
After that string of bad news, any good news would seem to be a miracle. Well, here’s your miracle. Deadline is announcing that Michael Keaton has signed on to replace Laurie in the role of Sellars.
I consider Keaton to be one of the most underrated and underused actors of his generation. He excels at comedy, as witnessed in Night Shift, Mr. Mom, and Johnny Dangerously, but could also do drama, such as Clean and Sober and Pacific Heights.
Keaton’s profile has been lower over the last decade, with a majority of his acting coming in leads in low budget pictures, supporting roles in mid-level films, voiceover work in several Pixar movies and the occasional television work. This will be his highest profile work in years, and long overdue.
Robocop is scheduled to start shooting next month for an August 2013 release.
In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we come to the dark ages of the Batman franchise—Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.
I can trace the moment I knew the Batman franchise was in trouble to one particular scene in Batman Forever. Batman, now played by Val Kilmer, had just finished a heart to heart with Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) and as he leaves, Meridian tells him to be careful out there. Batman, whose back is to Meridian yet facing the camera, flashes the goofiest grin you would ever see. No, not a subtle smile or a acerbic smirk, but the type of grin the school bookworm in an ABC Family telefilm would grin if she was just asked out by the star quarterback. You can see the grin around the 1:47 mark on the trailer.
I don’t know if this was a particular director’s note from new franchise director Joel Schumacher or a sly bit of sabotage by Kilmer (who’s combative relationship with Schumacher doing filming was legendary), but the smile was so glaringly out of character that it made me fear for the franchise’s future.
Warner Brothers was not happy with Batman Returns’ $266,822,354 box office take, and put the blame for what they felt was a lackluster performance on the dark tone Tim Burton gave to the film. Warners convinced Burton to move to producer and brought in Schumacher with an eye on making a more kid-friendly (and toy generating) flick. Michael Keaton bailed on the franchise once he found out the direction it was going in. Smart man.
Schumacher replaced Burton’s dark moodiness with a garish, neon soaked cyberpunk look. Batman Forever was a loud assault on the senses. We begin to see more campy elements make their way into the film, including, but not limited to, the Batmobile being driven up a wall, the over-the-top performances of Jim Carrey as the Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones, who stepped in for Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and a painful, self-referential gag about “holey rusted metal” at the bad guy’s hideout. Schumacher also added nipples to the batsuit and an uncomfortable focus on generous codpieces and vinyl clad buttocks of Batman and Robin during the inevitable “suiting up” montages—a bit too hyper sexualized for what was supposed to be a kid’s film, in my opinion.
Batman Forever was a success, making $336,529,844 at the box office. A sequel was put on the fast track, with George Clooney replacing the contentious Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman. And, thusly, Batman & Robin was unleashed onto an unsuspecting world.
Batman & Robin was unabashedly, unapologetically campy. It was also horrible. Those of you, the lucky few who didn’t see the movie, might be asking a few questions. How campy was it? How bad could it really be? Let me show you:
I wonder what he does when he tries to use it at places that require a form of ID to verify the card. Does he toss a batarang on the counter? A typewritten list of all his daddy issues?
Clooney often speaks in a self-deprecating way about his performance in the film, like he’s solely to blame for how awful it is. He’s not. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne is a bright spot in the film. And his performance as Batman is hampered by the horrible screenwriting of Akiva Goldsman, who unbelievably would later win an Oscar for writing 2002’s A Beautiful Mind.
What did Goldsman and Schumacher get wrong this time around? Well, are you sitting down? You have to start with lame gags like the Bat-Credit Card. Then the lame puns spouted by all the characters, especially Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze (it’s like Goldsman took all the “ice” related puns he could think of and put them all, good or bad, into the film).
Then you had Chris O’Donnell, who gave the worst performance by a grown man (he would turn 27 six days after the film opened) pretending to be a teenager overacting his way through an immature, crybaby tantrum (he’d hold the title until Hayden Christensen’s performance in 2002’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones). The film also introduced Batgirl in the personage of Alicia Silverstone, who played Bruce Wayne’s British butler Alfred’s niece, who came directly from her studies in London to visit her uncle, leaving all traces of any kind of British accent behind. She did have nipples on her batsuit and a lingering shot or two of her curves during her suiting up montage, proving that Schumacher is an equal opportunity fetishist.
There were also too many characters this time around. In addition to those already mentioned, you had Uma Thurman playing Poison Ivy as the second major villain (because you had to have two major villains in a Batman film). Plus, you had Bane, a character who broke Batman’s back in the comic books, a character that Christopher Nolan felt strong enough about to make a main villain in The Dark Knight Rises, relegated to a mindless, brutal lackey of Poison Ivy. An even bigger waste was the character of Jason Woodrue, who was an awesome character in the comics by the name of Floronic Man and was portrayed by the excellent actor John Glover. His only purpose was to establish Poison Ivy’s origin by being the mad scientist who gives her superpowers as a result of trying to kill her. He is killed off after only five minutes of screen time.
The film was critically lambasted and while it earned $238,207,122, it was the lowest grossing Batfilm to date and, therefore, a failure. Positive response to the rushes put a third Schumacher sequel titled Batman Triumphant into pre-production with Clooney and O’Donnell reprising their roles and the Scarecrow as the main villain. The disappointing response cancelled that film and caused Warners to look towards rebooting the franchise. It also garnered an apology from Schumacher himself.
The Scarecrow would become the villain of the next Batman film, one which would come closest to capturing the comic book feel on the big screen. But before that, a legendary comic book arc almost made it to movie theaters. We’ll tell you which one next time.
In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, he talks about the film that kicked the comic book film into high gear—Batman.
I have two very distinct memories about the first Batman film. First relates to the first time I saw the film. I won tickets from a local radio station for the midnight showing on the weekend it opened. It was dark when I went into the theater, it was dark when I came out, and the movie was dark. It was a totally immersive experience. I fell in love with the movie that day.
The other memory relates to the controversy over the eventual tone of the film while it was shooting. I can lie and say that I wasn’t concerned that the film was going to turn out to be a camp fest. But you have to understand that while, in retrospect, the feeling wasn’t justified, it was understandable to be worried.
You would have to understand the conditions the comic fan was living in, especially as it pertained to the Batman franchise. The campy 1960’s Batman TV show tainted the public’s perception of comic books, comic fans and Batman. Comic books became silly kid stuff. Comic book fans above the age of 12 became people who had something wrong with them. And Batman was not to be taken seriously.
Forget about the fact that the work of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams made Batman serious again. Forget the fact that Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers showed that Batman can be inventive and fun without being silly and campy. Forget the fact that Frank Miller was getting written up in Rolling Stone for the awesome job he was doing on The Dark Knight Returns. Comics were silly trifles for kids or less than mature and intelligent adults.
Just take a look at the comic book films that were made in the 80s. All of them were campy in their own way. None of them took the original material all that seriously. All pretty much promoted the comic book stereotypes.
Batman was going to be the first big test. Would producers take a look at how far the comic book Batman had come and do a serious film version of the character? Or, would they go back to the campiness of the TV show? Fans were hoping for the former, but betting on the latter.
Then Warner Brothers hired Tim Burton to direct, a man whose only major directing work was two comedies –Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. Sure, they were good films, and Beetlejuice was dark enough that you could see the way he excelled at mood, but they were still comedies.
Then Burton hired Beetlejuice himself, Michael Keaton, as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Sure, he had just recently received good notices for his lead role in the heavy drama Clean and Sober, but he was most known for doing comedies like Mr. Mom and Night Shift.
All signs were pointing to the film being a comedy, which truly disheartened the comic book fans. Yes, casting Jack Nicholson as the Joker was brilliance, but Batfans were certain that they were heading for a campy heartbreak. And they vocalized their heartbreak, not just in the pages of the Comics Buyer’s Guide, Amazing Heroes, and Comics Scene (what passed as the Internet back in the 80s), but also in letters to the studio. But fans had little to worry about, because Burton and Keaton gave us the best comic book film since Richard Donner’s Superman films.
Some of the luster has gone off the original Batman, as the film hasn’t stood up all that well to the test of time. But it was a serious take on the Caped Crusader. It was highly stylized to be sure, but it wasn’t necessarily campy. Sam Hamm gets credit for the script, but his work contains elements from previous scripts by Steve Englehart and Tom Mankiewicz, and was rewritten by Warren Skaaren, Charles McKeown and Jonathan Gems. It remained true to the spirit of the comic while allowing Burton to apply his unique style to film.
Keaton excelled not only as Batman but also as Bruce Wayne, who he cannily played as a scatterbrained dilettante. Nicholson was exceptional as the Joker, benefiting from a role that allowed him to be as hammy as he wanted to be.
Burton stayed on to direct the sequel, Batman Returns.
Critics usually finger the next sequel, Batman Forever, as the beginning of the franchise’s rapid decline into camp and chaos, but, if you look closely, you can see the roots of the decline in this film.
In a lot of ways, this film was Burton making the franchise his own. He was vocal about being less than pleased with the more action oriented Batman, and was given more creative control this time around. This was obvious through the look of the film, as some of the henchmen in the film look like they sprang to life directly from Burton’s sketchbooks.
However, the film suffered from the flaw that hampered many a comic book film—too many villains. You had the Penguin (played creepily well by Danny DeVito), you had Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, great in a role that originally was Annette Bening’s and that original Vicki Vale, Sean Young, infamously broke onto the Warners lot to pursue), you had Max Shrek (Christopher Walken, good as always) and various henchmen. Add to that the fact that early versions of the script had Robin and Harvey Dent as characters; it could have been way more crowded.
The film was loaded with dark humor which spilled over to camp. The only thing that kept the army of penguins with missiles strapped to their backs from being full on camp was the fact that the film was so dark and bleak. The scene seems a bit out of place. I don’t know if the penguin army scene was written by main scribe Daniel Waters or Wesley Strick, who was hired to rewrite Waters’ script and added the Penguin’s baby-killing final gambit.
Batman Returns would be the last time Burton and Keaton worked on the franchise. The film does have the dubious legacy of inspiring a spin-off for Pfeiffer’s Catwoman character, a film that resided in development hell until finally making it to the screen in 2004 in a far different, quite awful form. But it does have one positive legacy in inspiring Batman: The Animated Series, which made its way to the silver screen with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. That’s what we’ll be talking about next time.
1. The Other Guys (Sony/Columbia, 3,651 Theaters, 107 Minutes, Rated PG-13): First off, I might be alone in saying this, but I’d probably be first in line for a cop buddy movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson. I just thought I’d say that.
That pair plays a hot-shot police unit that Mark Wahlberg’s character aspires to be. Unfortunately, he accidentally shoots Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, which places him on the police Z-list, partnered with nebbishy Will Ferrell.
It seems like a concept that could work. It is another entry in the Ferrell/Adam McKay union, and I have liked pretty much every other film they made (although they are an acquired taste). And this film has Michael Keaton in it! He is one of my favorite actors and not seen as often as he should be. This film is on my list of must see flicks.
2. Step Up 3D (Summit Entertainment/Touchstone Pictures, 2,435 Theaters, 107 Minutes, Rated PG-13): Hey! It’s my two least favorite movie trends joined together: inspirational dance films and 3-D!
I’ll have to admit, as much as I dislike 3-D, this type of film is a unique venue for it. The acrobatic style of dancing seems like it would be a good fit for 3-D.
Here is the synopsis, cut and pasted from IMDB:
A tight-knit group of New York City street dancers team up with an NYU freshman and find themselves pitted against the world’s best hip hop dancers in a high-stakes showdown that will change their lives forever.
I imagine this film will be different from every other film where an outsider joins a tight-knit group of dances to enter a contest that will change their lives forever.
1. Inglorious Basterds (Universal, 3,165 Theaters, 153 Minutes, Rated R): The criticism aimed at Quentin Tarantino’s last effort–”Death Proof” in Grindhouse–was that he played up to his own excesses, that it was too much of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
I wonder what those critics will say about this one. They’ll probably not have to go any farther than the plot, which focuses on a battalion of WWII Jewish-American soldiers who land behind enemy lines, killing and scalping (yes, I said scalping) any German soldier they see.
Granted, this time he is not trying to ape the “grindhouse” style of film, but if anything is a QT film, this one is.
Could it be too over the top? Could the fact that it came together so quickly be to its detriment? Does any of this matter? Because good or bad, there is no other film in theaters quite as interesting as this one.
2.Shorts (Warner Brothers, 3,105 Theaters, 89 Minutes, Rated PG): If you follow either Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez, you know they are friends and frequent collaborators. That means that usually if there is a weekend with a film with each of their names attached, it’s one where they are working on it together.
Not so this week, as they are going head to head with the two films with the biggest theater counts. But even this competition isn’t really competition, as Rodriguez returns to the realm of the kid-friendly flick that he had so much success with doing the Spy Kids franchise. So I doubt people who want to see Inglorious Basterds will go see Shorts instead and I doubt there will be many kids getting into Inglorious Basterds.
The plot for this one is rather simple. A group of kids find a rock that grants wishes. This causes problems not only with the wishes they get, but also with adults who want to steal the rock for themselves.
3. Post Grad (FOX, 1,958 Theaters, 89 Minutes, Rated Pg-13): I wonder if the studios got together to come up with a schedule for this weekend that would entertain the heck out of me, because if they did, it worked. I am amused the heck out of.
This film stars Alexis Bledel, who was one of the stars of Sin City, which was directed by Robert Rodriguez and, you guessed it, Quentin Tarantino. If Frank Miller is in anyway involved with that X-Games Movie, I might just faint.
As for the plot, it is a silly little piffle about a girl who is forced to return home and live with her crazy family after graduating college. I doubt that this will be Hamlet, but with Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett, and JK Simmons in the cast, it can’t be all bad. And if you are catching a flick while your kids or younger siblings are watching Shorts, this film is exactly the same length, so you will be out at the same time if both films start at the same time.
4.X Games 3D The Movie (Disney, 1,399 Theaters, 92 Minutes, Rated PG): I really had no problem ignoring the recent X-Games while they were on my ESPN, but you got to hand it to Disney (ESPN’s parent company, by the way) for giving me the opportunity to ignore it one more time.
Yeah, I know that people who participate or watch these “X-Sports” wish they were respected as the athletic competition they are. I just see them as an extreme versions of those skateboarders who knock down old ladies at the mall. It is a sport in a way that NASCAR and Hockey are sports. People watch NASCAR for the crashes, Hockey for the fights, and X-Games for the wipe-outs. Yeah, I know I probably got it wrong, but that’s my opinion.
The question is: how do you get people to come out an buy a ticket for a movie containing events they saw practically for free just a few weeks before? Disney answers by showing the film for one week only (which means I get to ignore it for only one week. Aw shucks!) and in 3-D. I wonder if this will pay off.
And according to IMDB, Frank Miller has nothing to do with this film. So, the string of movie connections ends here.
Michael Keaton will be lending his voice to Pixar’s upcoming Toy Story 3, playing the part of Barbie’s perpetually smiling boyfriend Ken in the animated feature.
The news was broken this weekend by actress Jodi Benson, who played iconic fashion doll Barbie in the second Toy Story feature. In an interview with IESB, she stated that she would be back for part 3 and that Keaton was onboard as her character’s boyfriend.
This sounds like fun casting, and the only way it could be better would be if Keaton was voicing the part of a Batman action figure.