Michael Keaton met with Joel Schumacher to discuss continuing in the Batman franchise, but it was not to be.
According to a recent interview, Keaton’s decision to leave the franchise ahead of “Batman Forever” was based on a disagreement with director Joel Schumacher over the title character. Schumacher took over for Burton on the third feature following 1991’s gruesome sequel “Batman Returns.”
“It was always Bruce Wayne. It was never Batman,” he said on the podcast In the Envelope (via Variety). “To me, I know the name of the movie is ‘Batman’, and it’s hugely iconic and very cool and [culturally] iconic and because of Tim Burton, artistically iconic. I knew from the get-go it was Bruce Wayne. That was the secret. I never talked about it. Batman, Batman, Batman does this, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Y’all are thinking wrong here.’ Bruce Wayne. What kind of person does that? … Who becomes that?”
Keaton went on to say: “When the director who directed the third one came on, I said, ‘I just can’t do it.’ And one of the reasons I couldn’t do it was – and you know, he’s a nice enough man, he’s passed away, so I wouldn’t speak ill of him even if he were alive – he, at one point, after more than a couple of meetings where I kept trying to rationalize doing it and hopefully talking him into saying, ‘I think we don’t want to go in this direction, I think we should go in this direction.’ And he wasn’t going to budge.”
According to reports, Schumacher told Keaton, “I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,” to which the actor responded, “Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.”
Instead, in Schumacher’s ‘Batman Forever’ (1995) and ‘Batman & Robin’ (1997), Val Kilmer and George Clooney would portray the role.
While “Batman Forever” was a commercial success, it took the brand in a more cartoonish direction, similar to the 1960s television series. With George Clooney in the lead role, the next film, “Batman & Robin,” pushed that tone past the point of no return, and the goofy 1997 film received such a poor reception that Warner Bros. put the franchise on hold for a few years. Then, in 2005, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” reinvented the franchise in a dark and gritty manner, giving the hero new life in the guise of Christian Bale’s more serious Bruce Wayne.
Keaton is donning the Batsuit once again in The Flash, starring Ezra Miller and Ben Affleck’s version of the superhero after Barry Allen mistakenly ruins the timeline. He’ll also play the Caped Crusader in the forthcoming HBO Max film Batgirl.