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Batman Forever: Michael Keaton Gets Honest About Why He Didn’t Return For The Sequel

Long before cinematic universes and comic book movies became commonplace, Michael Keaton played beloved DC vigilante Batman in Tim Burton’s pair of movies. It’s almost hard to believe, but he’ll be stepping back into the cowl and cape in two different upcoming blockbusters. And Keaton recently got honest about why he didn’t return as Bruce Wayne in 1995’s Batman Forever.

While Michael Keaton was the OG Bruce Wayne from the ‘90s franchise, he was followed by Val Kilmer in Batman Returns, and George Clooney in Batman & Robin. Those latter projects were directed by Joel Schumacher, after Tim Burton left the franchise. Keaton recently spoke to his approach to Gotham’s Protector, saying:

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. [Everyone would say] Batman, Batman, Batman does this, and I kept thinking to myself, 'Y'all are thinking wrong here.' It’s about Bruce Wayne. Whose that guy? What kind of person does that?

He’s not wrong. While Batman does all the cool superhero action on the page and screen, the character’s true identity is Bruce Wayne. And Michael Keaton seems to think that focusing on Bruce’s backstory and struggles are ultimately more important than throwing batarangs and kicking ass. But how does this relate to his departure ahead of Batman Forever?

Michael Keaton opened up about his original tenure as Bruce Wayne while appearing on Backstage’s official podcast. The conversation covered this long and successful career, eventually touching on his time collaborating with Tim Burton in the first two Batman films. But the franchise changed quite a bit when Joel Schumacher was tapped to helm Batman Forever, ultimately resulting in the actor’s departure.

In that same conversation, Michael Keaton discussed the disconnect between his vision and that of the late Joel Schumacher. The Birdman actor didn’t mention Schumacher by name, but spoke plainly by saying:

And then 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 but I’m not speaking ill of him here. 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.

But what exactly were these conversations about? Luckily Michael Keaton also shared those details. It turns out it was largely about tone, with Joel Schumacher’s pair of Batman movies being a bit lighter and more family-friendly. This seemingly didn’t sit right with Keaton, as he put it:

I remember one of the things that I walked away going, 'Oh boy, I can't do this.’ He asked me, 'I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,' and I went, 'Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it's pretty simple.'

Well, there you have it. And Michael Keaton’s assessment of Batman is one that future filmmakers like Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan would likely agree with. The last few version of Bruce Wayne have been gritty and dark, showing what a tortured soul the beloved hero is. But Joel Schumacher seemingly wanted to have more fun with projects like Batman Returns.

Luckily for fans of Michael Keaton’s Batman, he’s going to be back under the cowl before we know it. The Oscar nominated actor will appear in Ezra Miller’s The Flash movie, which will seemingly open the multiverse while also including Ben Affleck’s version of Bruce Wayne. Additionally, it was just announced that Keaton will once again play the Dark Knight in HBO Max’s Batgirl.

The Flash will hit theaters November 4th, 2022. In the meantime, check out the 2022 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience. 

Corey Chichizola

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.