#97: Himbos Akimbo: Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera

Joel Schumacher should never have made those Batman movies. Not because they’re bad. They’re good/bad, and that’s about as much deference as most comic book franchises deserve. Joel Schumacher shouldn’t have made those movies because of the damage they did to his reputation. The guy that made The Lost Boys and Falling Down should be remembered for those movies. They’re right on the border of good/awesome and that’s the wheelhouse Schumacher belongs in. That man could put nipples on as many bat-suits as he wanted, and they should be footnotes in his filmography. Even his movies that aren’t great are at least entertaining. A Time to Kill is a rock-solid courtroom drama. Once again, his Batman movies are fine. Batman is a ridiculous character and no one needs to bray like a jackass to portray to Bruce Wayne in a dignified light.

            Schumacher is a master at putting camp into a big budget movie. Camp is ridiculous and fun. It blurs the lines of gender and sexuality and makes things a little more interesting than they would be otherwise. If you’re going to do a bid budget adaption of a Broadway musical, Schumacher is your boy. His take on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera is exactly what you want. It’s campy, fun and an A+ good/bad movie.

            The film is a beat for beat retelling of the musical, which in itself is a retelling of Gaston Laroux’s novel that started this cavalcade of rock opera. It’s the same plot we’ve all heard about since we were kids. Some orphan named Christine is chosen by the psycho-in-residence of the theater she lives in to be the new lead singer of the local opera company. The psycho in question is ‘the Phantom:’ a deformed man whose outer ugliness is matched by his inner musical brilliance. What follows is a story of several murders caused by the unstable musician to bring his muse to the top of the opera game. There’s a love triangle between phantom, muse and a himbo French nobleman. Bitiching songs play throughout and finally the theater burns down.

            This movie hits all those beats and overall it’s fine. The sets are all gothic and creepy. The phantom’s lair is the nicest basement cave a semi-employed musician could hope to purchase. The cast, on the whole, is pretty good at signing. Emmy Rossum is the best of the bunch as Christine, but everyone generally does fine. Minnie Driver is hilarious as the primadonna lead singer with a ridiculous Italian accent. Night Owl from Watchmen is fine in his signing bits as Raoul the himbo rich guy. The two owners of the theater are character actors you’ve seen in Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy and that one guy that was Charles Dickens on Doctor Who and they actually have pretty nice singing voices. The cast’s weak point in terms of singing is Gerard Butler as the phantom. Proving my hypothesis from the Baal article, Gerard Butler is your standard hot guy playing a tortured genius. The deformity his mask is covering up isn’t even all that bad. Hell, half the time he’s really good as the Phantom. If the Phantom has to be brooding or growling across the screen singing angrily, Butler is perfect. He’s got the physicality you need in an anti-hero and he can hold a tune. This movie crosses into good-bad territory when he has to sing the high notes. In his rendition of ‘The Music of the Night,’ he hits a note that sounds like he’s being kicked in the junk. It’s not good, but it’s hilarious. It’s entertaining, and if your movie is going to be two and a half hours long, that better keep coming and never stop.

            This movie is laden with camp throughout. Minnie Driver dresses like a drag performer and a ton of effort clearly went in to making this movie visually over-the-top. The gothic graveyard where the Phantom and Raoul sword fight looks nice and Tim Burton-y, and the sword fight looks cool. The theater burning down is intense, and Gerard Butler’s villainous cackles from the catwalks sounds like Vincent Price if he took Creatine. In short, this movie is a long, campy mess with a ton of excesses that can be overlooked because even the stuff that doesn’t work super well is fun.

            There are even a few liberties the film takes with some of the songs that fit really well into the movie. The film’s rendition of the song “Masquerade” is particularly well done. It features a pile of masked back-up dancers literally voguing with hands and fans that works really well. It fits thematically into a big, campy song about people at a fancy costume party.

            This film does everything it needs to. It’s not concerned about being a dignified production, because it knows it’s source material. It’s rock opera about a lunatic in a mask filled with songs that are a few guitar solos short of hair metal. If you come to this movie looking for some transcendent experience about inner beauty, you’ll be disappointed and should probably just read the book or something. Come for a fun rock opera that’s pace is way faster than its runtime and you will be a happy camper.

            It’s not the best movie musical every made. Hell, it’s pretty far from the top ten. But it’s a fun enough way to kill a Friday night drinking some cocktail with more sugar than booze. Give it a watch.

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