Saturday, June 30, 2012

Batman Movie Batdown Week 5 - Batman Forever

Well, here we go again.  "Batman Forever" returns from the deep to haunt me once more.  I actually reviewed this movie many years ago back on those strange high school afternoons when I had nothing better to do but write a blog even more amateur than this on the FFWiki.  Why did I write reviews of Batman movies on the FFWiki, an encyclopedia dedicated to a subject entirely unrelated to Batman?  That's an excellent question.  Moving on.

I could just come out here and start tearing 1995's "Batman Forever" a new much deeper hole in up its ass, but I don't really want to jump at this from that perspective.  "Batman Forever" is not a good movie, and even at that standard, it isn't a very admirable failure.  This was a movie made by a studio mostly to fill a room full of gold bars, nobody in the production actually seemed to have any particular passion or interest in Batman as a character or even in making this movie.  Rather, they wanted to sell toys.  Lots and lots of toys.  The results speak for themselves, its a far more lazy, loveless movie than the previous two live-action Batman movies.  It has the worst Batman performance of any movie, and a host of dozens of other problems.  However, I'm going to try to say that "Batman Forever" and even "Batman and Robin" are not entirely wretched movies.  They're bad, really bad, but they're a special kind of entertaining bad that's worth not merely dismissing out of hand.

The biggest problem, I think, that most people have with the Joel Schumacher Batman movies is that they're ridiculous and silly and cartoony, almost as if these movies were not made for the fans of gritty dark Batman and instead for kids.  "Made for kids" is not an excuse I'd usually buy for a movie like this, but as a kid, I loved "Batman Forever" and its sequel.  This was probably because my parents misplaced or hid my VHS copy of "Batman Returns" and for about seven years these were the only Batman movies I could watch at all.  I could just outright dismiss this movie altogether (like I did in my first review) and just call eight-year-old me a moron for liking this movie.  I'm pretty sure that eight-year-old me would just respond by throwing a Godzilla toy at my face and calling me a "giant moron times infinity", crushing my ego, and then he would sit right back down and continue watching it.  He's definitely seeing something in this movie that I'm not.

Yeah, "Batman Forever" isn't showing me what I think Batman should be, but that's one thing we need to accept:  there isn't one Batman.  There are tons of Batmans, playing up all kinds of tones and styles.  Batman doesn't need to just be the Frank Miller psychopath rolling on rooftops taking sadistic glee in beating up hoodlums, he can also be a 1930s adventure serial for boys about "the World's Greatest Detective", and he can be this:  a ridiculous colorful movie full of more flashing lights than substance.  On its own merits, "Batman Forever" is actually kinda entertaining.  Mostly because of Jim Carrey.

In 1992 "Batman Returns" was released to theaters and was a huge success.  However, not a huge enough success for Warner Bros, who decided that Tim Burton's take on Batman was simply too dark for the kiddies.  Maybe for some kiddies, I was a badass baby, I loved that movie.  But anyway, Tim Burton had only barely begun pre-production for his "Batman 3" before the call came down from the studio that he was not going to be in charge.  Tim Burton's "Batman 3" is a pretty interesting case of "what could have been?" since it would have still featured Michael Keaton, it probably would have featured some kind of grounded Riddler character, and it would have been Tim Burton's take on Batman working with Robin, something I personally really would have liked to see.  Burton would bow out gracefully and without many hard feelings, taking a paycheck as a producer on "Batman Forever" and then leaving the Batman franchise for the next generation.

That next generation would be Joel Schumacher, who previously was a dependable director of a decent smattering of movies, a Brat Pack film, a few thrillers, and "The Lost Boys", but nobody who ever had been given a major studio blockbuster epic before.  Its hard to actually say that "Batman Forever" is Joel Schumacher's film, very little here actually seems to be his artistic vision.  He actually wanted to direct a film based directly on the graphic novel, "Batman: Year One", which would never happen.  Instead he dutifully followed the instructions of his studio masters, acting more like a contractor than a creative contributor.  When the studio execs asked for a silly movie to be made, he made a silly movie, just like that.  Michael Keaton immediately walked out, rejecting a fifteen million dollar check, which turned out to be not only the artistically correct choice, but also a very career savvy one, since he escaped being connected with these turkeys.  Marlon Wayans, yeah, that Marlon Wayans, was originally contracted to play Robin* dropped out, along with pretty much every actor involved.

Joel Schumacher and the studio had to build from scratch here.  They did not entirely abandon Tim Burton's Batman universe, but they sure brightened it up.  Gotham City is still something of a gloomy place full of shadows and huge hulking fascist sculptures of raw masculinity, but all that style is somewhat lost when Schumacher decorates everything with bright neon lights and the loud screeching wail of the new, inferior, Batman theme.  With Michael Keaton out, Val Kilmer, a very hot actor at the time, was hired to replace him.  Val Kilmer did not even bother reading the script, he just jumped right in.  And his performance is... well, I'll get to that in a minute.  Burton's films are stuffed full of one-liners, but in "Batman Forever" they become the movie.  Every line seems like a gag.  Gotham City is also infected with cartoon sound effects, overacting extras, and squealing paparazzi wailing over how utterly fabulous Bruce Wayne is.  While Tim Burton played loose with realism for the interests of style, "Batman Forever" keeps up the trend of overpowered impossible gadgets being Batman's main weapon against crime, but this is where the camp levels start going through the roof.  Instead of style, Schumacher adds a lot of colors, flashing lights, and stupidly simple dialog to keep kids occupied.  Subtlety of any kind is not a word in "Batman Forever"'s vocabulary.

And yeah, Schumacher added nipples to the Batsuit.  And yeah, there's a close-up of both Batman's ass and his crotch.  These are both true and very sad facts.

Originally in the 1989 Batman movie, Harvey Dent was played by Billy Dee Williams, who sagely chose a bit part in that movie because he read the comics and knew that Harvey Dent would be important later.  Unfortunately, Lando never got the call, and sits out this entire movie.  Tommy Lee Jones instead is playing Two-Face, a giggling creature that runs around the city trying to kill Batman for no particular reason.  This is probably Tommy Lee Jones' most over the top performance in his entire career (which is saying something), since the entire movie he's jumping up and down trying to kill Batman with his strange plans.  Two-Face, as I recall, is supposed to be a character with multiple personalities, and somebody obsessed with the duality of fate, filled with an obsessive need to flip a coin over every possible criminal act.  In this movie, Two-Face constantly reminds us that he has two personalities, refers to himself with the Royal We, but there is only one personality, that of a one-dimensional cackling villain that would not have been out of place in "Batman: The Movie".  He flips his coin before killing people, but only because he has to - he wouldn't be Two-Face if he didn't - not because he actually believes in the coin's result.  He'll even reflip the coin if it doesn't come up the way he wants.  There is a nilistic speech about "BLIND LUCK!!" at the beginning of the movie, but this feature never returns.  Two-Face is supposed to be scarred on one side of his face, but it looks more like that side was splattered with jelly, the effect does not work at all.  There is no depth here of any kind.

At the very least, Two-Face is a megapimp, since he has this awesome lair, one room being dark and medieval and the other this white ultra-modern house.  With two girlfriends cooking him two dinners, one of those girlfriends inexplicably being Drew Barrymore.

Now as for the Riddler.  When Jim Carrey came on set and saw that Tommy Lee Jones was chewing down on some ham, Carrey decided immediately to defeat him and overact more.  This is a battle Jim Carrey won, hands down, because nobody can be hammier than 90s Jim Carrey.  If you were to judge "Batman Forever" solely as a classic Jim Carrey comedy, it actually would manage to pass as being a somewhat decent movie, if really frustrating because of all the boring Batman and Robin bits.  The Riddler begins as one of Bruce Wayne's employees with a huge gay crush his boss.  When Bruce Wayne rejects Jim Carrey's invention, Jim Carrey decides to become a supervillain.  Then he starts running up and down the walls, making for the most entertaining sight of this entire film - BY FAR.  The funny thing is that the Riddler doesn't even need to be a villain, since his invention is basically just 3D television.  Yeah, 3D is utterly evil, but I don't think its something Batman needs to be fighting.  He could have... you know, just gotten investors and legally sold his invention to Hollywood.  But no, let's rob banks.

By describing the villains first, I unfortunately just went through the things I actually like in this movie.  Now for everything I don't like, and that's pretty much everything else.  As a kid I probably could not have noticed how terribly, disgustingly dull Val Kilmer is in "Batman Forever", but as an adult it screams at me.  Val Kilmer perhaps might have been attempting to emulate Michael Keaton's understated insanity as Bruce Wayne, but he doesn't quite get that across.  Instead it just comes off like he's not acting at all.  I spent my entire viewing of "Batman Forever" for this review screaming at my television set, demanding that Val Kilmer - who usually is a very good actor - remember his craft and ACT, DAMN YOU.  COME ON, EMOTE!  GIVE ME SOMETHING!

Val Kilmer's main relationships in this movie are with Dr. Chase Meridian, and Robin.  These two relationships never seem to actually come together, its two totally different plotlines going on, just with Bruce Wayne in both of them.  Chase is played by a very hot mid-90s Nicole Kidman, who wets herself at the sight of Batman and his "scarred psyche".  If the later Batman films were made by intelligent people, Chase Meridian would have eventually evolved into Harley Quinn, but that's not to be.  There's a very long and dull romantic complication with Nicole Kidman constantly wavering on whether she likes Bruce Wayne or Batman more.  And Robin is pretty obnoxious all in all, forcing himself as Batman's sidekick when he isn't showing off by doing kung-fu laundry (that's a thing in this movie) or stealing the Batmobile to pick up chicks.  All these personal issues mean that Batman never can actually hunt down the Riddler or Two-Face when they run around town robbing banks, totally unopposed.  For about five minutes Batman even gives up the cape.

The plot is just a wild mess of things happening all over the place.  None of the Batman films before this (except "Mask of the Phantasm") were very tightly plotted, but this just feels lazy.  Its things happening, that's it!  There is no real theme to this movie, nothing driving anything together.  Its a movie about too many things at once:  Batman gets a girlfriend, Batman gets a sidekick, villains do silly non-scary villain stuff.  Very little of this actually connects.  To move away from Tim Burton darkness, they decided Batman shouldn't kill anymore.  Batman spends a great deal of time trying to tell Robin that revenge won't make him feel better, that killing Two-Face will solve nothing.  Then at the end of the movie, Batman just kills Two-Face, solving the entire matter quite nicely  My favorite is at the end, when Val Kilmer makes a big triumphant speech to the villains upon winning, my reaction was mixed confusion.  Movie, are you pretending to be about something now?  How cute.  Batman says:  "You see, I'm both Bruce Wayne and Batman, not because I have to be, now, because I choose to be", and my face was the same one Jim Carrey has on:


From that description I gave up there, its hard to actually see how "Batman Forever" is at all a good movie.  Some people would even go far enough to declare that this isn't even a true sequel at all to "Batman Returns" and is actually a whole new Batman franchise entirely.  I think Schumacher changed quite a lot from the Burton films, but those movies were never particularly grounded in reality either.  They were insane and ridiculous in their own ways - remember the army of rocket penguins?  But while that was AWESOME, nothing of the absurdity in this movie seems to fit that standard for me.  I guess its fun watching Two-Face and the Riddler laugh it up while killing Batman and Robin on a life-sized Battleship board***.  But that's the thing, I never said "Batman Forever" was a good movie.  I just said it wasn't an offensive movie.  Its still watchable, it still can be somewhat fun in the lowest common denominator kind of way.  Its nothing more than a mediocre superhero movie, the kind that Hollywood has been churning out ever since.  I guess "Batman Forever" is something of a perverse pioneer in that respect.  But its not good enough to be remembered, and its just not terrible enough to be real trainwreck fun, like its sequel would be.

Today "Batman Forever" is not a very fondly remembered film, mostly standing as the build-up to "Batman & Robin", a movie that is nearly universally despised.  And this is where it should be, because actually, in terms of pure entertainment, "Batman Forever" is the LEAST entertaining Batman movie.  Its still watchable, because of the all bright lights and Jim Carrey, but its something of a rough sit, I must confess.  However, that's today.  Back in 1995, "Batman Forever" was a huge smash hit.  Because of us.  We 90s kids did it, we made this movie a massive success.  Its our fault.  The kids were happy, the parents were fine with a harmless superhero movie that didn't scare them like "Batman Returns" did, and the critics grumbled, but Warner Bros didn't care.  The comic book fans grumbled, but NOBODY cared.  Comic book fans wouldn't own Hollywood for another decade, they were helpless before Warner Bros juggernaut.  However as mediocre as "Batman Forever" might be, it still has one thing going for it:

"Batman and Robin" is even worse.  That's next week.


* Okay, maybe we didn't miss out on much when Tim Burton's "Batman 3" was rejected.  Because as bad as Robin is in "Batman Forever", he sure as Hell isn't Marlon Wayans.  Marlon Wayans was actually briefly signed on to be Robin in "Batman Returns" which probably would have made my Batdown a heck of a lot shorter.  If you feel like you've missed out on Marlon Mayans, just watch "White Chicks" or "Dungeons & Dragons", you will never feel the need to see another Marlon Mayans film again.

** The old Burton-era Batmobile was removed for no reason and replaced with a new model that looks like a particularly ugly striped running sneaker.  Later in the movie the Batwing and Batboat from "Batman" and "Batman Returns" both come back, with possibly the same models as the older movies.  Schumacher modernized them by puking neon all over the place.  Because nothing is ever shiny enough in these later movies, are they?

*** Technically "Batman Forever" is a much better Battleship adaptation than "Battleship", the mediocre movie I saw a few weeks ago.


  1. Strangely, I saw this some years ago and I remembered thinking Jim Carrey's role was interestingly dark. Then I saw it again recently, and I figured I must've stumbled upon a copy of Batman Forever from a parallel universe or something where it was actually a good movie.

    I agree with it being better as an adaptation than Battleship, though. At least Jim Carrey actually shouts "You sunk my battleship!" at some point!

  2. Ahhh yes the 90's Batman Movies. As kids we were complete IDIOTS and would shove anything down our throats that Hollywood gave us. Does anyone else remember the collector glass cups they had at Burger King?

  3. Good review blue i knew you could make them sound diffrent enough.
    Yeah when we were kids, we let this happen. i wonder if green lantern was shown when we were kids, oh crap i just had the most disturbing mental image.