16 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman Forever [1995]


proudly presents


Batman Forever

"Because I Choose To Be" | Full disclosure right now: this review of Batman Forever is going to be a predominantly positive review, because of the fact I saw it for the first time at the age of five and I loved every little second of it. The hilarious jokes, the thrilling opening sequence with Two Face at the bank, the Batmobile, the over-the-top performance from Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, the vibrant colors, the fight scenes, the ending, Robin, the riddles - everything about Batman Forever I loved unabashedly and to this day, despite its many problems and just plain badness, I can't hate it, because Batman Forever made me fall in love with the caped crusader. This was my movie, and although this film signals the beginning of the end of the Batman series on the movie screen for quite some time, I find myself constantly going back to it and, at times, defending it.

So that's what this is going to be. Me saying, I like Batman Forever, and this is why.

First and foremost, let's look at the films depiction of Bruce Wayne. What they could have done is make this character unrecognizable to the one began by Keaton, or turned him into a super muscular dude with snark, or given him super powers, or something. Point is, they could have messed up this character majorly. They did not. In fact, they kept Bruce Wayne very much grounded and in tune with Keaton. Michael Keaton brought a darkness and damage to Bruce Wayne, and in Returns there was a bit of comedy to the role, and all these elements remain true in Batman Forever. More than that, this film pushes the psychology of Bruce Wayne further than any film outside of Batman Begins [2005].

The memories of his father's journal that will never be written in again. The singular bat that emerged from the darkness and heralded the beginning of his destiny. The choice and drive to ensure that no one would ever have to endure what he endured ever again. The lecture to Dick about revenge and the countless faces that become your victims. Right there, the basic elements that constitute Batman are explicitly stated. This is Batman. So anyone saying that Keaton is the definitive representation of Bruce Wayne and Batman, I daresay take a closer look at Kilmer and this films interpretation. For all intents and purposes, it's the same guy. Keaton could just as easily walked into this role. But the point is that whatever negative press directed towards this movie, they got Batman and Bruce Wayne down. So that leads me to believe these are the areas people hate:

- The nipples on the batsuit. Honestly, it wasn't distracting, so I didn't care too much. It will become more dominant and obnoxious in the next one, so I'll probably complain during that review, but here, it doesn't hurt it. A commenter I read frequently brought up that women's garments are sexualized by heterosexual males in the comic strips, sporting nippes or giant breast plates that don't really serve the character well. A understandable argument. After all, including nipples on the batsuit makes no sense. Guess we'll chalk it up to artistic liberties taken by Schumacher for his own personal reasons.

- Two Face and the Riddler. Understandable hatred directed towards these two, and I won't fault anyone for hating the film because of them. But, again, I'd probably just say, your enjoyment or hatred of these two, and much of the movie, depends on how you approach Batman Forever.

- The jokes. Y'know, I didn't mind 'em too much. They were chuckle worthy. Again, this is a hammy Batman movie, not Burton's dark and serious tone. This was to be expected. So reflecting the mood of the film, it fits right in home. Can get to be a little much, that said...

Er, nevermind, actually. I feel like I'm rambling too much and not making a point. So, in essence, Batman Forever, it's a favorite of mine. Why? Because as a child, it made me fall in love with the Bats. I enjoy that the writers continued making attempts at analyzing Bruce Wayne (there's apparently a deleted scene after the attack at Wayne Manor that has Bruce with temporary amnesia and is reminded of who he is by the visage of a giant bat - I'd like to see that, gorgeous symbolism). I enjoy the wackiness of Two Face even though the Batman fan in me should absolutely hate it. I love the nifty gadgets and rides Batman and Robin use to thwart evil. I just have fun watching the flick.

If we were to look at these four original movies as a timeline of storytelling evolution, we've now exited the dark, somber, moody, analytical part of the character and are now in the transition period to something far, far worse than anyone could have expected, but at the same time, a movie that excels mightly at what it is....

Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman | You either love him or hate him. Kilmer says every line of dialogue as Wayne and Batman in the same measured, deep, kinda sleepy tone. His face never changes with the sole exception of a far-too wide grin spread across his face when Dr. Chase reveals that, instead of Rubber Nipples, she actually fancy's a normal bloke for once. But it works. By the same token, though, by maintaining the same manner of physicality and speech pattern, there's so little to discuss about Val Kilmer's portrayal as Bruce Wayne/Batman, that, in actuality, it's the script I'm most impressed by and not so much him. Perhaps it's the strength of the script that sorta....transferred that haunted, tortured persona onto the screen instead of Kilmer himself.

Concerning the character of Bruce Wayne, I have two objections about what happens in this movie: [1] Bruce states that he's never been in love, which goes entirely against the established mythology of the first Burton Batman movie. And really, what does Chase offer that the other gals didn't? More directness? And [2], what sense in the universe makes Bruce quitting being Batman so he can enjoy his love-fueled days with Dr. Chase reasonable? It's a stupid subplot, and at the very least, if a writer is going to make this action reality, it deserved more than just one brief scene before he dons the cape and cowl again. It needs to be a monumental decision, not a simple, 'well....I think that's about enough of that being Batman thing...cos this chick, who I've only been on a few dates with....yeah, gotta give up everything to be with her...' Ugh.

But enough negatives. Kilmer was fine as Bruce. And even though Keaton emoted more, there's just something about Kilmer that - despite what I wrote above - I find him to be the second most enchanting Bruce next to Christian Bale.
Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent/Two-Face | This is a pretty big area where my opinion tends to differ from pretty much everyone else. See, I flippin' love what Tommy did here. It's as if he saw what Jim was doing, and thought, 'Screw you, you aren't going to over-top me!' and bolstered his performance up several pegs. This is Tommy Lee Jones as a unbridled psychopath who is very much treating Batman Forever as nothing more than a comic book movie (and, perhaps, deservedly so). Obviously I wouldn't call this the definitive portrayal of Harvey Dent as a character [since there's very, very little of the true Harvey Dent in this character at all], but it's an absolutely hilarious, totally fun interpretation of Harvey using his one-side deformity as a sort of excuse for MPD. The key to just enjoying Two Face and the Riddler is resigning yourself to just sitting back on your couch, and just allowing these two actors to simply ham it up times a billion, because they aren't playing characters, they're reinforcing the cartoony cultural depictions of villains. Exaggerated movements, lots of yelling, obsession with money and jewels, scantly clad ladies at their service, a lavish, secret lair, and in the Riddler's case, some Ridiculous Evil Scheme. But where Jim Carrey is annoying, Tommy Lee Jones is just brilliantly crazy.

In this day 'n age where there's shorts every once in a while before the movie (typically before Pixar flicks, I know, but still...), I would have loved to see some five minute mini-thingy with Tommy's Two Face stuck with another dweeb of a villain and teaching him the ropes or something. Overall, in the end, I loved Tommy's Harvey Two-Face because he's just so much damn fun. He's silly, he's psychotic,and he's a memorable nutters villain. Yes, he's not the Two Face he should be, but under the context of this movie, he's exactly the Two Face he needs to be.

Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian | Three ladies in three movies. Batman moves fast. So now we have a psychiatrist, Dr. Chase Meridian, who wants nothing but to bone the rubber out of Batman. But then she encounters Bruce, and realizes that he's a cool dude, and to make things even more nice, he's a bit of a damaged bloke, that he's got some darkness in him. At night, Batman arrives outside her door for a booty call, but Chase, ever the tease, declines the rubber monster and instead decides she fancies herself some dark and brooding turtle-neck wearing Bruce Wayne. Things get even better when it's revealed that she really doesn't have to choose at all! She can have both Bruce Wayne and Batman all in one! So she's got a damaged psyche she can assist nursing back to health, and she's got a tall, dark and handsome billionaire ready to quit his profession as a hero and spend his days immersed in a love fest with her! Life is good to Dr. Chase Meridian.

Surprisingly, despite what I wrote above, Kidman's Dr. Chase actually isn't all that bad of a character. She seems to be able to take care of herself (minus the being captured part in Act Two), she likes to wear sexy outfits instead of casual, comfy ones, and in regards to the plot, she helps peel layers of Bruce's mind to reveal memories he's long suppressed. So Dr. Chase isn't a rubbish female protagonist, or worthless or unnecessary for that matter. It's a good character who just seems to be very outwardly horny (good for you, luv). But as for the connection between Bruce and Chase, that comes across as a little less believable, especially the whole leaving-Batman-behind-cos-I'm-in-love bit. The scenes these two share don't emphasize enough of a connection to make that subplot make sense.

Jim Carrey as Edward Nygma/The Riddler | Just wanna note, The Riddler laughs more often than the Joker ever did in Batman [1989]. Just sayin'. Alrightey then, I think we can all agree that Jim Carrey was cast as the Riddler only for star power. As to whether it was the right choice or not, in the context of what this movie is, I'd say yes, absolutely. If I were to objectively look at the character of the Riddler (who Carrey's Edward Nygma hardly shares any similarities to), then Carrey and this Riddler would be one epic fail of epic proportions. Carrey exaggerates every tiny thing. His eyes. His hair (!). His legs. His arms. His head. His words. His vocals. This is a man who approached the character not as some sort of performance, but more like, 'How fuckin' crazy can I get?' And with an approving nod from Mr. Schumacher, amped up his insanity even more. These are caricature villains, and deserve to be looked at such. I mean, c'mon, let's take a gander at the Riddler's big, brilliant evil plan: using his device thingy to channel the brains of Gothamites watching the tele and taking their bank accounts and credit card number information so they can rich and happily ever after. Laaammmee.

Chris O'Donnell as Dick Grayson/Robin | If Robin were ever to be resurrected in the Batman reboot following this Friday's The Dark Knight Rises, this is a model example of how to do it. O'Donnell is wonderful in the role, full of rage at the death of his parents, finding purpose in fighting crime, battling with his desire to kill Harvey, trying to one-up Bruce, etc. This is how Robin needs to be done. If there's one bright spot for fans, I would think it would be O'Donnell's Dick. Sure, he might not completely adhere to the character established in the comics, nor the circumstances of his family's death, but O'Donnell sells the character quite well. It's a shame the script doesn't seem to have too much time for him, though, and O'Donnell does the best he can with what he's given. All that emotional character stuff is handed to Bruce, leaving Dick very little room to change as a person. In the Third Act as the decision comes whether to allow Two Face's death or save him, Dick makes the choice we all expect him to....because that's what's expected, not because it comes organically from his character. So as Robin, he looks great, and this is the right way to go. Just sad thing is, they should have done better with his character.

Gotham City | Still a combination of miniature work and digital imagery, Gotham stays very much in line with the design of the Burton Era, but, y'know, everything that was once dark, is now lit up like a freakin' Christmas tree - times a thousand. Vibrant colors abound. If we're under the assumption - as the movie is - that Batman Forever takes place in the universe first established by the Burton movies, then I guess we can surmise that Gotham entered a new period where the dark and brooding Gotham instead celebrated lights and decorated its gothic architecture with lush designs and...I dunno, glowy stuff. And it's populated with its own unique-to-this-generation gang of Neon/Blacklight street thugs with glow sticks and other sparkly weapons ready to take on anybody who enters their turf. So it's a different vibe to Gotham, but it's still very much the same, and I respect that creative decision. Pretty awesome, I dare say.

 Notes, Quotes and Discussion |
  • Riddler: "Was that a little over the top? I can never tell." Yes, Carrey, your entire performance can be constituted to a little over-the-top.
  • Chase: "You like strong women. I've done my homework. Or do I need skintight vinyl and a whip?" Very nice reference to Batman Returns, and also emphasizes that, despite how jarringly different in tone these Schumacher movies are to the Burton films, they are, nonetheless, supposed to constitute one single universe/chronology. 
  • Batman Forever. Quite often I hear/read folks who absolutely despise this title. What does it mean? That's rubbish! Who makes these titles? To me, I think it's a great title, and better than Batman Returns. With that title, it makes no sense in the context of, well, he never left! Batman's been swinging around Gotham doing his own thing, y'know? Now if it were the case of Dark Knight Rises, when he's gone from the spotlight for a period of time and then re-emerges in Gotham, that title would be apt, but as it is, it ain't so much. Anyway, that aside, this title makes great sense in context of some nifty dialogue. In the Third Act Batman tells The Riddler, "I am both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Not because I have to be. Now, because I choose to be." This about sums up the Schumacher interpretation of Batman and explains away the title. He chooses to be Batman, and he will be Batman to his dying breath. Or if that isn't satisfactory enough answer, who Batman is, what he symbolizes, Batman, in life or death, will be forever.
  • Two-Face: "Yes of course you’re right, Bruce. Emotion is always the enemy of true justice. Thank you, you’ve always been a good friend." These simple lines allude to a greater relationship between Bruce and Harvey than is ever realized in the movie, and that's a big, gigantic pity.
The Final Word | Let's say, if I was a teenage or adultish Batman fan in 1995 and I saw Batman Forever, my initial reaction to watching the film unfold before me on the screen would be utter outrage at the blasphemy and ridiculousness that's tarnishing the Batman name. As it is, I was five, and this movie seemed, in its own weird way, designed for me. I loved The Riddler, Two-Face, the gadgets, the whole damn lot. I can also say the whole Dr. Chase Meridian having a hard-on for Batman flew over my head, thankfully, nor did the thought cross my mind of 'damn, Bats, you're cycling through girls at a pretty quick rate, dude.' Point is, Batman Forever is the type of movie that's very dependent on your taste. As opposed to Batman & Robin, which is a bad movie no matter what way you slice it, there's actually some genuine good fun and depth here, making it not entirely a piece of crap. I genuinely like the movie, but I can entirely understand why others wouldn't. Acquired taste. RATING: 8/10

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