I received the out of print Batman Anthology DVD box set for the holiday and have been re-watching the 1990′s films in parts. For some reason I was heavily attracted to the 1995 Batman Forever, perhaps because my memory of that film is so hazy.
I’m always shocked that people either regard Batman Forever as the best of the four Batman 90′s films or they have no memory of it, lumping it together with 1997′s Batman and Robin. There seems to be little critical approach to the 1995 Batman film. So perhaps this article will fill that gap.
After the first Batman movie was a blockbuster success, Warner Bros. was eager to get Tim Burton and Michael Keaton back for a sequel. Neither was particularly interested as they both felt that they had made whatever statement they had to make on Batman in the 1989 film. Coaxed back for a second outing, Batman Returns was a less than favorably received movie. One of the production staff admitted that he attended every showing that he could only to watch in twisted glee as children cried and parents acted as if they had been assaulted. Burton, however, was re-energized and eager for a third movie, his head brimming with ideas. The studio felt differently and he was removed from the franchise. Joel Schumacher was assigned as director and the production of the third film began.
With screenwriter Akiva Goldsman on board, the third film starred a new love interest, two villains and the introduction of Robin. This was in stark contrast to Schumacher’s initial plan to adapt Batman Year One. The film is a mish-mash of ideas, themes and moods, at one point a poignant sensitive and thought-provoking glimpse into Batman’s psyche and at other points a cartoon with live actors. It’s very apparent that the direction of the third movie was seized by the studio and re-directed from wherever it was headed for a softer more ‘family friendly’ approach. This was to mend any bridges that were burned by the horrific second film and to allow for more tie-ins to children.
The change in tone is just neck-breaking. Whereas both of Burton’s films were artistic statements on the comic book medium and startling with their imaginative execution, Schumacher’s is a train wreck of several films thrown together at once. It’s apparent that while Burton and company were determined to lift the curse of the 1966 Batman series that prevented Batman from being adapted into a serious movie, Warner Bros. had decided that perhaps that was a mistake and they should instead just make modern big budget movie version of the ’66 program.
Aside from a tonal shift, the first big change was in casting Val Kilmer as Batman/Bruce Wayne. I actually like Kilmer in the part quite a bit. While he never really finds his place in the role in the same way that Keaton owned the part, he does a serviceable job and provides the audience with a more dashing and physically believable action hero. I wish he had been in the last 90′s film, but that movie ended up being such a disaster that it would be a cruelty to the actor. Kilmer’s portrayal of Wayne is, like Keaton, subdued and thoughtful yet it never really comes across as much as his Batman. Batman seems quite powerful and emotionally driven when played by Kilmer and the redesigned Batman costume suits him perfectly.
Despite my overly critical article on the 1989 Batman movie, I was a big fan of the franchise when they were in the movie theaters, enjoying Batman Returns the most. After watching Forever, I even went back to glimpse a bit of Returns and was almost immediately reminded by how perfect Keaton was in the part. Just look at the one scene as he is startled from deep thought and you can see him embodying the part. Great stuff.
The inclusion of Robin is very tricky. Apparently he was intended to be in Batman Returns but that movie was so over-crowded that it was deemed to be too much. The character himself is somewhat polarizing for fans. You either love him or hate him. For myself, I really like Robin. I admit that he’s a hard character to like and can be viewed as unnecessary if you like the dark brooding vigilante version of Batman, but properly executed he’s great. Yes, by ‘executed,’ I am including the concept of killing him.
O’Donnell does a remarkable job here and in fact the character of Robin is the only thing that Schumacher got right in his two films. His sincerity is so genuine that you ‘buy’ him in the role. It was very funny to learn that Christian Bale auditioned for this part back in the day. Just consider that for a moment.
Strangely, the schizophrenic script has no idea what the relationship is between Batman and Robin and no clue how to get them ‘together’ in the first place. After perfectly depicting the death of his family, Schumacher can almost be seen shrugging his shoulders as to how he can use Robin at all. To prove my point, notice how Grayson inexplicably moves in with Bruce Wayne and then just hangs out and does laundry for a while.
And just why does a grown man move in with a guy not 5 years older than him? This is why if you are going to introduce Robin, he HAS to be a child in need of protection rather than a young attractive gymnast in need of free lodging with a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’ attached.
After literally stumbling into the Batcave, he makes the odd decision to become Batman’s partner and spends the rest of the movie like a live action version of an eager Warner Bros. character bugging Bruce at every turn. Every time they say the word ‘partner,’ it’s clear that they mean something else. There’s certainly a school of thought that Batman and Robin were intended to be gay lovers (as if Bob Kane was so ahead of his time), but if it was the movie’s intention to portray the duo in some campy homosexual relationship it failed miserably. Tell the joke or don’t is all I’m saying.
The ‘romantic interest’ of Chase Meridian is played with such smoldering intensity that I kept feeling that there was going to be a sex scene between Kilmer and Kidman.
This is in keeping with my thoughts that the movie is part sophisticated film and part family-friendly popcorn flick. Kidman’s accent hilariously slips so many times that I have no idea what she is saying or where she is meant to be from.
The character is also intended to provide some insight to the mind of Bruce Wayne but the rest of the film is so goofy that the idea is grossly out of place. Kidman’s character ends up as part of some kind of dead end as she neither helps the plot progress nor develops a relationship with Batman outside of flirting.
When I first learned of the third film’s plans, the inclusion of two of my favorite villains had me very eager to see the finished product . Oh, how I suffered for my hope.
Tommy Lee Jones is a very capable dramatic actor most of the time and a glorified character actor the rest of the time. In the DVD documentary I learned that of course he had no idea who Two-Face was and yet he had worked with Schumacher before so he was keen to give a shot. This lack of public knowledge of Two-Face is probably due in large part to the fact that he never appeared as a villain in the 1966 TV series (weird, that). It’s VERY clear that neither Schumacher nor TLJ had any idea what to do with the character as he spends most of his screen time laughing like a loon. I wager that both researched the TV series and ball-parked the performance based on what other celebrities did on the series.
I am a major fan of Two-Face in the comics and am of the opinion that he is one of the BIG villains of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. As a result, imagine my disappointment when I saw that he was transformed into a buffoon in a goofy outfit. It is apparent that this version of Two-Face is intended to be an homage in part to the ’66 series but just look up a bit to where I noted the psychological plot of this movie and you’ll see a major conflict.
There are many supervillains that function better as campy characters, but Two-Face is not one of them. Just look at how he depicted in the Dark Knight and you’ll see what I mean.
I hate Jim Carrey. Sue me.
When I first was shown Ace Ventura, my ex-girlfriend happily told me that he reminded her of me. For those of you who know me now, I was a bit more excitable back then. For those of you who knew me then, I’ve calmed down. To both parties, never compare me to Jim Carrey. I’d rather you just dump sewerage on my head.
The character of the Riddler is extremely goofy and was played with so much accuracy and energy by Frank Gorshin in the ’66 TV series that no one could ever come close to that take on the villain. In fairness, several of the Batman rogues only work as goofy comedic characters. Whenever I hear of a third Chris Nolan film starring the Riddler as the villain I weep internally. He’s not sinister, he’s crazy and dangerous, but not dark and sinister enough to fit into the Nolan-verse.
Carrey is clearly just playing the hammy Ace Ventura here and it’s just annoying. Nearly every scene he is in with Tommy Lee Jones seems unscripted and obnoxious. If he had reigned it in and the rest of the film were adjusted for his ‘wackiness,’ maybe it would have worked. But in the end his scenes are so jarring that it’s like the entire movie stops to let the Jim Carrey show prance by.
While watching the DVD with Schumacher’s commentary, I discovered that many of the action sequences were helmed by a second unit director. This made perfect sense to me as they are by far the best parts of Batman Forever. If you have read my review of the 1989 Batman movie you’ll remember that one of my major gripes was that the film was about a guy armed for bear fighting clowns. The third film has so many physical obstacles for Batman that it’s like that blog post was sent back in time to Schumacher’s attention.
Everything from the fight in the ballroom to the confrontation in the sewers and the underwater sequences are just amazing. This movie was the first time Batman was really given something to do, traps to escape from and villains who posed a real threat. Too bad the rest of it is so damned unwatchable. If my instinct is correct and Schumacher had intended to make Batman Forever into a lighter and flashier yet still adult film, then it’s a shame that he didn’t stick to his guns and just make an action movie rather than let the actors run the show and bow to the studio’s needs.
The evidence of Batman and Robin in 1997 damned both the franchise and Schumacher’s reputation with Batman fans for all time, though.