Nov 21, 2014

[Movies] Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Returns represented the height of the "classic" Batman movie era and certainly a great time for superhero movies. But then Batman Forever came along and sort of represented how things went downhill for this chapter of the franchise. And before you argue that there's an older Batman movie that could probably carry the "classic" label due to tenure, you and I both know the Adam West era is a unique experience of its own that's not necessarily quite Batman.

To be fair, a lot of things changed. Tim Burton was no longer connected to the project and that also meant Michael Keating vacating he titular role. Thus the folks at Warner had to bring in some new talent to fill in the key roles, and their choices probably made sense at the time.

Disclosure moment: I actually had a foolish boyhood crush on Val Kilmer for one reason or another. Maybe it was the stupid way his lip purses out. Maybe I just enjoyed him in the campy comedy classic Top Secret. But for one reason or another, I sort of liked him, and I think this movie had something to do with that.

Synopsis: Batman Forever is the 1995 sequel to Batman Returns and the third movie in this particular franchise. It was directed by Joel Schumacher with a screenplay by Lee Bletcher, Janet Scott-Batchler, and Akiva Goldsman. And with Schumacher came a rather dramatic change in tone for these moments in an effort to make them more family friendly.

The movie starts with the action of Batman (Val Kilmer) facing former district attorney Harvey Dent, known known as the villainous Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones). And while Batman manages to rescue the hostage, Two-Face himself manages to escape. We also meet Edward Nigma (Jim Carrey), a researcher at Wayne Enterprises who seems to have a slightly unhealthy obsession with Bruce Wayne. He has just created a device that will beam television signals directly into someone's brain, but Wayne rejects the technology for being too dangerous.

As Bruce Wayne, our hero also meets Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), a psychologist who seems rather focused on understanding the case of the Batman. And Wayne manages to invite her out to a charity circus event that is eventually attacked by Two-Face and his goons. In the chaos Two-Face manages to kill most of the Flying Graysons save for young Dick (Chris O'Donnell). Wayne offers to take Grayson under his wing given he seems his younger self in Dick's desire for revenge. Edward has an bit of a mental break and eventually becomes The Riddler, and he quickly offers to work with Two-Face to take down the Batman by determining his secret identity.

The effort to make this a more family-friendly movie also resulted in a much brighter, more colorful look to Gotham and its residents. Gone are the imposing Gothic structures with fearsome gargoyles and all that darkness. Instead we have a neon Riddler and a practically florescent version of Two-Face. And yes, they all come with campy disposable goons who fight our heroes over and over again.

Val Kilmer wasn't totally bad for the role of Bruce Wayne or Batman. But I have to admit, his performance here was oddly flat and largely monotonous in either persona. And it's a shame why ended up going in this direction - especially given how over the top everyone else was in the movie. I mean seriously, even Chris O'Donnell was a heck of a lot more animated. This didn't make O'Donnell a better actor in this movie, but at least the guy sort of committed to the role, right?

Speaking of actors being committed, it's oddly admirable how Tommy Lee Jones really seemed to give it his all. His goal was to be the sort of crazy Saturday morning cartoon villains that would make sense to kids - and he really managed to do just that. He's not exactly a great villain or one to take seriously but he's still worlds away from Jim Carrey's depiction of The Riddler. In this case, it's hard to tell The Riddler apart from The Mask or any other role that Carrey has portrayed. He's just Jim Carrey in green. That's about it.

Special mention goes out to Sugar (Drew Barrymore) and Spice (Debi Mazar), who were both visually interesting despite having little to no characterization apart from their costumes. Seriously, what a waste of Drew Barrymore. I wanted more to happen, but it didn't. Ugh.

The main plot fits the tone of the movie - it's a cartoon concept gone bad. Ultimately the Riddler is trying to dig through everyone's memories in order to determine the identity of the Batman. But at the same time, he's somehow stealing everyone's intelligence in order to make himself even smarter. Don't ask me how that's supposed to work - just accept that this is the core plot of this movie.

Inconsistent acting combined with a painful plot and overly colorful visuals results in a very disappointing movie. On it's on it's not great at all. In comparison to the Tim Burton movies that came before, it's downright horrible. And while this is not the worst movie in the series, it's hard to give it a hall pass at this point given its role in the overall decline of the franchise. After all, this is the movie that needed to add another villain but also throw in a weird Robin who starts out all brooding and edge but ends up making silly quotes before the movie is halfway done.

Batman Forever is reminder to us all what happens to a movie franchise when studio executives interfere in the development of a movie franchise in order to simply make more money. When you try to market to the lowest common denominator, this is what you get. And so this movie can only crawl by with 2 horrible puns and quips made by all the different characters out of a possible 5.

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