Thursday, September 6, 2012
Batman Forever (1995)
Tim Burton brought the most iconic comic book character to the big screen in the 1989 smash hit Batman. Gone was the campy and cartoonish family friendly Caped Crusader replaced by a psychologically damaged billionaire with a thirst for fighting Gotham City's criminals under the cover of darkness. Batman became a pop culture phenomenon. By being a blockbuster for Warner Bros. and DC Comics, a sequel was inevitable. So, in the summer of 1992, Batman Returns graced the big screen bringing back Tim Burton in the director's chair and Michael Keaton in the title role. After facing his first major enemy, The Joker, played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson, Batman's next big villains were the freakish Penguin played by Danny DeVito and the sexy yet dangerous Catwoman played by Michelle Pfeiffer. While Batman Returns did decent business at the box office, Warner Bros. got a lot of flack from pissed off parents that the film was too dark, too gothic, too violent, and too adult for the youth of the world. Even the casual Batman fans (except this one) complained that Burton had gone too far with making Batman dark.
This caused Warner Bros. to want to switch gears and make Batman fun again by bringing the character back to his campy roots while still keeping a little bit of darkness left over. Burton was reduced to a producer role and WB hired fellow stylish director Joel Schumacher who is best known for his 1987 cult classic teen vampire flick The Lost Boys. Schumacher grew up loving the campy 1960s television series of Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The Riddler played by Jim Carrey and Two-Face played by Tommy Lee Jones (who replaced Billy Dee Williams) were chosen as the villains of this third Batman movie. Feeling that the franchise was backtracking to what the 1989 film was meant to steer away from, Batman and Batman Returns star Michael Keaton turned down the role. Liking his role in the film Tombstone, Schumacher hired Val Kilmer to replace Keaton as The Dark Knight. Finally joining The Caped Crusader was Robin/Dick Grayson played by Chris O' Donnell. While it brought in a mixed audience and mixed reviews, Batman Forever was a decent enough success financially to please Warner Bros. and beat out Batman Returns at the box office. Is the second sequel any good though? You'll just have to read on to find out.
Gotham's former District Attorney Harvey Dent is now a rising criminal known as Two-Face, who was horribly scarred after getting acid thrown into one side of his face by crime kingpin Salvatore Maroni during a court trial. Batman tried to save Dent, but was too late. Two-Face blames Batman for not saving him. Apparently Two-Face has been in and out of Arkham Asylum, giving Batman a hard time by committing all of his crimes dealing with the number "2" and using his coin to decide for him. This time, Two-Face is holding up the 2nd National Bank of Gotham on the 2nd anniversary of the day that Batman caught him and is holding the only security guard hostage. Batman arrives, beats up some of Two-Face's goons, and attemps to save the guard who is tied up in a safe only to realize that it is a trap. The safe is filled with acid. Luckily, Batman saves the guard and tries to stop Two-Face who has escaped in a helicopter. Meanwhile, a disgruntled employee at Wayne Enterprises named Edward Nygma has an obsession with his Brain Waves device and of course with Bruce Wayne who hired him. After realizing that Nygma's new invention can be dangerous, Bruce turns it down. Therefore, Nygma decides to get revenge by killing his boss and sending Wayne riddles. Commissioner Gordon has brought in hot criminal psychologist Dr. Chase Meridean to look into Two-Face and help Batman out. Chase of course takes a fancy to Batman due to his scarred personality and mystique while also taking an interest in Bruce with his post childhood trauma of watching his parents murdered. While out to see the circus with Chase, Bruce witnesses Two-Face crash the place and murder The Flying Graysons, leaving the only survivor Richard orphaned. Feeling that he can relate to Richard Grayson, Bruce offers him a place to stay at Wayne Manor.
Dick wants to seek revenge on Two-Face and gets into mischief by discovering the Batcave and jacking the Batmobile for his own sense of thrill. Grayson wants to be Bruce's partner, but Bruce doesn't want Dick to follow in his footsteps by seeking revenge. Meanwhile, Edward Nygma teams up with Two-Face under the persona of The Riddler dressed in all green with question marks all over him. Riddler offers to use his Brain Waves device to discover Batman's true identity. Nygma and Two-Face soon find out that Bruce is The Dark Knight, raid his home, destroy the cave, and kidnap Chase. Bruce must rescue Dr. Meridean and stop Riddler and Two-Face, but will need a little help from his new ward becoming The Dynamic Duo, Batman And Robin!
While it was definitely a downward spiral and a step backwards from what Tim Burton did with Batman, I do enjoy Batman Forever. In fact, I've always enjoyed this film ever since I first saw it in the theater at 7 years old. Like with the previous two films, I was a Batman merchandise addict. I got it all. Action figures, school supplies, toysets, shirts, Halloween costumes (I actually had a Batman mask, a Two-Face mask, and a Riddler costume!), and I even had the movie's poster taped to my bedroom door. The story to Batman Forever is definitely easy to follow because the movie plays out like a live action cartoon. Screenwriters Lee and Janet Batchler with a little help from Akiva Goldsman wrote a screenplay that took the character of Batman pretty seriously, yet made the villains over the top and campy like the '60s television series. While Batman was portrayed more in the shadows and a straight up psychologically damaged vigilante in the previous two Burton films, Joel Schumacher took Batman in the complete opposite direction. While still dealing with the painful memory of that night in the alley where his parents were gunned down in front of him, Bruce has realized that the darkness was consuming him and doesn't know if he wants to be Batman anymore. Plus, he's met a woman who likes both sides of his personality. Vicki Vale liked Bruce, but couldn't deal with Batman. Selina liked both sides, but was too far going into a different direction that their relationship wouldn't work. But now with Chase, Bruce had finally met somebody who takes an attraction to both the man along with the beast in the shadows and who is not a criminal herself.
Another strength about Batman Forever is Bruce flashing back to that fateful night after witnessing Two-Face murder Dick Grayson's family at the circus. Memories he had hidden from himself of forgotten pain begins to surface, which ultimately leads to him accepting Dick as a partner when he realizes that Dick will follow his legacy whether he wants him to or not. While many look at Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson as a father/son relationship, I always looked at it as either a brotherly kinda bond or a buddy cop friendship. In buddy cop movies, you usually get the older more experienced cop who gets partnered with the much younger rookie and trains him while also formining a close friendship either in a father/son or a brotherly kinda way. Robin was actually created in the comics back in 1940, exactly a year after Batman himself was introduced to give kids reading the comics a character that they could identify with. Personally, I prefer an older Robin like in Batman: The Animated Series or even here although I kinda wish they had made him around 15 or 16 instead of early 20s. My only problem with the portrayal of Dick Grayson in this movie is that they write him kinda like Jason Todd, who for those who don't know was the second Robin after Dick grew up to become Nightwing. Jason Todd's father was murdered by Two-Face. Jason Todd tried to jack the wheels off the Batmobile and was caught by Batman who took the orphaned teen in as his ward and trained him to be the next Robin. While Dick actually did everything Bruce told him and followed his example, Jason got into mischief and talked back to Batman, which actually ended up getting him killed in an explosion by The Joker. Here, Dick is kinda the rebellious young man who breaks into the Batcave, steals the Batmobile to take it for a spin, and tries to impersonate Batman.
While most of Dick's characterization in this film is similar to Jason Todd's, I do think that the guy is just doing this to deal with the pain of his family's death. I'm sure Bruce probably did some punky stuff too when he was Dick's age. Remember that time in Batman Begins when Bruce brought a loaded gun to the court trial of the man who murdered his parents and was planning on seeking revenge himself? Even though that was a total separate continuity and different Batman movie saga, Bruce too was Dick's age and thought the only way to get justice was to kill the killer that took his parents. In the previous films, Batman was a vigilante who killed The Joker by making him fall to his death from the Bell Tower, blew up Axis Chemicals with Joker's men inside, strapped dynamite on a circus freak, and set a guy on fire with the Batmobile. I guess after seeing what the thirst for revenge did to Selina Kyle, it made him realize that revenge wasn't the answer anymore and that he had to stop killing the criminals. Just like the line Bruce tells Dick in the Batcave...
"Your pain won't die with Harvey, it grows. So you walk out into the dark to find another face and another and another until one terrible morning you wake up to realize that revenge has become your whole life and you won't know why."
While the characterization between Bruce Wayne/Batman, Dr. Chase Meridean, and Dick Grayson is taken seriously, the characterization of the villains is all camp and fun. Edward Nygma has always been a guy with one obsession, which is to outsmart Batman. He sets traps with a puzzle to solve in order to get out of the traps, save the citizens, or to locate him. He is very similar to the horror villain Jigsaw or the real life murderer The Zodiac. He's totally narcissistic. Here, Edward Nygma/The Riddler is characterized as being obsessed with Bruce Wayne and using his new device to suck out peoples' memories and gain their thoughts and secrets. When his invention is rejected, Nygma goes even more nuts. Now, being psychotic can go down two streets in movies especially comic book movies. There's psychotic in a scary way like The Joker in The Dark Knight or The Scarecrow in Batman Begins and then there's laughable crazy such as Jack Nicholson's The Joker in Batman (1989) or the way Riddler and Two-Face are portrayed in this film. Now, The Joker while humorously psychotic, was never extremely over the top. Here, Riddler and Two-Face chew up the scenery with VERY over the top portrayals of two of Batman's famous rogues. Riddler however was one of the big super villains in the 1960s Batman television show who was a pretty wacky guy. With that said, Riddler can get away with being very loud and cartoonish. Plus, when you have Jim Carrey playing the part who I thought was good casting for the time, you're going to get a wildly energetic character. Two-Face however was never meant to be a funny character. In fact, Two-Face is a very sad and tragic character. Harvey Dent is a guy who was so good hearted and wanted to clean up Gotham City, something that only The Dark Knight and Commissioner Gordon were willing to do before Dent became Gotham's District Attorney. Then, an accident occurred leaving Dent half scarred and half sane.
Honestly with the more split direction that Schumacher was going with Batman and Bruce Wayne in this movie, Two-Face seemed like the perfect choice for the film's main villain. Unfortunately, Two-Face is portrayed as a Joker copycat or to put it better, what Two-Face would have been like if he was one of the super villains in the Adam West Batman show. While I am definitely entertained with this more looney Two-Face, it still saddens me that Warner Bros. and Joel Schumacher didn't make Two-Face out to be the tragic fallen hero he is in the comics or Hell even in Batman: The Animated Series. They could have still made it work as a lighter film and show Harvey Dent's war on the mob lead to him becoming what he had sworn to fight against. If kids can understand it in The Animated Series then I'm sure they could handle it in a live action movie. It ain't like he got half his face blown off like in The Dark Knight where you could see his skull! Having a tragic fallen hero story could still work in a more family centered Gotham City if they weren't so set on making the villains more like the '60s style for the '90s. We barely even get to see Harvey Dent as he is already Two-Face when this film begins. We do get a quick news report showing the court room accident, but that's it. Real shame. We also get a different actor with Tommy Lee Jones replacing Billy Dee Williams who played Harvey Dent in the first movie. Personally, I would have loved to have seen what Billy Dee Williams would have done as Two-Face. The man is a great actor and even though he wasn't a young white guy, he was still a good Harvey Dent in my eyes and would have been an interesting Two-Face. But oh well, we got Tommy Lee Jones hamming it up as Two-Face, which was I admit pretty amusing yet disappointing at what could have been done with the character. However, I did dig the whole thing with him having two girlfriends reflecting his diverse personalities and the look of his lair was similar to The Animated Series. I did however take issue that in one scene he kept flipping his coin until it landed on the side he wanted.
The look of Gotham with its more warm and colorful design was actually pretty decent. While I obviously prefer either the dark, gothic, and netherworldly Gotham or the gritty realistic Gotham, this new Gotham wasn't so bad. Although, the neon was weird and would get weirder in the next film. Loved the new look of the Batcave and the new Batmobile. I enjoyed the two new Batsuits except for the nipples. Like everybody else, the nipples was something I had issues with. I also really dug the Robin suit, both the Flying Graysons one and the official outfit. Just didn't like the nipples. The look of Two-Face was weird. Looked pretty cartoonish. Could have been better. The Riddler had like I swear three different outfits. You had the natural Riddler outfit with the green spandex decorated in all question marks with the green mask and green hat. You had the light up Riddler suit for one scene. And then you had the glittery Riddler suit for the finale. Should have just stuck with the first outfit. You didn't see Two-Face constantly changing his outfit. While the orange hair was interesting and probably used to disguise himself, I would have preferred it if Carrey had just worn a green suit with question marks on the jacket, a question mark tie, a purple mask, and the green question mark hat. The Riddler's question mark cane was pretty awesome though. I will say that the villains' dialogue are very quotable especially..
"Riddle me this, riddle me that, who's afraid of the big black bat?"
The music by Elliot Goldenthal was actually pretty fitting. I still prefer Danny Elfman's, Shirley Walker's, or Hans Zimmer's Batman music scores though.
The direction by Joel Schumacher is actually decent with Batman Forever. Although, I think he could have lost the Bat and Robin nipples, toned down Riddler and Two-Face, and not used the neon. But, I really dug the characterization of Bruce Wayne here. The flashbacks are handled very well, especially when young Bruce falls into the cave and sees a bat flying towards him. I do wish that Schumacher had kept the complete red book scene where Bruce as a kid reads his Dad's last journal entry where Thomas Wayne wrote that him and Bruce's mother, Martha, were going to stay in that night, but Bruce wanted to go to a movie. This obviously made Bruce blame himself for the murder of his parents and would have been an even stronger plot point in Batman Forever. Another thing I loved is that Bruce comes to realize that he never had to become Batman to begin with. It was a choice he made for himself, not a choice that was forced on him.
The acting was pretty good for the most part. Val Kilmer is definitely no Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, or Kevin Conroy but I dug his portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne. It was interesting to see coming off Keaton's more revenge driven/psychologically damaged version of the character. It's basically like a deeper and darker version of Adam West. Jim Carrey was fun to watch as The Riddler/Edward Nygma although he did get a little too over the top for me in areas. I still prefer John Glover in the role. Chris O'Donnell was okay as Dick Grayson/Robin. I just wish that the character was written more like Dick Grayson than Jason Todd, but O'Donnell did alright with what he was given. Nicole Kidman was good as Dr. Chase Meridean and looked very sexy. I thought she was hot back in 1995 when I was 7 years old and I still think she was foxy to this day. She's definitely my favorite love interest behind Selina Kyle. Tommy Lee Jones, while a terrible representation of Two-Face/Harvey Dent, was fun to watch and made me laugh. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar were decent as Two-Face's main party gals Sugar & Spice. Batman creator Bob Kane's wife Elizabeth Sanders played the annoying gossip journalist really well as Gossip Gerty and would return in Batman & Robin. Michael Gough did great as usual playing Alfred Pennyworth. Pat Hingle did nothing but turn on the Batsignal and cheer Batman on as Commissioner Gordon. All in all, not a bad cast.
Overall, Batman Forever is a fun movie. It may not be up to par with Burton's two films, but it did do some things right. Too bad that the next film killed the franchise for the next eight years, but at the same time helped make room for the greatest movie trilogy of all time.