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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Retro Review: Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever
Cast: Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, Chris O' Donnell, Drew Barrymore
Genre: Superhero 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $336 million 

Plot: Batman faces off against two foes: the schizophrenic, horribly scarred former district attorney, Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face and the Riddler, a disgruntled ex-Wayne Enterprises inventor seeking revenge against his former employer by unleashing his brain-sucking weapon on Gotham City's residents. As the caped crusader also deals with tortured memories of his parents' murder, he has a new romance with psychologist, Chase Meridan 

'Batman Not So Forever, Mainly Thanks To Joel Schumacher'

Riddle me this, riddle me that: how did Batman Forever become a disappointment in many ways and was rendered as 'tat'? One answer to that can be the director, Joel Schumacher, who also directed the even worse film, the 1997 follow-up Batman & Robin

I know a lot of people didn't like Batman Returns because it was veering too overly dark and sinister for the franchise; me personally, I enjoyed that as I felt that dark, eerie, brooding tone suited this series. This film, in stark contrast, is a light-hearted farce that comes off more as being comical and like a circus/pantomime show. When Batman uttered the line: 'I'll get drive-thru' when Alfred asks him whether he wants to make him a sandwich, I cringed. 

Batman Forever is so over the top, but in a cartoony way, though it appears that Joel Schumacher was trying to recreate the campiness of the 1960s TV show; two examples being nipples on the Bat suit and numerous neon coloured codpieces, as well as crotch shots - a no-no to be fair-, but then it becomes something of a circus freak show, rather than as a genuine Batman film. Or be it a Batman film that did the franchise and the comic book a huge amount of justice. I actually felt Robin, played by Chris O'Donnell, to be the worst character of the lot; he just seemed to whine a lot and act like a spoilt brat, even after losing his parents. He doesn't even show much emotion when it happened. The name Dick in Dick Grayson, the real-name to alter ego Robin, couldn't be more appropriate, as most of the time in this film, he was just like that. 

Joel Schumacher is just not the right director for this film, or be it any superhero film; his ideas do not suit this film and the image of this film that it is supposed to project; this film is so far removed from the previous two Batman films, as well as Christopher Nolan's prequels, it's astonishing to see that the entire mood and serious resonance it evoked, is all completely thrown away in the garbage, in favour of cartoonish, light and fluffy-ness, which Batman is all but light and fluffyThe film lacks atmospheric intensity, which the former films thrived on successfully. 

Regarding the casting, Val Kilmer was actually not bad as Bruce Wayne/Batman (I'd prefer his rendition over George Clooney's) and he did his best with the poor material that he was given, but I still don't picture him as a legitimate and true incarnation of Batman. Despite lacking a sheer presence and weight that Michael Keaton brought to that dual role, Kilmer's portrayal wasn't as bad as a lot of people have stated. & I thought the actual suit he wore looked pretty good, but for the rubber nipples or whatever that made it look even daft. Actually, the story behind this casting also prompted potential candidates, who could've and might've gone one better, but yet didn't get the roles in the end, but who knows: Ray Liotta was originally a first choice for the Two-Face character - only for it to go to Tommy Lee Jones; both Robin Williams and Brad Dourif were touted for The Riddler, when Michael Keaton who was in Batman and Batman Returns was still on board and before he jumped ship, as soon as Joel Schumacher took over the reigns from Tim Burton. Rene Russo as Dr Chase Meridian opposite what would have been Keaton's, Batman. And finally, Leonardo Di Caprio and Christian Bale - who in the latter eventually went on to play the title character of Batman- both auditioned for Robin. 

Chris O'Donnell as Robin, pass; Nicole Kidman is wasted as the wooden love interest for Bruce and the lines she has as Dr Chase Meridan is not that good. I didn't care for Vicki Vale in the first film and Chase is more on the lines of that character, whereas, at the same time, she lacks the allure and intrigue of Selena Kyle/Catwoman through Michelle Pfeiffer's portrayal in Batman Returns. But in some ways also, she was also likeable. As for the villains, I thought Jim Carrey was a suitable choice for the Riddler (it's either him or Robin Williams, as the only actors I could picture in that role), but I also felt he did go slightly too eccentric and overboard in the performance. That, and he and his mannerisms bear too much like The Joker. Even though that character wasn't so over-the-top, thanks to Jack Nicholson's impressive turn in the first film. So, I can totally understand if a lot of people didn't find him tolerable in this film. The Riddler is a bit of a loon, well that's an understatement, but in the comics and Batman: The Animated Series, he was portrayed as a guy with a crazed persona -yet had an air of arrogance about him, but not one where he would crack jokes at the drop of the hat, much like with The Joker. And yeah, though they were recreating the feel of the 1960s TV show, I'd rather The Riddler was in his Green suit and bowler hat than have him in green spandex all the time, and thus, making the film too camp. Oh, and he with the Pink hair is just way off, he looked like a male version of Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics when she had a similar haircut. Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, however, didn't work for me; yeah, he played a bit of a nut in Under Siege, but here, this role was out of reach from him and he was severely miscast. Half of his face looked like a wrinkly old beetroot. The Two-Face and Riddler partnership lacked the true menace and grittiness, as evoked by Danny Devito's bitter Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer's sultry Catwoman pairing in Batman Returns

The storyline with The Riddler creating a device that allows people to watch TV in 3D, which yet it also sucks away their memories/brains, doesn't make a lot of sense. Especially, as this is (kind of) out of character for The Riddler. The other storyline with Robin/Dick Grayson avenging his parent's death, after they were killed by Two-Face was as redundant as it was predictable. 

Though there were moments that were somewhat watchable, this film is poor, but the blame doesn't just lie squarely at the feet of Joel Schumacher but also at Warner Bros, - who after the complaints from parents about the violence and dark tone the second film evoked - they ripped the franchise out of Tim Burton's hands, played into the hands of whining, over-reactionary parents and thrust it into the hands of a director, who turned the series into something of a mockery to be laughed at. Their so-called creative decisions, - and bad ones as they were too-, put paid to Batman Forever's potential from being great. It also tries to show off with all these flashy effects bombarding the film & looking sleek and stylish in its presentation. 

The characterizations are all over the place and they are either really way over-the-top and hammy (eg The Riddler, Two-Face), or just that they look good on screen, but their personalities come across as being too hollow and boring (eg, Chase Meridian, Batman/Bruce Wayne). That, as well as the whiny, passive-aggressive man-child in Robin. 

Lacking in a strong direction and little substance, Batman Forever is more or less a live-action version of a Saturday morning cartoon series with very overly exaggerated characterizations and at times performances, which border on ludicrous and annoying. The music that plays when Edward Enigma transforms into the Riddler, is awful.

But probably the final straw which put paid to this awful butchering of the Batman franchise, was the image of the Batmobile scaling a wall like it was Spider-Man or something. Jeez. 

Final Verdict

A debauchery and a low point in the Batman franchise - only marred and superseded by the even more dreadful Batman and Robin, which fared much worse, Batman Forever is a Batman film, like no other, and when I mean no other, it's mostly for the wrong reasons. Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman (barely) made it watchable for me, even with their flat and dull characterizations as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Chase Meridian, whereas Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones's over-the-top, hammy, goofiness could have been subdued slightly and handled better. But Joel Schumacher is at fault here and his direction is frankly all over the place, too eccentric and overly wacky, not to mention too camp for this franchise's taste.

If this is a Batman film, then it is one that evokes the tone of the 1960s TV show, but otherwise, this is not a true Batman film; it's a film that masquerades as a comic book superhero film or fantasy film. 

With only a few redeemable elements, Batman Forever marked a brief period of disappointment for the series, followed by the fourth film, that the Batman franchise is thankfully saved, due to Christopher Nolan's prequels. A massive downgrade from its prequels, whilst some aspects work, others do not work so well. 

It's massively flawed, but it is only by sitting through Batman & Robin that those standards have dropped even further. I'd take Batman Forever over that atrocity, still. 

Just about. 


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