Holiday musing: Batman Forever

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Good morniiiiiiiiiing, Eat More Comics! Hope you all had a dandy Thanksgiving and are recovering from your overeating and overexposure to relatives. We’re refining our early Christmas present for you — an Eat More Comics message board!! For now, take a trip back in time and think about the comic-book movie I just finished watching on TV on a lazy Sunday morning: Batman Forever.

Back in 1995, the third Batman movie came out — the fourth if you count the old Adam West movie (which I do). Gone were both the director and star of Batman and Batman Returns, as Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were replaced by Joel Schumaker and Val Kilmer, respectively.

People don’t seem to think much about Batman Forever. The Keaton/Burton movies are well-remembered for relaunching a franchise and for notable performances from Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Walken. The fourth movie after the relaunch, Batman and Robin, with George Clooney as Batman, is also well remembered, albeit mostly for killing the franchise for nearly a decade before Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale brought it back. But Batman Forever gets lost in the shuffle a little bit. For my part, I used to remember it as a somewhat flawed but pretty decent movie. Of course, I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid.

Well, after watching the film for the first time in many years, I’ve changed my mind: it’s terrible. Really, it’s pretty awful. Still not as bad as Batman and Robin, but closer than you might think. Burton’s goal had been to create a darker vision of Batman; Schumaker’s goal seemed to be to put all the campiness and corniness back in. It’s rather astounding how many bad lines there are; even more impressive is how much bad acting there is.

The bad acting is especially bizarre because most the actors in the movie are very talented. Val Kilmer (Batman) has admittedly done several bad movies, but he was great in The Doors and especially Tombstone. Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face) and Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian, the love interest) have each won an Oscar. Chris O’Donnell (Robin) disappeared for a while, but he was good in The Chamber. And of course, there’s Jim Carrey (the Riddler), one of the most famous comedic actors of my generation, who has made his career largely by overacting and being generally goofy (for lack of a better word).

Yet not one of them really gives a *good* performance. I’m not sure any of them can be entirely blamed, either, given the script. Kilmer isn’t necessarily bad, but he comes across as too stiff and unemotional. Kidman’s character just seems so pointless that it’s hard for her to make anything out of the role. Jones arguably gives one of the worst acting performances of his career, but again, blame the plot for much of it: there’s zero depth to the terribly written Two-Face character, so Jones has to play him as just another lunatic psycho, which he pulls off poorly. O’Donnell isn’t bad at action or light-hearted moments, but when he tries for emotional reaction, he comes up empty.

And then there’s Carrey, who is both the best and worst part of the movie. At times, he tries way too hard, and his “antics” are hard to even watch. Other times, his … well, exuberant acting plays well into the craze of the Riddler, and he’s a quite enjoyable villain.

To be fair to Batman Forever, even the fairly highly regarded Burton/Keaton movies don’t hold up too well when viewed today. I watched Batman about a year ago, also for the first time in years, and what passed for “dark” in 1989 felt slightly lame today, especially compared to Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Batman Returns holds up a little better, but mostly because of Keaton, Pfeiffer, and Walken; DeVito and the Penguin are rather mediocre, in my opinion.

It’ll be interesting to see how Nolan’s third Bat film shakes out, especially because, by all accounts, he’ll use the Riddler. Coming off The Dark Knight, the second-highest grossing film of all time (and to most if not all of us, the greatest comic book movie ever), there will be a lot of pressure to live up to that success. Although the movie is definitely a “go,” it’s still being planned/written. From the last report I saw — an interview with Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) — they hadn’t decided for sure whether to recast the Joker after Heath Ledger’s death, but it sounded like they were leaning toward leaving Joker out, probably a good choice. Since Ledger’s performance, which won him a posthumous Oscar, is widely regarded as the best villainous performance ever, there will also be a lot of pressure on whomever plays the Riddler — not to mention on Nolan and his co-writer, David S. Goyer, to write Riddler the right way.

And when they’re making those determinations, hopefully they’ll think about Batman Forever, which offers a few good, and a lot of bad, examples.

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8 Responses to “Holiday musing: Batman Forever”

  1. Gokitalo Says:

    Batman Forever! First live-action Batman film I ever watched. Which probably explains a lot. It took me a long time to recognize the flaws in it, of which there are quite a bit. I haven’t seen the whole thing in many years, but I recall still liking certain parts of it, like Bruce’s growing doubts about his mission. I also dug the Batmobile: I mean, let’s face it, cool as the Batmobile from Batman/Batman Returns was, it had a gigantic nipple on the front.

    Jim Carey’s performance was completely over-the-top, but it worked a lot of the time, as I recall. He was clearly going for Frank Gorshin’s manic Riddler, instead of the suave, calculating version John Glover voiced in the Batman Animated Series.

    Batman and Batman Returns have been airing a lot on AMC lately, although I sadly keep missing Batman (the only one I haven’t seen entirely). I actually liked DeVito’s performance; he was a penguin in almost every sense of the word, even down to the way he moved. And it didn’t seem forced or corny, either. In fact, I think that’s one of the themes in Burton’s Batman Returns: namely, both villains, and maybe even Batman himself, become the creatures they dress up as. Which I guess is obvious, but I think Burton was trying to give an almost supernatural edge to it (like when the cats restored Selina’s health). There’s one scene where Selina’s indirectly talking about her Catwoman persona and she almost makes it sound like a possession, Exorcist-style (only with less barfing).

    Some of the things in that movie just don’t hold up, though. I don’t care what driving a giant, yellow duck says about the Penguin’s emotionally stunted psyche: that doesn’t change the fact that the Penguin is driving around in a giant, yellow duck.

  2. davidry214 Says:

    The batmobile was definitely better, you’re right. Although the batmobile in Nolan’s movies is clearly more realistic, I kind of miss the older, more fanciful designs. Check out a very cool site I just found, http://www.batmobilehistory.com, and click on the links on the left to see the different versions of the car over the years. My favorite is probably from The New Adventures of Batman and Robin. Of the movie versions, I’d probably take the Batman Forever batmobile just over the Batman and Robin one; the latter still looks cool, but is a bit too long.

    I somewhat prefer the Batman Animated Series version of Riddler, making him a bit more cold, rational, and intelligent. The manic version Carey portrays comes across as a poor man’s Joker. You’re still right that Carey made it work at times, but on the whole, it was shaky. All of which brings me back to the point of how Nolan will use him, if indeed the Riddler is in the next movie. Given Nolan’s M.O. so far, I think it’s a fairly safe bet we’ll see the more calculating interpretation of the character.

    DeVito’s performance starts off well in Batman Returns, but it’s a downhill slide. I think you’re dead-on about Burton’s goals, but think about how that supernatural possession progresses for each character in the movie. Selina is overcome by her feline fury as she is unable to stop herself in her final confrontation with Max (until Dark Knight, that was still my favorite scene in any Bat movie). Bruce’s final state depends on interpretation: either he is blind as a bat, willing to reveal his identity in front of Max and potentially comprise his mission; or, as I prefer to see it, he is the only one to overcome the animalistic possession (part of what makes him the hero) and unlike his namesake, he sees things clearly, willing to sacrifice everything to try to save Selina from herself.

    But what about Penguin? He started off so well, a creature with depth whose disgusting appearance reflects his inner evil as he looks to con his way to the top. And when his bid for power went south, he returned to the sewer to plot his revenge on those who had what he never would. It was the perfect set-up for a great finish. But what does he do? When he makes his climactic return ascent, it’s in a giant rubber ducky (as you alluded to), and he sends out an army of intelligent penguins (that, for some reason, live in the sewers of Gotham) with missile strapped to their heads. Like I said in my initial post: pretty mediocre. And because of it, Burton’s “dark vision” feels slightly lame, though in that movie, the other characters were able to make up for it.

  3. Gokitalo Says:

    I prefer the BTAS version of the Riddler too. I have a soft spot for Gorshin’s take, but like you said, it was very similar to the Joker. If the Riddler shows up in Nolan’s third Bat-movie, I just hope he goes for the BTAS version

    Bruce’s final state depends on interpretation: either he is blind as a bat, willing to reveal his identity in front of Max and potentially comprise his mission; or, as I prefer to see it, he is the only one to overcome the animalistic possession (part of what makes him the hero) and unlike his namesake, he sees things clearly, willing to sacrifice everything to try to save Selina from herself.

    I like both takes. “Blind as a bat”: clever, heheh.

    I forget, did they ever explain how those penguins ended up in the sewer (and survived)? Were they all escapees from the Gotham Zoo or something?

  4. Gokitalo Says:

    Love the Batmobile site, by the way. Here’s a more tongue-in-cheek version:
    http://www.chickslovethecar.com/

    And I’m glad I’m not the only one who liked the Batmobiles from Batman Forever and Batman and Robin! The New Batman Adventures one is great as well, very iconic. I do like me the original Batman: The Animated Series vehicle as well.

  5. davidry214 Says:

    I don’t remember how or if they explained the penguins in the sewer. Even if they were zoo escapees, it would still be terrible.

    Who would be a good casting choice for a BTAS version of the Riddler?

    I’m a little less fond of the Batman Forever batmobile the more I look at it. Not sure the skeletal look works. The Burton batmobile would have been just about perfect if not for the aforementioned nipple on front. So maybe that leaves the Batman and Robin version as the best? Hey, it was actually best at something!

    Again, Nolan’s batmobile gets credit for its practicality, but I miss the fanciful/stylish versions. Still, I admit using something like Burton’s or one of Schumaker’s wouldn’t conform well to the realistic approach used elsewhere in the Nolan films.

  6. Gokitalo Says:

    Maybe, but keep in mind Batman self-destructed the tumbler in Movie 2…

    As for the Riddler… hmm. I’d love to see John Glover himself give it a shot, although maybe they’d prefer a younger actor. A lot of people thought they were going to cast Johnny Depp, but that was just a rumor. Here’s a Depp-esque version of the Riddler from last year’s Joker GN:

  7. davidry214 Says:

    Glover seems unlikely, having played a villain on Smallville. He almost might be on the borderline of too old, though I do like him a lot.

    It’s tough to come up with casting ideas for something like this; I never would have thought of Ledger for Joker. Plus, there’s always the possibility they’ll go with someone we’ve never heard of. But given the first two Nolan movies (actually, every Batman movie), you’ve got to think there’s a good chance the main villain will be played by a big name.

    I’d heard the Depp rumor; the funnier debunked rumor had Eddie Murphy playing Riddler. Other names thrown around: David Tennant, Dane Cook (lol), Jim Carrey again, Viggo Mortensen, Crispin Glover. I’d like to see Michael C. Hall.

  8. Gokitalo Says:

    *strokes chin* very interesting choice. Bet he could pull it off, too, based on what I’ve heard about Dexter.

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