Welcome to the Waiver Wire’s EVERY BATMAN EVER MARATHON. In the weeks leading up to the release of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ I will be watching and analyzing every feature film based on the Caped Crusader. The Batman film franchise is an old one with roots stretching all the way back to film serials produced in the 40′s. The first feature film came about in 1966 and our love affair with The World’s Greatest Detective has continued on ever since. Check back every Wednesday for the newest installments and I encourage you to join in and do the marathon with me. Here’s the schedule (click on the date for past installments):
Intro: 5/23; Batman (1966): 5/30; Batman (1989): 6/6; Batman Returns (1992): 6/13 ; Batman Forever (1995): 6/20; Batman & Robin (1997): 6/27; Batman Begins (2005): 7/4 ; The Dark Knight (2008): 7/11; Recap/Rankings: 7/18; The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 7/25
Batman Forever (1995)
Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell
Plot: The plot in this one also revolves around two villains, the first is former District Attorney, Harvey Dent, as the deranged Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones). His motivation is pretty simple. Kill Batman, commit crime. (Now, If you’ll allow me to quote Wikipedia for the other villain…) “Meanwhile, Wayne Enterprises researcher Edward Nygma (Carrey), develops a device to beam television directly to a person’s brain. Bruce Wayne rejects the invention on the grounds that such intrusive technology raises too many questions and Nygma’s supervisor attempts to terminate the project. Nygma tests the machine on his supervisor, kills him and resigns from his position, leaving a riddle behind.” Meanwhile (again), Bruce Wayne meets, and becomes enamored with, a Batman infatuated psychiatrist, Dr. Chase Meridian (Kidman), at a charity circus event which features an act called The Flying Graysons. Two-Face crashes the party and kills all of the Graysons except one, Dick (O’Donnell), who Bruce takes back to the mansion to help out. Dick vows revenge on Two-Face and starts down the path to eventually becoming Robin. Batman must juggle his complicated romance, vengeful protege, and the diabolical team of The Riddler (Nygma’s new alter ego) and Two-Face who are using Nygma’s television invention to brainwash Gotham. Wow, that was a mouthful.
Production History: Film studio executives and the general public are exceedingly stupid. Warner Bros. felt that Batman Returns, despite making good money, under performed at the box office because it wasn’t “family friendly” enough, labeling it as “too dark.” Having just watched it I can say 1.) Incorrect and 2.) So what? It was great.
The studio asked Burton to simply produce the film and gave him approval power for a director. He ended up giving Joel Schumacher the go ahead. Schumacher wanted to adapt Frank Miller’s wonderful Batman: Year One but the studio wanted something lighter in tone and rejected the pitch. Michael Keaton turned down an offer of $15 million to pursue “more interesting roles” and the part of Bruce/Batman was given to Val Kilmer a few days later. Tommy Lee Jones accepted the role of Two-Face despite hating the script because the character was a favorite of his son. Robin Williams was reportedly interesting in the role of the Riddler (he apparently really wanted to be in a Batman flick) but it went to Jim Carrey. Here’s where things get interesting. The role of Robin was originally given to Marlon Wayans. This is mildly insane since the very suggestion of casting Donald Glover as Spiderman (which would have been AMAZING) resulted in death threats on the actor’s twitter. When Will Smith’s name was mentioned for Captain America stroke upon stroke visited angry nerds everywhere. Yet in 1995 Robin was almost black. For undisclosed reasons (I’m going to go with a time traveling racist comic nerd intervening) he left the part and the top two choices became Leonardo DiCaprio and Chris O’Donnell. For the first and last time in history, O’Donnell won that battle.
Schumacher famously had on set issues with Kilmer, whom he described as “childish and impossible” and Kilmer gave him two solid weeks of the silent treatment after Schumacher asked him to stop being rude. Schumacher also cited Tommy Lee Jones as a source of trouble on the set claiming he felt threatened by the presence of Jimmy Carrey (and his performance) causing him to act like a diva. Why, oh why, isn’t there a behind the scenes documentary about the making of this film? (Sidenote: Schumacher described Carrey as “a gentleman.”)
The film received mixed reviews but was a financial hit grossing over $336 million on a budget of $100 million.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Here we go again. After Tim Burton brought Batman back towards the character’s darker roots, Warner Bros. enlisted Joel Schumacher to pump some silliness back in. The movie opens with Batman about to drive off into the night and Alfred joking about packing him a sandwich and the movie basically unravels from there. Batman goes to deal with Two-Face who’s on the top floor of a tower with hostages and wreaking havoc. We then cut to Two Face seeing the elevator approaching and positioning his goons outside of it. My first thought is if you’ve fought batman multiple times then why in God’s name would you assume he’s going to take the elevator up? Two Face’s Henchman shoot into it as if Batman is just some dude delivering flowers. But it turns out Two Face knows his foe because Batman IS in the elevator and emerges totally unscathed. This is why I could never be a super villain. That and the need to jump around gleefully in all situations. Tommy Lee Jones is really over the top here.
Schumacher’s Gotham is extremely comic booky with every building looking like a cathedral and random bright colors shooting out of every nook and cranny. It’s not exactly Burton’s gothic/old school America look but more of a pop art/steampunk meets A Clockwork Orange, meets the video for Thriller meets a glow in the dark mini golf course thing. Everyone is always chasing people with pipes and cackling. It’s also a place where you can whistle and hundreds of punks emerge from the rooftops in order to assist would be rapists.
Nicole Kidman, from go, is trying to bang Batman. It seems to be her only goal at any point and since she was pretty hot in 1995 it’s hard for me to take issue with this. She’s not obsessed in a Vicki Vale, stage 5 clinger sort of way. More of a, “See that badass in the costume? I’m gonna fuck him, just you wait and see.” It adds nothing to the movie but the eye candy is usually welcome. All told, this entire movie comes off as stupid more often than silly but it does have its brief moments. Mostly, though, it’s just sort of boring and hard to care about.
THE BAT: I don’t know if I’m angry at Val Kilmer or if I feel bad for him because he is…let’s just say he’s what the French call “les incompetents.” He looks so deeply uncomfortable in the suit and, while his fighting style is slightly better than Keaton’s because of a better natural build and physicality, Batman still seems like a generally clumsy fighter. Kilmer does employ a deeper “Batman voice” and it would work if his delivery wasn’t so stilted. He’s boring as Bruce Wayne but at least he speaks like a person. His Batman is like a terrible precursor to Ryan Gosling in Drive, complete withlong pauses and oddly emotionless delivery. Perhaps his most painful scene is when he comes through Nicole Kidman’s window to seduce her (which is really a test to see if she loves Bruce Wayne). After insanely awkward dialogue and brutal rejection from Kidman he turns around and a goofy little smile breaks out on his face. I died from laughter so maybe I’m just misjudging this and should be reviewing it as a comedy. Kilmer’s Batman is no Gay Perry.
THE BRUCE: There’s not a lot to say here. Kilmer’s Bruce Wayne is a pretty boring billionaire with almost no discernible personality other than distaste for mind control. We get a moment of seeing how haunted he is by the death of his parents but it’s not like he’s doing anything other than reciting the lines competently. He does at one point say to Alfred (again played by Michael Gough assuring us this is in the same universe) that he’s “never been in love before.” WHAT?!?! I repeat…WHAT!?!?!?! I just watched two movies that say something very different. What about the creepy stalker love of Vicki Vale and the S&M love romp with Selina Kyle? You are heartless, Mr. Wayne. HEARTLESS!
THE SUIT: For most of the movie Kilmer pretty much wears the same suit from the first two films. It’s a little less rubbery and has a bit more practicality to it. Then The Riddler and Two Face destroy the Bat Cave and all of Batman’s stuff so he switches to a new prototype model. For some infuriating reason it’s gray instead of black and covered in odd nonsensical indents. It’s also sort of metallic. At least it’s better than Robin’s red and green GI Joe suit and the nipples that lie ahead, in the next film.
THE GADGETS: Batman has all the usual suspects here. Batarangs, grappling hooks and a horribly written sidekick are all aplenty. As always the villains get the really outrageous toys to play with. The Riddler has a science/magic staff thing that basically controls anything he wants it to in ways that aren’t consistent. He also has an insanely complex lair that seemingly sprung up overnight. Most impressive, though, has to be the giant “Battleship” board/console he has. When The Riddler and Two Face play it actual bombs are sent at the Batboat that Robin is riding towards them. Ultimately, though, it was about as successful as the movie Battleship.
THE CAR: This batmobile is tricked out with blue glowing lights a giant shark fin thing on the back. It gets blown up at one point but is otherwise unremarkable.
THE ROGUE’S GALLERY: I’m thinking Jim Carrey saw Tommy Lee Jones’ performance and was like, “Shit. I was Ace Ventura. I was the Mask. I can go bigger than this.” And he absolutely did. Starting from the time he’s a super weird Wayne Enterprises employee working under Ed Begley Jr., Carrey is clearly there to have a good time, restraint be damned. Also Ed Begley Jr? What are you doing being knocked unconscious with a coffee pot while Jim Carrey says “Caffeine’ll kill ya!”? Shouldn’t you be making commercials for the census or being fitted for formal eyebrows?
Carrey’s Riddler is as over the top and insane as you’re thinking and he is definitely feeding off of Jones’ comparably insane performance. The Riddler’s whole plot involving mind control is sort of out of left field and mostly just there to drive the plot. What’s more interesting is his hair. When in Riddler mode Carrey has a sort of high top-esque hair cut which he dies pink. Then hours later he’ll be Edward Nygma and have normal longish brown hair. He either has one hell of a wig maker, one hell of a barber, one hell of a stem cell collection or one hell of a hair growing disorder. For most of the film he wears a skin tight green jumpsuit but for the climax switches to a white one (with green question marks) that is covered in sequins. It looks like he went to town with a bedazzler. Oh yeah, and there’s his inexplicable magic remote control staff thing…I’m not even going to get into how little sense that thing makes.
Tommy Lee Jones’ makeup is fun in a cartoony way and it’s actually sort of interesting to see him ham it up this much. He’s essentially playing the polar opposite of his typical role of buttoned down serious dude. His interaction with Riddler is where things are at their most interesting. They act like two bad guys in children’s theater engaging in off kilter slap stick, Three Stoogian facial expressions, giddy, laughter filled embraces and tons of one-upmanship.
THE SIDEKICK(S): Robin does not belong on movie screens. He just does not work. This vengeful darker Robin is undermined by O’Donnell’s earring and terrible acting and atrocious costume. Robin’s only notable act is beating up Two-Face but then deciding to save him and getting kidnapped as a result. I don’t have much to say here because…just ugh.
THE VERDICT: Meh. There is definitely some “so bad it’s good” stuff going on in Batman Forever but probably not enough to justify spending the time on it and it was definitely the beginning of the end for the franchise. Schumacher’s next Batman effort would bury the mega-franchise until the mid 2000′s but he laid a lot of that groundwork in this film.
Next Up: Batman & Robin (1997): 6/27