Saturday, July 14, 2012

8 DAYS OF BATMAN COUNTDOWN: #6 - Batman Forever

"Joel Schumacher submits to the Wagnerian bombast with an overly busy surface, and the script by Lee and Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman basically runs through the formula as if it's a checklist."  - Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

#6 - Batman Forever

Batman Forever is a deceptive little film.  Not because it is good, but because it is inherently bad, only the audience never realizes how bad it actually is.  It is a Monet painting, beautiful form a distance but a muddled mess up close.  We see certain elements, and we enjoy several moments in the film, but as a whole the step down from Tim Burton's vision is as wide as the Grand Canyon.  This was Joel Schumacher's first exploration of the character, and it is clear he was less interested in the psychology of Batman than he was the flashy camp aspect of the comics.  The Dark Knight is less dark, and more amused by his world, and this is a real problem.  Of course, I complain about this with another campy version of Batman waiting in the wings on this list, but there is a great difference.  If camp is the direction, there cannot be any other.  Batman Forever wants the best of both worlds, and finds itself stuck in the middle.

Once Tim Burton decided not to direct a third Batman film, it was only a matter of time before Michael Keaton left the franchise.  Enter Joel Schumacher, who chose Val Kilmer as his Bruce Wayne.  Kilmer in the mid nineties was a fine choice for the caped crusader.  I have no issues with the way he plays the character, straight and with very little irony or sarcasm.  It is the world around him which grows increasingly out of control.  Gotham no longer resembles any sort of real city; now, there is a sprawling epic landscape of endless skyscrapers that seem to stretch beyond the clouds.  The entire world of this Batman franchise has been turned up to eleven, overloaded with neon pinks and greens and endless amounts of nonsense.

Naturally, the villain this time around shoud be The Riddler.  With The Joker, Catowman and The Penguin already used, the fourth of the "Big Four" was a foregone conclusion.  And using Jim Carrey as The Riddler was a master stroke that saved the film from being a total disaster.  Carrey was at the height of his powers in 1995, and choosing him as the zany villain was a master stroke that saved the rest of the film.  With Kilmer being bland, and the forgettable love story with Nicole Kidman's Dr. Chase Meridian, Carrey keeps us interested as he tries to rule Gotham through mind control.  But Carrey is not enough to keep the cracks from showing in the rest of the picture.

We get the introduction of Two Face, played thanklessly by Tommy Lee Jones in a forgettable role.  Two Face has his two women, one in white and one in black, and the entire subplot makes very little sense except for the desire of the producers to add just one more villain.  The Riddler would have been plenty in the film.  Frankly, Jones seems confused by his role most of the time.  There is also the introduction of Robin, played by Chris O'Donnell.  Introducing the character is fine, it is necessary eventually, and O'Donnell does a fine job as Dick Grayson.  But you can start to see the overloading of characters in Schumacher's pictures.  This was only the tip of the iceberg.

Upon its release, Batman Forever was not seen for what it clearly is today: the beginning of the end.  Go watch it again and you will see the warts as bright as day.  Sure, it was a success at the box office and had one of the more popular soundtracks in recent memory.  Heck, even I liked it when it was released, but I was fourteen and I liked anything involving my favorite superhero.  Regardless of the odor.