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Monday, July 14, 2008

7 DAYS OF THE BAT - DAY 4: BATMAN FOREVER (1995)

“If knowledge is power, than a God am I!” he declares, an alarming flash of sadistic brilliance flickering in his eyes. He prances to and fro, clad in a form-fitting green uniform that is as snug as his mind is broad. He embodies the classic archetype of the trickster, an individual who lives only to cause mischief and play mind-games with all who would even attempt to stop his sick little game. He has no great wish to commit violence, though. No, he’d rather force his opponents to their knees in cerebral defeat, hence providing a satisfying boost to his enormous, and troublesome, ego. He speaks in puzzles and ciphers, a master of the con and an artist in the methods of tomfoolery. He’s also the only appealing aspect of Joel Schumacher’s first foray into Bat-world, the focus of today’s spotlight retrospective. He goes by the devious name of The Riddler, the film is Batman Forever, and you are reading 7 Days Of The Bat – Day 4.


Ah, how great it all could have been... I remember those blissfully ignorant spring days of 1995. I was a model of youthful excitement. Batman was coming back to movie screens! Robin was gonna be introduced! (Not sure why I was excited by this. I never really liked Robin...) Two-Face would be there! He was never on the old Batman show, and I wanted to see him in the flesh! And, my God, they were gonna have Riddler! My second favourite Bat-villain! And he would be played by my young idol, the man behind Ace Ventura and The Mask, Jim Carrey!!! Would wonders never cease??? Sure, Michael Keaton was gone, but Val Kilmer was an okay replacement I figured. He was the Ice Man! ...And the whole thing was being helmed by the former costume designer responsible for the definitive Corey Haim/Feldman vehicle... No Tim Burton for sure, but how much would THAT matter?! So, decked out in a custom made white Batman Forever t-shirt (Which I still have. I don’t know why...), I took my seat on opening night for an evening of unforgettable spectacle.

I think that may have been the moment that my childhood innocence died a horrible, twisted death. Optimism, naivety and joy were forever cast into the blazing hellfire of destroyed expectations, and I was left the bitter, cynical creature of critical bile that now presides over this petty little corner of the blog-verse. This is the house that Batman Forever built.

I don’t know where to begin, so let’s just wander through the bedlam together. In place of the dark, sinister majesty of Burton’s Gotham City stood an ugly, synthetic tribute to neon decadence that immediately removed any sense of danger or intrigue. It’s hard for Batman to be cool when it looks like he exists within an absurdly opulent Las Vegas hotel (and showroom). But then, this wasn’t the same Batman. He was gonna get drive-thru! In the Batmobile! Preposterous! I remember being annoyed, and not sure if this jokey crap was supposed to fly. Hell, if it isn’t making a hyper-active 14-year-old laugh, then it must be pretty damn lame.

And it was. The opening sequence featured a cringe-inducing, broadly-played caricature with a tad too much bizarre facial alteration. Yep, Nicole Kidman was terrible. Her opening scene, hurling ludicrously slutty come-ons at the Caped Crusader was nothing short of painful. The movie appeared to stop dead in its tracks... Until Tommy Lee Jones showed up as Two-Face and it actually did.
Look, I could go through the film scene by scene, marvelling at the sheer awfulness of every single frame, but that would be a lot of work for me and I’m lazy. Although, I’m tempted. So, instead let’s focus on the central flaw of the film, in my opinion: Batman is out of place in his own damn movie. The film’s world is a cartoonish environment where neon street gangs reign, goofy sound effects spontaneously occur and characters behave as if they are in Looney Tunes. So, Batman’s tortured plight, fighting to recall the details of his father’s red book (Zzzzzzz....), has zero weight. It’s actually stunningly dull, creating this weird dichotomy where half the film is a flamboyant camp-fest (which is far too sci-fi-ish), and the other is a shallow, stolid psychological study. And due to this lousy contrast, both sides cancel each other out. Bruce’s emotional turmoil, and his hilariously solemn therapy scenes and dreamcatcher nonsense with Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridian feel like big ‘ol time wasters until the next horribly staged (But ultra-bright) action scene. And what exactly is solved by any of these developments? That Kilmer's droning, catatonic Bruce learns he can love a trampy and professionally unethical sorority-girl shrink?

*Slow hand claps*.

But I could forgive this hopeless conceit if the action stuff was fun and exhilarating, but it isn’t. Look, I’m quite aware that Tim Burton is no master of fight choreography. But he’s John Woo compared to Joel Schumacher. There’s a sorta cool moment when Batman crashes through a wildly elaborate skylight into a wildly elaborate fountain and does a wildly elaborate backflip and kick-down to two of Two-Face’s goofily dressed (What’s with the facial piercings?) henchmen. Now, in itself, the shot is fine, though wildly elaborate (Did I mention that?). However, any observant viewer will notice that Batman’s kicks come nowhere near making contact with the two tumbling lackeys. This is a common flaw in the film: very few hits actually look like they’re making contact. The other flaw: most of them are stupid. Robin and Batman’s fight with neon street gang? Off-puttingly weird and tedious. The brawls with Two-Face’s goons? Reach-for-the-fast-forward-inducing. Oh, and that lousy Batmobile chase, scored to something resembling 50’s era dance-hall music, which begins with Two-Face in drag pushing a carriage, and ends with the damn car racing up a building? Hair-pullingly ghastly. What happened to Batman?

He’s been lost in the excess. The villains are the ones running the show here. Tommy Lee Jones, the worst offender, behaves like a crack-head on speed, railing on in loud, nonsensical tirades which grow old after his first scene. Too bad he has about twenty others. Riddler is a little better. His origin stuff is bad. Really bad. Carrey seems to be trying, but hyperactive goofiness is not scary or interesting. So, his Edward Nygma Wayne Corp. stuff dies, but as the Riddler he’s actually pretty damn good. I like the way he seems ten steps ahead of everyone else, and infectiously excited about it. The cane twirling? The flamboyance? Pretty accurate actually. His first meeting with Two-Face is probably his best moment. On the flipside, that scene in the Batcave where he tosses around bombs with the accompaniment of “wacky” sound effects should have been furiously rejiggered. Oh, and Two-Face and Riddler invading Wayne Manor by posing as trick-or-treaters at the front door? Bah, I don’t want to get into THAT genius decision.

So, what works? Aside from the Riddler, of course. Well, I like the opening credits and Warner Bros. morphing Bat-logo bit. Sets a great tone... To a whole other movie. It’s well done though, much like the iconic closing running shot, and deserves mention. Also, I really like how the introduction to Robin is done. The Grayson acrobat material seems ripped from the comic pages, and deserves to be in a film without a martial-arts laundry scene (set to heavy metal music, natch). It must also be said that I think Chris O’Donnell is a half-decent Robin. Yeah, he’s too old, but his determination and attempts to create an energetic dynamic with the rigamortus -afflicted Kilmer deserve praise. He almost succeeds in making Robin cool, which is a nothing less than miraculous. I also appreciate the slight attempts at showing Batman’s detective skills, as well as introducing Arkham Asylum into the series. Oh, and I also really liked... No wait, my bad, that’s all.


Batman Forever is a film that, like its green-clad villain, fills me with questions: Why is the Statue of Liberty in Gotham? Why does Batman have a slow-mo shampoo commercial-like video of Chase Meridian on the Bat-computer? Why is there so much 50’s era sci-fi music? Why does a manila envelope stop flesh-eating acid? Why is Batman in the courtroom when said envelope gets its work out? Why does Chase Meridian have a punching bag in her office? Why do people say things like “Oh no! It’s boiling acid!”? Oh, and who the hell wrote that “chicks dig the car” line? They deserve a punch in the face!

It’s a terrible film that deserves the public shunning it routinely receives. It paved the way for tomorrow’s crime against humanity, and reintroduced the world to the campiness of the 60’s TV show (Watch how the camera is always on an angle when showing the villains. Cuz they’re crooked!) For me, it’s the worst in the series due to how dull it is. At least tomorrow’s entry is so bad it’s fascinating. It’s fitting that this film introduced the butt-shot, as this flick is all kinds of ass. And yet it’s now the longest blog entry I’ve ever written. Go figure.

Riddle me this, riddle me that, look at what Joel Schumacher shat.


Bat-Faves:

Best (Worst) Batman/Bruce Wayne Lines
“I don’t blend in at the family picnic.”
“Tell me doctor, do you like the thircuth?”

Best Villain Line(s):
“Riddle me this, riddle me that, who’s afraid of the big black bat?” – Riddler
“Like the jacket? It keeps me safe when I'm... jogging at night!” - Riddler

Best Iconic Bat-shot:
The closing shot of Batman and Robin running toward the screen.

In-Jokes:
Bob Kane’s widow Elizabeth plays Gossip Gerty.
Robin suggests Nightwing as a nickname, a nod to Dick Grayson’s future moniker.
“Holey Rusted Metal, Batman!” – Ugh.
The initials “HD” (Harvey Dent) are carved into Two-Face’s coin.
Batman mentions Metropolis, home of Superman.
Chase Meridian makes a sly reference to Catwoman.

Worst Moment:
Acrobatic ninja laundy folding scene, hands down.

Success As A Batman Film:
2 out of 5

Success As A Film:
1.5 out of 5

1 comment:

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