What is this? This is my journey through the Batman film franchise, both theatrical and straight to DVD. As I look at over of 20 years of Batman on film I will deposit a critical essay on the matter and other thoughts. You can read the first entry (Batman) the second one (Batman Returns) and third (Mask of the Phantasm)
Ah, and so begins Batman in the mid 1990s. I was but 5-7 at the time and didn't get to see these movies till I was propably 10 or 11. I could tell there was something missing from the Schumacher films though even at that age. Batman Forever could of been friggin awesome it had all the characters, to many perhaps. Maybe, what could have been has eschewed my view, but Batman Forever is still in my top 3-4 of all the Bat films. It's the most watchable of them so far even if the comedic tone of it all isn't what I want.
Two-Face has been unleashed upon Gotham City. The deranged former district attorney wants nothing more than to brings chaos and kill Batman. Seeing this all unfold is the deranged Edward Nigma, a former Wayne Enterprises employ with an obsession for Bruce Wayne. As a way to get back at Wayne he becomes the mysterious Riddler, guaranteeing Two-Face the identity of the Batman in return for his invention, a brain manipulation device, making it to market allowing him to brain drain all of Gotham City. Together they unleash terror upon Gotham leaving Batman outnumbered.Bruce Wayne is forced to remember his origin as Dick Grayson's family is murdered in front of him by Two-Face. Wayne is attacked on all fronts by Riddler,Two-Face,Grayson and himself as he questions the necessity of Batman.
We now enter the Schumacher era of Batman 1995-97. His two films are seen by some as the worst uses of the Batman license ever. He didn’t start with Batman and Robin; he started with Batman Forever. Forever was a sharp turn from the gothic stylings of Batman Returns replacing Gothicism with neon lights. With lots of neon,multiple unhinged performances and over dramatic cinematography Schumacher pushes Batman out of the shadows and into the campy neon light. Even with the campiness of its setting, Batman Forever attempts to tell an adult Batman film juxtaposing it against the cartoony neon lights of Gotham City.
Gotham has changed a lot in the three years since Burton's last film. Schumacher drops Burton's gothic art deco stylings going for a more modern take on the city, adding a cheap stand in for the Statue of Liberty. In modernizing it though Schumacher loses any signature look Gotham had. The city is shown several times and each time it looks different. In a CG tracking shot into Wayne electronics division we see a modern metropolis that looks a bit like New York. But in the opening sequence with Two-Face we see Gotham now lit up with lots and lots of neon lights looking rather dingy. None of the architecture looks the same: they look like two completely different places. The only characteristic these two versions share is a love for random statues in place of columns.
Batman Forever doesn't take itself too seriously. It starts serious with Bruce Wayne suiting up transitioning to where the crime is in progress as Two-Face gives a monologue on the justice of luck. As soon as that monologue ends Schumacher pushes the film into a camp territory with over-done fight scenes calling back to the POW and KABLAAMS of the 1960s Batman TV show with music ques accenting the image of Batman bringing fist to thugs face. Not long afterwards when Batman meets Dr. Chase Meridian by the Bat-signal he literally is doing the hero pose with hands firmly on hip as she throws herself at him.
More than ever Batman's various gadgets play a dominant role in film. The opening shot of him clearly shows off a large amount of his shiny gadgets. In combat Batman now constantly uses gadgetry to take out thugs instead of his fists. The use of gadgets in combat dehumanizes the violence making it far less believable the idea that people are getting hurt. The previous Burton films had shown some gadgetry, but it served more as a form of transport than as takedown devices. Most of these gadgets eventually found themselves in toy form.
This cartoonish setting isn’t the only way Schumacher moves farther away from Burton’s films. His use of dramatic tracking and close up shots of his actors’ faces lays the overt drama of it all in plain sight. These close-ups might of gotten an emotional response from the audience if the actors weren’t all stone faced when he went in for their close up. These shots simply become over used parodying the attempt than actually being useful. The fast editing and quick shots give everything a bigger feel than any previous Batman film.
This less than serious tone is then juxtaposed with moments of drama and seriousness. The most serious of which is the death of the Flying Graysons. Now it would be hard to make light of a young man's whole family being murdered in front of him but the murders are proceed by Two-Face taking over the circus and chewing scenery with super villain monologue. The deaths of the Graysons isn’t dwelled upon for long and soon it is back to the over cartoonish world of Forever. At the same time Schumacher tries to delve into the motivations of Batman by having him question it. Only coming up with spooky dreams that are more confusing and random then giving us understanding. A trite romance angle with Dr. Chase Meridian is the only reasoning given for him to give up his Batman persona. Not injury or age but a character he just met. Bruce Wayne just comes to the realization that his life would never be the same after his parents death and accepts it all.Schumacher is trying to balance over dramatics with well reasoned, grounded drama, but never quite finds it.
Two-Face and Riddler would've worked better headlining their own movies as individuals instead of as an evil dynamic duo. Both villains do play into the identity theme of Forever. Two-Face plays into this theme far more literally than Riddler. Riddler servers more as a driving force for that theme constantly battering Wayne with riddles, teasing his identity. As a pair they overlap with Riddler eventually beating Two-Face out as the dominant villain of the film. Having a character like Harvey Two-Face in the background leaves too many rich story possibilities on the table. Jim Carrey's performance was more than strong enough to carry Batman Forever.
Two-Face becomes nothing more than a bit player, a crime boss of sorts for Riddler to manipulate. The link to Robin is the only canonical reason that Two-Face might be deemed necessary. The casting of Tommy Lee Jones was interesting choice. Typically Jones plays the stoic law man catching the criminals. As Harvey Two-Face he is now the disgraced law man, now just angry and lashing out at the world. Our introduction to Two-Face is a quiet thoughtful monologue on the “one true justice”: luck. As soon as that monologue is over the character and movie tonally shift to a campier atmosphere. Jones sheds his stoicism spreading his wings a little becoming more a cackling madman than a thoughtful crime boss. He plays up the bi-sected quality of Two-Face shuffling through sets facing the camera with his good side only to quickly change sides revealing his scarred followed by him yelling and cackling. The best scenes with Two-Face are not the ones where he isn’t a cackling villain but when he plays a serious down to earth crime boss. For what he does in Batman Forever he could've easily been changed to a mob boss, without using up a character like Two-Face.
Once again the villain is the most interesting part of a Batman film. This isn’t due to the Riddlers character but due to Jim Carrey's unhinged superfan performance. Edward Nigma is a shallow character. He is nothing more than a crazed Bruce Wayne superfan. This one defining characteristic efficiently places him in Batman's way, giving him just enough motivation for him to don a question mark laden green one piece. As the Riddler Jim Carrey goes completely off the rails going from mania to normalcy at the drop of a hat. Carrey prances around the sets completely aware of the tone Warner Bros is going for in Batman Forever. During the attack on the Batcave Carrey repeatedly pelvic thrusts as explosions go off in the background. They even play the stereotypical baseball song as he pitches a couple grenades down the cave. These physical antics are strengthened by witty dialog, constantly making references to Two-Faces bifurcated nature.
Val Kilmer stands in stark contrast to the previous Batman, Michael Keaton. Keaton was known more for his comedy works than as any sort of action hero. Kilmer is the opposite with films like Top Gun,Tombstone, True Romance and The Doors under his belt before donning the cape and cowl. With this filmography and physique he does lend himself to be more believable as a vigilante crime fighter. What he has for Keaton in size department he lacks in the ability to emote.
If there were a movie that could've shown whatever Tim Burton originally saw in Keaton, Batman Forever would of been the movie. Not that the script really gives a concrete idea of Bruce Wayne. Batman Forever has 5 people credited to its story in one form or another. This is easy to see with the slapdash inconsistency of its to heroes, Batman and Robin. Bruce Wayne finally seems content with his life. He may not have the perfect balance of work and pleasure but he makes it work. We actually see Bruce Wayne doing fun things like going to the circus and parties as well as fighting crime. Then after a chance meeting with Dr. Chase Meridian his balance is once again thrown off forcing him to question the necessity of his Batman persona. Except there is no real basis for him to question his commitments. It is assumed that these dreams mixed with the death of the Graysons lead him to this but wouldn’t that strengthen his resolve to keep it from happening to anyone else? Wayne has become stricken by waking dreams, repressed memories that he has refused to confront. These ominous blue saturated dreams are a far more interesting way to explain the origins of Batman to lay fans than Burtons own dream sequence in Batman(1989). These dreams though seem underused only brushing the surface. The most interesting thing done with Wayne is his relationship with Dick Grayson, holding him off at arms length stopping him from choosing a life of vigilantism. He fears Grayson will become himself, in a bit of self-loathing. Still Wayne is shown doing little to dissuade Grayson from this live, other than telling him “No”, saying that he understands what he is going through but never telling Grayson about his parents. Only after he accepts his role as Batman and realizes that two on two is better odds does he fully except Dick Grayson as his partner. This acceptance comes off like a Deus Ex Machina than characters coming together in understanding. Wayne's character comes off as slapdash, mixed with multiple ideas that are never fully developed. This is only exasperated by Kilmers one note stiff performance.
If Wayne is a slapdash mess then his supporting cast is full of some of the weakest supporting characters ever.
The introduction to Dick Grayson and murder of his parents is a major tonal shift from the neon laden heroics prior to it. Any sort of levity and dramatics that the deaths under the big top are soon lost and replaced with Schumacher wanting to get across how cool Dick Grayson is. And, who wouldn’t want to show Chris O’Donnell being cool. He was a fairly well known hot young dude with credits in Scent of a Woman, Mad Love, and The Three Musketeers(1993). His coolness is shown in two particular scenes where he displays his athletic prowess drying his own clothes in a manner of seconds and doing a bit of parkour within Wayne Manor. It comes as a shock than that he reacts so violently to the sight of Batman (after stealing his car) out of anguish for his family's death. He seemed to be taking such a traumatic event really well up to that point. From that point on he becomes obsessed with being Batmans sidekick in order to kill Two-Face. Grayson’s want for revenge is logical for his character, but a lack of grieving followed by scenes of him being cool only for him to be driven by revenge makes it feel like scenes are missing from his story.
When writing on the previous Batman films I brought up the necessity of having some hot leading lady of the time to play love interest to Wayne. This has not stopped, as Nicole Kidman is Dr. Chase Meridian a love interest for both Batman and Bruce Wayne. The idea of adding a psychologist to contemplate why someone would be Batman is a novel idea. Too bad Forever plays up Kidmans beauty, showing her in all manner of form fitting and as little clothing as possible instead of her character’s smarts. Meridian herself is entirely one note. She just wants to bed Batman and bed him bad all because she is always attracted to the wrong type of man. If anything she serves more as a physical manifestation of a normal life for Bruce Wayne than as some sort of great love. Which allows her to be part of Riddler’s final puzzle for Batman. Points should be given for turning the typical trite romance angle on its head a bit by making the women the aggressor in the relationship with Wayne disinterested at first.
Batman Forever has its own identity crisis. Is it a not too serious superhero movie or is it a serious look at why a man would be driven to down a cape and cowl. For the most part it falls into the latter. An over abundance of villains leaves two of Batman's rogues out of commision, taking them away from future films. Batmans supporting cast is also overstuffed and underdeveloped. All of this taking away time that could've been used to give Bruce Wayne more depth. Schumacher succeeds at an epic feel but ultimately delivers a vapid piece of watchable cinema.
Warner Bros was in full on corporate synergy mode with the soundtrack for Batman Forever. They found a happy mix releasing Batman Forever: Music from the Motion Picture on June 6 and 5 days later Batman Forever: Original Motion Picture Score Album. Elfman did not return to work on the Batman score with Elliot Goldenthal taking up composition duties. Goldenthals scores is largely forgettable only popping up with the Batman theme when necessary.
Batman Forever: Music from the Motion Picture was the return of a full pop soundtrack not seen since the original Batman(1989). It featured 4 singles, 2 of which had their own Batman themed music videos (embedded above and below). “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal was directed by Joel Schumacher, he didn’t exactly flex much muscle though simply putting Seal in front of a Bat signal. Still “Kiss From a Rose” easily one of the best songs on the CD. The other single to get its own Batman themed video was "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" by U2. In it U2 sings along as various events from the movie playout , mainly the opening bank heist. All the while lead singer Bono battles his other identities “The Fly” and “MacPhisto”. "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" isn’t as good as other U2 songs but is still a watchable video. If I were to recomend picking up any of the Batman soundtracks it would be Batman Forever: Music from the Motion Picture. I am not the biggest fan of Prince so other than a couple of songs it wouldn't get much play with me.