Monday, July 9, 2012

Batman Forever (1995 Review, 5th review of 9)

       In my look at the history of Batman, we’ve seen the character go through some big changes. Starting as a campy hero in the 60’s Batman show, which launched “Batman The Movie”. Then the two Tim Burton movies, “Batman” and “Batman Returns” made the character far darker and more tragic, and finally the 90’s animated show along with it's theatrical counterpart “Batman Mask of the Phantasm” fully developed the character into the complex hero that fans always wanted him to be. Now it was time for Batman to make another change in the 1995 movie “Batman Forever”.

     Instead of continuing the dark and more complex stories, the character went back to a more colorful and mainstream tone. Not as campy as in the 60’s, but not as adult as the previous films. After “Batman Returns” left a lot of people feeling empty and depressed, the WB decided to push Tim Burton out of the director’s chair and replace him with Joel Schumacher, the same talent who directed the 80’s vampire movie “The Lost Boys”. Tim Burton still produced the film, and there are still select moments that have the dark and stylish edge of his. Batman Forever” turned out to be a big hit at the box office, but over time it's been regarded as one of the lesser films in the series. However, I'm reviewing this film based on my own opinion, not everyone else's, and say what you will about Batman Forever but personally ... I love it. I’m serious, I think it’s one of the most enjoyable in the series, and it's the one that I have the most nostalgia for. Mostly because I watched it so many times as a kid, and it was actually the very first Batman movie I ever saw, even before the Time Burton classic. Now, there was a time in which I hatted this movie, not just because it was silly, loud and over the top, but because it had so much potential to be one of Batman's best movies. However, now that we have the "Dark Knight Trilogy", I really don't have a problem enjoying this movie for what it is. “Batman Forever” is a perfect, traditional, old-fashioned superhero film, and literally feels like one big comic book on the big screen. It's full of bright colors, over the top villains, pretty girls that need rescuing and some appropriately corny dialog, which is exactly what a traditional, old school superhero movie should be like. With that said, beneath the films over the top tone and generic plot are the kernels of some complex character depth, and some really good plot elements, which I think are just enough to save this movie from being completely stupid.

       The opening credits get the film started off on a real high note. The WB logo dissolves into the Bat symbol, followed by some very colorful, comic book style names of the cast flying at the screen, which gets me hyped every time I watch it. As stated above, the plot is very generic, and can easily be summed up like this. New villains threaten Gotham city, and Batman ventures out to save the day again. However, within that average set up are the following story points which are huge improvements over the first two Time Burton films. Batman ponders his origin, we learn why he adorns the symbol of the Bat, and we see a mental battle that's eating away at his soul. A young boy is then orphaned due to a mad man with a gun, which Batman can relate, but he also has to help him deal with his need for vengeance. A new woman has fallen in love with Batman, who he dismisses, but his alter ego Bruce Wane has fallen in love with, which she dismisses. Then we meet a new super-villain who is smart enough to learn Batman's real identity, invades his home, and even destroys the Bat-cave.  In the end, our hero is forced into a conflict where he needs to choose between rescuing someone Bruce Wane Loves or someone Batman Loves ... which ego will win out? With all that stated, this could have easily been the first truly great live action Batman movie ... but it wasn't. It really just came down to the town being at odds with the story.     

    This film is labeled as the third installment in the “Warner Brothers Series” but it feels so distant from the first two that it almost feels like a reboot to a new series. Bruce even says at one point “I’ve never been in love before” ... so, I suppose he just forgot about Vicky Vail and Salina Kyle from the last two films. Now to be fair, there are moments in which the characters make subtle reference to Catwoman and the Joker. There's also some fun Easter Eggs, like this one scene when Bruce mentions Metropolis, the city Superman fights crime in. On that note, Gotham City looks more like it came right out of the 1920’s Sci-Fi classic “Metropolis”, with lots of technology, huge statues all throughout the city, and colors flashing everywhere, even the alleyways are filled with black lights. The Bat-mobile get’s a new makeover, it still has a classy look, but it doesn’t look quiet as dangerous as before. The night wing makes one more appearance, and the bat boat makes its first appearance sense “Batman The Movie”. There’s a new score composed by Elliot Goldenthal, and while it doesn’t come close to being as good as any of the other classic scores, it does fit the character just fine. The sound track by the way is awesome, with memorable songs like "Hold me, Thrill me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" performed by U2. The most notable song is “Kiss from a Rose” performed by Seal. It’s a great classic 90's soundtrack, and each song had a sweet music video to go along with it. 

     The new Batman costume looks very good, and that's ignoring the nipples which are mostly covered up. It keeps the classic image alive, and it just looks like a tougher, meaner skin. The new actor to try it on is Val Kilmer. Personally, I think he’s very under-appreciated in the role. I actually think he's the second best live action actor to play Batman behind Michael Keaton. Val Kilmer brings both Batman and Bruce Wane to life respectfully, and in his own unique way. According to many sources, Val Kilmer acts the most like his character in real life than any of the other actors, so you can actually make the argument that he really is Batman. With Kilmer, you can clearly see the two faces at work, one being the cool and slick superhero, with the other being a tormented man who just wants a normal life.   

     Before "Batman Begins", this was the first live action Batman film to really ponder his origin's, which at least helped make this version of Batman feel more dimensional then before. The flash backs scenes in this film are awesome, with a strong atmosphere, dark visuals, great lighting, and a very memorable sequence of him discovering the bat cave. We get an especially cool shot of a bat flying to him mixed with a chilling narration from Bruce as he describes that he’ll use the bats image to strike fear into those who are evil and unjust, which is probably one of my favorite select moments in the whole franchise. If you look passed all the silly one liners in this film, you may notice that there are a fare amount of really good lines, and discussions in this movie. My favorite is this conversation between Bruce Wane and Alfred: (Bruce): “Just like my parents, it’s happening again, a monster comes out of the night, a scream, two shots....I killed them! (Alfred): “What did you say?” (Bruce): He killed them, two-face, he slaughtered that boys parents.” (Alfred): “No, no, you said “I”, “I killed them.” Honestly, I don’t think there’s a single scene in either of Tim Burtons Batman films that’s more interesting or character driven than that. 

    There’s also a great story arch of him becoming more excepting to having a partner, and yes that means Robin finally makes his return to the big screen. He’s played by Chris O’ Donnell who dose a decent job balancing the line between the attitudes of a playful party boy, and a tormented soul seeking revenge. He’s not as fun as Burt Ward, but the character is an improvement. There's even a scene in which Chris O’ Donnell rips off Burt Ward by saying “Holly rusted metal Batman”. The chemistry between both hero's is mostly satisfying, if a little generic at times. The death of Robins parents could have probably been done better, but it's still effective enough. I really like some of the conversations between both Robin and Batman, how they discus vengeance blackening the soul, and ultimately consume their lives. These have all been the stronger bits of the film, but lets see what else the film has to offer.

       I have to say that the cast in this film is awesome! some of my favorite actors, including Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carry and Nichol Kidman. Drew Barrymore also makes a few small appearances as one of the villains accomplices, no idea why they got a big actor like her in such a small part but it’s still nice to have her in the film all the same. Nichol Kidman plays Bruce Wanes new lover named Dr. Chase Meridian. She isn’t nearly as good as most of Batman's girl friends but she’s not completely shallow either and I do like Nichol Kidman in the role. Undeniably, she's the most attractive of Batman's girl friends, with golden blond hair, hot red lips and a wide aroma of beautiful black dresses, but are good looks all the character has to offer? Well, she's your traditional damsel in distress but with a little kick thrown in. There is a decent relation between the two, and an interesting concept of the woman in love with Batman but not Bruce Wayne, then on the opposite side of that coin, Bruce Wayne loves the woman, while Batman is indifferent to her. I really like how she's one of the few girl friends that genuinely tried to help Bruce with the problems of his past, plus she was sly, cool, could put up a little more fight then others. Overall, she’s a fun character, not one of the best female leads but certainly not a bad one either. 

    It’s unfortunate that the weakest part of film are the two lead villains, both the Riddler and Tow Face feel more like the campy villains from the 60’s and aren't all that interesting, nor are they threatening, but I suppose that’s all exceptional for a film as wild and crazy as this. The highly anticipated Two Face finally makes his first appearance in the series, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Personally, I think Tommy Lee Jones is a really talented actor and he usually pulls off a serious or dramatic role well. When it comes to over the top villains, he did a good job in “Under Siege” and you could tell he was having a blast with the part. Roger Ebert once said that the key to a great villain is if the actor is having a fun time with the character. Well he’s definitely letting himself loose and having fun with Two Face but when he goes over the top in this film, he really goes over the top, constantly laughing and making some really wired facial expressions. Aside from killing Robin’s family, he has little to nothing to do in the film, he’s always hanging around in the background and the character himself is rather bland. One very confusing element to this character is that he always talks like his body is being shared with someone else, always addressing himself as “us” or “we”, that has potential, it’s just not conveyed very well. Never the less, Tommy lee Jones is still fun to watch on some level, but he doesn't hold a candle to most other villains from the Batman films. 

   The primary villain is The Riddler played by the master of over the top comedy, Jim Carry. There really is no other actor that can be so over the top, yet so talented and funny at the same time. Unfortunately, while Jim Carry is still a lot of fun acting goofy in this performance, I can’t separate the character from the actor. Everything he does in this film is no different then what he’s already done in “The Mask”, “Dumb and Dumber” and the “Ace Ventura” movies. However, the Riddlers riddles are just as fun as ever, I loved pausing the film and trying to figure them out for myself. I can’t think of anything more interesting than a criminal who can’t help but leave clues to his crimes and I love how nicely all the riddles tie together at the end. One note worthy thing about this Riddler is that he’s one of the few Batman villains to discover who Batman’s real identity is, infiltrate the Wane mansion and destroy the bat cave along with the bat mobile. There aren’t that many Batman villains who accomplish stuff like that, not even the Joker from Tim Burton's "Batman" did things that big.   

    The Action in this film is all good fun but very over the top. We have a car chase that ends with Batman literally driving up a wall of huge building. Batman also uses his cape like a para-shoot in several seen's, allowing him to leap off really tall buildings and land perfectly on the ground. Well, that’s the whole point, to throw reality out the window. It’s all one big live action Saturday morning cartoon, and a nice little throw back to the 60’s show. Even the final shot of Batman and Robin running to the camera is a tribute to the opening of that show. 

    For all the films over the top action scenes and visual effects, the climax is surprisingly subtle. There really isn't a fight between the hero's and villains, instead the Riddler forces Batman to choose between saving the lives of someone that Bruce Wayne loves and someone Batman loves, raising the question of which ego will win out. While this concept will be done again in both “The Dark Knight” and the first “Spider-Man” movie, this was still a very original concept for the time and a ligament challenge for our hero to face.

     Like I said in the opening, the film is essentially a big comic book on the big screen, serious at times but wild and playful for the most part. While it certainly isn't a great film, I do still enjoy watching it. This was personally the very first Batman movie I ever saw and it's the only film in the series that takes me back to my childhood. It's just a simple, sit back, relax and enjoy flick but it’s also loud and overly excessive, which can be mind numbing and chaotic, so you really have to be in the proper mind set to enjoy it. With all the really smart Batman movies out there today, it's nice to have one like this that's all for fun and even though this movie is a live action cartoon, it still has just enough smart moments to keep it from being completely dumb. Overall, I think it’s a fun flick and a great one to see at a young age. I give “Batman Forever” 3 ½ stars.

    Stay tuned for part 6, the over excessive lights and jokes are just going to get even sillier in the sequel “Batman & Robin”.     

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