Saturday, April 14, 2018

Batman Forever (1995) (4th Movie Review of 11)

    When it comes to long running movie franchises I love, there’s always that one entry that stands out for a special reason … the one that started it all. Now I’m not talking about the very first movie in the series, I’m referring to what I was exposed to first, and what made me the fan I am today. For me, the very first Batman movie I ever saw, and the one that launched my love for the character was the 1995 movie “Batman Forever”. This was the Batman movie of my childhood, the one I grew up with and watched the most as kid. Thus, it’s the Batman movie I have the most nostalgia reserved for, and the one that takes me back to those long past childhood days. This was the third entry in the 90’s Warner Brothers Batman series, but in truth it has very little to do with either of its predecessors, has a mostly different cast, a noticeable lack of continuity, and a completely different esthetic design. So, I’ve always viewed this as a soft reboot to what I like to call Schumacher’s packaged films. “Batman Forever” was a box office success upon it’s release, and even earned three Oscar Nominations, which is more then any of the first four films ever got. However, time has not been good to this movie, as fans have begun to dismiss this as one of the lesser Batman movies. Personally, while I obviously notice the faults in the film … I still have a special soft spot for it.

      As our new venture begins, we see that Batman has become a target for a new villain called Two-Face, who blames the winged avenger for ruining his former life and transforming him into a fiend with both a monstrous new face, and split personality. Now he want’s revenge by depriving Batman of his very life. Two-Faces efforts become more violent, and during one of his attacks, he ends up killing a family from a circus, leaving their youngest son orphaned. Naturally, Bruce Wayne can relate to having his family killed by a mad man with a gun, and aims to nurture the young man out of a life of vengeance, which he himself fell into when he became Batman. This causes our hero to ponder his origin, why he adorned the symbol of the Bat, and we see a mental battle that's eating away at his soul. The big question being “Can Batman and Bruce Wayne co-exist, or should he hang up the costume in favor of a normal life?” Enter a new girl friend who’s also a psychiatrist, and aims to help Bruce find a new direction out of the darkness. While Bruce naturally develops feelings for her, she dismisses it in favor of her own feelings for Batman, which his alter ego actually dismisses. Finally, lurking in the shadows of Gotham is another threat called the Riddler, who’s implanted devises in everyone’s home that will slowly drain everyone of their intelligence and enhance his own IQ in the prosses. He eventually becomes smart enough to discover Bruce Wayne’s identity, and with the aid of Two-Face invades his home, threatens his new love and even succeeds in destroying the Bat Cave. Thus, in order to combat these two foes, Batman takes up his new adopted son as a crime fighting partner named Robin. In the end, our hero is forced into a conflict where he needs to choose between his two egos … Bruce Wayne or Batman.    

      The arcing themes of this movie are that of revenge and identity, as we see two villains that were shaped out of a need for revenge, and miring them are our two heroes who were like wise born from a need to seek vengeance. The difference between the two groups were how they chose to act between their humanity or their dominate sides. We see Two-Face surrender completely to his dominate side, and by contrast we see Robin put aside his vengeance in favor of sparing a life, and thus becoming a hero. We also see Batman dive further into his past, and we learn that he initially adorned the image of the Bat as a symbol for vengeance, but gradually he molded Batman into a symbol for heroism. Before "Batman Begins", this was the closest a live action Batman film came to exploring his origins, and we even see a more detailed flashback of him discovering the Bat cave. The flashbacks in general are excellent, as there boasted with a heavy atmosphere, dark visuals, great lighting, and personally one of my favorite little moments from any Batman film. The stand out moment being this brief vision of Bruce Wayne as a little kid in the Bat Cave, who’s being approached by a Bat that’s slowly flying toured him. The imagery paired with Bruce Wayne’s narration is just a chilling moment that’s always stuck with me. Also, early in the film is an excellent little exchange between Bruce Wayne and Alfred, where the former holds himself responsible for all the death around him, yet also tries to hide it, but the ladder of the two see’s through him like a window. This scene was honestly more interesting and truer to the spirt of the character then anything in the previous two Tim Burton films.      

   Batman this time around is played by Val Kilmer, and personally, I think he’s very under-appreciated in the role. He manages to bring some dimension to both Batman and Bruce Wane in his own unique way, and while he’s stuck with some really corny lines, he still delivers a perfectly passable performance. At face value, of all the actors to play Batman, Val Kilmer has a real-life personality that feels closest to the character, so you can almost make the argument that he really is Batman. With Kilmer, you can clearly see the two faces at work, one being the cool superhero, and the other being a tormented man who just wants a normal life. Also, ignoring the infamous nipples on the chest plate, I actually love how the costume looks in this film. It might honestly be my favorite looking Batman on film, as it keeps the classic image intact, but it also looks like a tougher, meaner skin. This is also the first time we see more technical details with the suit, like how his cape his resistant to heat, and how he can also use it as a parachute when leaping from great heights.

     Back when I was a little kid, the first thing that drew my attention to this film was actually Tommy Lee Jones in the role of Two-Face. After growing up with so many of his movies in the 90’s like “Men in Black”, “Volcano” and even “Small Soldiers”, he became one of the first actors that I knew by name, and decided to be a fan of. Naturally, back then he was one of my favorite things about the film, but looking back as an adult, he actually represents what is ultimately the biggest issue with the movie. It seems that half the people involved are trying to make a serious Batman movie, while the other half are paying homage to the campy 60’s show. In fact, Two-Faces loony, over the top performance, along with his colorful design can easily fit right alongside Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin or any of those goofy talents from the Adam West days. I suppose in that regard, he can actually be kind of amusing to watch. Then again, it’s also kind of depressing, because I could see a post Oscar winning Tommy Lee Jones killing it as a serious portrayal of one of my favorite Batman villains. He’s definitely chewing the scenery in this film, and honestly, he makes Jack Nicolson’s portrayal of the Joker look subdued by comparison. I should also note that while Two-Face is marketed as the films main antagonist, he really doesn’t do a whole lot outside of killing Robin’s family. He’s mostly just hanging around in the background, while the other bad guy steals all the spot light. 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”, which has potential, but not conveyed very well. Never the less, Tommy lee Jones is still kind of fun to watch on some level, but he can’t hold a candle to most other villains from the Batman films. 

    Now for the complete opposite of Two-Face, one of the films more boring characters for me as a kid has actually become one of my favorite aspects of the film as an adult. Robin in this movie is played by Chris O’ Donnell, and surprisingly I think this holds up as one of the better portrayals of the character on film. While his story arc could have been a little more effective, it at least adds a more serious element to the film, and offsets some of the goofier aspects. Now Chris O’ Donnell is noticeably older than the more traditional Robin, but he does a decent job balancing the line between the attitudes of a playful party boy, and a tormented soul seeking revenge. There's also something genuinely triumphant about seeing Batman except him as a new partner, even though again, I think the story between the two could have been structured a little better. The two do at least have some good talks, and Robin himself has never looked better then in this movie. The costume still keeps all his signature colors, but with a mature dark edge that makes him fit right alongside Batman.

    While the performances all around are hit and miss, I admittedly still love the cast, in fact it might just be my favorite ensemble cast of the series. Drew Barrymore plays an evil accomplice, and while her role is small, her presence is still felt, and she looks great on screen along with the rest of the cast. Nichol Kidman plays Bruce Wayne's new love interest named Dr. Chase Meridian, and like the previously mentioned Two-Face, it’s kind of appealing, but also a missed opportunity. This character as written on paper had a lot of potential to be, perhaps Batman’s best love interest. I love the idea of a girlfriend that’s a psychiatrist, and it’s a cool idea for her to be in love with one of the hero’s identities but dismissive of the other. Also, in general, I love Nichol Kidman, and it’s awesome to see her in this kind of role. Putting aside her obviously attractive screen presence, I think she has the coolest eye brows of any Batman girl. There’s just something about that look and stair of hers that make her feel bad ass when paired with Batman. Unfortunately, while she’s written as a character with both brains and brawns, neither of them is utilized effectively in this film. It’s as if all the right ingredients are there for a strong female lead, but something just falls flat on the delivery. I think the movie got too distracted by capitalizing her as the good-looking eye candy for Batman to rescue, before utilizing her potential strengths to leave a memorable impression.      

    At last, the guy who mostly steals the show is The Riddler played by Jim Carry. Back in the 90’s, he was the king of comedy, and one of my all time favorite actors. While Tommy Lee Jones is what drew me to this film as a kid, it was my introduction to Jim Carry that mad the biggest impact. After this, I absolutely fell in love with his comedies like “The Mask”, “Liar, Liar”, and especially “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”. So that’s two nostalgic ties this movie has going for it, my introduction to the Batman franchise, and my introduction to one of my all-time favorite comedians. His portrayal of The Riddler again is very over the top, but I’ll give this one a pass, as it’s Jim Carry, and that’s just what he does best. Looking back, I do wish he put a little more restraint into the performance, and that skin-tight costume of his just looks ridiculous. The biggest misstep with this character is that the movie gives us his detailed backstory from the ground up, when there should have been a lot more mystery to the character. Throughout the film, the Riddler sends Bruce Wayne a collection of clues that ultimately build up to our hero discovering his true identity. Again, this could have been very exciting, but it’s all spoiled because we the audience see exactly how he becomes the Riddler from the start, which spoils any surprises. I’ll give the Riddler this much credit, he at least accomplishes more than most other Batman villains. As a kid, seeing him inter the Bat cave, and destroy it from within was actually kind of intimidating, although the scene would have held up much better if it turned down the comedy.

    The clashing tones in a nutshell are why “Batman Forever” hasn’t aged very well for general viewers. With it’s themes and story elements, this film had so much potential to be one of the absolute best Batman films, but it just can’t escape its cartoony esthetic. Although for me personally, I’ve been blessed with so many truly great Batman films over the years, and for that it’s become easier to look back on “Batman Forever” as just a colorful and fun comic book movie, with the cornels of depth at the center. The movie begins with a very fun opening credit sequence, in which the WB logo dissolves into the Batman symbol, the colorful cast names fly out in a cheesy, yet awesome 3D effect, the music builds, the title comes up, and it perfectly sets the tone for a superhero movie that’s more fun in design. Director Joel Schumacher, who had previously directed the 80’s vampire movie “The Lost Boys”, was a genuinely good choice to helm a Batman film, and he gives it an identity that stands apart from the other movies in the franchise.

    Quiet literally, “Batman Forever” looks and breaths like a comic book brought to life in live action. The colorful esthetic and crafty camera angles merge with the gothic décor of Batman’s universe to create an atmosphere and setting that’s actually quiet absorbing. 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 even the alleyways are filled with black lights. Truthfully, this is one of my favorite looking Batman films, as there’s a fine mix of dark shadows and colorful imagery. The new music score composed by Elliot Goldenthal can’t help but live in the shadow of Danny Elfman’s iconic music track, but this is still a memorable score in its own right. It’s a triumphant theme that fits right alongside the hero, and still feels very grand and epic in its own way. 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, which still remains one of “Batman Forever's” greatest contributions. It’s all around a great classic 90's soundtrack, and each song had a sweet music video to go along with it. You could even argue that the soundtrack is superior then the film itself.

    The Bat-mobile gets a new makeover, which is less dangerous looking, but it’s always stuck with me as a classic design. The car chase this time around is mostly standard, but it remains one of the most memorable just this stand out moment at the very end when Batman makes his escape by driving up the side of huge building. In other words, you really have to suspend your disbelief with the action on display. It’s basically all one big, live action Saturday morning cartoon. Another stand out action highlight is a helicopter chase that ends with an explosive crash into Gotham’s statue of liberty. That final image of Batman silhouette under water is another awesome visual that’s always stuck with me. It all comes to a close in a climax where the Riddler baits Batman to his island base, which is full of death traps. I have to admit, seeing Batman and Robin take-off in both the Bat-Wing and Bat-Boat to the island gets my hyped every time I watch this. Surprisingly, for a film that's been extremely over the top to this point, resolves with a rather subdued final battle. Batman doesn’t even fight the villains physically, instead the Riddler forces him 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 more effectively again in both “The Dark Knight” and the first “Spider-Man” movie, this was still a very original concept for the time, and a legitimate challenge for our hero to face. The death of Two-Face is also very satisfying, and a nice callback to the Jokers death from the first film. The Riddler mean while is thrown in a padded cell, which means that for the first time in a theatrical Batman movie, we finally get to see Arkham Asylum, and it looks awesome.  

     The closing shot of Batman and Robin running toured the screen was a terrific call back to the 60’s show, and probably my second favorite closing shot of the whole series behind the 1989 movie. On a side, I love that the Bat logo is still present as a backdrop throughout the closing credits. In short, “Batman Forever” is by no means a great film, but I do still enjoy watching it once in a while. It looks great, has a distinct identity, an all-star cast, and it’s still that special Batman movie of my child hood. Obviously, my personal feelings can’t speak for everyone else, and truthfully, the films loud and relentlessly frantic nature can be mind-numbing and chaotic. There’s also no shortage of superior superhero movies out there to watch instead. Still, I’m glad I have this film, and it’s kind of special to see a Batman movie that looks like it literally leaped from page to screen. It even makes for a good one to view at a young age, as it’s not to dark for kids, nor completely devoid of intelligence for adults. Not the best, but certainly not the worst. In fact, for me, when ranking all of Batman’s films, I’d squeeze this one right in the middle.   

I give “Batman Forever” 3 ½ stars out of 5. Stay tuned for part 5, up next, I’ll be reviewing one of the more recent Batman movies, which crosses over with the Man of Steel himself … it’s “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”. 

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