As Bad As You Thought?: Batman Forever
In the past I have talked about how Joel Schumacher ruined the great Batman film franchise. Many people often point to Batman & Robin as proof of that, and as I have written in the past I have to agree; but far too often we forget that his destruction of the character began even before Clooney put on the suit; it began with Batman Forever. There are times when I hate Forever even more than B&R because to the naive moviegoer this seems like it has the recipe for a great Batman flick. You have the director of The Lost Boys heading up things and a cast led by Val Kilmer who is an incredibly talented actor, especially when it comes to playing quirky and offbeat characters; also in the cast is Tommy Lee Jones playing the most psychologically complex foe in the Dark Knight’s rogues galleries. Looking at it that way we have a decent movie on our hands, but boy are we wrong. Now we must look at the beginning of the end for the Batman franchise of that era and wander if it’s as bad as we thought.
The movie opens in jarringly over the top fashion, as the intro theme is played loudly and we are attacked by the names of the cast swooping in from multiple different directions as if they were trying to scare children or small rodents. Watching this I can’t help but long for the more subtle and atmospheric openings of the Burton films. The action starts and Batman is meticulously picking which gadgets he will be taking with him, nope, nothing silly and ridiculous yet. Then we see Kilmer in his physical prime standing by the Batmobile ready for action looking pretty bad ass, still nothing eye-roll inducing. Alfred interrupts everything by asking if Batman wants to take a sandwich, but the Dark Knight informs him he will be getting drive thru, and the moment is now ruined, thank you very much. If nothing else have you seen the Batmobile in this movie, the fins on the back are so obnoxiously big that it would not even fit under the awning over the speaker box. He drives into Gotham City and….AHHHH my eyes! Good bye Burton’s gothic expressionistic cityscape and hello Schumacher’s neon infested nightmare. At this point I must fight the urge to put in Batman Begins so that I can see a Gotham that actually looks like a real city.
In Gotham City the villainous Two Face flips a coin and discusses the nature of duality with a hostage; actually a great introduction to the character. But like the suiting up, the coolness does not last long as Two Face flips out and orders the hostage thrown into a large safe which for some reason is lit in red light. Because actually doing stuff is too hard for Gotham’s finest, Commissioner Gordon and his men stand outside the bank waiting on Batman while he chats up a tall leggy blonde, the taxpayer’s money being well spent. The blonde happens to be Dr. Chase Merdian who immediately flirts with Batman who could care less, and would much rather chastise Gordon for not predicting that Two Face would attack, the Second Bank of Gotham on Second Street on the second anniversary of the second time Batman caught him while robbing two Burger Kings with two henchmen. Bats has a point how could they have not seen it coming, but they’re Gotham cops so you get what you can. But how did Batman not see this coming, being World’s Greatest Detective he should have been there waiting for Two Face already. I guess he was sitting at his mansion just waiting and hoping against hope the police would actually do their jobs and he could have a night off. But when the Bat Signal got lit up, he just kind of rolled his eyes and suited. Moving on, Dr. Meridian continues flirting with Batman, while people are in danger; telling him she could write a paper on a guy who dresses as a flying rodent. Batman informs her that bats aren’t rodents, I’m not a doctor or a vigilante and yet I could have told her that.
While the conversation gets dumber by the second Two Face smashes a hole in the wall of the bank with a wrecking ball, which came from….somewhere. Batman rides the elevator of justice to the top floor for the showdown and Two Face orders his men to stop him in very dramatic and obnoxious fashion. But Bats decides to open up a beatdown on Two-Face’s S&M clad thugs. Not sensing the obvious trap, Batman rushes in to save the hostage and the vault of redness closes on them. Two Face’s helicopter (not sure how he got that there but whatever) uses a ridiculously strong chain to pull the safe out and fly it over head while making bad puns over the radio informing us all that the safe was rigged was acid which given how strong it’s supposed to be does not melt through the drawers that it’s in. Luckily Batman is ready for just such an occasion and uses the hostages hearing aid to open the vault…somehow (all the while the poor hostage keeps whining and crying, geez man Batman’s trying to save you). Batman uses his grappling hook and a chain to swing the vault back into place….somehow. Batman hangs onto the helicopter for dear life at one point even getting on top of the chopper without being sliced up by the propeller blades. As the helicopter crashes, Two Face parachutes out into the water and Batman leaps…into the same body of water, so how does Batman not catch him?
The next day at Wayne Enterprises, Bruce Wayne decides to visit some inventors, chief among them is, Edward Nigma. Jim Carrey plays Nigma/The Riddler as if he were a spastic ADHD ridden child as opposed to the cunning criminal mastermind the character is normally portrayed as. Be assured that Frank Gorshin has no competition for the mantle of best actor to play the role. He works to convince Bruce Wayne to back a crazy mind warping device which is probably illegal in the real world; and Wayne even seems kind of impressed, telling the scientist to set up something with his assistant, which causes Nigma to flip out about it not being soon enough. Dude, you got the CEO of your company to be mildly interested in your crazy project everyone else railed against, consider it a victory and just call the assistant. But the Bat Signal lights up and it’s time to go to work and Bruce hits the streets in the Batmobile.
When he zips onto the police department roof, he finds Meridian in lingerie, well either it’s her or Gordon has had a LOT of plastic surgery. More braindead banter ensues that would make the dialogue in an Ed Wood flick seem amazing. When old man Gordon ruins the fun, Bats takes off and leaps back into the Batmobile. Back in the Wayne Enterprise laboratory, Nigma is working hard on his brain manipulator and proceeds to absorb his boss’ brain and kill the poor guy. This scene allows Jim Carrey to play, well Jim Carrey as he eats up so much scenery he probably crapped Kodaks for a week. He is obnoxiously hammy and over the top that I can’t wait for Batman to kick his ass.
The next morning Bruce tries to watch some TV, where they decide to show a news report on the origin of Two Face, I guess we were lucky someone filmed the events. At the office bruce and Commissioner Gordon investigate the apparent suicide of the man running the laboratory. He tells his assistants that even though suicide is not covered by their corporate insurance he wants the family to get the full benefits, which would be a nice gesture, but he does it in a way that is so lifeless and cardboard-like that the audience can just shrug and go, “meh”. On the way out, Wayne discovers a riddle in a creepy box; and as if we had any doubt as to who put the riddle their that night, The Riddler drives right up to the gates at Wayne Manor and puts another riddle up, you would think the mansion that housed Bruce Wayne’s secrets about being a vigilante would have better security.
Bruce Wayne has no time for riddles as he decides to walk right into an office building and ask for Dr. Chase Meridian, and the guy at the desk helpfully just kind of points in a general direction, luckily using his keen detective skills, Wayne finds the correct office and hears strange noises coming from inside, assuming the worst he tears down the door and finds her practicing kick boxing in her office, just as good a place as any I guess but I can’t help but wonder, what he would have done if she were getting laid or something and that was the source of the grunting and struggling noises; he would be pretty embarrassed. He tries to explain himself but only succeeds at stammering and making an idiot of himself; isn’t Bruce Wayne supposed to be a debonair ladies man? He is apparently there to get her expert opinion on the riddles he’s been getting. She tells him whoever is sending these is obsessed with him. Not content with just that, Wayne decides to start poking around her office and finds a Rorschach blot which he says looks like a bat, because you know it looks like a bat; and he discovers a Malaysian Dream Warden or something that is supposed to protect your dreams and such and oh by the way Nightmare on Elm Street 3 called and wants it’s plot device back. He ends by doing what we all do to our therapists and asks her out to the circus.
I do have to admit that if the circus in this movie with all it’s over the topness and garishness, were a real circus, I’d go see it. The star attraction is introduced, the Flying Graysons led by the youngest member (who’s in his late 20’s at least) Dick Grayson. But the fun is interupted by Two Face who storms the show demanding to know who Batman is or else he blows up the circus. Whiskey Foxtrot Tango?! Does he do this all the time, just storming into random places demanding Batman’s identity, I mean guess he could eventually hit the right venue but it seems to be way too much trouble. Before he can get what he wants, Two Face escapes through a hole in the floor….why did the circus people put a trapdoor for super villains to escape through in the MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR! As anyone who is a Batfan can predict the Graysons perish and Bruce adopts Dick Grayson, even though the guy is like thirty. Grayson repays Wayne’s kindness by giving him the cold shoulder and acts like a brat before heading out to get revenge on Two Face. But his thirst for Two Face’s blood is sated when he discovers Bruce will give him a new motorcycle if he stays and fixes it, I mean come on it’s a free bike!
But the fun does not last as Bruce hides away and starts brooding (I guess that’s what you can call it, I can’t really tell what emotions Kilmer is conveying) over his parent’s death. In a really hamfisted way he subconsciously takes responsibility for what happened to Dick’s parents. As Alfred tended to Dick, he learns that Grayson associates himself with Robins, oh gee.
That night while on the streets Batman just drives around looking for some superstitious and cowardly lots to beat up and surprise surprise Two Face sets a dumb trap for the guy; but Bats escapes by using the power of physics and driving up the wall of a building to escape. This is starting to turn into a Road Runner Wile E Coyote bit. Back at his lair Two Face nurses his wounds by parading around with his girlfriends, one sweet and innocent (played by Drew Barrrymore in a low point in her career) the other a leather clad punk rocker. The Riddler just happens to show up and offers his alliance (how do the villains in these movies always know where each others hide outs are?) he earns Face’s trust by showing off his brain warping thingy. I miss when The Riddler used to just set traps and riddles and such. The plan is that Two Face helps him steal money to set up a business based on the brain sucker thingy and he helps Two face kill Batman. Is it really that hard to get a small business loan in Gotham? And isn’t he afraid the IRS might get suspicious when a guy who used to live on modest wages, all of sudden becomes a gazillionaire? If you’re wondering why Batman just doesn’t stop their crime spree, well it’s because he too like we the audience is busy being amazed by Dick Grayson’s Xtreme Laundry skills; and don’t pretend you don’t know what scene I’m talking about. Actually he is discovering that the guy leaving riddles for him in green and black packages is the same guy who is robbing banks and leaving riddles in green and black packages, World’s Greatest Detective.
As expected Dick breaks into the Batcave and Alfred does nothing to stop him from thefting the Batmobile (you would that thing would at least have a security system). Bruce can not be bothered with this, because he is on a hot date with Meridian who gives him a gift and he responds by gloomily talking about his parent’s death and his father’s red journal (no the red journal plot doesn’t go anywhere or hold significance), this has got to be the third worst date she’s ever been on. Luckily for all of us the date ends early when he leaves to stop Dick from picking up prostitutes and saving a woman from a gang in the Batmobile (every adolescent boy’s dream). All this scene serves to do is create a level of mistrust between Dick and Batman and show that Grayson is a gifted fighter, I mean I was raised in the Russian circus and I never learned to fight like that, we used shanks on each other there.
Back at the Batcave they discuss the idea of Grayson becoming the sidekick and the morality of taking the lives of criminals; which does not work because in the previous two flicks Batman showed no hesitation about killing some villains. Like all super villains, Nigma decides to throw a party and invite all of Gotham’s elite to show off his newest invention which shows people’s greatest fantasies; what if they don’t want everybody knowing what they’re thinking about? True to his MO Two Face decides to crash this party as well, why don’t the police start patrolling these events, they’d catch him easily. Luckily where the cops fail, Batman succeeds in grand fashion and comes crashing through the ceiling, I’ve always wanted to do that. Two Face and his crew escape by running out the front door and Batman still high on his own entrance decides to climb to the top of the building and jump down on them from above once again, doesn’t make a lot of sense but whatever makes him happy. They continue to battle down beneath the city where Batman gets buried under a pile of rocks, but his rescued by Robin.
He and Robin at the Batcave, argue a bit but he remembers he has an appointment with Dr. Meridian who is naked under a sheet and takes off, serious injuries he sustained recently be damned. When she tells him she’s actually in love with Bruce Wayne, he lets out a dark and serious grin (no really) and takes off. While this is going on, at the evil lair Two Face and The Riddler discover that Bruce Wayne likes thinking about bats and means one thing, he’s a part time Chiropterologist.
That night in the Batcave, bruce Wayne orders Alfred to shut everything down because Batman was no more…..WTF!? Where did this storyline come from?! How did Bruce Wayne after years of dedicating himself to this idea of being Batman just decide he’s bored with it?! The leaps of logic this movie takes make my head hurt! Robin protests but Bruce just ignores him with the same dull expression he’s had the entire movie. Robin runs away, but Bruce does not care because he’s got a Halloween date (yeah it’s Halloween all of a sudden) with Meridian. His foes cleverly (*chuckle*) disguised as Trick r Treaters are able to break in; again mansion which houses a horrible dark secret, yet no security. They kidnap the damsel in distress naturally and destroy the Batcave with stupid little bat shaped bombs.
The villains retreat back to their base, an island that emits a green ray of some kind, which causes Commissioner Gordon to wonder what’s going on, but not wonder enough to actually investigate because he’s the police commissioner and all. Bruce decides with all this going on it’s the perfect time to boringly figure out all the riddles; it’s not like the villains know his biggest secret, have his girlfriend hostage and are emitting some green something or other into the air. Once he discovers that The Riddler is Edward Nigma (great detective work) he suits up in a new Batsuit and teams up with a sharply dressed Robin and they head out to stop the fiends.
With some difficulty they make it to the evil island and naturally Robin is captured, because if you’re going to build up a character this much in a movie, you gotta make in completely ineffectual. Batman matches wits with a glittery suited Riddler (don’t even ask) as well as his ridiculous death trap for Robin and Meridian. But because he’s Batman he effortlessly saves the hostages and defeats the villains. In the end The Riddler is locked away in Arkham, Two Face is dead, Dr. Chase Meridian joins a long line of Batman love interests who are easily forgotten by the next movie and the Dynamic Duo lives happily ever after.
So was it as bad as I thought? I have not seen this movie since I was a kid, but upon rewatching it I get the feeling this may be worse than Batman & Robin . With B&R we knew what we were getting it was a big, dumb loud movie and made no bones about it, but Forever teases you with pieces that could have been really good but in the end turn into crap. Rumor has it much of the script of this movie ended up on the cutting room floor and it shows, there are plot holes so big, you could drive a Tumbler through them like; what was the deal with his father’s red diary, why did he all of sudden decide to quit being Batman, and why does a guy who’s a former circus performer who’s in his thirties need to be adopted?! The cast should have been good (for the most part anyways) Kilmer to his credit plays Batman as an action hero like he had not been before, but his actual performance is about as exciting as watching cardboard. An actor like Tommy Lee Jones should have owned the role of Two Face, a gifted actor like him could have done wonders with a character torn between two worlds, instead he tries to outham Jim Carrey who himself is so ridiculously over the top that it’s incredibly irritating. Nicole Kidman, one of the most talented actresses around is given nothing to do but be the standard damsel in distress who acts like a easy teenage girl every time she sees Batman. Whereas B&R was outlandishly bad this movie is just plain bad, so don’t watch it.