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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Batman Forever

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I blog about a movie I own and have recently re-watched.  Right now, I'm plowing my way through every Batman movie, trying to find the worst one.  Today, we find ourselves on Batman Forever.  This is originally in my notes at April 30, 2016.

Meanwhile, back in the world of the live-action movies, things were slowing down a bit.  Even though Batman Returns was another monster hit, my mother wasn't the only one who found it morbid.  Many moviegoers -- especially parenting groups -- found Batman Returns too dark and too creepy.  Hearing the cries, and figuring that such cries prevented Batman Returns from being a gigantic monster hit, Warner Brothers figured it was time to let Tim Burton go.  They moved him over to a role as producer, and brought in Joel Schumacher to lighten things up. 

Schumacher wanted to do a reboot...an adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One.  But the studio wanted none of it...they wanted a sequel, not a prequel!  Schumacher managed to get elements in with flashbacks to Bruce Wayne's past...which is why we're treated to the pearls in slow motion yet again. 

With some of the new ideas that Schumacher was bringing to the table, Michael Keaton didn't want to go in that direction and decided to bow out.  After watching Tombstone, Schumacher offered the role of Batman to Val Kilmer.  For what it's worth, I think that Kilmer makes a great Batman.  Unlike the Keaton Batman, this is a Batman that starts to lighten up a bit and have a little fun.  He manages to get in a few quips while rebuffing the advances of Dr. Chase Meridian.  ("You like rubber?  Date a fireman.  Less to take off.")  That being said, he still broods, and is very serious about the war on crime.  We also get some good Bruce Wayne action, showing his decency towards his employees.  ("Full benefits for his widow."  "But the company health plan doesn't cover suicide."  "I know.  Full benefits.") 

Speaking of Dr. Chase Meridian, as played by Nichole Kidman, why?  Why is she in this movie?  She's got so little to do besides be sexy, be the love interest, and be the damsel in distress.  As soon as she's introduced, she's vamping it up and throwing herself at Batman.  Don't get me wrong, she's good and sexy, but she's got so little to do. 

Over on the villains side, Jim Carrey as the Riddler.  This came along just as Carrey was becoming THE BIGGEST MOVIE STAR IN THE WORLD.  In this film, Carrey is everything you loved about him in the mid-1990s...the manic one-liners, the rubber-faced contortions, it's all on full display.  And, with the main public awareness of the Riddler coming from the 1960s-manic comedy of Frank Gorshin, it works.  The Riddler actually gets a more fleshed out backstory, as a researcher in Wayne Enterprise's R&D lab who's obsessed with Bruce Wayne.  When Wayne rebuffs his ideas, Edward Nygma goes full-on stalker mode and becomes the Riddler to destroy Bruce Wayne.  Yeah, it's the same plot that was praised as brilliance when they applied it to Syndrome in The Incredibles, but you see that story here, in its genesis.  I never really picked up on it until watching it again tonight.  Nygma is throwing a party to celebrate his success, and the launch of his new product, when Bruce Wayne shows up.  He asks his "date," "How's my mole?"  and points to a mole on his jaw.  That's when I noticed...Bruce Wayne/Val Kilmer has a similar mole on the same spot on his jaw.  Nygma is trying to out-do Bruce Wayne on such an obsessive level.  It's actually a really good interpretation of the character. 

Can't say the same for Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face.  Two-Face, perhaps my favourite villain after the Scarecrow, but Tommy Lee Jones gets him so wrong.  You can tell that all Tommy Lee Jones did was watch Jack Nicholson as the Joker and say, "Oh.  This is what I'm supposed to do."  And then he makes it more manic to keep up with Carrey.  It's just...*sigh.* 

And rounding out our galaxy of stars, we've got Chris O'Donnel as Dick Grayson/Robin.  That's one thing where I'll give Schumacher credit.  When asked why he finally included Robin, Schumacher said, "He's such an important part of Batman's universe.  You have to acknowledge him eventually."  It's fun finally seeing Robin for the first time.  Is O'Donnell a little too old, and wouldn't it have been better if Dick Grayson was a kid and Batman trained him from a really young age?  Yes, but hey.  Beggar's cant be choosers.  And he actually gets a pretty character arc, as Two-Face is responsible for the death of his parents, and his driven by vengeance, and Batman tries to steer him away from the mistakes he's made.  It's not too bad. 

But watching the film again tonight, the one word I would use to sum it up is LOUD.  The music, the sound design, the neon lights, Gotham's architecture....it's just an assault on the senses.  And as our manic rogues, Carrey and Jones definitely borrow from the Disney Channel "SHOUTING MAKES IT FUNNIER!" brand of acting.  Ya know, there would be a pretty good Batman movie in here if Schumacher just turned things down a notch. 

All in all, Batman Forever is not too bad for a Batman movie.  There's some interesting new takes on classic characters.  An...interesting design for Gotham.  It doesn't go over the top...I'd say it reaches the top.  Batman & Robin...THAT goes over the top. 

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