Sunday, December 9, 2012

Batman on Film - Batman Forever

Joel Schumacher
1995 • 121 Minutes • 1.85:1• United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell
Screenplay: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman
Producers: Tim Burton, Peter Macgregor-Scott
Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Nominee: Best Cinematography
Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
Nominee: Best Sound

One man is born a hero, his brother a coward. Babies starve, politicians grow fat. Holy men are martyred, and junkies grow legion. Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Luck! Blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck!

During this run of the “Batman on Film” series, the entries have thus far been positive. This is where the positivity ends, folks. While Batman Forever has some positive qualities, it is a noticeable drop in quality compared to its predecessors.

On this installment, Joel Schumacher replaced Tim Burton as director. While Batman Returns made Warner Bros. money, apparently it didn’t make them as much as they’d hoped. They blamed Burton’s dark undertones on the limited success and asked him to step aside as director (though he remained a producer.)

Schumacher, despite the hatred and vitriol now given to him by Bat-fans, was (and still is, frankly) a fine craftsman. PReviously he had directed St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Flatliners, Falling Down and the Client. All of them critical or financial successes (or both.) While he is a talented director, he was not the right choice to helm the Bat franchise as the movie series becomes a campy and oftentimes goofy look at the Batman character. If he was trying to make a big-screen version of the Adam West TV show, he succeeded. But as a faithful adaptation of the Dark Knight? He fails miserably.  Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton in the Bat suit. Keaton, after reading the script decided he did not like the direction Schumacher/Warner Bros. was taking the franchise in and turned down the role. While one can admire his conviction, you have to wonder if it was the right call. Financially, Keaton’s career has not been the same since Batman Returns. Kilmer comes in to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman and he does… fine. He’s not good. But he’s not terrible, either. He’s just sort of there.

The plot revolves around Edward Nygma, an ex-Wayne Enterprises scientist, suffering a psychotic break and going on a crime spree by disguising himself as The Riddler. He teams with the horribly disfigured Harvey “Two-Face” Dent to put an end to both Bruce Wayne and Batman… discovering along the way that the two are one in the same. While all of this is going on, Bruce finds himself taking Dick Grayson, a former circus acrobat, under his wing after his family is brutally murdered by Two-Face. Grayson becomes Robin and the famous team of Batman & Robin is born on screen.

The Riddler is played by Jim Carrey. One has to remember that, historically speaking, this is the HOTTEST point of Carrey’s career. He had done two Ace Ventura movies, Dumb & Dumber and The Mask by this point and they all reaped huge financial rewards. Those films heavily relied on Carrey’s “rubber-faced” style of comedic antics and they worked in those films. However, it does not work in this film. Carrey had yet to evolve into the fine actor he currently is, and this film felt like more of the same.

The biggest acting complaint has to come in the form of Tommy Lee Jones. Jones was clearly doing a Jack Nicholson impression for the majority of the film, apparently thinking that because this is a comic book film he must act like a goof. And he does. And it pisses all over the Harvey Dent character.

The movie is not all bad though. As I said earlier, it has some positive points. The story is a convoluted mess. There are too many characters and they are not effectively handled. That said, there is a semblance of the screenwriters attempting a theme for the film. The theme of duality and inner conflict is very strong in the script, it’s just poorly executed. You can see the writers ALMOST had something. Also, the film does look gorgeous. Director of Photography Stephen Goldblatt does an amazing job with the visuals, and crappy movie or not, this film LOOKS good. Film is a visual medium and the money is certainly up there on screen.

But, visuals or no, the film is a creative failure. IT was, however, an incredible financial success leading to Warner Bros. to bring Schumacher back to direct perhaps one of the worst (if not THE worst) comic book film of all time. But more on that later. It would be another 10 years before Batman fans saw the film they deserved.