Batman Forever

Batman gets drive-thru
Joel Schumacher
Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris O'Donnell
The Setup: 
Joel Schumacher begins his systematic destruction of everything good about Tim Burton's Batman.

So I'm on a little Batman mini-jag, and after watching the Burton Batman, and enjoying them more than ever, I knew it would have to come to this (and worse: the impending Batman & Robin). Now, back in the day, I didn't really like the Burton films and there was a time I uttered aloud that this one was, in fact, the best one. Ah, youth, inexperience. Now I have a better sense of what was going on with the Burton films, and this one seems like what it is, a piece of crap that was to go from bad to intolerable in the next Schumacher film.

So Batman Returns was the most profitable movie for the year, however, Warner Brothers thought it could have made Even More MONEY!. It was considered way too dark and violent for a PG-13 film (though by now it looks quite quaint and restrained), parents' groups complained, and Warner's was forced to scrap its tie-ins with McDonalds because of the dark nature of the film. That's revenue left on the table, folks, and if we can't promote Batman along with crap food, well, what is America coming to? So they asked Burton NOT to direct the third film, and to step into the producer role. Michael Keaton dropped out when he learned that Burton would not direct. Joel Schumacher was brought in, he brought in Val Kilmer as Batman, and the script was given a rewrite by pop-crap writer Akiva Goldsman, the man who wrote the horrible film of Lost in Space. Kilmer apparently retained his reputation for being extremely difficult on the set, but I remember a quote from him at the time that I thought was funny: "For Batman, my preparation as an actor is basically to get dressed."

We open with new, colorful credits and a new score, trying to sound like Danny Elfman's score but not really. We soon are introduced to a new Batsuit, one that has nipples and an enlarged codpiece, and a new Batmobile, with glowing, visible engine and a huge central tail fin. You get a hint of where this film is going when the first lines have Alfred asking "Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, Sir?" and Batman replying "I'll get drive-thru." I get the "humor" of picturing Batman taking the Batmobile through the line at Burger King, but really, does Batman eat that shit? The new, corporate-friendly Batman does!

There is the expected opening action scene, in which Two-Face (2F), now played by Tommy Lee Jones, is causing some sort of mayhem at a bank located in a skyscraper. Billy Dee Williams was set up as Harvey Dent in the first movie, and the producers had to buy out his contract to play Two-Face in sequels. Batman swings in to meet Dr. Chase Meridian, psychologist, played by Nicole Kidman, who announces "Hot entrance." This is before Kidman had established herself as a serious actress, and was still doing that thing of playing "sexy" and "intense" by having her eyes and mouth wide open, as you see in the photo. Hhhhot. 2F chains a big safe to an elevator, and dangles it over Gotham, having some plan to trap Batman inside and destroy him with acid, or something. Batman links it to a chain and in swings neatly right back into the snug hole on the building, right back into place. Oh dear. Then the helicopter goes and destroys the face of the Statue of Liberty, 2F gets away, blah, blah.

We now have a CGI fly-thru of Gotham, which looks pretty awful. The city still has large statues, but they are now average monumental things and not the grim images of people struggling as in the Burton films. By night, the city is a colorful neon-lit Las Vegas, bye-bye to the grim, gray city of the Burton films. Bruce Wayne tours his R&D department, where he meets Jim Carrey as Edward Nygma (that's E. Nygma, get it?) who demonstrates his machine that messes with people's brainwaves. He presses Wayne for funding, but Wayne says he can't approve something with so many questions looming, and refuses. That night, Nygma goes nuts, kills his boss, and fakes his own death, taking his technology with him.

The Bat-signal goes up, and Batman arrives to find it was lit by Chase, who is fishing for a date with Batman. This causes him to quip "The Bat-signal is not a pager," and "Are you trying to get under my cape?" and "It's the car, isn't it? Chicks dig the car." My, my, what a cut-up. This is bad, the script is inane, but not nearly as bad as later points where the script is trying to have psychological depth, as in a later scene where Wayne meets Chase in her office and they try to have Goldsman's approximation of "psychological talk." We're supposed to be setting up that Chase starts dating Wayne, but is attracted to Batman, although one never feels anything, they just mouth the lines. Kilmer has somewhat adopted Keaton's halting speech, but other than that his characterization of Bruce Wayne is simply as a perfectly-adjusted man who speaks quietly.

Wayne takes Chase to the circus. The picture here will show you the new, brightly-lit Gotham. They are in the middle of a trapeze performance by the Flying Graysons when 2F takes over and causes mayhem, including hanging a huge bomb that will blow the place to smithereens. Bruce can't change into his Batsuit, so he just goes and fights goons off using martial arts and no one notices a thing. I guess it is just SO NORMAL for the local billionaire to jump into a ring and start fighting bad guys, and the director and screenwriter don't think this affects our ability to take this movie seriously IN ANY WAY. Then young Dick Grayson takes the bomb outside and throws it in the river, where it explodes harmlessly, but returns to find his whole family dead, which devastates him as much as Chris O'Donnell's face is capable of conveying. By the way, their trapeze outfits are the red-and-yellow traditional Robin outfits from the comics and TV show.

So Bruce takes in young master Grayson, who is all bitter and rebellious, and endures much snot and attitude as he convinces him to stay. You will notice that the grounds of the Wayne mansion issue dramatic smoke. Orphaned Dick causes Bruce to reflect on the death of his own parents, who were now killed by... Two-Face! Surprise! Holy revision, Batman! This revelation, however, goes nowhere, means nothing. Later Dick is upstairs whining to Alfred "Some hero I turned out to be," and Alfred responds "You are a hero, I can tell," while you at home are like: "Ummm, did he not just save the lives of a thousand people at the circus? Or did I hallucinate that?" But that's the way this script is: the only thing that matters is the moment, with no attention to whether these moments make any sense together.

Dick is soon applying his martial arts expertise to the doing of his laundry.

Meanwhile Jim Carrey is turning into the Riddler. His machine essentially makes TV 3D for viewers, while ostensibly sucking up their brainwaves, although the viewers (the machine is widely sold and employed throughout Gotham) don't suffer any damage, and despite the Riddler sucking up everyone's brainwaves, he does not ever get any smarter (of course, we have no evidence that anyone involved in this production would have the ability to convey "smart"). All you need to know is that there's an evil plot afoot, and leave the question of whether that evil plot makes any kind of sense to the side. The Riddler issues riddles--more on those later--and teams up with 2F so the two of them can shamelessly mug together. Ultimately it's just Jim Carrey doing Jim Carrey. Poor Drew Barrymore in periodically seen hanging around with nothing to do.

Anyway, young master Dick applies his gymnastic abilities to sneaking down into the Batcave, where he soon appropriates the Batmobile and takes it joyriding. He is stopped by a group of prostitutes--that is actually En Vogue, by the way--and comes upon a group of day-glo painted thugs. He tries to fight them himself, Batman shows up to save him, Dick wants revenge on 2F and wants to be Batman's partner, he is counseled that revenge is not the way, yadda yadda. Various bullshit happens, and then, suddenly, for no reason whatsoever, Bruce is shutting down the Batcave and saying he's retiring as Batman, the whole thing is no more. Huh? Where did that come from? And then where does it go, because it's forgotten immediately. I could say that it's emblematic of how idiotic this film is--if there wasn't SO MUCH ELSE that is emblematic of how idiotic this film is! And keep in mind, folks, this is the PRETTY GOOD one, compared to what comes next! Please pray for me, as I am venturing into that particular lion's den within a few days.

Okay, so remember how I said that the inane script is at its worst when it's trying to be deep and psychological? The nadir is the scene with Bruce and Chase where he's relating his deep pain over his parents' death and is about to tell her he's Batman, but she would rather kiss, and then the kiss tells her his secret identity. That is now three girlfriends in three movies who discover his secret identity. Not much of a secret, huh? I do wish they'd stop mining this moment for easy frisson. Anyway, soon the bad guys invade, Bruce is knocked out, and Chase is abducted. All of their thugs are bodybuilders, but to my disappointment, they all keep their leather jackets on and wear full-head masks.

Now in here a scene was deleted that SOUNDS intriguing, although we know it would be as idiotically treated as anything else here. The sequence has Bruce, due to the konk on his head, forgetting that he's Batman. Interesting premise, but one that would require longer than the few minutes the movie has to spare (it's already two hours), and ultimately I suspect we're lucky we didn't have to endure it. But interesting premise, if someone intelligent wants to explore it in a further movie.

So Bruce wakes up, and he and Alfred solve the Riddler's numerous riddles, all of which only spell out Edward Nygma's name and... how does that add ANYTHING? In what way does that matter AT ALL to solving the case? And also, please, let's give the character of the Riddler a little more credit than that. Oh my God, I'm going to have to kill myself.

So now Batman suits up to go out. Remember that whole thing about Bruce quitting being Batman? Yeah, well that was a few moments ago. This is NOW. He suits up, and we have a lingering shot of his butt in the suit. Apparently the butt and crotch shots in the next one get so bad that Schumacher was accused of homoeroticism. Then Robin comes out in HIS new suit, that Alfred had made for him on the sly, at Wong's Custom Superhero Suit Emporium and Outlet, serving the clothing needs of superheroes since 1943. Batman and Robin decide they're gonna be partners! Robin gets to take the Bat-boat while Batman takes the Bat-jet, which is nowhere near as fun as the Bat-jet from the first one.

They motor out to the giant mind-sucking device located out in the harbor, which looks like a large spinning blender with two pieces of plastic attached. It is supposedly sucking up the minds of Gotham, although as we've discussed it seems to have no ill effects on anyone. Their respective vehicles are destroyed, and they climb up on these rocks to have Robin blurt "Holy rusted metal, Batman!" in a reference to the TV series. Batman asks him what, and Robin says "This metal is full of holes--it's hole-y!" Oh boy, isn't that a stitch. They are separated, 2F is defeated, Robin captured, and Batman forced to choose between saving Chase or Robin. He destroys the mind-blender, sending all sorts of rays into the Riddler's head, which causes his face to distort. Then Chase and Robin both plunge, and Batman plunges after, catching up to them (scientifically impossible), easily securing Chase first, then going further to save Robin, which the movie makes clear is the more important relationship. The Riddler is shipped off to Arkham Asylum--its first appearance in the movies--Bruce goes off with Chase, Batman and Robin run at the camera, our new dynamic duo, and that's it.

It was fairly unendurable. Again, it's not as sheerly idiotic as the next one, but it's still quite, quite awful. It insults the audience's intelligence at every turn. The Riddler's big plan never seems to have any bad effects, nor any benefits. His riddles amount to absolutely nothing. Two-Face never has a plan, and is basically just hanging around. Robin complains about not being a hero moments after saving thousands of people. Bruce suddenly decides to shelve Batman, for no reason, then decides to continue, for no reason. The movie is just worried about little moments that provide a frisson, not worrying if they all work together.

Then there's the change in tone. I have no problem with a new director taking a new approach, although it would be nice if it was compelling in its own right and also didn't betray the character. Bruce is now just a quiet, confident, adjusted fellow with a few bad memories. The movie makes attempts to delve into psychology with the addition of Chase, the psychologist, but these attempts have the depth and truth of the average InTouch article. Gotham is now an overgrown neon wonderland with gangs of glowing fluorescent freaks, not the crime-ridden cesspool that is the whole reason Batman was created in the first place. And then nothing really has any resonance or adds up to anything. The main reason to watch this film is to better appreciate the Burton films and really understand all Keaton brought to the character.

So there you go: it's a piece of shit. Nevertheless, still watchable, as opposed to the next one, which ruined everything, and destroyed the entire series. That one's next, folks, and pray for me... into the lion's den I go.

Should you watch it: 

No, but maybe if you want to better appreciate the Burton films.