Monday, September 22, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Batman Forever (1995)

Yesterday some friends and I gathered for our weekly recording of Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. That afternoon, we watched and discussed Batman Forever, in which the Caped Crusader faces established foe Two-Face and new villain Riddler while acquiring a "ward," the angry young Dick Grayson. Here's the individual podcast. And now for the review...

The Good

*The first half of the movie is really entertaining. It starts out with a bang--Two-Face is robbing a bank (or some other institution that has a vault full of money) atop a high-rise in order to lure Batman to fight him. Things get more and more insane once Batman arrives, including a trap full of boiling acid and nothing less than the Statue of Liberty. It's really well-done.

*Although this will horrify some of my fellow reviewers, I thought a lot of the pithy lines were hilarious. The "chicks love the car" line when Batman is fending off the amorous attentions of Dr. Chase Meridian (more on her later) is one of the most amusing lines in the film. So's "the bat-signal is not a beeper." And then there's Alfred's bit about "the OTHER car" and how what's really the secret entrance to the Batcave is where Bruce keeps his dead wives.

*There are some good establishing character moments for Bruce Wayne himself--on the news we hear that he's announced a profit-sharing plan for workers in Wayne Enterprises and we later see him insisting that the family of an employee who (apparently) committed suicide receive full benefits even though that's against company policy for suicides. And when the Riddler, now the powerful executive of the NygmaTech corporation, tries to crassly triumph over him at a gala, Bruce good-sportedly congratulates him on his success, revealing that for all his success and grandiosity the Riddler is nothing more than a petty jerk. Val Kilmer does a good job playing the character and apparently he was creator Bob Kane's favorite Batman.

*Jim Carrey's performance as the Riddler is brilliant. He's hilarious and his line delivery is great, plus he can do the creepy aspects (he has a The Cable Guy-esque fixation on Bruce, his former employer) and the arrogance (he demands an answer from Bruce, the owner of the company where he works, NOW rather than sending his designs to Bruce's secretary) very well. The latter is actually somewhat painful to watch--here's a man who had the ear of one of the most powerful men in Gotham and threw it away because he was a demanding entitled jerk.

*Tommy Lee Jones is having a lot of fun as Two-Face and he's fun to watch.

*Although it's different from his comic-book origins, I liked seeing the birth of Robin and how it was tied into both Two-Face and Batman. Even though the rest of the Grayson family doesn't get much screentime, I did like their characterization. Rather than cower before Two-Face and his thugs, they hijack the bomb he's using to hold the circus hostage and use their acrobatic skills to maneuver it out of the tent and into the river, at a terrible cost to themselves. It's very well-done.

*To that end, the deaths of Robin's family at Two-Face's hands causing Bruce to have a lot of flashbacks to the deaths of his parents and how he developed his fixation with bats and his attempt to keep Robin from becoming what he's become (the early Batman depicted in the prior two films is a killer) makes a lot of sense.

The Bad

*The second half of the film suffers from a major case of the slows. Things pick up toward the end after Two-Face and the Riddler deduce Batman's true identity and attack Wayne Manor, but there's a long stretch of boredom.

*Chris O'Donnell is grossly miscast as Dick Grayson. I don't think he's a bad actor, but he is way, way too old for the part. There's no reason for Commissioner Gordon to leave him with Batman as his ward when he looks like he's 25. I'm not familiar enough with the lore to know just how old Dick Grayson was when he became Robin, but he would have probably been in his earlier teens. Yet we meet him riding a motorcycle to Wayne Manor and Bruce discusses him catching up with the circus (now "halfway to Metropolis") as though that was a serious option. He acts like an older teen or twenty-something much of the time, except for one scene where he basically flips out on Batman in what comes off as a temper tantrum.

(And his "kung-fu laundry folding" routine is just ridiculous to watch. Although I imagine its purpose was to show that he was capable of fighting before he rescued that girl from the gang of ravers, this could have been exposited some other way. Perhaps Bruce catches him beating on a punching bag or something.)

*Two-Face, though quite entertaining to watch, is completely out of sync with his comic book character. The DC character who commits violent crimes while laughing maniacally and acting hyper is the Joker, not Two-Face. Two-Face is a grim, violent nihilist with a split personality. I've only read a few Batman comics, but the impression I've got is that Two-Face's depiction in The Dark Knight is much more in sync with his comic-book character (and the character I vaguely remember from the animated series I watched as a kid).

*During the scene where Two-Face takes the circus hostage, Bruce Wayne proceeds to beat the hell out of a bunch of Two-Face's minions while trying to get to Two-Face. Note that I said "Bruce Wayne," not "Batman." The fact that billionaire Bruce Wayne got into a fistfight with a bunch of armed men and straight-up destroyed them is something that any media account of the event will include. That'd attract attention to Bruce that he doesn't really need. Granted, he was willing to reveal his identity as Batman to appease Two-Face earlier in the scene (but nobody heard him, not even his date or the annoying reporter who was hanging out with him) and there is a giant bomb that's about to go off, but at least some consequences would've been nice. Given how Commissioner Gordon brings Dick to Wayne Manor in the next scene, he could say something about how impressed he is with Bruce's fighting ability and Bruce could wave it off by saying he's been taking krav maga or something.

*Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) is a really annoying character. She has some kind of love triangle thing going with both Batman and Bruce Wayne, even though the former is explicitly not interested. She's useful in precisely three ways--her kickboxing comes in handy when she and Bruce hold a staircase in Wayne Manor against a group of Two-Face's minions, she does a nice callback to Batman Returns when she asks if Batman would be more interested in her if she wore vinyl and wielded a whip, and her idea to play on Two-Face's fixation with coin-flipping comes in handy at the climax. Otherwise all she really does is throw herself at Batman at any given opportunity. She does have a meaningful name, which I did appreciate.

*"Holey Rusted Metal Batman." Yes, I know they were trying to make an in-joke about Robin's exclamations from the earlier Batman material in a way that was true to the new character (he's actually making an observation), but this one was a groaner. And coming from me, that's a big deal. And some of the campy aspects of the film were ridiculous rather than funny--the security guard panicking over the "BOILING ACID" was hilarious rather than frightening.

*During Batman and Robin's invasion of the Riddler's lair, Robin has the chance to kill Two-Face. Despite challenging Bruce's warning that desire for revenge will consume him for most of the movie, he suddenly has a change of heart without any obvious conflict.

The Verdict

*It has its entertaining parts, but it's not that great of a film overall. If only it had been edited a bit more tightly. Six out of 10.

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