Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Batman Forever

As the credits rolled for Batman Returns on Batman Day 2019, the third Batman film started in split screen. Again, it was made-up holiday so I was in a Bat-mood. My college football team wasn't playing yet. And I hadn't watched films two and three back-to-back in perhaps ever. Why not at least see the opening segment and just be reminded again of the complete 180 the franchise took.

Color...All Over the Place...Including Two-Face's Face

The heist that opens the film introduces us to Tommy Lee Jones's Two-Face. No, it wasn't the split-down-the-middle character who anguished over what life had dealt him like in the comics or the Animated Series (which, at the time, had already run a couple of seasons and was voiced by Richard Moll). Nor was he what Aaron Eckhart would eventually do in 2008's The Dark Knight. It would have been very interesting to see a Tim Burton version of Two-Face, no matter the actor, but that version lives in a parallel universe.

What we got was an exaggerated cartoon version of a comic book villain. I don't know if new director Joel Schumacher gave Jones direction or if Jones just assumed all comic book villains were of the mustache-twisting variety. Either way, the latter is what we got. Shrug. It is what it is. For such a dual personality, he has a one-track mind: kill the Bat. He has an annoying way of grunting throughout the film, but I enjoyed his puns about twos and duos and whatever.

The make-up job is pretty good. No, it isn't green, but that's okay. There is a ton of green in this film, and that's probably why Schumacher made Two-Face's scarred face purple.

Jim Carrey is Perfect as Riddler

When Jim Carrey's Riddler enters his scenes, he consumes everything around him. Even as Edward Nigma, Carrey does a great job at being who he is: a mentally unstable genius who just wants from the world that which he thinks he deserves. Again, this Riddler is not comic-book accurate, but I don't think too many people threw up their hands in despair, especially when you have Carrey gloriously chewing the scenery.

At the time, the only other Riddler we could remember is Frank Gorshin's version from the 1966 TV series [No, I don't count John Astin], and Carrey wonderfully channels Gorshin's barely restrained performance and magnified it with his own abilities. Look, I love what Carrey does, but when he's the star of the film, he's often let off the leash. When he's a co-star, he can only chew the scenery he's in. With those small doses, he's the comedic version of Heath Ledger's Joker: when Carrey's on screen, he draws everything towards him. But he's checked, no more so that when he introduces himself to Two-Face, the veteran villain fires his gun and implores Riddler to get to the point.

Of all the Bat-villains we got in the initial run of four movies, I'd rank Carrey's Riddler just behind Jack Nicholson's Joker as the best. Catwoman is in a class all her own. He's over-the-top, but that's what we want from Jim Carrey, and boy does he deliver.

A New Batman

The one person who is not over the top is Batman himself. Val Kilmer plays Batman almost like it's a friendly jaunt through the countryside, barely seemingly to break a sweat as he takes out Two-Face's goons. And boy, are there a lot of goons. I've lost count. A dozen? Two?

There are some terrific shots of Batman in this film. Him swinging out of the elevator and foot-smashing the goons. Him swinging on the chain under Two-Face's helicopter. And, best of all, him smashing the overhead window, landing on that dais in the middle of the goons, and then flipping over them to start fighting. Carrey even acknowledging the coolness factor in the movie itself. I think it trumps Keaton's similar entrance into the museum in the 1989 movie.

Love that Batman's suit is back to being very black. It was in 1989, but it got a bit grayer in Returns. The eye holes for Kilmer's suit also serve him well.

As Bruce Wayne, Kilmer delivers a low-key version of the character. He's not the manic Keaton presents, nor the "I have to play this part to avert suspicion" way Christian Bale delivers his Bruce. Here, Kilmer gives Bruce some angst, even if it is just skimming the surface. It was alright, but I prefer Kilmer as Batman.

But this film is unique in one aspect: it is the only (y'all can fact check me) time in which Bruce Wayne comes through in the costume. I'm thinking of the moment when Chase tells Batman she loves another man. That man, in costume. And Batman smiles.

Loved that.

Enter: Robin

Not much to say here. Chris O'Donnell plays Dick Grayson's origins straight out of the comic books, the only change being Two-Face killed his family and not some random criminal. It works here, because Bruce is able to teach Dick about the nature of revenge and what it does to a person if you let it. Good lesson for the younger man, and for all the young kids watching the movie. You know what you'd get nowadays: Dick getting all mean and vindictive and beating the crap outta Two-Face.

And look: the moment when Batman and Robin are standing together, in costumer, and they have their "we're partners" talk, it's cheesy as hell. But, this is the first time since 1949 that Batman and Robin stand next to each on the big screen. The first time since 1968 that any live-action version of the Dynamic Duo are together. That makes it very special. My only wish: that there was a roomful of goons that they had to fight to get to the villains. We don't get that until 1997's Batman and Robin.

They were going to do Robin, and O'Donnell's version works fine.

The Music

With the departure of Tim Burton, so, too, did composer Danny Elfman depart. Enter Elliot Goldenthal. We didn't get a lot of Elfman's  theme in Forever, but we got really good set of new themes. I rather enjoy this music. I have the suite on one of my Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra CDs so I've heard it often over the years. Not quite as good as Elfman's music for Batman 1989, but pretty darn good. It's probably second only to Elfman overall. As much as I like the Dark Knight theme by Hans Zimmer, it ain't much of a theme.

The Verdict 

I was in the bag for this 1995 film from the get-go. I'm a Batman fan so I'll watch any version. And in the mid 1990s, this was all there was. Sure, it's a different Batman. Sure I wish Billy Dee Williams would have played Two-Face. But we didn't get that. We got this movie. And for all of the nitpicks you can pick, it's a pretty darn fun movie. I always enjoy watching it, even though I don't watch it often.

And, in the world of 2019 where every Batman version is seeming the dark and brooding version, this Batman, the Batman who actually smiles, is just fun.

So, this summer, I've watched Batman, Batman Returns, and now Batman Forever. You know what I'm gonna have to do now, right? I'm going to have to watch 1997's Batman and Robin. Sigh.

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