Prepare For The Dark Knight Rises: Revisiting Batman Forever

By Jesse Carp 2012-07-11 19:37:59discussion comments
With The Dark Knight Rises heading into theaters next week, concluding Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, we here at Cinema Blend have decided to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the Caped Crusader’s previous films. We'll be posting a new Batman Rewind article each day, and you can revisit all the previous installments here.


Before director Joel Schumacher completely turned Tim Burton's take on Batman into the camp crusader with Batman & Robin, there was an awkward step in between otherwise known as Batman Forever. Burton didn't care about Bob Kane or canon, but to his credit, he did deliver two decent interpretations that managed to strike an interesting tone and aesthetic. With his gothic (lite) Batman and, even more impressive effort in, Batman Returns Burton laid a solid foundation for his successor to build upon but Warner Bros. and Schumacher decided to turn a 'family-friendly' corner. All I remember from watching it the first time are fluorescent lights and disappointment. Did Batman Forever get better with age?


The Rewatch

And the answer to that question comes almost immediately. After the non-Danny Elfman score opens the film, we cut to the Bat-Cave and glimpse the newly designed Batmobile that looks like a shiny running shoe. And that's not even the worse of Batman Forever's opening moments, as the camera soon zooms in on nipples--I mean Batman--and the hero says his first line… "I'll get drive-thru." That moment was almost the end of the rewatch for me, confirming my raged-filled disappointment with Schumacher's first foray into the DCU.

Fear not--Batman Forever actually manages to get worse. Val Kilmer is arguably the worst Bruce Wayne/Batman ever to appear on the big screen, though that may be the result of having no material to work with and the near-impossible task of creating a compelling caped crusader in the now increasingly camp universe. To make matters worse, the writers didn't do Val any favors by completely botching the characterization of the Dark Knight. It's like they reversed the two sides of his role: Bruce very publicly broods (complete with daymares of his past) instead of acting the 'playboy,' while his Batman is a jokey, smug and self-righteous hero. And don't get me started on him immediately hanging up the cowl once Robin shows an interest in joining the fight, before being okay with his protege’s plans to break Batman's one goddamn rule-- Batman doesn't kill.

Sadly, Robin is just one of the film's many hilariously mis-cast and poorly constructed characters. Chris O'Donnell is about ten years too old to properly portray Dick Grayson, a character who is supposed to help Bruce reflect on the decisions he made after his parents' death when he was a pre-teen. Robin needs a razor, not a parental guardian. Kidman's role as Bat's love interest, a kickboxing psychiatrist named Chase Meridian, is only there to fulfill the damsel in distress archetype. Tommy Lee Jones seems to be having fun chewing up the scenery but he comes across as little more than a buffoon in purple make-up who barely resembles the fantastic comic book villain. Finally, we have Jim Carrey's Riddler who is the film's one bright spot. Carrey's unnerving and manic portrayal is by far the highlight of Forever, and the only one given any kind of character arc.

The film's saving grace was said to be the lavish production design but now more it just comes across has horribly dated and garish. The Gotham in the film is unrecognizable, even though it was supposed inspired by the 1940s series-- a gaudy pastiche of Asian and film noir design influences, cluttered by giant statues and an abundance of neon lighting. To be fair, I enjoy the scene where Robin fights the fluorescent criminals because I think the aesthetic fits perfectly, in isolation, as representing one particular Gotham gang (reminiscent of Warriors). While most of the exteriors are a let-down - lacking in scale and scope with an overabundance of neon and fog - some of the interiors are actually quite lovely, including Two-Face's lair, Riddler's small apartment and even the circus.

On some level, yes, Batman Forever does hold up-- it is every bit as bad as it was the first time. The box office figures might be the most telling in terms of analyzing the film's reception. Batman Forever had the second highest grossing opening weekend of any Batman film (behind TDK), only to end up fifth overall. Word of mouth apparently buoyed Batman and Batman Returns but sank Forever. But what it truly did, with the help of the miraculously even more terrible followup Batman & Robin, was provide the impetus for a new vision of the Bat.


How Does It Lead To The Dark Knight Rises?

In short, it doesn't. Well, Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever might serve as a playbook for what not to do in the revamped, realistic Batman universe created by Christopher Nolan. It's safe to say that the return to all-out camp after Burton's gothic take on the character served as the impetus for a complete overhaul, so I guess we can at least thank the creative team behind the blunder for lighting the fire under Christopher Nolan. Both films are the third in their respective runs (Forever unfortunately does not conclude that trilogy) but beyond that, the similarities are pretty thin.

Nolan's Batman exists in a completely different tonal and aesthetic comic universe, namely one as close to the 'real' as possible. Instead of designing Gotham with lavish, over-the-top designs, Nolan's trilogy grounds its look, and by extension the story, by using existing major cities' imposing architecture. There won't be any neon signage, giant statues or elevated streets in The Dark Knight Rises, instead only the scale that Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York provide, not to mention international locales like India and the U.K. Shooting on location, and in-camera, is in complete contrast to Schumacher's method with Forever's carefully constructed set design and the results are undeniable.

Nolan's universe also works extremely hard to provide each and every character some kind of motivation in order to make them more than merely two dimensional representations of 'good' or 'evil.' Well, besides his female characters-- Kidman's damsel perhaps the closest the two series come to overlapping, given the role Rachel Dawes played in the first two films. Something tells me Nolan worked extra hard on Anne Hathaway's Catwoman and Marion Cotillard's mysterious Miranda Tate in order to ensure that those criticisms don't once again arise after Rises. Finally, the difference between Jones's Two-Face and Aaron Eckhart's is staggering, not only in makeup and costume design but in characterization. The essential difference between the interpretations build down to the coin, TLJ's villain in influence by "luck" (hardly a recipe for conflict) versus Eckhart's quest for "fairness," a more active and pointed attack. And, like all of Nolan's changes, it's for the better.


And A Few More Things…

The songs you still associate with this movie
Continuing the tradition of odd contributors to a Batman soundtrack, the correct answer is U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me Kill Me” and Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose,” even though the equally ill-suited "Where Are You Now?" by Brandy and “Bad Days” by the Flaming Lips are actually featured in the film. Yeah, look for the U2 or Seal moment. Not there.

Best Quote
All of the following are acceptable answers: “It's the car, right? Chicks love the car,” “Surf’s up, Big Kahuna,” “The other car...,” “Mr. E. Nygma. Edward Nygma. Stickley's suicide was obviously a computer-generated forgery,” “Joygasm!,” “Holey rusted metal, Batman” or “I’m Batman!” you are right (and wrong). If you said, “I’ll get drive-thru,” you’re the problem.

Best Easter Eggs
Here are a few: Bruce tells Dick that his circus must be half way to Metropolis by now, Metropolis being the home of Superman. When deciding on a name, Dick throws out ‘Nightwing’ which will become his moniker once he grows out of being Robin (so, like, ten years ago). Chase not only calls him Bats (which is awesome) but asks if she needs tight vinyl and a whip to get his attention, a nod to Catwoman. And is it just me, or does 'the box' receiver look like a giant lantern? Find any more?

Best Moment
It has to be the first meeting between the newly named Riddler and Two-Face. The sequence is set in one of the aforementioned well designed interiors, Two-Face's lair, which visually reflects both sides of his personality. And the way Carrey plays to both sides is incredibly enjoyable. Lastly, the inclusion of the 3D TV makes the scene oddly prescient but also allows the scene to incorporate 2D animation as his hench-women's projections. It's one of the few entertaining and visually stimulating sequences in Batman Forever.
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