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July 18, 2012

Bat Movies Part 2: Batman Forever & Batman & Robin

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Let’s stop here, this is Bat Movies: a five part article series exploring the films and cultural impact of Bruce Wayne and his night moves as justice-dispensing vigilante. In this second installment: Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman Robin. (You can see the full Bat Movies schedule here.)



The summer of 1995 produced a particularly bountiful yield of American nonsense for my juvescent ripe mind: Mortal Kombat, Bad Boys, Batman Forever. This new Batman represented Warner Bros attempt to rebrand the franchise as family-friendly and, though I dislike Hollywood’s advertorial, quadrant-specific filmmaking, it worked like gangbusters: it got me and my dumbass friends into the theaters. What also helped was the “empire of media” I described yesterday, wherein a TV show or video game (Sega Genesis version of The Adventures of Batman Robin, highly recommended) could have a longer lasting influence than the movies themselves. The daily offering of Batman erased all memory of Batman Returns, I’m sure to WB’s delight.

Having now seen Batman Forever for the first time since the Clinton era, it’s apparent the studio modeled this movie after The Animated Series. Forever wastes no time with money shots of the new Batsuit and Batmobile, amping up the audience from the get-go, a deliberate move away from Burton’s method of keeping Batman in the shadows and building up anticipation to his first appearance. Forever also hews closely to the cartoon’s characterization of Bruce Wayne as millionaire playboy: He immediately gets a beautiful blonde tacked to his arm (Dr. Chase Meridian, played by Nicole Kidman) for star-studded galas, and he is also shown working at Wayne Enterprises. When played by Michael Keaton, Wayne wasn’t much beyond a creepy loner who sits in his house with the lights off, who apparently doesn’t have to work very hard to maintain the empire.

The Riddler’s origin stems directly from an unpleasant encounter with Bruce at a Wayne Enterprises laboratory. The villain then goes on to taunt both Wayne and Batman, unknowing they’re the same person. In the Burton films, Bruce Wayne, the man, never had a consistent physical threat, so Edward Nigma (Jim Carrey) antagonizing Wayne with riddles is a credible way to keep the action going when Bruce is out of the cowl.

In terms of pure popcorn entertainment, Forever probably delivers the most out of the Bat movies. Granted, I find Schumacher’s design tastes garish beyond belief, but the action rarely lets up and when it does, the romance is soapy enough to make Gotham’s ugly world feel right. Special mention must be made to Chris O’Donnell as Robin, who has always been such a pointless and annoying character. He’s the Poochie of Batman movies. Sample line from a WB board meeting circa 1995: “If we want to hit the four quadrants, we gotta grungify this movie by 10%.”

Filming was troubled. Schumacher called Jim Carrey a gentleman, but had more choice words for the rest of the cast. Kilmer was difficult as Schumacher tells it, while Tommy Lee Jones is “overpaid, overprivleged.” I can see why Jones would be extra curmudgeonly on the Forever set: Carrey stole the show, and not in a way as though Carrey outperformed Jones. Schumacher was quite content to let Carrey carry on for as long as he liked, giving Jones not much to work with. The Riddler’s mania completely eats up the screen and thuse Jones is forced in kind to use broad theatrics and idiotic mugging to even have a place onscreen. I seent it: That day, beneath the eyes of Tommy Lee Jones there was a cauldron of seething contempt for this damn movie.

And speaking of contempt…



I have a Reverse Bucket List, aka the things I never want to do before I die. Stuff like contracting the ebola virus, falling into a mouse trap delivery truck, or calling ATT customer service. Above all those: Never ever watch Batman Robin.
But indeed I now have and oh, my goodness. It’s soooo bad but soooo good. The contempt Schumacher had for his audience…I can’t even fathom it. At what point between Batman Forever and Batman Robin did he pick up the idea that the world will eat up whatever slop he throws at it?

Batman Forever was a decent movie always on the verge of turning lousy (it jumped the shark with that execrable “holey rusted mountain” line) but Batman Robin is camp to the core. I urge you to watch this at your earliest convenience. I’m not much of an ironic movie viewer, but this movie is so transcendentally stupid, so sublimely miscast that I feel a tingle of sadness for those who were anticipating it and saw it in theaters. You were burned and perhaps can never distance yourself objectively to witness this comedy goldmine for what it is.

Any semblance of real world physics is tossed out the window, every piece of dialogue is a worthless one-liner or clich platitude. They couldn’t resist the Alfred-is-old, Alfred-gets-cancer subplot! Alicia Silverstone mumbles everything. George Clooney doesn’t even have a Batman voice — he looks and sounds like ER doctor guy playing dress-up. And Arnold Schwarzenegger, bless him for delivering the worst lines ever in the worst way possible. It’s just…beautiful.

In one way, it certain gives insight into the movie making process. Want to see how a bunch of A-list actors appear on their first, unrehearsed takes? Now you can: They were all used in the movie. No wonder Joel Schumacher finished shooting this movie two weeks ahead of schedule.

This is like the Zardoz of superhero movies and I was grinning like a moron the whole way through.

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