Sunday, January 4, 2015

Batman Forever

Batman Forever.....
You know, Joel Schumacher probably wasn't the best choice of a director for this movie in hindsight. And looking back, I can't see why nobody picked up on this. He tossed Billy Dee Williams aside as Harvey Dent in favor of Tommy Lee Jones, despite Williams having portrayed Dent in Tim Burton's Batman for the express reason of playing Two-Face in a future sequel. And despite Jones not being black.
Personally, I think that Tommy Lee Jones could have worked as Two-Face, but given how the film is written, it doesn't.
The film starts out with Two-Face already having been splashed in the face with acid and had the whole split-personality thing already started offscreen.
And this is a problem that a lot of earlier superhero films have. Spider-Man skipped a whole ton of story between the death of Uncle Ben and Peter's graduation from highschool, Captain America skipped way too much time in between pretty much every event except the parts towards the end that it could have benefited skipping, and even the original Batman started out with The Dark Knight already established, and showing the origin in flashbacks.
You see, the exception to this whole thing is the last one. Batman had a decent flow and an awesome story. Spider-Man had the great story, but it skipped critical character development that The Amazing Spider-Man more than made up for. And Captain America was in development for way too long to keep up the decent if rather cheesy pace it started out with, which is why Marvel waited until The Winter Soldier to deal with the ramifications of having been frozen in ice for so long, opting to let us spend the first movie getting to know Steve, Bucky, and Peggy before the gut-punch and heart-wrench of an ending that First Avenger had.
You see, the problem with this method of storytelling is that any impact the events might have had on us is willfully destroyed to get to what the idiot who approved this script thought would be the interesting bits.
And considering we've got The Dark Knight to compare this to, we might as well start with Two Face.
In The Dark Knight, we spent quite a bit of time getting to know Harvey Dent, finding out what kind of person he was before he became Two Face, and we got to see what kind of hard time he had as a prosecutor in the corrupt-cesspool that was Gotham City.
In Batman Forever, we see Batman watching archival footage of Harvey Dent being splashed in the face with acid (Which I guess explains why he's white in this movie) and a load of Tommy Lee Jones being absolutely nuts in horrible makeup.
And with a rather bizarre plan and set-piece worthy of a high-budget remake of the Adam West series, (Which is right at the beginning of the film, mind you) Schumacher removes all subtlety from the character of Two-Face, and kicks any chance this movie had of being taken seriously right out the window.
Except the series from the sixties knew exactly what it was doing, and wasn't a followup to one of my personal favorite movie duologies of all time.
That's right, in the first handful of minutes the movie manages to prove itself to be a failure as both a sequel to Burton's masterpieces and as a standalone movie. Some might want to hope that it gets better later, and we'll get to that, but spoiler warning, it doesn't.
On the other hand, the only villain we actually see the onscreen origin of is Jim Carrey's Riddler. And it's rather unfortunately so, because we could have done without seeing Edward Nygma's creepy man-crush on Bruce Wayne. Or the rather ridiculous plot he has to take over the world.
With television.
If you haven't seen the movie, let's summarize how insane his plan is. He plans on trying to sell set-top boxes that project holograms out of the television straight into peoples brains, and then using this technology to drain the worlds critical information for his own nefarious purposes.
If this is sounding like something they'd have written for the sixties Batman series, it certainly did to me.
And if that wasn't cartoonish enough, you should really see the inside of Two-Face's lair. It's divided down the middle with angelic imagery on the left and demonic imagery on the right, complete with a concubine for each side.
And boy-oh-boy, the scenery in this movie is trying SO hard to be as good as it was in Batman: The Animated series. And it doesn't work very well in live-action. It just looks too goofy for this to be the same city from the first two Batman movies.
And the film just keeps getting more ridiculous and ridiculous as time goes on, with CGI setpieces that look like they'd be more at-home in an Austin Powers movie than a Batman one.
And Schumacher keeps adding in more weird things. At one point Robin has a shoutout line to the old series which makes about as much sense in context as "Hole-y metal Batman" does outside of context. And the given explanation for why Robin said it like that just leaves me to wonder why the character would say anything like that.
And finally we come to the strangest addition, the bat-nipples.
I know the most infamous example of this was Batman and Robin, but it started with Batman Forever.
And I keep wondering why anyone at Warner Brothers would have approved that kind of unnecessary and bizarre addition to the costumes, especially when it seems so bloody obvious when you look at pictures of Val Kilmer in the suit!
Speaking of which, that brings us to the cast.
Michael Keaton rather wisely quit the project after taking a look at the script, and despite his future career prospects, I have to say he made a smart move. Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan stayed on too long as James Bond and just wound up embarrassing themselves. Keaton got out of the series before it got too bad, which was something the casts of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin should have done before the movies were released.
Among those who were considered for the roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman were Daniel Day-Lewis, Ethan Hawke, Ralph Fiennes, William Baldwin and Johnny Depp. That last one strikes me as both hilarious, considering how many Tim Burton movies Depp has been starring in recently, and because Captain Jack Sparrow is exactly what this movie needed to be somewhat interesting.
I have a feeling that it would have been a better movie if Depp had taken the role of Batman, but again, I don't blame him for not doing so because it's possible that if he had Schumacher would have had his mitts on the series for more than two films.
Val Kilmer was chosen for the role of Bruce Wayne days after Keaton quit. Kilmer took the role without reading the script or finding out who the director was, and I can't say I blame him for that either. If I got the chance to play Batman in a big-budget Hollywood film I wouldn't think too much about it either.
Granted, if it was a Seltzerberg movie I'd probably decline. But as long as all I did in the film was kick ass and be awesome, it might not be so bad.
From what I hear, Tommy Lee Jones only took the role of Two-Face because his (At the time) thirteen year-old son Austin wanted him to. Sort of like how Raúl Juliá took the role of M. Bison because he wanted something for his children to enjoy, or how John Simm took on the role of The Master in Doctor Who so he could show his son that he can act.
And honestly, I can't blame Jones for doing that either. It's not a bad performance, but it's let down by the lack of development.
I hear Robin Williams was in the running to play The Riddler in this film, and this is where the failings of Schumacher's Batman movies become apparent. They had big-names on the cast and failed to use that fact to its fullest potential. Robin Williams could have made a great Riddler, but then again, so could have Jim Carrey.
I've seen Jim Carrey do some amazing acting in his career. And there's no doubt that the man can act, and he actually is acting quite well in this. The problem I actually have is with how the character is written.
And that's no fault of the actor, I blame the script and director for that. The problem is that The Riddler is a rather poor stand-in for The Joker in my opinion, and that his origin and master-plan seem like they were taken straight from the silver and golden-ages of comics. Or at the very least the sixties show.
And I've already talked that topic to death, so let's talk about the performance.
I think that The Riddler as a cartoonish psycho could have worked if they'd had a more competent director and script, and possibly removing Two-Face from the equation. Unfortunately it doesn't.
And if his plans were actually the delusions of a madman as opposed to something we're supposed to take as a viable threat, maybe the movie could have worked, especially if he was the unwitting pawn of a greater villain, like The Joker or Ra's al Ghul.
Hang on, I've got a story treatment I need to submit to DC Comics
Adding to the list of people who didn't get cast as The Riddler is the late Michael Jackson. I have no idea how that would have worked, or why Jackson would have wanted to work with Schumacher again after having been totally ignored The Wiz adaptation, to the point of which where his major musical-number had him standing still.
And finally we get to Robin.
Robin, in this film is played by Chris O'Donnell, who the avid television viewers among the readership will recognize as G. Callen from NCIS Los Angeles.
Apparently Marlon Wayans had been cast as Robin after Batman Returns, and he'd also signed on for Batman Forever, but the decision was made to replace him with a white actor.
I'm not saying that Schumacher is racist, and I'm actually thanking him for this, because there's no way Wayans would have made a better Robin than O'Donnell, not with the amount of bad comedies he's got under his belt.
Apparently Leonardo Dicaprio was approached for the role of Robin, but declined after meeting Joel Schumacher.
Considering how many actors fled the project upon either reading the script or meeting the director, I'm surprised there weren't a million big red-flags popping up at Warner Bros. headquarters.
Then again, these people kicked Tim Burton out of the directors seat because they wanted Batman Returns to make a little more money, so who knows....
I've seen Chris O'Donnell doing actual acting, and he's completely wasted in this role.
And he's too old for the role of Robin. Sure, he looks to be about mid-twenties in this movie, but Robin was supposed to be about ten years old when his parents were killed. You know, about the age Bruce Wayne was.
So, let's talk plot.
Batman responds to a hostage situation in a bank, meeting up with his love interest, Chase Meridian.
After the utterly retarded situation is resolved, Bruce Wayne meets Chase again as his civilian identity.
He invites her to a charity circus and there Two-Face and company storm the charity trying to figure out who Batman is.
The funny thing is that I don't even have to point out how idiotic a plan that is, because the movie does that for me.
Two-Face says he's going to blow up the circus and kill everyone unless Batman reveals his identity.
The first problem with this is something I'll come back to, but the second problem is that Bruce Wayne actually ties to tell Dent that he's Batman, but all of the shouting of the other people drowns him out.
What I was getting at in the beginning of this paragraph was that Dent has no reason to believe that Batman has a secret identity. For all he knows, Batman is a guy who works for the government or some secret organization of superheroes working to improve the world.
And that's the problem with the movie as a whole. Things happen that really shouldn't.
I know Dent is nuts, but he really shouldn't be so nuts that this coincidence would actually happen.
And that's the problem, the story isn't very well told.
In this same scene, all of the acrobats in the circus get killed by Two Face, except for one. And you know who the one who survived is.
So, Two-Face and his henchmen scarper, leaving a bomb behind to blow up the crowd.
But today seems like a good day to get rid of an oversized cartooney bomb, because Dick Grayson manages to roll the bomb into a river, where it explodes harmlessly.
So, parents newly dead, Bruce Wayne takes Grayson under his wing and shows him his massive car and motorcycle collection.
During this sequence, there's a rather strange reference to the Superman films, which I was perplexed by the first time I heard it and still didn't know why it was there the second time I heard it.
I should probably clarify that I saw a handful of scenes on TV once, but never watched the whole movie because I had other things I wanted to do at the time.
An overwhelming problem this movie has is that it overuses throwaway references and one-liners as if it's an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (Fitting, especially since Arnold was one of the three villains in Batman and Robin.)
For some reason, Nygma and Dent decide to team up to kill Batman and manage to put together enough capitol to mass-produce Nygma's mind-control TV set-top-pyramid.
With that, he steals millions of peoples information, and uses a machine like that to figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman.
You'd think that Bruce Wayne would have some kind of psychic shields in his brain, especially considering I know people who can train you to resist mind-reading in the DC universe. Especially if Superman exists in this universe, in which case Batman probably would have asked his good friend Clark for some mind-strength training. Or something else. Or maybe mind-reading tech is new in this universe.
In which case, Bruce Wayne should have started on development for brain-filters when he found out that Nygma was working on something like that. And he knew. He found out pretty early in the movie.
After a sound thrashing from Dent, Nygma and all of their goons, Dr. Meridian is kidnapped, the Batcave is destroyed, and for some reason, Bruce Wayne is left for dead, as opposed to being straight-up killed or captured.
And yes, I know there are reasonable character motivations for this in-universe, but I'm not about to let this movie have one good word be said about it right now, because I'm seriously fed-up with it and what it stood for.
So, for the sake of making new toys, Batman dons a suit that looks like George Clooney's Batman suit, and Dick Grayson dons a suit that Alfred had made for him.
And that raises some questions about Alfred, because he apparently stuck bat-nipples onto Robin's suit.
And here is where I mention the ass and crotch-shots. There are only two of them, one towards the beginning and one towards the end, but they're still completely unnecessary, add nothing to the scenes that couldn't have been conveyed in other ways, and they seem like they were made for the sake of the director, as opposed to the audience.
And I know I wouldn't be complaining (as much) if it were shots of an attractive female dressing up like that, and that I sound like an uber-feminist the way I'm talking, but let's be honest here, who's going to see this movie, and why?
People who liked the originals, and fans of the comics. And I don't care what your sexuality is, or who's putting on the show, you don't come to Batman for fanservice.
No, I might not have gone on so much if we were talking about a naked Catwoman or Batgirl getting dressed, but my point still stands, and I would have pointed out the fact that it's out-of-place anyways.
You go to Baywatch or the ecchi section of your favorite anime-streaming wesite for fanservice, you come to Batman for an awesome movie.
Some movies can mix the two competently, I suppose, but that's not what Batman is for.
An example I can use is The Matrix Reloaded, there was a bizarre bit in that movie where Neo and Trinity had sex while some of the women in the celebration in Zion jumped around in slow-motion without bras or opaque shirts, and while that wasn't a turnoff for me, it still didn't make any sense in the context of the film.
And I hope that I can remain professional after that and not induce any hatred from my viewership for the previous statements. I just don't think that fanservice works in a Batman movie.
Would fanservice have improved Death Note by any measure?
No. Misa Amane or Naomi Misora getting their breasts out or having their panties ogled by the cameraman would have just taken away from the series. And that's the problem with these scenes that I seriously hope justifies these past several paragraphs of text.
Robin, like an idiot gets captured because he didn't want to kill Two-Face, and Batman finds him and Chase gagged and strung-up over a watery chasm.
And if you were wondering, yes, this is essentially the same setup as the ending for Sam Raimi's Spider-Man.
Except that movie executed it well. It had a decent villain, a decent setup for the hero, and no boring and scientifically unsound subplots about his responsibility and whatnot.
Speaking of which,. there's an ongoing repressed memory subplot which winds up being exactly as retarded as it sounds.
First off, repressed memory-syndrome doesn't exist. If you somehow do manage to forcibly forget something, you won't be able to remember it properly afterwards, if you can remember it at all.
I know willing suspension of disbelief is something that exists, but as a student of and enthusiast for the many branches of science, I can't let something like this slide. As a genius himself, Bruce should recognize that this whole thing about his memories is probably just a result of his having gone up against some pretty strange enemies in his day and having all of his memories stewed together into a miasma of dreamlike bizarrety.
And the major problems with this subplot are that A) Spider-Man 2 tried this and utterly failed at it (But was still a better movie than this load of bollocks) and B) Chase actually encourages Bruce to seek out these memories, even when her profession as a psychiatrist should mean she would know that you can't tell memories that you've made up from repressed ones.
No, I don't have a degree in any of this, but when you can find out more about this kind of thing by watching videos on the internet with a three-hundred dollar PC than a professional team of filmmakers did with access to a hundred-million dollars and professional psychologists and psychiatrists that could have told the production team how the human-brain works.
In the end, this film is a bit of a mess. It doesn't hold up against the Batman films that were made immediately before it, or the Nolan trilogy that came after.
The problem is that this movie was made to be too family friendly, because Warner Brothers decided it was a good idea to cowtow  to the moral guardians and make a safer film.
I'm not planning on reviewing Batman & Robin if I can help it. I've got much worse films on the review docket anyways.
All in all, I give it a 2.02* rating. Yeah, it can get worse, but honestly I'm not feeling very charitable towards this film, especially considering what this movie represents.
I'll see you next week with my top six games of 2014!