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Batman Forever

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Batman Forever

Starring: Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman
Director: Joel Schumacher
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: June 1995
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

There were two things I was looking forward to in June of 1995 (besides graduating from high school, of course): the Michael Jackson HIStory album and BATMAN FOREVER, both of which turned out to be less than ideal. Everyone's saying this new Batman movie is a definite improvement over the doom and gloom of the Tim Burton movies, which I both liked, but there's really no way to compare the two because they're so completely different. In fact, it seems to me that great measures were taken to ensure this movie was distanced as far from the first two Batman movies as possible. Instead of calling it BATMAN 3, as if to actually admit the Burton films exist, they called it BATMAN FOREVER, which makes it seem more like a household cleaning product than a movie ("Want to remove tough stains fast? Use BATMAN FOREVER.").

Michael Keaton, who put on the cape and cowl in the other Batman movies (and did an unexpectedly good job of it), has been replaced by Val Kilmer, who makes Adam West seem almost Shakespearean. Kilmer's portrayal of Batman is one-dimensional and wooden, and the manner in which he delivers most of his serious lines borders on self-parody ("Are you trying to get under my cape, doctor?").

Then there's The Riddler, played by a man you know I don't like--Jim Carrey, who pretty much plays himself in a green question-mark suit. I know there is a substantial percentage of people out there who actually think Jim Carrey is funny, but then there are also a lot of people who think they've been abducted by aliens and stalked by Elvis. Most intelligent people see right through the strange facial configurations and recycled soundbites (The only thing missing is an "Al-l-l-l-l-righty then.") and realize there's nothing funny underneath, particularly when you realize the Riddler character is meant to be crazy but not a comedian, kind of like The Joker from the first Batman, played masterfully by Jack Nicholson. Of course, comparing Nicholson and Carrey is an exercise in futility, like comparing The Beatles and Weezer.

Tommy Lee Jones plays the other villain, Two-Face, the epitome of duality. One side is normal, upright, law-abiding, and the other is ruthlessly evil, as a result of a face-scarring acid accident. You have to give credit to Jones for at least trying to stay in character (more than I can say for Carrey), but his performance, while notable, still comes off as second-banana to scene-stealing (the ultimate crime) Carrey, or did you notice they devoted thirty minutes to The Riddler's origin and a ten-second passing reference to Two-Face?

The movie's best performance is delivered by Chris O'Donnell (Pacino's lackey in Scent of a Woman), who plays Dick Grayson, a tormented acrobat teen whose family has been killed by Two-Face. He is taken in as millionaire Bruce Wayne's youthful ward and, upon learning Bruce's identity, insists on avenging his parents' murder as Batman's sidekick. For a "light-hearted" movie, this aspect of O'Donnell's character, along with Kilmer's flashback dreams of his parents' murders and the realization that revenge has become his life, is definitely as dark and moody as anything Burton did.

Rounding out the cast (with a stand-out performance) is Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, who is obsessed with Batman but soon finds herself drawn to Bruce Wayne as well. Gee, that's a tough choice. And what if Batman ever found out she has having an affair with Bruce Wayne? That's a fight I'd like to see. Kidman is as sexy as ever (especially since I don't remember her ever being particularly sexy in the first place) and is as good a replacement for Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale as anyone. Another example of the disowning of the Burton Batman films by Batman Forever comes when Kilmer tells Kidman no one has ever found out about his secret identity before, even though Vicki Vale, Catwoman and Max Shreck (evil businessman Christopher Walken) all stumbled upon his identity in the first two movies.

Then there are the supporting players. Two-Face's duality is brought out further in his two girlfriends--nice-girl Sugar (Drew Barrymore, in the stretch of her career) and naughty dominatrix (I've always wanted to use that word in a review) Spice (No One I've Ever Heard Of). And the only two returning actors from Batman and Batman Returns, Michael Gough as Alfred, Bruce's butler and confidant, and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon.

The BATMAN FOREVER director, Joel Schumacher, has abandoned the dark, Gothic style sets of BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS in favor of a more surreal, psychedelic comic book which helps create a mood that's lighter and more trippy. It's blatantly obvious, though, that the Gotham buildings are computer-generated, whereas the Burton skyline consisted of tediously constructed miniatures, but again, comparing the styles of Burton and Schumacher is like comparing apples and nipples (whatever that means).

The Batcostumes in BATMAN FOREVER are even more sleek and streamlined than the Keaton costume, though for some odd reason, Robin's costume includes fake nipples on the chest (so now it is like comparing apples and nipples). Even the Batmobile is a different car. This one shoots fire out the back all the time (fueled by Mexican food apparently) and sports a strange-looking fin running the length of the back of the car. Maybe Batman bought it used from Sharkman. One thing I do know--the old Batmobile was a lot better.

The plot this time has mad scientist Edward Nigma becoming The Riddler after Bruce Wayne turns down funding for his invention "The Box" (Isn't that a music video channel?), which makes interactive TV possible, and also extracts knowledge from the minds of the viewers, transporting it telepathically to the mind of The Riddler. It is through this invention that The Riddler promises Two-Face knowledge of Batman's true identity (which, according to Kilmer, has never before been revealed--deliberate inconsistencies are the worst). In between, the Chase Meridian/Batman and Robin story lines are developed and a few death traps are thrown in to boot.

All in all, BATMAN FOREVER is a good movie, but not as good as it could have been with a few minor changes (drop Kilmer and Carrey, tone down the set psychedelia, stick with the original costumes and Batmobile, etc.). Still, I'm looking forward to that fourth Batman movie in 1998.

Copyright 1995 Andrew Hicks

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