Thursday, 7 August 2014

Batman: The Corruption

When is a superhero movie not a superhero movie?

Well, it's when Christopher Nolan uses a comic book hero to explore the darker side of human nature and redefine what a superhero movie can be.  Overshadowed by Heath Ledger's untimely passing, Nolan's second Batman movie is an exploration into the corruption of power.

The Dark Knight is a movie of epic proportions.  It is a movie of ambition and flawed morals.  Characters are no longer bound by their home territory, Batman has no jurisdiction and Nolan uses this to expand his characters and story.  The Dark Knight is the best superhero movie ever made, despite it's flaws.

At the centre of The Dark Knight is a triumvirate of individuals: Batman; flirting with fascism as he relentlessly chases The Joker; a 'dog chasing cars' and Harvey Dent; holder of a virtuous jawline and seemingly shining like the Phial of Galadriel.

After Batman Begins a sequel was always on the cards and before long the 'I believe in Harvey Dent' whispers began and pictures of Heath Ledger's Joker appeared.  Ledger's casting caused some consternation as people only remembered A Knight's Tale and not Candy.  It wasn't long before his excellent performance raised the debate pitting him above Nicholson.  It's fairly pointless comparing Ledger and Nicholson's portrayals of Batman's nemesis.

One is not better than the other in the same way that Mark Hamill wasn't better than Cesar Romero.  Posthumous Oscar's aside Ledger is the Joker in this incarnation just as whoever comes next will make the role his own.  This time The Joker doesn't have a grand plan to poison Gotham or kidnap a prominent citizen, he simply wants to run amok and have some fun.  He plays games with organised crime and police alike as he seeks to remove the boundaries he sees as constraining society.  This is why Batman can't beat him.  Batman has rules: no guns, no murder whilst The Joker is happy blowing up hospitals and police stations.  Whilst Bruce Wayne seeks his exit strategy The Joker makes Gotham burn to reel him back in.  The symbiosis is diagnosed excellently in the interrogation room and the theme strengthens until the very end when The Joker invokes a paradox and WrestleMania II.  Yet Ledger's Joker is better when he's not saying anything at all, hanging out of the police car window in silence and giving the new commissioner a slow hand clap are masterful actions to flesh out the character.

The abandonment of the Tumbler/Batmobile is a turning point for Batman alongside the deaths and fires that change Gotham's landscape.  Nolan's insecurity causes him to cloud the storyline with a secondary villain (scarily obvious from the start) and force Batman to employ ever more unconventional and brutal means of locating The Joker.  The insidious side of a smartphone unfolds alongside a morality play which is largely unnecessary and dampens the showdown we're expecting.

Let's face it, we all know Apple have a room like this.

The Dark Knight benefits from continuity in the form of returning characters and actors.  Lucius Fox, Jim Gordon and Jonathan Crane are all welcome returns and despite Maggie Gyllenhaal's best efforts we could do without Rachel Dawes.  Eric Roberts takes time out of his obscenely busy schedule to put in a very good shift as Moroni and Michael Caine is always welcome as Alfred.  Nolan firmly roots The Dark Knight in its comic book source material and reality, moreso than Batman Begins.  The DNA of The Long Halloween is there, as are traces of Azzerello and Bermejo's work.  The initiated audience will probably oppose Two-Face's origins but Nolan wisely chooses not to give The Joker a false back story.

Batman struggles with balancing his power and desires when met by chaos and resorts to desperation to avoid the darkness and support his 'White Knight' only for the hope to be lost.  Dent's jawline is split like his personality and his Uncle Sam jingoism buried beneath the burns.  It still doesn't stop him lecturing on morality and chance.  Dent/Two-Face's story is rapidly condensed and Batman has to take ultimate action.  It's a waste of a character and Batman has to take the blame to save himself and Gotham.

Batman will return, but in what form?  Whatever the result hopefully he'll be without the achingly ethical dilemma.  If you want your superheroes with a healthy dose of casual bravado then you'll need to look at Marvel right now, which is handy as Iron Man 2 is in the offing.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Problem Child

To follow the bombastic box office beater Iron Man, Marvel chose to tackle their most unpredictable property.  Ang Lee's 2003 effort at bringing Marvel's Jekyll and Hyde to the screen is politely ignored as the shadow of Bill Bixby stands tall over Edward Norton's incarnation.  Although this time he's Bruce and not David thankfully.

As a TV series, The Incredible Hulk was a mainstay of childhoods anchored around a mere four television channels.  It's for that reason that a heavy dose of nostalgia would help Kevin Feige truly incorporate Hulk into the newly established Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Lou Ferrigno is, not entirely, replaced by CGI as Edward Norton takes the role of the tormented scientist who eats odd meals in bowls as Bill Bixby appears in South American imports.  Norton was no stranger to duality after Fight Club but with the clever incorporation of breathing exercises and anger management techniques keeps the gamma fuelled beast at bay.  For a while at least.

The leading players are vaguely established and the origin story glossed over; this is a movie for fans.  Hulk fans will know all about the gamma rays, Thunderbolt Ross and Betsy but the lab accident and Banner going fugitive could have done with a bit more backbone.  The US military is cast as the enemy as it seeks to get its hands on an uncontrollable weapon.  It's a seemingly age old plotline that has been brought to life by Weyland Yutani and many others.  It's often been said that Hulk was a reaction to The Cold War and the military-industrial complex even if he was a reinvention of Jekyll and Hyde.  A harsh juxtaposition in more recent times to DC's Dr Manhattan.  However, let's face it, allegory is displaced by explosions and green screens in the Noughties and so we have The Abomination.  Thanks very much Wolfgang Peterson, Michael Bay et al.

No, The Leader is alluded to but we are presented with The Abomination.  Woefully miscast is Tim Roth who gamefully gets his Hulkamania on only to be splatted all over the screen.  The Abomination looks like a steroid addicted version of Dogma's Golgothan. 

Just add gamma rays
It feels like a concession, what started off as a reasonably cerebral exercise in story telling soon gives way to smoke filled conservatories and footprints we haven't seen since Jurassic Park, the formula is exemplified by the tacked on end credits scene.  You can almost feel the frantic phone calls getting William Hurt and Downey Jr into a room to introduce a 'team.'

The Incredible Hulk is missing the sense of ambition and grandiose that Marvel gave Iron Man and, later, Thor.  However many nice touches and nods to the past are made Marvel can't quite shake the notion that The Incredible Hulk is a place filler, burdened with lost love, a warm up act for something yet to come.  The lack of continuity as Norton is exiled in favour of Mark Ruffalo in time for Avengers Assemble proves this.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe may be expanding after its Big Bang but quantity isn't a substitute for quality.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Marvel Rehabilitation

DC Comics had stolen a march, we weren't in the Golden Age any more and superheroes and comic books had grown and evolved into motion pictures.  Marvel fitfully competed with DC's own fitful efforts.  Licensing deals came and went and whilst X-Men scored big The Incredible Hulk was soon to have a reboot of a reboot. It was all a bit haphazard until a shuffling of management and the ascension of Kevin Feige.  Feige was to put a coherence to the making of Marvel films and forge the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The billion dollar juggernaut would awaken Disney whilst making DC look slightly impotent as they held Christopher Nolan forward as their one shining light.  It's not just the Easter eggs that make Marvel films work.  And to think Iron Man had been stuck in the very definition of development Hell for nearly 20 years.  Marvel just needed something, a little spark.

But how does he pee?

The spark was Robert Downey Jr.  The very definition of perfect casting as Tony Stark.  Stark and Downey Jr are immensely similar.  Essentially, both are brash Bruce Waynes, playboy arseholes with a twinkle in the eye that makes them forgivable and likable.  It's not even Downey Jr's impeccable facial hair that makes Iron Man a good movie.  It's paced perfectly, not too CGI dependant given the circumstances and the casting is spot on.  A relatively lame ending is handled well and pitched just about right by director Jon Favreau.

Iron Man always struck me as a Batman rip off without the emotional issues but the filmmakers have managed to distinguish the two.  Jarvis abandons human form to become a docile Terminator and Stark's relationship with Rhodes is brought in as a central theme.  The corporate giant isn't a Waynesque loner twisted by rage but a sociable, champagne swigging capitalist; Eisenhower's military-industrial complex in human form.  Stark's inherited genius and resourcefulness see him design a life saving exoskeleton which makes him Iron Man.  Seemingly at a loss for anything better to do Stark uses his alter ego to promote peace much to the chagrin of his business partner , Obadiah Stane.  It's amazing that a near death experience can cause an egotistic prick to abandon chasing profits to go off and do some manufacturing in his home workshop.  It's elements like this that make Stark a little unrelateable; he has everything at his disposal and the inexplicably named Pepper Potts will tidy up any mess he makes.  Iron Man rattles along enjoyably enough as Stark attempts to reconcile his friends with his new metallic persona whilst the background rumbles with Stane's Machiavellian jealousy.  Naturally enough it all comes to a head with two iron men battling each other.  It's the gentle introduction of Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. that make Iron Man less than formulaic. 

Now Stark isn't just at odds with himself and his former business partner but the quintessential Man In Black from the Government looms over him.  The explosion of popularity for S.H.I.E.L.D. has spun off across the Marvel universe and a lot of this is down to typecasting.  Clark Gregg is always a face of Government, neatly suited and booted in The West Wing or as a policeman in CSI amongst other things.  We have to wait for a hideously tacked on post credits scene to see just who Coulson works for, a scene which paves the way for all following movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Iron Man is used as an introductory tool, a foundation and a marker for what Feige wants from his comic book properties.  For years DC had the market cornered  with the exception of Marvel's interloping X Men but now there can only be one outcome: an Avengers film.  The only problem is how to introduce so many characters of a team without confusing an audience.  Marvel's solution was simple: give them all a standalone feature before bringing together a super team.  Iron Man is merely the first square.  Marvel passes go and collects considerably more than $200.

Iron Man was clearly produced with the intention to spawn a legacy of sequels and whilst Jeff Bridges is great you feel Downey Jr needs a villain for his quips to bounce off, someone like, say Sam Rockwell.  But he'll have to wait as Marvel are getting the green paint out again on Photoshop.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Superman: The Homage

Whilst Batman Begins was being filmed Warner Bros sought to resurrect their other superhero franchise and bring Superman back to the big screen.  The project was called Superman:Flyby and the premise was a complex trilogy to make Superman dominate the cinema for the next ten years.  Playing with timelines and resurrection it's little surprise the story had JJ Abrams' fingerprints all over it.  Production meandered as the traditional problems with a Superman film reared their head; difficult casting, directors in and out whilst even choosing locations was difficult.  Abrams loitered as Warner Bros approached Bryan Singer whose idea of a returning Superman was approved when presented to Richard Donner.  Singer was a safe pair of hands having superhero experience with X-Men and the shining light of The Usual Suspects in his back catalogue.

The silly decision to cast Josh Hartnett as Superman was annulled amid typecasting and commitment fears.  The door opened for a pre-vegan Brandon Routh.  He certainly looked the part.  It's rumoured Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth signed on without reading a script whilst James Marsden began a quest to appear in as many superhero franchises as possible.  If they reboot The Green Lantern you know he'll be fishing around.

Routh is pretty darn good as Superman and as Clark Kent.  He manages to capture some of Reeve's charm as Kent without overdoing the goofiness and then step into the blue suit retaining a level of vulnerability that we haven't seen in previous Superman incarnations.  The main problem is the story he finds himself in.

Superman has been absent for five years, looking at the space debris of Krypton. Quite why is never really explained.  Neither is Kent's parallel absence.  He's been away 'finding himself' or something yet returns without so much as a suntan.  Verisimilitude goes so far but now it's got to the point that Lois Lane will only know if Clark Kent is Superman if it's announced via neon sign.  That rohypnol kiss back in the day was mighty powerful.  Maybe it's because Lois Lane now has a son, a son full of afflictions and weaknesses that he may as well have a neon sign that says 'Son of Superman.'  This brings worrying thoughts though.  When Supes and Lois got their freak on what stopped him getting carried away and blowing her head off?  Why was she so blase about shagging an alien? How defective are Lois' genes that they make the son of Superman so sickly?

Right, that's enough of that. Lex Luthor is trying his old real estate ploy again albeit with a twist.  Spacey looks like he's having immense fun as Luthor and hams it up darkly, changing wigs willy nilly whilst actually getting down to the nitty gritty of trying to fight Superman by levelling the playing field.  The Luthor trip to the Fortress of Solitude is inspired in it's villainy, matched only by the look on Spacey's face as he demands to learn everything from Jor-El and the Kryptonian crystals.  The inclusion of Brando as Jor-El takes us all the way back to 1978 and the supersaturated whiteness of Krypton.  It's comforting after Nuclear Man and the wilderness years.  Odd use of a model train set sees Luthor's real estate scam updated.  The only nagging doubt is just how he managed make a Kryptonite sheath for his island crystal.

Luthor's Return to Oz moment

Back to Superman, he's returned and had a beer with The Liability Formerly Known as Jimmy Olsen, but now what?  As Kent and as Superman he's alone, discarded.  The world has, seemingly, moved on.  The world doesn't need Superman anymore.  Or does it?  Handily, Luthor's model train set experiment has some aeronautical ramifications and affords Superman the opportunity to extol the virtues of air safety but ruin a ball game.  It's good, and quite the spectacle, but you can't help feeling that Superman Returns could have done with one more big set piece like this one.  The tumbling Daily Planet doesn't count.

Hey, that's an interesting theme. Shall we explore...oh, no. OK then.

It's clear that Superman Returns is a sequel and an homage to Donner's original Superman two parter but it's in this homage that sit jarring anachronisms.  Superman isn't really updated, it seems the only real updates have been rolling news channels and a ban on smoking in the workplace.  In this Internet age what would Kent really be doing in print media? And just who gets to walk back into a job after five years? Especially as he wasn't really any good.  It's lovely that Eva Marie Saint lives on the old Kent farm and plays Scrabble but in the city you'd expect a little more advancement even if the city is the misty eyed Metropolis.

Superman Returns is an OK film, not a great one and it did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel.  Sadly, the studio and director would get distracted whilst the option on Routh's contract would expire.  It's telling that he's more remembered as Scott Pilgrim's confused vegan foe.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Why Do We Fall?

The corpse of Schumacher's Batman had gone cold, nipples presumably still erect, the Millennium had come and gone and Warner Bros were, understandably, nervous of superheroes.  The Matrix had come and spawned inferior sequels whilst Fox had dalliances with The X Men and Daredevil. Quality and success was inconsistent. It was all a bit haphazard.  For every Spider-Man there was a Hulk and every Blade a Catwoman.  Disney was yet to establish and mine Marvel Studios and Time Warner seemed to view DC as an unwanted inheritance.  Undoubtedly, there was money to be made but there was no vision, no continuity.  There was something missing and it took an Englishman to find it.

Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer set out to humanise the Bruce Wayne/Batman axis and make us care about the whole package and not just the Batarang round the back of the Joker's head.  The rumoured development of Miller's Batman:Year One looms heavy over the story as does The Long Hallowe'en and it's ideas of corruption and organised crime running Gotham whilst a surprising serial killer stalks the streets.  Loeb and Sale effectively balanced villains' origins and a surprising twist, something Nolan surely took as inspiration.  Not only were the actual comics really being used as source material but the realism and darkness of 80's and 90's Batman was being taken from the page to the screen effectively.  Burton's cartoonish realism was being usurped by a Taxi Driver cityscape easily identifiable as the industrial Northeast of the US.

Nolan seemed like a safe pair of hands for a new crack at Batman.  Despite not having an extensive filmography his ace in hand was undoubtedly MementoMemento was one of those films that Hollywood studios like: cheap and successful both critically and commercially.  It cost $4.5 million and pulled in five times that on a release fuelled by word of mouth and viral marketing.  Viral marketing would become a core feature of The Dark Knight trilogy and the following Man of Steel. Cloverfield would have MySpace profiles and Japanese drinks but Batman would have 'I Believe In Harvey Dent' and mysterious chanting.

Nolan's character driven approach was to be a refreshing tonic for the franchise now twitching back to life.  Nolan and Goyer chose to do something not yet seen on film; they chose to fully explain how Bruce Wayne adopted the Batman persona.  Batman Begins was to truly be an origin story. Yeah, we all know kiddie Wayne went to the theatre and watched his parents get dispatched by a mugger, but was this mugger really a pre-sheep dip Joker?  No, that was just convenient artistic license.  Lifting Joe Chill from the comics was much more satisfying.  Indirectly, Chill creates the Batman and Chill's time in jail is used to accelerate the story.  An amazing ensemble cast is presented as Bruce Wayne grows up and disappears.  The double act of Michael Caine's Alfred and Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox is a perfect antidote to Rutger Hauer's Earle and his boardroom schemes.  The corporate shenanigans are far removed from the brown slime, corruption and rain which threatens to swallow up the idealistic Lt. Gordon.  Gary Oldman has a knack of looking younger than he is but at the same time conveying huge amounts of weariness and wisdom as he stands alone against the old school Irish gangsters led by Tom Wilkinson.  He might have an Italian name but Falcone is more The Departed than The Godfather.

The time spent laying Gotham's roots parallels Bruce Wayne's training in Batman: Year One but this time Wayne is trained by the ominous League of Shadows.  But who is Bruce Wayne/Batman? Nolan chose Christian Bale and looking back there couldn't have been anyone else for the role.  Jake Gylenhaal would've been great for me but back then he was too young and inexperienced, his Donnie Darko days whored for a teen turn opposite Dennis Quaid.  Much has been made of Bale being ever so method, bulking up from Trevor Reznik a little too much and hating the suit they made him wear.  Bale is yet unleash his full tetchiness as McG will testify.  It was less The Machinist and more Equilibrium and American Psycho that made Bale the best choice, these films showed he had the physical and mental edge to compliment his undoubted ability.

Bale would need an enemy of suitable gravitas.  Despite his amazingly beautiful blue eyes Cillian Murphy wasn't quite enough.  It's clear Dr Crane was a secondary villain but who he was really working for comes as quite a surprise.  Murphy is excellent as Crane and his alter ego but Nolan and Goyer didn't make his character big enough, presumably the payback for this was to have Crane as an ever present in the trilogy.  Crane's weapon of choice inspires some excellent hallucinations and it's fitting that the action explodes in Arkham Asylum.  The hospital had become a comedy dumping ground under Schumacher but is restored to Victorian horror by Nolan.  The completion is augmented by the cameo of Mr Zsasz, a particularly nasty foe of Batman.

Batman Begins sees Bruce Wayne adopt technology and grow into the role of vigilante.  Aided by Fox we move from billionaire spelunker and adrenaline junkie to full blown vigilante.  Whilst the Tumbler is the most eye catching of the technological advancements it's not the most important.  Wayne's improvisation and eye for the theatrical leads him to delve into his am-dram days and come up with the costume.  The attention to detail is remarkable, whether deliberate or note the Batsuit is heavy and hot, yet flexible.  When Bale put the suit on he hated it, his bad mood channelled through the character to make Batman a figure of rage and vengeance.  Everything is explained from the electrically manipulated fabric to the trial and error cowls.  Fox is Bruce Wayne's Q and does provide some light relief.

The same cannot be said of Rachel Dawes.  I've flicked through comics, Selina Kyle, Vicki Vale, Leslie Thompkins, Silver St Cloud and Jezebel Jet.  All woman of various ages and connections to Wayne and Batman but no Rachel Dawes which probably explains why I find her character so irritating.

Nolan may not have been convinced he'd get another crack at Batman but Warner Bros went into marketing overdrive ensuring the critical success was matched at the box office.  Batman Begins wasn't the biggest film of 2005  (come on, there was a Star Wars and a Harry Potter that year) but it did beat Hitch and The Fantastic Four.  All of a sudden those calling cards in Gordon's evidence bag weren't just wishful thinking.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Arnie the Panto Dame

The world's annoying bank.

 Batman Forever had been a commercial success and with it a superhero franchise was consolidated.  Joel Schumacher's hands were viewed as more than capable and Warner Bros eagerly filled them with $125 million.  Batman and Robin was to be pressed into production as soon as possible.  It was going a little too well.  Bring back the age old problem of superhero casting!  Luckily, tensions between Val Kilmer and Joel Schumacher that bubbled under the surface of Batman Forever came to the surface.  Did he jump?  Was he pushed?  Do we really care?  Kilmer had already signed up for a new project: The Saint, not the live action Pinocchio which would suit his talents down to the ground. Casting directors looked no further than television's newest heartthrob, George Clooney.  Presumably David Duchovny was seen as a little dour.  Clooney's 'charm' would be tasked with balancing the escalating acid trip of Schumacher's Gotham.  If only they could have found him a jacket that fit properly over those turtlenecks.  O'Donnell would reprise Robin and Uma Thurman, inexplicably, chose to be Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy.  Despite some casting continuity and a Pulp Fiction hangover the cast looked a little light.  A big gun was needed.  A big gun with a shitload of bad puns.

In 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger was deployed as the practically mute Terminator.  It was a stroke of genius to take Conan and put him leather and flick the switch to 'relentless.'  The years came and went and Arnie's star grew with them; The Running Man, Predator and Total Recall gave Arnie a special place in most of our hearts.  Then Arnie decided that he needed a touch of reinvention and, disregarding Stallone's abject attempts, decided to try a bit of comedy.  In truth, it was patchy.  Sure, there was Twins and Kindergarten Cop sprinkled amongst the action films, then there was True Lies  and as much as I can't abide the film at least Arnie was funny in it.  You'd really expect the nadir to be Jingle All The Way.  It's the hope that kills you, it really is.  Twenty five million reasons saw Arnie accept Joel Schumacher's phone call and top billing for Batman and Robin.  To be honest, if I'd been asked to get covered in silver body paint and wear fluffy slippers I'd want a big bag of Warner's swag too.

Now there's a man who's just seen Admiral Adama

It's not as if Arnie's costume was the main problem.  As if switching between a shivery and slightly noncey uncle to a cheap imitation of a Cylon wasn't enough the metallic body paint makes it look like a bad attempt at blacking up.  The whole visual concept of Mr Freeze is simply dreadful.  A somewhat tragic character resurrected in comics was belittled by poorly CGI'd weaponry and an unhealthy homage to the 60s series.  Anyone would think that Batman and Robin was being produced solely to sell toys......

It's been well documented that Schumacher wanted a 'toyetic' cartoon of a film and what better way of solidifying a marketing opportunity than introducing a new hero?  A substandard sub plot allows for the introduction of Barbara Wilson/Batgirl.  Hang on, shouldn't that be Barbara Gordon?  Well, yes, but then why let years of comic book history and a potential future storyline involving Batgirl and Oracle get in the way of a new action figure with poseable limbs and detachable cape?  Is Batgirl supposed to be an opposite for Poison Ivy?  Is she a love interest for Robin?  Is she there to gently give dear old Alfred more of a role?  Is she there to necessitate a cameo for Coolio?  Quite frankly the only thing that makes Batgirl interesting is Alicia Silverstone, her burgeoning film career about to be dashed by thi shideous mess of a film.  Clueless 2 would have been a better career move.

Batman and Robin is a struggle to watch.  Pre Matrix wire fighting and bizarre use of vehicles take place in the ever more confusing Gotham City.  The city's pink is pierced by Mr Freeze's blue and Ivy's green and yet it's hard to even maintain interest.  The comical inclusion of Bane further pollutes a story of ice and something to do with diamonds and satellites.  I'm sure a Saturday morning cartoon audience would keep up but they'd be secretly longing for  Thundercats to start.
The real legacy of Batman and Robin

Schumacher wanted one more crack at completely dispelling the memory of Burton's Batman in the form of Batman Triumphant. Thankfully Triumphant went the way of Superman V as nails were rapidly hammered into the camp coffin that Batman now inhabited. Clooney himself called the film a 'waste of money' and Schumacher later apologised for the tone. The damage was so great that Batman wouldn't be seen on the big screen for nearly ten years and when he eventually made it back in Batman Begins it was seen as a bit of a gamble.

The only real positive gleaned form Batman Forever and Batman and Robin is that they reinforced the idea of Batman should be: dark, brooding and flawed.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Forever is a Very Long Time

A teaser poster that's arguably better than the film
Dissatisfaction swept through the corridors at Warner Bros.  Yeah, so Batman Returns made a pile of cash but it didn't make a big enough pile of cash.  The consensus seems to be that Burton was making Batman too dark, driving him into that cul-de-sac whose residents are only ever Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder and Helena Bonham-Carter.  A bit odd considering it was this very darkness which made Batman such a success in 1989 in the first place and help make films like The Addams Family and Edward Scissorhands successful.  Still, the powers that be wanted to expand the franchise's audience and so Burton was moved upstairs.
In the producer's chair Burton had to find a director and settled on Joel Schumacher, he'd made The Lost Boys and Falling Down so looked like a good choice.  The news gets better as rumour has it Schumacher wanted to make an adaption of Batman: Year One.  Frank Miller's story of Batman's beginnings and his relationship with Commissioner Gordon was obviously a bit highbrow for studio execs who pushed for a more traditional sequel.  We have yet to fully embrace the notion of a prequel.  Christopher Nolan is thanking his lucky stars for that.

Batman now undertook a dramatic change, harking back to the 60s TV series and noir was replaced by nipples and neon.  It was a cynical decision to exploit toy markets and cash in on the burgeoning 60s nostalgia that swept Hollywood; a craze that would involve Austin Powers, The Brady Bunch and, horrifically, Bewitched.  Michael Keaton decided he didn't like the direction the film was going in and ignored the millions offered to him, so now we needed a new Batman for the new Gotham.  Keaton's decision is completely understandable as Bruce Wayne's vinyl clad arse introduces Schumacher's version of Batman.

Keaton had been an unpopular casting decision which came good for Burton yet none of the actors he won the part ahead of seemed to be considered for the role this time around.  Within days of Keaton's snub came Val Kilmer's casting.  Kilmer was passable in Tombstone and did a good Jim Morrison impression but if you don't count Willow his best role is the obscured Elvis in True Romance.  Hardly a good CV for someone carrying a superhero film.  Kilmer's star power would need a bit of a boost to draw the crowds so the new kid's favourite Jim Carrey was cast. presumably on the back of The Mask with Tommy Lee Jones adding a little gravitas.
Kilmer's Elvis: the second best thing about True Romance

Carrey is in his element as Edward Nygma/The Riddler bouncing around in spandex and chucking out sound effects as he attempts to suck up Gotham's brainwaves.  Apparently Carrey has ADHD and it's employed to full effect here.  The same cannot be said of Jones.  Jones looks and feels uncomfortable as Two-Face, with just seconds spent as Harvey Dent.  His costume and make up are impressive but the character lacks a true reveal in the film's opening and his motives are never really explored.  Why does he blame Batman? What are Sugar and Spice doing all day?  Billy Dee Williams was probably quite pleased Schumacher paid him off.

So Batman Forever has two larger than life supervillains.  The dynamic is different from Batman Returns where Catwoman was more antihero than villain and it was decided that the numbers needed evening out.  Wisely, Robin was removed from Batman Returns.  This sage decision was reversed for Batman Forever.  There was a reason why Christian Bale said he'd quit as Batman if they cast Robin and it's probably Chris O'Donnell.

O'Donnell represents those perpetual teenagers of 90210 becoming a Stand By Me wannabe and again is miscast.  Robin is eager to learn and aid Batman in the comics and grows to want his independence as Nightwing.  Batman Forever's Robin is antagonistic, impatient, dislikeable and more of a hindrance than a help bent on avenging a bomb induced trapeze disaster.  If you think that's bad wait until 1997.

MTV Superheroes
The supporting cast is stripped down in number or it could be that they're simply lost amongst the bizarre scenery of Schumacher's Gotham City.  The 1940s hotchpotch has been replaced by a mix of skyscrapers and masculine statues of varying and disorienting heights and inexplicable placing.  All of it drenched in pink neon.  Office blocks literally face a face of statue for no apparent reason.  Is there a hub in the midst of all this chaos? A little oasis of calm?  No, there's The Statue of Liberty, presumably dumped in Gotham City after Superman saved it during his tussle with Nuclear Man In Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  Quite how the studio, producers or writers thought this would work is beyond me.  Amongst the pink wobbles Commissioner Gordon usurped as a figure of authority by the needless Dr Chase Meridian.  Meridian is almost an afterthought of a love interest and provides the classic damsel in distress for Batman to save in the film's climax.  Somehow, the noted psychologist is less interesting than photojournalist Vicki Vale.

Batman Forever is a confused mess, designed to help Kenner toys boost it's balance sheet and give Warner Bros a light, family friendly franchise.  There's too much going on, a nonsensical plot straddling commercial desires and reaching for MTV and the Friends generation.  Bizarrely, it got an Oscar nomination and an immediate sequel despite the shoddy CGI and disinterested leading man.  It's a sad indictment that U2 being on the soundtrack isn't the worst thing about a film.

In The Dark Knight Harvey Dent says 'the night is darkest just before the dawn.'  In 1997 we'll see just how right he was.