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.