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.

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