Batman Goes to Camp

by Ian T. McFarland on July 16, 2008

in Home Video, Theme Week

  • Title: Batman Forever / Batman & Robin
  • IMDB: link
  • IMDB: link

After Tim Burton‘s Batman Returns didn’t live up to the box office expectations of its studio, Warner Bros, the two parties peacefully parted ways and Joel Schumacher was brought in to reinvent the series to skew more towards kids than adults (Wikipedia says it, so it must be true!).  Let me say, as someone who was seven- and nine-years old when these movies came out, Schumacer did his job and he did it well.  These were my favorite movies at that young, and now evidentally very very stupid age.  These movies are full of horrendous dialogue and terrible plotting.  To be sure, these are the kinds of movies you can only totally appreciate before you are learning at a fifth-grade level.

1995’s Batman Forever pits our hero against Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey) who team up to take down Gotham.  Jones will make you forget he ever did anything as masterful as his subtle performance in last year’s No Country for Old Men with his uninspired but peppy enemy.  There’s nothing to the performance but makeup, costumes and too many exclamation points in his lines.  Carrey, though, makes Jones’ performance look as lively as an Andrei Tarkovsky picture.  He’s amusing as the Riddler; but only in that he’s playing the zany Jim Carrey character that made the mid-90s box office its bitch.  Carrey didn’t approach the character as its own role, he approached it as a routine that might go in his stand-up.

Bruce Wayne (played by a glazed over Val Kilmer, who pulls a Keanu Reeves in the performance) gets a love interest in Nicole Kidman as a supposed Psychologist with the hots for Batman.  The character, and Kidman, acts more like a middle schooler with a crush on Chris Brown than an educated woman who holds a Ph.D.

But it’s hard to blame any of the thesps, though, as both are victims of Warner Bros. desire to put together a product devoid of any artistic input outside of the production design.  This is a movie that feels genetically engineered to be a blockbuster, and nothing else.  The script and the direction are inexcusably bad for a $100 million production.  Few movies could live up to as lame of a title as Batman Forever, but that might be the one department Warners proved us wrong.

But don’t get too gloomy, Bat-fans, because things actually got better with Schumacher’s sequel, 1997’s Batman & Robin.  Common opinion looks at part four as the nail in the coffin, but whereas Forever was over-the-top, & Robin was 100% over-the-top on purpose.

This is mostly in thanks to its cast.  Uma Thurman is possitively delicious as Poison Ivy, giving her the same overdramatic take a 50s Hollywood Starlet might.  It’s hard to tell if Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to be silly or just failing miserably at giving us a serious villain, but he’s a lot of fun in the end, terrible catch phrases included (any pun you can fashion out of the words Ice, Cold, and Freeze is written into the script.)  And George Clooney, who steps in as the title hero, is too likable to ever seriously disapprove of.

But don’t get too excited.  It still has a ridiculously angst-ridden Robin.  We are still given the totally unnecessary Batgirl, in a role that convinces me I never want to see Alicia Silverstone in anything ever again.  And like it even needs to pointed out in this review, the script is as logical as Bush’s environmental policy.  But it is, in some moments, fun; whether it’s supposed to be or not.

The one thing that both movies get right is production design.  It’s not for everyone, but the outlandish city sky-scapes and interiors of Gotham are an eyefull of colors and gothic architecture.  So even if the movies give you nothing to think about, at least you have something to look at.

The final rating of Schumacher’s films is a compromise between & Robin, a fun-enough two-and-a-half razorblader, and the ever-so-suckulent Forever, which rings in between one-half and one razorblade.  Either way, if you’re looking for two Batman movies worth seeing, I’d recommend skip seeing both of Schumacher’s flicks, and instead going to see The Dark Knight twice this weekend.  It is that good.

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