Countdown to āThe Dark Knight Risesā: Part 4 of 11 – āBatman Foreverā
If you missed it here is Part 1 of 11: Introduction to Batman āThe Giftā
And here is Part 2 of 11: A look Back at Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’
And Part 3: ‘Batman Returns’
If ever I could have been in my Batman fan prime, it was 1995. I had turned 13, so there was no way a PG-13 rating could possibly keep me away. I was wiser about the world and could understand Batmanās predicaments a little better than I ever could have comprehended when squeezing his plastic legs together seven years prior. I owned two different kinds of Batman Forever cards (Fleer and Fleer Metal). I even owned the novelization of the movie, which my parents probably purchased for me to stop from beating on my younger sister during a long road trip vacation to Canada. Plus, the movie was going to feature Robin, the character closest to what my young mind could ever conceive of growing into: Batmanās partner. In short, I was charged up beyond belief. What I got in return for all my franchise loyalty and constant day-dreaming was Batman Forever.
I donāt believe I felt that was necessarily a bad thing back then. Iām sure I was happy enough with the movie. Jim Carrey undoubtedly made me laugh. I was able to remember certain lines while re-watching it (āItās never gonna heal if you donāt stop pickingā). Iām also certain I bought the soundtrack to it. Sealās āKiss from a Roseā was the breakout hit (sampled into excellence recently by Ras Kass on āHeidi Klumā http://youtu.be/myCIhPKAlmg), but can distinctly remember The Flaming Lipsā āBad Daysā as my favorite track on the album. It certainly had some things going for it, but the changes from Tim Burtonās films to this one were made even more glaring by the time Joel Schumacher released Batman & Robin. But thatās coming next week.
What Iād never noticed, or at least had never paid much attention to before, is Tim Burtonās name is on Batman Forever. Heās listed as a producer. Apparently, Warner Bros brass felt Batman Returns was too dark, thus leaving a lot of box office receipts on the table (a tune theyād reverse again ten years later). They then replaced him with Schumacher, but were in enough debt to Burton to let him retain the title of Executive Producer. Comparing Burtonās films to Schumacherās makes it easy to see the man that kick-started the franchise was given little more than a name-check opening credit.
Schumacherās films will obviously prove to be the outliers in this series of articles and it doesnāt take Malcolm Gladwell to determine why. Theyāre lighter. Thatās the simple answer. Lighter in tone and even in production design. For Batman Forever, Schumacher wanted Gotham to feel like the city depicted in the ā30s and ā40s comic books, with a splash of Tokyo thrown in for good measure. Neon lights shine down upon the city. Things glow. Blacklights are abundant. Itās as if the detested rave scene from The Matrix Reloaded spilled out into Gotham City for the duration of the movie.
As unwelcome as the change to the visual palette of Batmanās world may be, itās inarguable that it meshes completely with the villains on board for this installment. Since he was supposed to have originally been the only villain in the movie before writer Akiva Goldsman came on board, as well as Two-Face being involved in the Christopher Nolan trilogy, Iād like to look at The Riddler first.
It seems bizarre to me that a franchise with a character named The Joker would choose one named The Riddler to be the one whose primary instinct is to rattle off jokes. Alas, this is the direction in which the film wanted to take him. I wonder how the pre-Akiva Goldsman, pre-Two-Face script depicted him. Would the studio still have sprung for a comedian to inhabit the role? Weāll never know. Either way, it certainly appears the filmmakers set out to make this version of Batman into a comedy and The Riddler was their centerpiece.
As much as I may dislike the tonal road the film chose to take, Jim Carrey is fantastic playing the role he is given. Edward Nygma is a high-IQ egocentric, hell-bent in his pursuit of manipulating brainwaves with an invention he develops under Wayne Enterprises, called The Box. When Bruce denies him in a hurry and Nygma has his project shut down, he cranks up his already over-the-top personality to 11 (āone louderā). He discovers The Box does more than for what it was intended, namely absorbing the IQ of anyone near it. Nygmaās brain plays the role of the sponge and soon his artificially enhanced brainpower decides itād be a good idea to show his former boss, just whoās the smartest of them all.
Carrey plays Nygma like Ace Ventura with intelligence. Heās already maniacal before he ever encounters Wayne to have his heart broken and his sense of vengeance seethes within him, boiling to the surface. He rattles off one-liners with ease, calming down Two-Face with a quick, āPatience, o bifurcated one.ā His mannerisms are all elongated and theatrical. Itās very easy to see how the movie could be sold on his shoulders alone and how the character couldnāt possibly exist, at least in this incarnation, in Nolanās world. Heās completely developed in the hyper-real world of the movie. Two-Face is another story.
How do you turn a district attorney into a pimp? Throw a little acid into his face. At least that was apparently the thinking behind the journey for Harvey Dent to go from city defender to creature of chaos. Unlike Nygma, his backstory is glossed over in a five-second news clip flashback. He was in a courtroom. Some mobster throws acid in his face. He covers half his face with a manila envelope. Batman swings into action a hair too late. Who does Dent blame? Batman. Sounds reasonable.
Itās no wonder Chris Nolan chose to resurrect Two-Face for his series. It was impossible to screw up. No logical backstory had ever been established in the movie world and heās given no distinct personality. Tommy Lee Jones plays Two-Face with the same mania Carrey gives to Riddler. The only difference between them is Two-Face has a partly pink face and half a suit made by Zubaz. Jones supposedly only took the role because his sonās favorite character was Two-Face. After the film came out, his son no doubt chose a different character and/or father.
There may be no better juxtaposition between pre-Nolan and post-Nolan franchise takeover to help one understand the difference in quality between the two than in the treatment of Harvey Dent. Burton had actually cast Dent in Batman. He was played by Billy Dee Williams in hopes that heād get to portray the villainous version in the future. Instead, Jones was saddled with that role. Though it appears I am, I donāt blame Jones for his version of Two-Face. That fault belongs to higher ups. He just now has to live with embodying a particularly ineffectual version of a character that Aaron Eckhart would later own.
The film no doubt took a large step down from Batman Returns and pales in comparison to either of Nolanās tries. However, thereās one aspect itās able to dangle above Nolanās head – the love interest. Nicole Kidman plays the part of Chase Meridian, attention-getter to both Bruce Wayne and Batman this trip to the plate and sheās far superior to Katie Holmes or Maggie Gyllenhaal. Certainly not in character development, and not necessarily in acting talent. Iām speaking superficially. Even with Anne Hathaway, a woman who once sat atop My Top Three, stepping up in The Dark Knight Rises, Kidman dominates all competition like a Bat-punch to the temple. Outside of perhaps Eyes Wide Shut (come on, look at this photo) or To Die For, both of which were released later, Kidman has never looked better. After all, in Schumacherās world, looks are all that matter. Might as well let him win something.
Next Week: Someone involved with Batman & Robin kills Batman on film and itās not shown in the movie.