Batman Forever (1995) (part 1 of 14)
Well, it had to happen, didn’t it? The wonderful Agony Booth recap of Batman & Robin has been tempting me for quite a long time. For years, I’ve heard its siren call, daring me, compelling me to recap Joel Schumacher’s previous, neon-saturated opus, Batman Forever.
Interestingly, some Batman fans actually prefer the universally reviled Batman & Robin to its predecessor. Batman & Robin, for all its faults, at least wears its stupidity on its sleeve. Batman Forever manages to cobble together just enough character depth to make a case for itself as a serious film.
Not that the writing is particularly well-executed or informed. On the bonus disc, when uber-hack Akiva Goldsman bleats on about how he was brought onboard to imbue the characters with more pathos and angst, I want to beat his chubby, beady-eyed face in. I’m no Paul Schrader, but if I wanted to convey pathos and angst in a character, I’d write a line slightly more sophisticated than “It’s the car right? Chicks love the car.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to place this gaudy debacle in its proper context. In 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman raised the bar for the Hollywood blockbuster. Despite its inadequacies, it lent legitimacy to the superhero sub-genre, and arguably became the quintessential action film for a generation.
The casting of Michael Keaton in the titular role had a lot of people worried, but his portrayal of an obsessed, neurotic Bruce Wayne/Batman won acclaim from critics and fans alike. Indeed, in the eyes of many fans (myself included), Keaton will always be Batman in the same way that Christopher Reeve will always be Superman.
Cut to 1992 and the inevitable sequel, Batman Returns. Given creative carte blanche by Warner Brothers, Tim Burton delivered a dark, expressionistic superhero fairytale, where morality was all in shades of gray, and atmosphere and theme took precedent over a coherent narrative.
Critics and audiences were strongly divided on the film. The dark tone, violence, and shamelessly suggestive dialogue were a shock to parents, who thought they were taking their kids to a fun comic book action romp. The fast food companies felt equally misled, and were extremely unhappy about their burgers and fries being associated with Burton’s macabre fantasy. (It’s always amazing when companies that perpetuate childhood obesity and heart disease try to take the moral high road.)
As a result, Tim Burton parted ways with the Batman franchise. Michael Keaton dragged his feet a little, and even went as far as attending costume fittings for Batman Forever, but eventually, he too jumped ship (whether it was over the script, or the nipples on the Batsuit is anyone’s guess).
After Keaton’s departure, Val Kilmer signed up days later to play Batman, without having read the script, or even knowing who the new director was. Whoops!
The consensus at the time was that a few changes to the Batman franchise were in order. Studio execs were calling for the films to take a lighter and more family-friendly tone. So, of course, they hired an openly gay former costume designer with a résumé of violent political thrillers and coming of age vampire comedies.
Presumably, the studio wanted a director who was “hip” and “down with the kidz”, so the 56 year old Joel Schumacher was the only logical choice.
When he was first approached for the gig, Schumacher proposed an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel Batman: Year One. Warner Bros nixed the idea, for reasons unknown. Ultimately, this was probably a good thing; who knows what sort of gaudy stupidity Schumacher would have injected into Miller’s iconic Batman origin story?
To make matters worse, when the director delivered his marginally darker rough cut of Batman Forever, the studio completely recut the film to shreds, leaving plot threads hanging and scenes placed woefully out of context. (Of course, when I say “darker”, I’m speaking thematically; the neon was still there.)
But I’ve contextualized enough! Crack open a can of whatever’s your poison, and join me as I recap Batman Forever.
The Warner Brothers logo gets some broody string and horn business, courtesy of Elliot Goldenthal’s new score. With a slight whoosh, the WB logo morphs into the iconic Bat symbol. I could make a point about franchise mentality and branding here, but I’m not that jaded, and the thirteen year old in me will always find this vaguely cool.
Plain white text (in a typeface that I will forever know as the “Batman Forever Font”, though I’m sure it has another name) tells us that this is a Tim Burton production. Hmm.
I’m not entirely sure what Mr. Burton did during the production of this film, other than show up for a meeting or two, say “whatever”, and swagger home with a wheelbarrow of cash. I assume that people in Hollywood get wheelbarrows full of cash just for showing up for things.
A second legend tells us that this is “a Joel Schumacher Film”, and just in case you need a definition of the term, the next sequence of images will sum it up quite neatly.
Multicolored credits zoom pretentiously across the screen, accompanied by equally pretentious whooshes and (for reasons I can’t possibly fathom) engine noises. The names of the principal cast whiz by from all different directions, and this assault on our senses is punctuated by the bat emblem cartwheeling into the frame once more. The glowing word “FOREVER” scrolls across the logo, and then it whooshes into the foreground in a flash of greenish-white light.
Cut to Val Kilmer doing his version of the “suiting up” sequence that’s become the trademark of the Batman film franchise. It would be cynical (and probably homophobic) of me to accuse Joel Schumacher of disorienting us with zoomy, flashy things and then slapping us in the face, so to speak, with homoeroticism. However, the shot of Batman’s enormous codpiece, which flashes by so quickly it could have been spliced in by Tyler Durden, does make me do some serious head scratching.
The funny thing about this sequence is that Batman doesn’t seem to actually be putting on the Bat armor. He seems to be merely executing a string of half-turns and poses. If the camera were to pull back a little, it would probably reveal he’s doing some kind of minimalistic Batusi.
A door slides open and reveals the Batcave. Our hero ascends a flight of steps to where the new Giger-Lite Batmobile rises on a rotating pedestal. Batman stands dutifully next to the monstrous vehicle, and strikes his very best superhero pose.
Until very recently, I always thought we were sharing Alfred’s point of view here, and therefore neatly avoiding a nasty crack in the fourth wall. It was only while recapping this that I realized Alfred is actually standing behind Batman.
So… Bruce is just striking poses at nobody in particular, huh? Perhaps there’s a mirror just out of shot. Sure, that’s a tad narcissistic, but since I do the exact same thing in my Batsuit every night, I can’t really blame him.
And it has to be said that if Kilmer brings nothing else to the role (and he doesn’t), he does cut a fine figure in the suit. Even this jaded cynic has to admit he actually looks pretty badass in this shot. Any traces of credibility, however, are about to be brutally murdered at the hands of Akiva Goldsman.
Alfred enquires as to whether his master would like a sandwich to take with him, eliciting the “hilarious” response of “I’ll get drive thru.” It’s worth noting that Batman is still not facing Alfred at this point, which is either a glaring continuity gaffe, or Bruce is just incredibly rude.
Not only does the line “I’ll get drive thru” make me literally cringe every time I hear it, but it irks me that, like its unborn little brother, the equally aberrant “This is why Superman works alone”, this one-liner was used in every single trailer and TV and radio spot associated with the film. Why Warner Brothers would air this piece of dirty laundry in public, let alone use it to sell the film, I’ll never know. It’s the film trailer equivalent of meeting your new girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and trying to impress them by wearing a casual jacket made out of copies of Hustler.
But Batman doesn’t have all night to trade beautifully crafted one-liners with Alfred. So with a burst of inexplicable pink flame, the Batmobile is roaring down the tunnel that connects the Batcave to the streets of Gotham City.