Batman Forever (1995): A Bit Too Campy, A Cluttered Cast and Moments of Good

Batman Forever

   “Batman Forever” is okay. At moments it is fun and looks as if it could be more (whether fully embracing the dark or fully embracing the camp) but since it can’t really decide on what it wants to be it never becomes better than okay and never reaches good. One thing this film showed as well is doing Robin in a Batman Film is hard. Batman has always been the more interesting character and it is a difficult thing to write a good sidekick, especially when you only have a running time of 2 hours. So without further ado, here is the review.

     The film was directed by Joel Shumacher and written by Lee and Janet Scott Bachler along with Akiva Goldsman and was produced by Tim Burton and Peter MacGregor-Scott.

     The story involves the escape of Two-Face (Tommy Lee-Jones) from Arkham, the rise of the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and what Batman (Val Kilmer) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) who is made an orphan by Two-Face do to stop them.

The Pros: The Color Contrasts – I like the use of color in this film. At times it feels like it was filmed in a comic book even though the cinematography isn’t great. The use of color worked despite the cinematography.

Two-Faces’s Goons – Black and Red masks…these guys look awesome and actually manage to be a threat sometimes, not many Rogues Goons can say that in any Batman film.

Alfred – Michael Gough owns this role and is great being the father figure to DIck Grayson and Bruce Wayne. I can see why they kept him around for so long. He really inhabits this role really well.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Val Kilmer is a pro, and was a safe choice for Batman. He was a major action star at the time so choosing him to feel this role made sense. He bring humanity to the character even if doesn’t really elevate Bruce Wayne or Batman to great the way future and past actors did.

The Message – Batman heals beyond his trauma and chooses to be Batman because he wants to be, not because he has to be. This is really awesome and could have been presented a lot better.

Okay: Dr. Chase – I like the idea of the character (her being a Doctor and trying to help Bruce Wayne) but her execution ends up being nothing more than a love interest to be saved, even though she’s presented as being able to take care of herself. Nicole Kidman was a waste of talent.

Edward Nygma / The Riddler – Jim Carrey works at times when he isn’t over the top, but other times he is just too campy…and I didn’t get the character. He came off as trying to hard but he had moments of brilliance inbetween the ham, which is why I’m not putting him down as a con. He was alright but not good.

Harvey Dent / Two-Face – We never get to know what lead to Two-Face snapping beyond the acid on the face and I never believed in his friendship with Bruce Wayne (they seem to imply it existed but we never see Harvey recognize Bruce at all). This was a missed opportunity and could have made this character good. Instead he is okay. He like the Riddler could have been so much more, just like this film.

Cinematography – The color contrasts are great but their are no unique shots in this. Nothing stood out and nothing really unique was presented. It was safe, so just ended up being mediocre.

The Cons: Dick Grayson / Robin – This Robin is a punk and there is nothing likable about him. He steals from the person who took him and doesn’t respect the wishes of the person who is caring for him and steals his stuff. This was the first film where Robin didn’t work. At least in the Adam West show he worked as the Wonder Boy on some strange level.

The Riddler Plot – Stealing everyone’s intelligence through television…it feels like it is trying to be smart but just comes off as stupid.

To Kill – Batman seems to not want Robin to get revenge against Two-Face but ends up killing him anyway…sure Batman, what were you trying to teach Robin exactly? That you get the kill?

The Soundtrack – Elliot Goldenthal is awful. This film feels half assed and stolen from the old Adam West show while at the same time trying to be Burton and failing at both. Seriously, I don’t want to hear anymore of this music.

The Writing – This script has some of the most terrible and wooden dialogue in any comic book film. Fingers on a chalkboard would be an apt comparison.

Tone – This is a film that doesn’t know if it wasn’t to be  camp and fun or dark…at times we have old 60’s sound affects, which the score doesn’t help, yet we have Two-Face or Riddler murdering someone in the next scene. What exactly did the movie want the audience to feel?

   This film didn’t have many pros because so much of it was safe. I think this was largely a reaction to the sexuality and maturity in the past Burton films so the studio wanted to play it safe, which is probably why Shumacher was chosen, as he’s never been a good director. This also explains the need for 3 writers as it gives a written by committee feel to the film. This is a film that can’t find it’s soul or tone and suffers for it. It isn’t a terrible film, but mediocre is not exactly an endorsement. This is a film that could have been so much more given how great of villains Two-Face and the Riddler are and the possibilities in any Dick Grayon story.

Final Score: 7.2 / 10

Batman Returns (1992): Good Film But Full of Double Standards and Inconsistent Characters

Batman Returns

     “Batman Returns” is a fun film but is also very flawed and doesn’t quite have a focus on knowing what it wants to be about. I would still recommend this film as the performances by the main cast are fantastic, as is the environment and score…this is just no longer a favorite. It is a solid film, but not a favorite as when I watched it the flaws were too many to make it a film I’d continue to come back to watch.

 The film was directed by Tim Burton who was also one of the producers and written by Daniel Waters and also produced by Denise Di Novi.

     The story arrives the Penguin (Danny DeVito) seeking power in Gotham by kidnapping and using businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to get him what he wants. Elsewhere Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is killed by Shreck and resurrected by cats into the Catwoman as Batman (Michael Keaton) investigates them all and tries to stop their plans.

The Pros: The World – Burton’s world is fantastic and I love returning to it, even if the story isn’t as good as the first film. This is a Gotham that feels both old and new in feel and that is overlayed by a Gothic feel giving it a dark and dying feeling that fits the characters who inhabit it’s world.

The Peguin’s Circus Gang – These guys are awesome! They hack the Batmobile, they wreak havoc on multiple occasions and have a really cool aesthetic, ranging from creepy clown faces, a lady in white and a bearded man in a top hat. I wanted more time with these characters and wanted to know how they came to be with the Penguin and why they worked for him.

The Action – This film has much more action in “Batman” (and Batman has a much higher body count because of it) as well as some great chase and fight sequences. Whether it is Batman v. Catwoman or Batman v Penguin’s Gang the action keeps you drawn in and I wanted to see what would happen next.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman is once again in his element as his score captures the horror and gothicness of Gotham as well as the internal struggles of the characters of Batman and Catwoman.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful as the Burton’s shadowy Gotham is presented with contrasts of dark and light like in the first film. Stefan Czapsky did a great job! The film is beautiful and it is largely thanks to how it is presented.

The Characters – The characters are intriguing and a pro, even if they aren’t always consistently written. I still enjoyed these characters even if some of the cons in how they were presented and written brought them down.

Max Shreck – Christopher Walken is a national treasure, he is wonderful as the two-faced corrupt businessman Max Shreck who kills Selina Kyle and manages to keep the Penguin at a safe distance and use the Penguin to his own ends. In the end Selina Kyle gets revenge against him as he meets a fitting end. He also nearly kills Batman as he sees that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same person and tries to shoot him. Not many people can claim this victory.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this and is the counselor to Batman once again. Michael Gough really makes a great Alfred and helps us see more of Bruce’s humanity.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne’s motivations in this are clear, he is Batman seeking to save the city and as many people as he can around him who aren’t part of Penguin’s Gang or the Penguin. We also see his seeking of normalcy too as he shows Catwoman who he is and expresses a willingness to do anything to bring her back from being Catwoman. In her he sees his own fractured identity and an escape, which I wish could have been explored more.

Okay/Pro: Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Selina Kyle is a secretary for Max Shreck who he murders when she accesses confidential documents. From here she goes from nervous and unsure to empowered and sexual. She is a good threat too and manages to hurt Batman on multiple occasion as well as finally getting revenge on Shreck. Sadly her motivations are unclear through most of it as the script decides to present her largely as crazy…which was a waste of character.

Okay: Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin – Like Catwoman, Penguin’s motivations are unclear. He wants revenge, but he wants power, he wants to be accepted, he wants sex…the writers seemed unable to decide what it was he actually wanted and because of this it kept him from being like Nicholson’s Joker whose agenda was clear. DeVito put in a great performance but in the end he is only okay because I didn’t know what he was about or what he wanted.

The Cons: Commissioner Gordon – Gordon is there to light the Bat Signal, seriously in the Burton films he isn’t used at all and shouldn’t have even been put in the script. He’s just an extra body with a familiar name.

The Mayor – The Mayor like Commissioner Gordon is a non-entity who is only there to be protected by Batman and overthrown by the Penguin. What a waste of a character.

Catwoman’s Motivation – We never get her motivation…at first it’s revenge but she never follows through with it and she never seeks revenge against the Penguin even after he tries to kill her. I had no idea why she did what she did, she was just presented as insane. I didn’t know her motivation beyond keeping her job when she is Selina Kyle.

Batman’s Hypocrisy – Batman won’t let Catwoman kill, even the character is bad and a villain and he is doing it all the time. This was really annoying and I hated it as it just made Batman look like a big hypocrite. It only would have made sense if we hadn’t seen him kill people in the last film and this one and if he had stated that his motivation was not to kill but to turn people into prison.

An Inconsistent Penguin – He wants revenge, he wants to be Mayor he just wants to be left alone, he hates everyone, he loves everyone…what did this character want in the end? He seemed to have the destruction of Gotham plot going for a while so why did he even bother running for mayor?

Lack of Narrative Focus – The lack of narrative focus is best illustrated in the unclear motivations of Penguin and Catwoman, who are two major characters we follow whose desires and plans are never fully realized so it leaves their arcs up in the air and unfinished…

   This was a film that was trying to do too much and fell because of it. It still manages to be a good film but the inconsistently written Penguin, Catwoman’s unclear motivation and the lack of clear narrative focus keep this film from being great. To any lover of Burton’s work this is still a must see but the flaws are much more obvious than the first “Batman” film. The world and characters make the film worth the watch though and the cons do not keep this from being a good film and one of the better “Batman” films.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Batman (1989): A Flawed and Amazing Exploration of Revenge and Identity

Batman (1989)

   Tim Burton’s “Batman” was my introduction to DC and the Batman Universe outside of “Batman: The Animated Series.” It has also been years since I have watched this film so it was great coming to it with fresh eyes as even though it is a favorite film, it has a lot of glaring flaws that bring down my overall experience of the story. What those flaws are, I’ll get into deeper into the review. This is the film that really made Super Hero films a thing as it was the success of the Tim Burton films that made Hollywood more comfortable taking a chance with other Super Hero films, for that reason we really can thank the Tim Burton for helping jump start this whole entire film genre in the modern age…for his was the first big hit that showed films about comic book heroes could be profitable and franchises.

   “Batman” was directed by Tim Burton and written by Sam Haam and Warren Skaaren while being produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber.

     The story involves the investigation into the vigilante Batman (Michael Keaton) by reporters Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) while Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) plots a coup against his boss so he can own the gangs, not knowing he’s already been betrayed.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman’s fantastic score captures both the mythicness of Batman, the darkness of Gotham city and even the personal of the romance and relationships we see on the screen. This was my first introduction to his music and from here I fell in love with so much of his work.

The Cinematography – Roger Pratt does a great job capturing the Gothic feel of Gotham as well as the fear behind Batman and the Joker. There are great color contrasts in this film, from the Joker’s purple, white and green…to the black aesthetic of Batman, which really illustrates how they took the scars to their identity.

The World – Burton’s world of Batman is awesome! The city manages to have both a modern and old time feel to it (much like “Batman: The Animated Series”) which gives it an epic and comic book feel. This is a world that feels lived in and has characters outside of those we get to know, to explore.

Harvey Dent – Billy Dee Williams really should have had the chance to play Two-Face. The guy does an amazing job as the charismatic Harvey Dent whose hands are tied by the corruption around him and the power of the Joker and the mobs. The only con is I wish he could have got more screentime and had interactions with the Joker and Bruce Wayne.

Bob – Bob is the Joker’s second-in-command and is  lot of fun. He’s a man fully devoted to Joker and can even hold his own against Batman. Sadly when Batman takes Joker’s poison balloons Joker kills him in anger. Poor Bob, you were a great Dragon for the Joker.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this and I really like Michael Gough’s portrayal of him. He comes off as a grandfather figure who is trying to look out for Bruce as best he can, while still having a level of detachment because of his job. He’s great at connecting Bruce to his humanity though as he does all he can to make sure Vicki and Bruce are as successful relationship.

Jack Nicholsan Joker

Jack Napier / The Joker – Nicholson’s Joker is very much a crazy mob boss, which works. Nicholson owns roles like this and he clearly had a lot of fun. His design manages to be opening yet threatening and he destroys Batman’s plane, breaks into Bruce Wayne’s home and nearly escapes Bruce at the end too. His moment of stupid besides using the chemical planet he was turned into the Joker in was his obsession with Vicki Vale and the fact that after he shoots down Batman’s plane, he doesn’t finish the job and instead chooses to retreat. After seeing him stand his ground multiple times, the moment of arrogance/fear/stupidity? cost the character his life. Also he is all about revenge and hurts Batman, kills the boss and girlfriend who betrayed him and even messes up Gotham. In this way he is an effective villain.

Bruce Wayne / The Batman – Batman like the Joker is a character motivated by revenge and ego. Neither really knows how to be around people and Bruce does that by giving and collecting while Napier just kills and destroys. In this Batman we really see how the death of his parents motivate him as he goes to where the shooting happens to give them roses and it is when Vicki finds out that he is finally able to feel real. Michael Keaton is an amazing Bruce Wayne and really illustrates his humanity better than Bale and the others. He feels like a man uncomfortable in his skin and in constant emotional turmoil. For this reason I get why his Batman kills. He’s a Punisher type Batman and wants to do all he can to prevent more Batman’s from being born (in the first scene we meet him he saves a couple with a child mirroring what never happened to him). For this Batman the Joker and crime isn’t just a duty, it is personal and how his crazy and anger comes out.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is key to this and both Napier’s and Wayne’s trauma transforms them into different identities that elevate their obsessions…from Napier’s disregard for life and obsession with people and art…to Bruce’s desire to hurt criminals the way they hurt him. This is expressed in their identities of Joker and Batman who give them permission to be those people and not have to answer to anyone for what they do.

Okay/Cons – Commissioner Gordon – The guy is invisible and wasn’t needed in this at all. I got the feeling they only put him in this since he was in the comics, Billy Dee Williams Harvey Dent was much more of an influence and punch when I saw Gotham’s leaders than the Mayor and Gordon.

Vicki Vale – Vicki Vale like Knox is largely there be rescued though Vicki gets it worse as she spends a good portion of this film kidnapped by the Joker or screaming…which is a shame. She is a character who could have been more as she was a reporter from a war torn region, yet once a psycho came around (the Joker) she froze and needed Bruce Wayne or Batman to rescue her.

The Mob Boss – He talks quiet and I never saw him as a threat. He owned one corrupt cop and that guys men but we never see him do anything but fail to kill Jack Napier. More could have been done to establish this guy as a threat.

The Cons: Damsel in Distress – Vicki Vale is saved so many times in this, this is distracting and I’d honestly expect more from a reporter who came out of a war zone. This con gets more obvious with each viewing. Vicki Vale is a love interest and something to be competed over with the Joker, not a character.

Obvious Plan – Joker uses chemicals from the place he was dumped into and that his boss had been tamed up with before…how did Batman not figure this out until the very end? This was a major dropping of the ball on his part.

    This is a movie with problems, but it is still one of my favorites and it is thanks to this film that one of my favorite animated series exists (“Batman: The Animated Series”) as well as the rest of Bruce Timm’s work from “Superman: The Animated Series” to “Justice League” and the spinoffs). Batman in all his variations and as a popular character today, probably wouldn’t have existed without Burton and Keaton’s Batman and for what they are…they are fantastic. The humanity of the characters is captured as well as the psychosis one must have to be a vigilante, and this lends power to the script and fills in some of the plot holes or weak characters that happen. This is a favorite film of mine and Keaton will always be one of my favorite versions of Batman.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10