Watching all the extras in this two-disc set gave new meaning to this popcorn movie's title for Appellate Judge James A. Stewart.
Our review of Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology (Blu-Ray), published March 10th, 2009, is also available.
"I could write a hell of a paper on a man who dresses like a flying
"Bats aren't rodents,"
I'd seen the other three movies in the arc that started with Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, but I missed Batman Forever at the multiplex. As Murphy's Law dictates, I've consistently turned up the three I've already seen when channel surfing, but never Batman Forever. Since it took me 17 years to catch up to License to Kill, that lingering last-but-least Bond flick, I took the opportunity to catch up on my Bat-viewing when this one turned up at DVD Verdict.
What's the difference between Batman Forever and the others? This time, it's personal.
Harvey "Two-Face" Dent (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, Men in Black) blames Batman (Val Kilmer, Top Secret!, The Saint) for the acid-scarring on one side of his face that's driven him batty, even though the Caped Crusader tried to save him from a gangster's splashy attack. The first time he sets one of those Bat-traps straight out of the 1960s TV show, Two-Face locks Batman in a bank vault which is slowly filling with acid—and being pulled out of the bank! Holy acid trips, Batman!
Edward "The Riddler" Nygma (Jim Carrey, The Mask, Bruce Almighty) is a worker who's spent too much time toiling in Bruce Wayne's art deco electronics lab. When Wayne rejects his plan for a device that pumps TV signals directly into the brain, he sets out to give feet of cement to his former idol, planting messages with riddles in Wayne's office and at Wayne Manor, which, surprisingly, lacks a guard. Who knew a billionaire could be so cheap? He's so goofy that he tries to pick his supervillain identity by computer before finally going with the name and visage of his favorite desk toy—the Riddler—instead of the more obvious "Enigma" (E. Nygma, get it?). At least he didn't have a stuffed Catbert on his desk. Now that would be sinister!
Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell, Batman and Robin, Head Cases), the future Robin, is a member of the Flying Graysons trapeze troupe—until his family dies while attempting to save a charity gala audience from a bomb planted by Two-Face. Given a temporary home with Bruce Wayne, he quickly stumbles on the Batcave and figures out that Wayne is secretly…Underdog! (Just kidding.) He wants to become a super-sidekick so he can do away with Two-Face. Trouble is, he can't come up with a good name. Maybe that robin on his motorcycle helmet will give him an idea.
Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman, Days of Thunder, Bewitched) is obsessed with Batman. When Wayne sees a bat in the obviously bat-shaped Rorschach blot on her wall, she asks, "Do you have a thing for bats?" At this moment, I got the feeling her psychological profiles reveal that all of her male patients are secretly Batman. Must be good for business.
What about Bruce Wayne, the Batman? After watching Grayson's parents die during the charity gala, and seeing his thirst for revenge, he's rethinking his own obsession with justice—even tossing around the idea of tossing out the Crusader Cape, although never as convincingly as Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker did it in Spiderman 2. Holy hesitation, Batman!
In Two-Face's first appearance, we see him in profile as he threatens a bank guard. Until he turns, we can't understand (unless we've read a few comic books) why the guard's so frightened—until we see his bad side; the acid-scarred bad side. Tommy Lee Jones gives him the sinister edge of unpredictability that goes with his M.O. of deciding the fate of his victims with a toss of the coin. But we mostly see his evil side, probably because no one wanted to see him heading off to the park for a picnic when heads came up. His appearance in the movie's joyride opening establishes him instantly as a dangerous villain, making him more effective than Carrey's Riddler, whose shift to lawlessness we see.
He's got a girlfriend for each face, Sugar (Drew Barrymore, Charlie's Angels, The Wedding Singer) and Spice (Debi Mazar, L.A. Law, Space Truckers). They looked good, but they barely had enough lines for one Bat-moll. Nicole Kidman fares better as the Bat-girlfriend. She's saucy and sensuous as she tantalizes the Bat with a kiss; still, she ultimately ends up as the typical damsel in distress. At one point, she asks Batman if he prefers women in skin-tight vinyl with whips, but he'd probably just prefer a girlfriend who could at least whup the wimpy Riddler.
Jim Carrey plays the Riddler with his early manic energy. It's fun at the start of his criminal career, as we see a fisherman coming out of the TV set, fishing in the mind of his first victim, but it's questionable whether he's still welcome after two hours. Though villainous, this version of the Riddler is comically inept and inadequate, hurting his hand while punching a robbery victim, and making his jealousy pangs obvious when he notices that Sugar finds Bruce Wayne a little spicier.
Val Kilmer, who says in the extras that he was a Bat-fan as a kid, sounds just a little bit like TV's Adam West. On purpose. I think. His Wayne is as noble as West's, rushing forward to claim he's Batman to save a crowd threatened by Two-Face, but he broods and dreams about bats. He does a decent job, even if the abundant script holes render his moodiness unconvincing. As the kick in his side, Chris O'Donnell tries to play Dick Grayson as troubled and out of control, but ultimately is mild-mannered (as director Joel Schumacher no doubt intended).
I was amazed in several places by the, um, stupid carelessness of our heroes. Dick Grayson goes joyriding in the Batmobile; Bruce Wayne just wanders into Edward Nygma's brain-drain device; Robin chooses his old Flying Graysons outfit (widely seen on TV, thanks to the Two-Face tragedy) for a first costume; and Robin is captured way too easily, even for a summer popcorn movie plot, by Two-Face in the climactic confrontation. The MacGuffin, Riddler's brainwave barbecue device, is supposed to be a comic commentary on the effects of too much television, but instead served to remind me that my brain's a bit barbecued by the bombardment of commentary track and extras in this two-disc set.
If it's Batman, it must be a lot of dark nights. Colored lighting—reflecting the red of Two-Face's acid-scarred face and the green of the Riddler's costume—sets the mood throughout, giving the film an eerie, surreal feel. The big action set-piece at Edward Nygma's gala for his boob tube brainwave-eating machine is filled with green light and spiraling psychedelic lighting that hints at the terrors of the machine, foreshadowing a trap for Bruce Wayne and the appearance of Two-Face. Throughout the movie, characters stick to the shadows. The least effective effect were the yellow fireballs that Two-Face likes to create. A few of the daylight scenes seemed dark, but the movie's look was generally preserved well. Aside from one or two too many maniacal laughs from Jim Carrey, the sound's great.
There are a lot of extras here, including two—count 'em, two—"making of" featurettes: Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever?, a 1995 TV special hosted by Chris O'Donnell, and the new "Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight, Part 5." Neither is extremely deep, but each has a few good quips from the stars. Both present the surprising image of a smiling, genial Two-Face on the set. Of the two, "Shadows" is better, mainly because it gives you a look at the stars today. Director Joel Schumacher has a commentary track, tackling such subjects as the controversy over the nipples on the Bat-costume and the backstories for the Riddler and Robin. Fans should like the villains' profiles, since they include (too) brief quotes from the folks at DC Comics and peeks at some of the original pages. With more of their brief run time given to star interviews, the heroes' profiles were less informative. If you're fascinated by the visuals, check out the documentary gallery featurettes on how the movie was put together, divided into short pieces to highlight each aspect of the production. Quite an array of extras; but you'd probably have to be a Bat-fanatic or planning to produce your own adventure flick to want a double-dip.
Can two maniacal supervillains share a lair and a Bat extermination together without driving each other crazier? Will Chase catch Batman—or will Bruce Wayne fall into her trap? Will Dick Grayson pick a cool sidekick name? How about Mini-Bat? Will Bruce Wayne ever spring to hire at least one security guard for Wayne Manor? Tune in to Batman Forever: Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.
If you're new to this Bat-arc in the Dark Knight's career, I'd suggest you start with the better Batman or Batman Returns. But even Robin on his first mission could figure out that most of you have seen this and know what you're getting here. There are a lot of flaws, but I can't deny the thrill of watching Batman escape a bank vault full of acid, or any of the other comic-book traps. As Two-Face says, "A random toss. The only true justice." So I'll flip a coin. Heads, not guilty, and tails, guilty. It's coming up…heads. Not guilty. I'm headed to the park for a picnic. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Featurette: "Riddle Me This: Why Is Batman Forever?"
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