Why Batman Forever Sucked

Okay, Batman Forever.

It wasn't as bad as Congo.

That's about the nicest thing I can say about it.

It sucked.

It sucked so much it slurped.

Never thought I'd be nostalgic for Tim Burton, but at least he directs a movie and gets actual life out of his actors. Joel Schumacher didn't seem to do much beyond tell people where to stand when they spoke their lines. (Apparently, Schumacher boasted in an interview that with actors of this calibre, he didn't have to direct anyone. Well, Joel, we could tell.)

I found out why the movie's called Batman Forever -- that's how long it takes. My coworker Steve's watch insisted the movie was only two hours, but it sure felt like days. Seven Samurai didn't take this long, and it's 3.5 hours. The action sequences were boring and/or confusing (Schumacher isn't any better at directing fight scenes than Burton; these guys really need to watch some good dopey action flicks instead of using MTV as their guide as to how to direct action), the romantic scenes were drained of all whimsy, the attempts at character interaction only worked when over-the-top, and even then, it was tough.

It's funny, there's a public perception that comic books and Saturday morning cartoons are inherently inferior, are kiddie fare. Yet the characters of Two-Face and the Riddler -- particularly the former -- are routinely treated with more depth, more complexity, more adult-level examination in both the comics and the Batman animated series than this movie manages. DC just released Two-Face: Crime and Punishment, a one-shot by J.M. DeMatteis and Scott McDaniel; it's a fairly simplistic treatment of the Two-Face character, but it's Dostoyevsky compared to Flatman Borever.

Two-Face is at once Batman's most complex and most simple villain. A District Attorney who was scarred on half his face by acid tossed there by a gangster while the latter was testifying. His life is ruled by duality. Every decision he makes is determined by the flip of a two-headed coin, one side scarred (the "bad" side), one side unscarred (the "good" side). The movie leaves this more or less intact -- it's a regular coin rather than a two-headed one -- but only explains it in flashback. Two-Face's origin is fobbed off in a quick if-you-blink-you-miss-it flashback. We are shown the trappings of Two-Face's nature, but we never get inside it.

Not that there's time. There are, after all, about seventy-six plots happening at once here, and they're all over-abbreviated. There's the Two-Face plot (such as it is), the Riddler plot (which deviates wildly from the comic, mainly to give Jim Carrey multiple mugging opportunities) -- these two merge into one about halfway through -- the Robin plot, and the Chase Meridian plot.

The last two plots are both utterly superfluous. Robin serves no real useful function in this movie. If you eliminate Robin, it doesn't change the film one iota. There's no preparation for the Graysons' appearance dramatically, and the Dick Grayson/Robin character is so tangential to the rest of it that you forget all about him when he's off-camera.

Nothing has a chance to develop in this movie. Things happen because the actors are saying they're happening, but there's no evidence of it onscreen. Dick's passion to get back at the man who murdered his parents, Bruce's repressed memories from childhood, Riddler's obsession with getting back at Bruce Wayne, Two-Face's obsession with killing Batman, the Bruce/Bats/Chase love triangle -- there's no emotional content to any of it. The love affair is the worst: it's so passionless and unconvincing that it makes the Vicki Vale/Bats coupling look like Tracy and Hepburn by comparison. Worse, it's the same as the Vicki stuff from Batman. And it should be better, since Nicole Kidman is about ninety times the actor Kim Basinger is, but since all Kidman is called to do in this film is stand with her mouth hanging open, she comes up a bit short.

Whatever their other flaws, Batman and Batman Returns had exciting climaxes -- I was riveted during the cathedral fight scene in the first and the sewer confrontation of the second. The climax here was dull as dishwater.

And what a waste of Tommy Lee Jones. While playing Two-Face as a raving, clownish psychotic is a legit interpretation, it doesn't work when Two-Face is teaming with Ace Riddlura, Bat Detective. Jones tried desperately to keep up with Carrey, but that's just not possible. Instead of playing Harvey Dent/Two-Face as a tormented, twisted split personality (which Jones probably could do real well, and actually did do in one scene at the very end when Batman reminded him to flip his coin before making a decision), he played him as a Joker clone -- a Joker clone that wound up playing second banana to the guy in the green suit.

Where Batman was a pretty muddle and Batman Returns was one good movie and one mediocre movie inexplicably folded into one uneven movie, Batman Forever is just relentlessly mediocre, and a waste of some fine talent.

If you want to see a decent Batman movie, rent Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the animated one. Mark Hamill's voice is quantum leaps better as the Joker than Jack Nicholson's entire overrated body, Kevin Conroy's voice has more life in it than Michael Keaton's or Val Kilmer's entire bodies, and there's (gasp!) an actual plot present.

[First posted on the "Keith R.A. DeCandido [KEITH.D]" topic on Genie on 16 June 1995.]


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