erik lundegaard

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Batman Forever (1995)

Letís face it: Bruce Wayne is one effed-up dude. His parents were killed in front of him, and, since heís rich and doesnít have the distraction of making a living, heís dedicated his life to dressing up in a bat suit and prowling the night in search of crime. But Batman Forever wants to clean him. It wants to psychoanalyze and cure him. And it does. By the end of the film his repressed memories are found, his split personality is tied together, and he changes from a Batman who must fight crime to one who chooses to fight crime. Iím OK, Batmanís OK.

You look at the cast and wonder ďWhat went wrong?Ē Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face? Great! Jim Carrey at the Riddler? Perfect! Nicole Kidman as the love interest? Sexy! Instead both supervillains go way over-the-top while Kidman reads half her lines like sheís in a 1-900 ad. Is it all Joel Schumacherís fault? Is no one else to blame for this entire mess?

At least we begin this movie (as opposed to Batman Returns) in media res. Two Face is already Two Face and heís holding a bank guard hostage and itís up to Batman to save the day. But itís a trap, Batman falls for it, and he and the guard are locked in a vault that is yanked out of a skyscraper and dangles by a chain from a helicopter while it slowly fills with acid. Nice deathtrap. While the guard freaks, Batman uses the guardís hearing aid to listen to the vaultís tumblers and get them out. Then, disengaging the vault from the helicopter, he uses the batrope to swing the vault back neatly into place, hardly raising any dust in the process. Ah, but the adventure isnít over. Batman, still attached to the helicopterís chain, is pulled around Gotham the way that Jackie Chan, in Police Story III: Supercop, was pulled around Kuala Lumpur ó but without nearly the vertiginous thrill Jackie, a true superhero, gives you. By the end of this joyride, Gothamís version of the Statue of Liberty has its face accidentally sheered in half, giving it Two Facesís appearance. Itís a fairly idiotic coincidences ó unplanned by Two Face ó but, all in all, a bang-bang beginning.

Unfortunately, thereís dialogue. When the batsignal next appears in the sky, itís not Commissioner Gordon waiting for Batman at police headquarters but Dr. Chase Meridian. Ever the professional, sheís wearing a low-cut dress over a long black coat:

Batman: You called me here for this? The batsignal is not a beeper.
Chase: Well, I wish I could say my interest in you is...purely professional.
Batman: You trying to get under my cape, doctor?
Chase: A girl canít live by psychoses alone.
Batman: The car, right? Chicks love the car.

Believe it or not, it gets worse:

Batman: We all wear masks.
Chase: My lifeís an open book. You read?
Batman: I donít blend in at a family picnic.
Chase: We could try. Iíll bring the wine... (removes coat, revealing bare shoulders, etc.)...you bring your scarred psyche.

Gordon interrupts this tÍte-ŗ-tÍte before it gets more embarrassing, at which point we get the long, drawn-out origin of the Riddler, or Edward Nygma, a brilliant kook who works at Wayne Enterprises, idolizes Wayne, and has developed a device that ďbeams any TV signal directly into the human brain.Ē Bruce is obviously wary of this breakthrough (ďTampering with peopleís brainwaves. Mind manipulation. It just raises too many questionsĒ), and Edís clinging, unnerving adulation (revived by Carrey a year later in The Cable Guy) turns to bitterness and thoughts of revenge. First he experiments on his supervisor. The result turns Nygma into a super-powered brain spewing the flotsam and jetsam of pop culture. Which is just one problem with this Riddler. Why the riddles? Sure, he likes games and puzzles, and yeah Nygmaís got that Riddler character in a glass booth in his cramped apartment, a refugee from some midway somewhere, but since the filmmakers give greater emphasis to the pop-cultural vernacular of Jim Carrey than the riddle-me-this dialogues of the Riddler, you wind up with a character who only has a tangential relationship to his supervillain persona. It wouldíve made more sense to call him TV Man.

Once again, the multiple supervillains donít serve the storyline. Supervillains are basically divas ó huge egos masking tiny self-esteem ó so why would they team up? The Riddler wants revenge on Bruce Wayne, Two Face wants revenge on Batman, so why get together before they know Bruce Wayne is Batman? Worse, both villains hit the same note: over-the-top crazy. Worse, when theyíre not outdueling one other in this regard, Jones is forced to stand still while Carrey performs shtick. Thatís like Aretha singing background vocals.

The two supervillains werenít enough for the studios, either; they had to bring in Robin, too. Once a 10-12 year-old when he was introduced in 1940, Dick Grayson is now played by a 25-year-old who looks 25 years old. No hints of pedophilia here. Hell, no hints of pedo here. Somewhere Frederic Wertham smiles.

In this version, Two Face kills Dickís family, the Flying Graysons, so at least Robin hooks up with the Two Face storyline, and Dick now wants revenge on Two Face, so he also hooks up with the ďIím OK, Batmanís OKĒ storyline as Bruce repeatedly warns him about the emptiness of revenge. But heís still an annoyance. Heís a cocky kid in a 25-year-oldís body who quickly seems to forget his parentsí death. When he figures out Bruce is Batman, what does he do with this powerful knowledge? Blackmail Batman into becoming his partner? Not immediately. First he steals the batmobile, pretends to be Batman, and rescues a pretty girl from a marauding gang of Mad Max refugees, only to require Batmanís help when reinforcements arrive. Finally given the chance to be Batmanís sidekick, and given the chance to watch Two Face die, he instead saves Two Faceís life (oh, Hollywood), and for the rest of the film heís a non-entity, a pawn in the Riddlerís game, trapped as easily as Dr. Chase Meridian. He also parodies Burt Ward:

Robin: Holy rusted metal, Batman!
Batman: Huh?
Robin: The ground. Itís rusted metal and...full of holes, you know? Holey.
Batman: Oh.

Itís another step toward the self-referential excess that would kill the franchise two years later.

Who doesnít find out Bruce Wayne is Batman? He might as well be wearing a neon sign. Dick Grayson figures it out, as does the Riddler, who tells Two Face (and presumably all of his henchmen?). Bruce is about to confess the knowledge to Dr. Chase Meridian when she kisses him and figures it out for herself. Chase is Batmanís third woman in three movies, and all of them know both Batman and Bruce, and all of them figure out Batman is Bruce, and yet, even after they break up (in-between movies), none tell anyone. Which is really, really sweet.

So all of these characters converge at the end, with Two Face relegated to the part of Riddlerís henchman, and Batman, forced to choose between saving Batmanís partner and Bruceís girl, saves both, because, as he tells the Riddler, he chooses to be both: Bruce and Batman. That is, heís no longer effed up. Which is really, really sweet. And, of course, the beginning of the end of Batman.

óMay 26, 2008

© 2008 by Erik Lundegaard