Batman is probably my favourite comic book character (although Sin City's Marv is admittedly my favourite graphic novel character). Lacking any particular super-powers, he distinguishes himself by being physically and mentally trained to perfection. As a detective, his skills are unsurpassed (Superman would not notice a Kryptonite trap unless it was tied around his neck) and as on the street, his fighting skills help him tackle the myriad opponents he comes across.
Having come to our screens in a multitude of different forms over the generations, the late eighties and early nineties saw a modern Batman emerge - as envisioned by the great Tim Burton. The first movie spun away from what we might expect from a standard Batman fare (mainly because it was overwhelmed by Jack Nicholson's scene-stealing Joker) but was nevertheless a great vision. Micheal Keaton was an unlikely but superior Batman and a perfect Bruce Wayne and he returned with Burton to make a darker, more refined sequel, Batman Returns.
Given the success of this new franchise, further films in the series were inevitable and initially the prospects looked good. Tim Burton was going to return to direct a movie with The Riddler as the new primary opponent, with Keaton on hand once more as Batman. When Burton left the project, Keaton stayed on briefly but was unhappy with the direction in which the new Director, Joel Schumacher was taking it. When Keaton left they sought out a new replacement - Val Kilmer - who donned a newly improved bat-suit (complete with nipples) to take to the streets of a very different Gotham and face-off against not only the Riddler but also Two-Face. Not only was Gotham changed, but Batman's character was oddly given glib lines that you would expect more from Bond than The Bat. In addition, the villains were positively comical (perhaps because Jim Carrey made The Riddler more like the 60s interpretation of the same villain and Tommy Lee Jones was in hammy overdrive), the heroine a sexually voracious shrink (unprofessional much?) and Batman was even given a partner - Robin. I can see why Burton and Keaton walked away.
Batman Forever is perhaps not the weakest instalment out of the four 'original' Batman movies, but that is only because the insipidly tasteless (at least in his Batman movies) Schumacher did an even worse job with Batman and Robin, his follow-up film. Here he takes a dark, brooding, driven character who works tirelessly to rid the streets of his city of the kind of vermin that slaughtered his parents when he was a child and makes him a chirpy, smug, smiling amateur who occasionally pauses (on cue) to look intently, as if he truly were haunted and is happy to talk to a shrink - of all of the things a 'super' hero could do, visiting a shrink seems slightly unlikely. Schumacher also takes a dark, gothic city full of shadowed alleyways and smoking steam-vents and turns it into neon-lit Tokyo. He takes Burton's darker and more adult version of the ultimate detective/super(anti-)hero and twists it into what is often little more than that original sixties series (which may have had a place in my heart when I was five but is really far too camp to be a serious Batman interpretation). Batman drives his new Batmobile (complete with tacky neon mods) up the sides of the building as a cheapened theme (ripped straight out of the 60s Batman series) screeches in the background. Robin says such things as 'Holey rusted metal', a play on those old phrases from the same series, the Riddler prances around like a giggling food... oh, I could go on but I can feel myself getting angry.
On a positive side (and I am really trying here), Kilmer is not a bad actor (as his recent, highly underrated thriller Spartan will testify to), so some of his scenes are tolerable, Kidman is always pleasing on the eyes (although I've never seen her shine like she did in Dead Calm), Tommy Lee-Jones is a fairly reliable bad guy (even if his facial makeup is laughable) and Carrey is occasionally funny (in his usual Ace Ventura style). The fights may not be great, the chases may not be that original, but a couple of scenes do smack of classic blockbuster entertainment (the helicopter passing through the glass 'eye' sequence springs to mind) and if you really, really switch your brain off, this is very easy, cheesy popcorn viewing. Realistically though, it is designed for five year olds, which is unfortunate for those of us who have grown up and consequently expect a more grown-up Batman.
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