The Dark Knight Rises is now a mere four weeks away and its time for the Bat-mania to continue. But first I must take a quick rant on movies and in particular movie criticism that has been building for some time.
I suppose it started at the beginning of May when I asked one of my theater co-workers what they thought of The Avengers. She is a reputed comic book fan and someone I felt would be absolutely floored with Joss Whedon’s dazzling superhero opus. She responded simply with “it could have been better”. To which I replied “How could it have been better?” She concludes “I don’t know, it just could have been better”. In the words of the Great Lo Pan: “This really pisses me off to no end.” My fried dumplings from China Wok could be better, but when I’m hungry it can really hit the spot.
The perfect movie is pretty much non-existent. Even the films that I would consider “perfect” (Godfather, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Goodfellas) can and have been debated by anyone. Working at Fat Cats, our local video store, I once got into a two hour debate with a customer on The Maltese Falcon and was eventually schooled by someone who adamantly hated the film and had just cause for doing so.
The fact is all movies have flaws. Its to be expected. Its part of the deal. The point of watching a movie, to me, is to celebrate what the movie has done right. Given the type of movie it doesn’t have to do EVERYTHING right but at least a couple of things right. Action movies don’t have to have great acting or logical scripts to be entertaining. It helps, of course, but it is not a necessity. Same goes for comedies. Who cares if the plot is thread bare or the cinematography and editing non-existent as long as it makes you laugh? Its easiest to go into a film with a blank slate, without preconceived notions, and without analyzing each detail as it unfolds. I strongly feel that its is most important to just WATCH a movie first time out and then decide afterwards whether you enjoyed it or not and why. Spending too much time thinking about a film as it plays out can only serve to sway your opinion too early and miss out on the bigger picture.
My frustration with fans and critics continued with the release of Prometheus earlier this month. Okay everyone, we’ve all pointed out the flaws to Prometheus. The holes in the script, the unanswered questions, the lack of dimension in secondary characters like Idris Elba’s Captain, Charlize Theron’s inability to move four feet to the left or right. You’ve pin pointed the discrepancies, good for you, give yourself a pat on the back. But my question to critics and online trolls is this: How would you fix it? You think you know better than Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof then you tell me where the Aliens should come from. You think Idris Elba and Benedict Wong are stock characters then you tell me how to add back story to the entire crew and keep the pacing of the film flowing. You tell me how you’d fix these so called problems or you get out of my face.
The only criticism I take in life and in film is constructive criticism. Here’s an example: My manager Geoff and I were discussing Prometheus and he said “I feel that if they added more to the first act of the film, the third act would have a much better payoff”. Yes! Now this my friends is constructive criticism. How could it have been better Geoff? By adding more to the first act, plain and simple. From now on my posts will include a celebration of what the movie actually does right and if their is a flaw in my opinion then it will be backed up with how I would handle it. Because to me its not enough to simply point out the certain low points without giving some sort of input on how to make them high points.
Whew! Rant over.
So with this in mind I now present Batman Forever. After the success of Superman in 1978 it took a solid ten years for a Batman film to get off the ground. The reason being is the public’s association with the campy 1960s television series. After the character took a darker turn in comic books in the 1980s the real Batman was finally able to make its way onscreen. The result was Tim Burton’s hugely successful Batman in 1989. 1992 saw the release of the follow-up Batman Returns. As I mentioned in the last Bat-post, the film is surprisingly darker and scarier than its predecessor. While pleasing fans like me, this move appalled corporate tie ins like McDonald’s who were shelling out fast food toys to kids for a flick in which Danny DeVito bites a man’s nose off in a blood soaked frenzy.
For the third film, Tim Burton stepped down (or is it up) from director to producer and the reigns were passed on to Joel Schumacher. Schumacher is actually a pretty solid choice to take over given the stylish neo-noir atmosphere of The Lost Boys and Falling Down and the success of big studio features like A Time to Kill. His Gotham City is one of the most beautiful depictions of the fictional city yet. Giant Greek statues tower over buildings, the slums are filled with bright neon colors, its night sky reminiscent of some futuristic landscape from Blade Runner. Unfortunately the studio decided to return to the 1960s camp roots they had waited a decade to forget.
The result is a very messy Batman flick, although still miles above the next feature Batman & Robin. The script by Akiva Goldsman (perhaps the most hit and miss screenwriter in Hollywood) is excessively campy and in no way is this more prominent than in the love triangle with Batman, his true identity Bruce Wayne and Dr. Chase Meridian (played by Nicole Kidman). The most ludicrous moment in the movie is when Dr. Meridan pages Batman with the Bat-signal and emerges in a skimpy silk nightie in an attempt to seduce the Caped Crusader. However I must say that Nicole Kidman may be the hottest she’s ever been in this movie. Cheesy dialogue aside I think this movie made her my first big-screen crush and following films To Die For and Eyes Wide Shut certainly secured that.
Batman takes on The Riddler, who has built a television device that steals peoples brain waves, and Two-Face, who doesn’t seem to have much motivation at all other than killing and stealing. I think Val Kilmer is a solid choice for Batman and in particular Bruce Wayne. Kilmer appears to be the only actor in the film with a controlled performance and is probably the highlight of the movie. Even when delivering lines like “Its the car right? Chicks love the car” he pulls it off.
Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are perfect casting choices for Two-Face and The Riddler but they are forced into a “go for broke” performance that is draining on both the actors and the audience. The script gives them such little material to work with that the two are constantly over the top and the film heavily lies on their shoulders. In his early moments as Edward Nygma, Jim Carrey shows he is an acting force to be reckoned with. After comedies like Ace Ventura and The Mask in 1994, this was Jim Carrey’s first opportunity to really show his range and in the character of Edward Nygma he shows real depth. He’s able to go from neurotic, to psychotic to all out deranged in a wonderful sequence where he kills his boss. Yet as the movie progresses the feature relies more and more on Carrey’s manic capabilities and he becomes quite annoying.
Where the film does succeed and where I wish it had stayed is the telling of the Robin story. Its amazing! Casting Chris O’Donnell as Robin and updating the character to a twenty-something martial arts enthusiast is a great approach to Robin. I love that Bruce Wayne sees himself in Dick Grayson and there’s an excellent moment where Wayne remembers his parents death, its parallels with Grayson’s parents death and then ultimately concludes “I killed them”. The tone of the film in these scenes are totally different than the rest of the film and seem to belong to a completely different and better Batman flick. Even the neon colors are replaced by a golden brown similar to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. If the entire film took itself as seriously as these sequences the franchise could have been saved.
The blame for Batman Forever lies on a number of people. The Warner Bros. execs who decided to go 60s camp. Joel Schumacher for allowing nipples to be put on the Batsuit (Why God did this happen! Who thought this would be cool?), Akiva Goldsman for never finding a tone to stick to. I understand the need to go lighter for this sequel but this one is too light. If it were me writing this thing it would have been those Robin sequences throughout: not as Goth as the Burton films but still serious in its approach.
Luckily the Batman name and the film’s all star cast emerge completely unscathed. The same can’t be said for our next film: Batman & Robin. See you next time. Same Bat-time. Same Bat-channel.