Batman Forever: Embrace The Camp

Batman Forever

I hadn’t watched Batman Forever in years, but before Batman Begins it was my favorite Batman movie. Before starting I mentioned to my siblings that I was going to be watching it and Mike cautioned me against it, noting that I should remember it for all of the affection I have for it.

But I shook my head, I was not going to watch Batman & Robin again, nor was I terribly interested in Batman: The Movie, and no other full length outing, that I hadn’t  covered in The DC Animated Movies features Dick, so thus it had to be Forever.

This movie is so campy, the cast might as well be in drag. The first lines are Batman and Alfred joking around about him going to a drive through. Not 5 minutes in Batman and Dr. Chase Meridian are trading double entrendres. Of course, I could go on for days about Jim Carrey’s interpretation of The Riddler (still my favorite), and Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face (I get why people don’t like it, but I still love it.) or Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman’s stilted but brilliant chemistry but this isn’t The Rogues Gallery Week or Batman’s Crappy Love Interest Week, it’s Dick Grayson Appreciation Week! (Though I could write for a whole week about the villains, or Chase, Vicki & Jezebel and how much they suck compared to Andrea, Selina & Talia…) So this post is going to be mostly about Chris O’Donnell. (Also, it took a lot to not just order Under The Red Hood as they were right next to each other on the On Demand menu. But, again, this week is about Dick, not Jason, soooo…) Batman Forever is a live action cartoon and as long as you like that sort of thing, which I do, it delivers incredibly well.

What’s good is that Robin’s origin story as an orphaned acrobat is served very well by a camp approach. Joel Schumacher isn’t the best director by any standard, but he handles large elaborate set pieces better than anyone except maybe Burton (who is, I did not realize, credited as a producer here…) so the Gotham Circus (renamed from Haly’s) is fantastic and grotesque and perfect. As the Grayson family, John, Mary and an unnamed brother, fall to their deaths, Dick sends the bomb Two Face is using to blow up the circus into Gotham Bay.

It’s obviously a rewrite of the origin in a big way, in addition to his obvious age up and Jason-fiction, is very much in line with this universe, where the man who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents wound up becoming The Joker. It adds more heft to the story and a direct resonance that a film audience needs in a way that a comics one does not. Also, it establishes Dick’s point towards heroism earlier and helps the age up land, since at 17 or so, he’d have less time to train than his 10 year old comics counterpart.

Here’s something that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the last time I watched the movie when I was eighteen, but the scenes between Dick and Alfred are the most grounded in the movie, even the one where Dick does karate laundry. And the ones between him and Bruce are pretty damn good too. The scene where Dick praises Bruce’s bikes is a good deal less homoerotic than I remember, which I guess is because Two Faces’s henchmen are actually dressed in S & M gear, so that satisfies that quotient.

Of course, the scene where he finds the Batcave, is almost a mirror of when Tim climbed out of the Batcave into Wayne Manor in Batman: The Animated Series, which couldn’t have been an accident. And the joyride through the streets of Gotham and the confrontation of The Jokerz (although Forever predates Beyond by 4 years…) is as satisfying a moment as I remembered. However, I forgot about that whole mid to late nineties young actor hand gesture to emote thing. Wow, O’Donnell does a lot of it. He’s not the master that Ben Affleck was. (Watch Chasing Amy, I mean, you don’t have to but it’s the best example of what I’m talking about…) But there’s a lot of it. Also, the first appearance of Robin and Dick’s acrobat costume is identical to the comics and Burt Ward’s. (Except there are pants now.) Also there’s a Nightwing nod. Both are nice touches.

The other thing that movie gets right is Dick’s sense of fun verses Bruce’s serious austerity. When they ride out as partners for the first time to get to Riddler and two face, Batman is all serious business and Robin actually lets out a Woo Hoo and of course I remembered as was waiting for the “Holy Rusted Metal, Batman!” moment, because it is literally my favorite moment in the whole movie. It’s awesome.

Non Dick related pleasantries that I’d forgotten about?

  • Batman Forever actually shows Batman being a detective. It’s probably the only movie that does that.
  • Debbie Mazar is in this! She doesn’t do much but she’s there. So that’s fun.
  • Val Kilmer. Just, all of Val Kilmer’s performance. He plays it straight, but he definitely gets the joke which is how camp delivers best.
  • Edward Nigma’s transformation into Bruce Wayne.
  • Ed Begley Jr! I love that guy.
  • Nicole Kidman’s hair. Chase and Satine are her two best hair roles.
  • “Kissed By A Rose” I like to imagine that Seal sang this while he and Heidi Klum made their babies.

Anyway, that’s Batman Forever, it was fun to revist, I’m really glad I didn’t buy the DVD (which I considered until I found out it was currently On Demand) because I probably won’t watch it again unless it’s on TV when I can’t sleep sometime.

But, I didn’t hate it. I mean, I’d probably put Batman Returns in front of it in the running these days, but still, it’s watchable, and has Dick, so one for the win column.

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