I went to see Batman Forever last week and felt sorry for Batman. What the Time-Warner company has done to the Batman comic book character of my childhood is make him resemble Robocop in a high tech special effects frenzy of mindless zip-zap.
One reviewer called the film “visual delirium in both form and content.” Actually the split second flicking of violent images destroys the development of content, of acting, of plot, of suspense, of projective imagination by the viewers.
Sure, there is a story of sorts or, as the teenagers say “kinda.” The legendary caped fighter against evil is confronted by Two-Face, Gotham’s crime boss, and the Riddler, a former employee in Bruce Wayne’s electronics company, who, after having his 3-D box invention, that pumps the viewer’s brain with full interactive holograms, rejected by Batman’s alter-ego, swears revenge.
So the film unfolds with both Bruce Wayne and Batman being the hunted rather than the hunters. Two-Face wants to destroy Batman and the Riddler wants to control if not destroy Batman. Not knowing that Wayne and Batman are the same man, the two outlaws combine their efforts and the nanosecond visuals explode over the screen.
The Riddler waves the film from a complete descent into a hopeless drivel of vacuous dialogue. But the Riddler (played by Jim Carrey) was never given his potential by his screenwriter. He could have been as compelling a character as the Joker (played by Jack Nicholson) in the first Batman movie. But the dulling, numbing, absurd cacophony of special effects always got in the way of what could have been very clever dialogue that bred suspense and more memorable excitement.
Val Kilmer is the new Batman in this film. Michael Keaton, the Batman of the first two movies, reportedly wanted too much money for this sequel and was dropped. But does it matter? Poor Val had little to say and when he uttered his few sentences, especially with a flirting abnormal-psychology expert, the words were corny enough to be the stuff of tinsel pathos.
Another reviewer put it this way: “It hardly matters who plays Batman, although, in fairness, Kilmer makes an appealing superhero. Productions like this — with assured audiences, well-paid technicians and artists, a huge special-effects budget and enormous studio commitment — are virtually idiot-proof.”
In other words, quality aside, big money brings in bigger money. Before the hype is exposed for what it is, over $300 million are in Time-Warner’s coffers with lucrative nick-nacks, residuals and foreign rights yet to come.
Depreciating a major pop culture hero, with MTV-like screenplays and razzle-dazzle effects shorn of a suspenseful story line, cannot be stopped by just big bucks. It takes a while for the early teens and pre-teens, who make up a large slice of this audience, to tire of this supercharged vacuum. But already the word of mouth on Batman Number Three has not been impressive -sales declined the second weekend compared to the first.
The sad part of this movie by fast cuts and wholly improbable events is that big money wedded to frenetic technology brings down the quality and the gripping drama that could have heralded this American pop-justice fighter. Clearly, the screenwriter was fatigued enough to allow an ending that was dull, unimaginative and just flat.
Mindful of Batman IV and Batman V, Batman Forever introduced Robin and consigned the Riddler to an insane asylum thereby setting the stage for his release for future sequels.
But when technology decays the dialogue and the massive violence overwhelms the narrative, what you have is expensively “cheap titillation.” The youngsters of today will never know how the children of the Forties were gripped with excitement clutching their Batman and Robin comic books. They were gripped with the engagement of their own imagination. The MTV generation will never know how it has been cheated.