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POW! Batman and Robin return for one more round with the Guru. BAM!

By Zak Weisfeld

This column has often mocked Hollywood's more gruesome products--this doesn't mean, however, that we think the people who run America's Dream Factory are idiots. In fact, the Movie Guru has the greatest respect for their utter ruthlessness, the sheer audacity of their cynical whore-mongering. But rather than boycott them like our Baptist brothers-in-arms, we've decided to learn from them. Because the review of Batman Forever was such a resounding success, we've simply adopted Warner Brother's formula for our own and recycled it into a sequel--after all, if it ain't broke...

Batman must have struck a chord once. In the early days of Bob Kane's creation he was the grim detective, the bat-suited Rolling Stones to Superman's brightly-lit Beatles. He has since seen more incarnations than an Indian Sadhu. Our current cultural cup runneth over with images of the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight; 10 or 11 comic books bear his cowled face on the cover, two animated series enliven Fox's cartoon line-up, and now we've been offered BATMAN FOREVER BATMAN AND ROBIN, the third fourth of Warner Brothers' Batman feature films. Batman, it seems, is trying to tell us something.

The question posed by the latest Joel Schumacher-helmed Batman is...huh? The feature Batmans have all been the conquest of art direction over story and the villain over the hero (speak to us, oh caped oracle). But whatever one's feelings for Tim Burton's first two gothic tales of Batman, they were at least consistent. There was a vision behind them--brooding, gloomy, sexy--a nerdy fantasy of transformation, through rubber suit, from dud to superhero. If there's a vision behind Batman Forever BATMAN & ROBIN, it is of big stacks of money.

Batman Forever BATMAN & ROBIN feels as though it was envisioned not by filmmakers but by the über-media conglomerate's marketing department. One can almost see them, thousands of them, chained in the office complex in Culver City, eyes glazed with almost religious intensity, shaking like pentecosts and shouting out, "ancillaries!," "foreign sales!," "action figures!," as though channeling the sacred words from Mammon himself. Why have just one villain when you can have two? Why have just a car when you can have an ice jet and a motorcycle? In fact, all of the major plot points seem to revolve more around merchandising opportunities than dramatic ones. The introduction of Robin BATGIRL towards the second half of the movie is senseless from a narrative perspective but seems almost brilliant from a merchandising one--duh, twice THREE TIMES the action figures.

MOVIE GURU RATING: Bad Karma

Batman Forever BATMAN & ROBIN begins, not surprisingly, with Batman beating up some bad guys led by the sartorialy schizophrenic Two-Face FRIGIDLY TEUTONIC DR. FREEZE. No longer portrayed by the unlikely Michael Keaton, Batman is now inhabited by the unlikely Val Kilmer GEORGE CLOONEY. Val, GEORGE, usually a fine actor, USUALLY QUITE CHARMING AS DR. DOUG ROSS ON ER, turns in an uncannily medicated performance as Batman and Bruce Wayne. Mr. Schumacher seems to have been giving more thorazine than direction. Which is too bad, because it would have been nice to see an actual performance in Batman. Instead we are trapped between the comatose and the frenetic. And if Mr. Schumacher was giving thorazine to the hero, he seems to have been prescribing crystal meth to the villains. There's Two-Face, the former Gotham D.A. horribly scarred by acid and turned coin-flipping homicidal maniac DR. FRIES, THE FORMER SCIENTIST TURNED FROZEN MAD SCIENTIST/CRIMINAL MASTERMIND MR. FREEZE, played by Tommy Lee Jones ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER. His partner in crime is The Riddler POISON IVY, PLAYED BY cartoon turned grotesque caricature Jim Carrey UMA THURMAN, WHO MUST REALLY NEED THE WORK. The Riddler IVY starts the movie as a Wayne Industries scientist who invents a machine SERUM that can beam television directly into people's brains TURN PLANTS INTO KILLER MONSTERS, but has the strange side effect of making its inventor wear green spandex and have bright orange hair.

Conveniently, both villains want to destroy Batman. But mostly they want to caper around and leer and giggle.

The movie is at its worst, however, when it stops to talk. The dialogue seems to be lifted almost word-for-word from Batman Returns BATMAN FOREVER ("Hey," the marketers are saying, "it did $160 million domestic, why mess with a good thing?"). What's remarkable is that somehow Schumacher and the boys in marketing have managed to make a movie with real people, many A COUPLE of them good actors, that is actually flatter and less nuanced than a comic book. The plot moves from one enormous set piece fight scene to another with little sense of building drama or tension.

The final fight takes place on a metallic island OBSERVATORY rising out of the water like an enormous dentist chair. The sets, like the movie, are an overwhelming mess. Impressive at first, by virtue of size and number alone, one is quickly numbed by them, beaten into sensory submission by the busyness and clash of styles. Batman Forever BATMAN AND ROBIN is like a big, cheesy Broadway musical where every number is a show-stopper. Each piece is mildly entertaining but the whole enterprise goes nowhere. The Riddler press kit speaks for all of us when he it says, "Is this over the top, I can never tell?" "There's a chill over Gotham City."







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