REVIEW: Batman Forever and Batman & Robin
With the box office less than hoped for, Warner Bros. decided it was time to entice parents and the children who stayed away from the darker Batman Returns. Despite the comic book source material of the late 1980s being grim and gritty, Warner saw the dollar signs after the success of Batman the Animated Series and wanted those younger viewers.
Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are out this week in newly restored 4k UHD editions, part of Warner Home Entertainment’s 30th anniversary salute to Burton’s Batman. That and Batman Returns were reviewed yesterday.
Forever is transitional, keeping a lot of the menace from the previous films and replicating the two villains are better than one formula.
Desiring to go younger, the execs turned from Tim Burton to another visual stylist, Joel Schumacher. He was ordered to lighten things up and finally bring in Robin. Burton, star Michael Keaton, and composer Danny Elfman were out. Schumacher’s two films are therefore considered lesser works, colorful but vapid, wasting some good performances.
What hurt was that the original script by Lee Batchler and Janet Scott Batchler focused heavily on the Riddler and then Two-Face was added and the entire story was revised by Akiva Goldsman. As a result, Two-Face, teased with the introduction of Billy Dee Williams in 1989, is now wasted with an inconsistent performance by Tommy Lee Jones. On the other hand, the addition of Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridien was nice, giving the new Bruce Wayne, Val Kilmer, someone to relate with. I always liked Kilmer’s work here and it holds up. Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson, though, was a bit too old and there is a distinct lack of chemistry between the Dynamic Duo. The potential for a much stronger film was there as noted by the many deleted sequences but style won out over substance.
This trend accelerated with 1997’s Batman & Robin, which derailed the franchise for decades and spoiled more comics from being adapted for the screen. Schumacher and Goldsman were back and now the director wanted to pay homage to the ABC series and the work of artist Dick Sprang. The problem is, the audiences of that time, didn’t want that approach and their critical word of mouth, coupled with scathing reviews, made the film reviled. George Clooney, replacing Kilmer, continues to apologize for his charismatic-less performance.
And if two villains were good, three would have to be better, right? Not with the horrible work of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. Vying with him for screen time in this overstuffed production was Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy, which was at least an interesting approach to the character. Totally wasted was Bane (Jeep Swenson), reduced to thoughtless body guard rather than the brilliant tactician as created in the comics. Then you have Alicia Silverstone being shoved into the story as Alfred’s niece so a Batgirl can be added for balance.
None of this is good or works and made the DC staff groan out loud long before the audiences got to see this embarrassment.
Whereas the 2160 high definition upgrade perfectly caught the darker tones on Burton’s films, here, we nicely capture the brilliant colors applied to these films. You might need sunglasses at times, as Schumacher went for brilliance (much as the ABC series did, but that was designed to sell color TVs). On the few occasions when things grew dark, the details are never lost, letting you appreciate this aspect of the production design.
The high-quality care extends to the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which nicely captures Elliot Goldenthal’s brand new score, ordered to avoid Elfman’s more somber sounds. Like his predecessor, he included pop tracks which sound just lovely.
Both films are released as combo packs with newly restored Blu-ray discs and Digital HD codes. A box-set of all four will be out in September if you want to consider Christmas gift-giving. All the previous special features are replicated and there are no new pieces, which is a shame.
Batman Forever offers up Audio Commentary: Director Joel Schumacher; Riddle Me This? Why is Batman Forever?; Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 5 – Reinventing a Hero; Batman Forever: The Heroes; Batman Forever: The Villains; Beyond Batman; Deleted Scenes; “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal; and Theatrical Trailer.
Batman & Robin contains Audio Commentary: Director Joel Schumacher; Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight pt. 6 – Batman Unbound; Batman & Robin: The Heroes; Batman & Robin: The Villains; Beyond Batman; Deleted Scene: Alfred’s Lost Love; Music Videos: “The End is the Beginning is the End” by The Smashing Pumpkins, “Look Into My Eyes” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and “Foolish Games” by Jewel; and Theatrical Trailer.