Monday, November 15, 2010

I Heart Sequels: The Ladies of Batman Forever

Last night I was surprised to find myself watching an uncut and commercial-free version of Batman Forever on KCET. Now, initially I was surprised to find this flick playing on KCET in such a fashion. If it had been a small part of some larger documentary about Batman, comics, etc., it would have been apropos. But I digress. After that initial shock, I was much more surprised by the fact that I was actually watching the movie. I've never been a fan of this particular film (shocking to all those fanboys out there, right?), so you could maybe chalk it up to the fact that I couldn't sleep and it was one of the few things on at that hour. Hey, I don't have cable.

But honestly, I haven't watched the movie since I saw it in its initial release and I wanted to see if my opinion of the film had changed since I was a spiteful, cynical movie nerd of 16 when it first came out. Short answer, no. My complaints, of which they are legion, still pretty much hold up. In fact, some things seem to have aged in a much more detrimental manner than I believed.

While I initially enjoyed Carrey's performance as The Riddler, I now found myself cringing at so much of what he was offering, particularly the initial scenes of Edward Nygma. Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face is still pretty terrible, but that is less of an issue now. Val Kilmer also makes for an awful Bruce Wayne, but his scenes as Batman are less awkward than I remember. I never had a problem with Chris O'Donnell or the inclusion of Robin, save for that stupid dig at/reference to the 60s Batman series, which I still enjoy.

The one thing I will give this movie upon further inspection is that it takes the prize for having the sexiest female characters in any Batman movie to date, including Nolan's. I've always said that Schumacher gets the naughty side of Batman without turning it into either a bloody tragedy, kink for kink's sake or just an unfortunate necessity, at least in this film. But I'd never really looked at the ladies before last night.

Now, let me start by reviewing the other film's eye-candy quotient. Burton's Batman had Kim Basinger who never struck me as particularly attractive or for that matter all that interesting. In short, boring. Batman Returns had Michelle Pfeiffer. Great performance in a crazy, sexy cool part, but I just could never get over the overt kink in the character design. In the context of the film she is amazing, but it is far too stylized a movie to keep me all that interested in her. It's why I don't go for goth girls, cosplay types, etc. It all seems like a big put-on. Batman and Robin? Hmmm, let's see. Claudia Schiffer = boring. Alicia Silverstone = boring and frumpy. Uma Thurman = totally wasted. Moving on.

Nolan tends to look at women in the Batman films the way he looks at women in most of his films, and that is strictly in a perfunctory manner. They are simply there to move along the plots concerning his masculine leads. Nolan makes cerebral action flicks, period. There is nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't really lead to stunning roles for the ladies in his movies. Even when a female performance in one of his movie's shines through, i.e. Swank in Insomnia, Rebecca Hall in The Prestige, its usually in spite of the character as written on the page. The Batman movies are no exception. Holmes in Begins is actually not bad. She fits for the cute, buttoned down idealist that we need to balance out Bale's brooding Dark Knight, and she really does get to drive home a lot of the points made about justice versus vengeance. Plus it is really nice that she doesn't just swoon when she finds out who Batman is. Maggie Gyllenhaal is given even less to do. I've always said that Gyllenhaal was hired on to give the film some simple gravitas to a character whose sole purpose is to die and therefore set the final act in motion. Whatever feelings we may have for her character are residual reactions based on what Holmes gave us in the first film, and that's at best. All this adds up to a role that is the idealized love interest, with very little real depth, eg passion.

Back to Batman Forever. Maybe I'm giving this all too much credit. Like I said, I don't think I ever really looked at the ladies of Batman Forever before last night. However that has more to do with my point about where I was in my life when the film was released and less to do with the quality of the film and its female characters. I was an angry teenager who positioned himself as a guardian of all things sacred in regards to film and I had very little interest in my own sexuality or the sexuality of others, especially in something as vapid and hyper-masculine as a big, summer comic book movie. To put it more bluntly, I was watching Batman Forever with my brain and not my heart and, for that matter, my manhood. That changed last night.

Starting with the obvious, Nicole Kidman's performance as Dr Chase Meridian is dead-on and is the best performance in the movie. A better actress than Basinger, and at least the equal of Pfeiffer, Kidman is given the role of a woman who is at peace with her neuroses and her desires. She is neither the attachment-happy, airhead that Vicky Vale is, nor is she the repressed doormat-turned-kitten-crazed criminal on the part of Selina Kyle-cum-Catwoman. Chase is an intelligent, tough woman who isn't afraid to lay it all on the line when it comes to her desire for and obsession with Batman, as well as her want for a stable relationship with Bruce Wayne. She wants a man, but doesn't need a man, and that is always an admirable trait for a female lead. At the same time, she is also mentally two steps ahead of every other character, and already has Batman pegged psychologically and spiritually. Her attraction to Batman is as mental as it is physical.

On the surface, Kidman is also a beautiful woman, warm and radiant in the film. In a lot of her films Kidman has been rightfully accused of coming off as icy, but Chase is anything but. Schumacher has dressed and lit her classically, highlighting the lusty and sultry hints just below the otherwise vanilla pallor given to Kidman's outfits, or lack thereof. I don't think there will ever be a sexier image in a Batman movie than Kidman, naked except for bed linens, crawling out of bed to confront a wanton Batman just outside her bay windows.


The lack of a strong female villain does leave much to be desired, especially in the wake of Carrey and Jones' cackling performances. Schumacher does at least offer us some villainous sidekicks in the form of the proverbial Angel and the Devil on Two Face's shoulders. While Debi Mazar is given little to do and not a lot of coverage as the Devil in Jones' corner, Drew Barrymore is absolutely ravishing and giddy as the Angel catering to his conservative half's whims. Barrymore, decked out in angelic teddies and garters, smears her sugary-sweet sexiness all over her scenes, like so much cupcake frosting.


Unlike Vivica Fox in Batman and Robin, Barrymore knows how to play the self-aware submissive, constantly cooing for her master. Even if it isn't the most progressive role for an actress, it is fun and sexy. That is something sorely lacking in many of the other Batman films to date.

When the dust has settled on debates like Kilmer's place on the list of best Bruce Wayne's, how many villains a Batman movie needs, or just why Schumacher put nipples on the bat-suit (short answer: he's a gay man with a sense of humor for Christ's sake), what we're left with is a film frontloaded with fun, sexy women. Batman Forever belongs to the ladies and therefore the men who enjoy these movies.


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