Many thanks to Alert Nerd for this crossover event!
Oh, where to start. The period of time when I got back into comics at the start of 1991 contained a lot of things that would go on to define the modern medium. You never knew when the next new book would turn into the Next Big Thing, so the urge was just to buy anything that looked hot. In hindsight, the eventual bursting of that particular bubble should have been obvious, but at the time, it didn’t keep me from buying several winners. Turok #1, anyone? Foil cover! When X-Force #1 came out, my shop back in South Florida had all eight variants, carefully sorted by collector cards contained within, just sitting out on the new comics table. I could have had one of each. I could have just swiped 8 of the Cable cards, too, since that would’ve been the one destined to be worth anything between then and when the market broke. But I knew jack about Marvel or any of the X-books or their characters, so which one did I pick? Gambit. I think that book devalued before I even got to the register. And it still sits in my oldest longbox, its original poly-bag never opened, possibly the only thing I ever did right with that book.
Being a film student, my geek shame isn’t merely contained to comics. I maintained that Armageddon was a great movie for years until I came to the realization that I hated it a little more each time I watched it. As a professional in the industry, I’ve worked on a couple of mid and high grade flops. It comes with the territory. I worked on one movie that, in theory, should have been a geek dream, but in reality turned out to be so bad that I won’t even acknowledge it on my IMDb page. Not even this cross-blogging event can make me divulge what is perhaps my deepest shame.
I’ll admit that I own a copy of Cocktail on dvd, and will probably buy it on blu-ray when it comes out, before I’ll admit what that… other... movie is. It’s that bad.
Where comics and movies meet, however, is where we’ll find today’s confession. It’s a little outdated, and events of the last few years have worked to make it fade from the minds of many. It hasn’t for me, because unlike most other people I wasn’t charmed or excited by the new Batman films. As far as I’m concerned, the last good live-action Batman movie made was, in fact, Batman Forever.
I will, right up front, give the hater camp two caveats. The first is that, yes, even I can admit that the style and success of Batman Forever led directly to Batman & Robin, and lets not mince words here: Batman & Robin is a complete and utter travesty. The second is, yes, Jim Carrey adds a little too much of his trademark schtick to The Riddler. I will address arguments about these points in a moment.
First, some background.
I got to comics relatively late in life, and when I did it wasn’t via either of the Big Two’s superhero characters. That would come, but not until much later. That being said, I was a fan of Batman from a very young age. How was this possible, you ask?
I grew up religiously watching reruns of the 60’s Batman tv show. For almost two-thirds of my life, Adam West was the only Batman I knew. My Bat-Cave was always brightly colored. It sported ample bakelite knobs. My super-villains were always themed and had lairs that were five-to-ten degrees off kilter from the rest of the world. The secret entrance to the Bat-poles was always triggered by that red button hidden in that bust of Shakespeare. My Batmobile was always a tricked out Thunderbird.
I loved that shit.
Batman Forever perfectly captures the campy, pulp spirit of the show. From the cry of “Boiling acid!!” right in the opening scene, I knew I was finally going to get a cinematic slab of my Batman. It does this honestly, too, with only a few obvious joking prods to the source material. It could’ve taken the easy path and mocked itself throughout, but instead it’s just fun. I watched it for the first time in a packed theater with a bunch of fellow film students and it was the first movie in a long time, at that point, where it felt OK to cheer at the screen. The credits rolled and everyone was happy and entertained- and not just in our theater, either, as proven by the $53 million first weekend box office (a pretty hefty sum in 1995).
Of course this success, as I mentioned above, led to Batman & Robin. But that’s the studio’s fault for just wanting more of the same- only more!- and pushing an awful script. Batman & Robin was so bad, I think hate for it bled backwards to Forever. And that’s just not fair treatment of an otherwise fun film.
As far as Forever’s cast goes, Val Kilmer’s Bruce Wayne isn’t the best (ironically, I think the true tragedy of Batman & Robin is that it burnt George Clooney in the role, who I thought was the best Bruce Wayne ever put on film), but it still holds up. I think Kilmer’s Batman is great and manages to fit in with the camp homage while fitting into the Burton Batman universe. It’s fun to watch Chris O’Donnell build Robin from scratch. Tommy Lee Jones is just plain fun. And then there’s Carrey. Had I been sitting in the editing room, there are two or three lines I would have cut, mainly the moments where he’s obviously being Carrey and not Edward Nygma. Yeah, I’d cut “Joygasm!”
If you look past those few moments, though, to when he’s actually in character, he’s downright channeling Frank Gorshin. It’s scary, and it’s great fun to watch.
So, there you have it. I love campy Val Kilmer Batman. It’s probably also why I love Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Cartoon Network so much too, and, more to the point, why I’m a fan of Give Aquaman An Animated Movie on Facebook. But that’s another show, as the man says.