All The Batmans: #2 Of 3 Carrey On To Ledger

Mar 1, 2022
Did you miss the bit about the ducks and the penguins? Check out the first instalment of the project!

Batman Forever (1995) movie poster

BATMAN FOREVER (1995, dir. Joel Schumacher) 

Well. You do have to feel a little sorry for Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones and all the other cast, who would, with a couple of exceptions, have been scene stealers in almost any other movie. Jim Carrey is at his absolute peak here, wiping the floor with everyone else.

Having proved he could toon it up in The Mask, he's here pulling out the heavy artillery, playing even pre-transformation Edward Nygma with all the stops pulled out and tossed away. Tommy Lee Jones does a great job with Two-Face (his makeup design is a triumph too) but he manages to look like a pretty reasonable, rational guy next to Carrey's Riddler… but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Less grim than Batman Returns, I found I enjoyed this one a lot, although it sagged a bit in pace about three quarters of the way through for me. Schumacher's Gotham has the classy gothic accoutrements required, including great vehicles, though the buildings were a bit too cleanly CGI-ed perhaps. An abundance of neon gave an oddly Blade Runner vibe at times, as did the liberal use of neon face and body paint for the street gangs – one of a few oddly history-twisting decisions that burst the bubble a bit for me occasionally. Classic purples and greens for the 'bad guy' spaces were satisfying though. This version of the Batmobile isn't quite as cool as Burton's - especially after the annoyingly obsessive section of my brain pointed out it looks like Dr Manhattan's foot in a black croc.

Val Kilmer is a serviceable, if slightly dinky, Batman, but for some reason I can't get behind him as Bruce: he seems too... frat boyish? Like he's pretending to be nice to get you in bed but will turn out to be a jerk later on? Just me, maybe.

Hench-babes Sugar and Spice

I really enjoyed Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar (there's something about Mazar I find irresistible) as Sugar and Spice, Two-Face's hench-babes, and Joe Grifasi as the terrified bank security guard; "My shoe is melting!!"

Ponderment: Two-Face's army of goons are kitted out with very Deathstroke-esque half red, half black masks. Is this a kind of combining of Two-Face with Dick Grayson's traditional arch enemy? Those with better knowledge than mine, please 'splain away!

The circus scenes are a lot of fun. The hand-to-hand fighting is messy and grimy (a good thing). The bit where hench guy goes knifey-knifey-knifey fancy knife moves and Bats just kicks him in the face with a big black Bat-boot made me smile.

Chris O'Connell, I don't know, I just can't take to him as Robin, the dynamic between him and Kilmer, aside from the adorbs 'win the kid over with motorbikes' scene, just doesn't resonate for me.

So, wrapping up Batman Movie No 5: it's a bit long, a bit more fun, great circus scenes but mostly, for me this is The Jim Carrey Movie - wind him up and watch him go!

Aside: Discussing this subsequently with Chief Editor Matt, I learned that TLJ loathed Carrey with deep passion, telling him at one point "I hate you. I really don't like you ... I cannot sanction your buffoonery" and I can totally hear this in my head now.

Batman and Robin (1997) movie poster

BATMAN & ROBIN (1997, dir. Joel Schumacher) 

Holy Bat-crap, I don't even know where to start with Batman & Robin. Which is apt, I guess, as this movie has no Act I - it seems to be AWOL, along with any logic, humour and dignity this whole shebang might've had. I'll try to find some positives though, I owe poor George that.

So, we have a new Batman, and no one else noticed, but the same goofy shot of the rubber coated Bat-buns from the last movie - 100% recycled humour all the way here folks - and then we're straight into a massive Freeze-y heist scene which is all copsicles and goons borrowed from Starlight Express - goons on skates! - and Arnie lumbering around in a suit which looks amazing as long as he stands still spouting mortifying one-liner puns. They're in a museum: "Whatt killt za dinozaurs? Da Ice Age! HAHAHAAA!" Yikes.

I think the physics of this whole scene are shocking: the freeze gun flying up and just sticking on a rock ledge, Robin doing a weird pole vault uphill, the diamond flying through the air, clearly on a wire, it just looks ridiculous.

I could bang on about this for longer but I think I can encapsulate thus: do Batman '66 or don't. There is clear intent to echo the TV series - you can hear it in the brass in the music, see it in the punch ups etc but the charm, the wit, even a lot of the camp, it's missing.

The other issue is that there are too many characters: I get that a suite of villains is a very Batman thing, but Bane is superfluous, as are - I had to look him up - 'Floronic Man' and Bruce's girlfriend Julie, which seems to be just a baseless insertion of Elle McPherson (for the dads, maybe).

The audio is SO ROPEY: Thurman sounds overdubbed? And there are so many scripting WTF moments: "I'll help you grab your rocks", "Alfred's not sick, he's dying" – it’s just so painfully awkward.

With 19 mins still on the timeline I was seriously flagging, but I'm resolute - this gets me past the halfway mark (even if the BvS rewatch counts double) so let's wrap up with the good bits: Chris O'Donnell is not terrible in this - he's found his feet a bit. Clooney is GREAT and I didn't expect that. His slightly wonky front tooth, the eyebrow work, oh yes, he can definitely do Bat and Bruce, what a shame he was stuck in this pile of... but no, we're doing good bits.

Gotham Observatory is AMAZING, what a phenomenal bit of design. Alicia Silverstone - okay, I'll get grief for this - I thought she did fine with what she was given. Too many characters meant she never got to stretch out those computer skills she was picking up at Oxbridge Academy (snorks) but she didn't embarrass herself, in my opinion - maybe hindsight gives a better perspective on her as an actor independent of the Clueless millstone? Rewriting Barbara as Alfred's niece though? Weird edit. And then, of course, there's Alfred.

Lovely, tender, loyal Alfred. Michael Gough is so perfect in this role, near faultless. He morphs a little into Bond's Q in this (and did in the last movie too) warning Bruce not to break the car, knocking up a suit for Batgirl; I have a new favourite Alfred.

So there we are. Movie #6 done, now on the downward run, and getting into less familiar territory for me. Christian Bale gets his ears on and we get some Nolan on board - looking forward to this!

Are you sitting comfortably? Then Batman Begins...

Batman Begins (2005) movie poster

BATMAN BEGINS (2005, dir. Christopher Nolan) 

THIS MOVIE IS SO GREAT! I haven't seen it before now - don't know how that's happened but, boy, I'm glad to have corrected that! At 2 hours 15 mins running time, this didn't drag, had me gripped throughout, and it's packed with great little touches.

The BATS; I love that they have a starring, recurring role, so good to see Bruce and his furry flying nemeses/inspiration so closely linked. Nolan's Gotham is a new breed - hints of gothic, but it's a modern city too, with Portland style lifting bridges and graffiti covered monorails.

A couple of little details I noticed; I didn't know Thomas Wayne was a doctor - sorry if that's canon and I'd missed it - and why make it opera instead of Mark Of Zorro? Just for the bat thing?

The structure of this movie is so smart: exactly enough back story, carefully chosen and executed at just the right pace, but still space for each of the characters in the main story to develop.

The Tumbler

I can't find a single bad word on any of the performances: Christian Bale is excellent, managing both sides of the role adeptly, completely credibly. Special mentions are necessary for Gary Oldman's toned down Gordon, Morgan Freeman's deadly deadpan as Lucius Fox and, of course, Cillian Murphy's cheekbones.

The Tumbler WOW I would be as sick as a dog before it had made it 200 yards with that suspension but I WOULD NOT CARE, now THAT'S a Batmobile! The ambush in the containers is so well done, the off-cam hints and rapid fly-pasts balanced with meaty substantial hand-to-hand work.

Loved the focus on the gadgets - for once they seemed actually 'probable' rather than ridiculous and impossible, and supplied with Freeman's warm humour, these moments are absolute treasure.

The rooftop cape-y brooding moment was perfecto *chef’s kiss*

Yes, I admit it, I thought Burton had set the template for Batman movies but I'm turned around - I had expected gritty and gloomy from this and I got dynamic, humorous, thrilling - a bang-up, high quality job that's got me thoroughly looking forward to the next chapter!

The Dark Knight (2008) movie poster

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan) 

Well then, young Nolan, you have learned a thing or two about making a movie, haven't you? I'm going to skirt around the elephant in the room for a bit, be patient with me.

Things I immediately loved about this film: again, I think Gary Oldman and James Gordon were meant to be. Each brings out the best in each other. When he sits at the interview table and brushes invisible lint off the table, and when the cops are holding him back from running into an exploding building, his timing is perfect. Michael Caine generates exactly the right amount of snark as Alfred. Morgan Freeman's Fox isn't quite as snappy as last time but I do like his 'set the self-destruct and saunter away' moves.

Christian Bale is a great Batman. The suit change is cool, I’m less sure about the cowl, it's kind of puffy-looking like he's been stung by something, but the slimmer more 'active' armour is neat and more Bale-appropriate. They get the cape better this time too, gliding looks more credible, though how he didn't come a cropper with the cape/Batbike combo I couldn't say. The destruction of the Tumbler made me go 'OH NO!!' out loud, I love that car.

The dilemma with the ferries is a superb plotline, deftly carried off and it says something that it's just a small part of the whole, there's a LOT in this movie but it doesn't drag or give action fatigue or feel overburdened with too much plot.

Nolan dispenses with the gothic altogether here: Gotham is NYC, the massive deco architecture is modernised, even the (absolutely necessary) rooftop cape billow bat-roost seemed to be gargoyle free. I thought I'd mind but... curiously, it's okay.

So I could rattle on about a bunch of other neat things I spotted, like the Two-Face tease-tease-shock-reveal, Wayne's entrance to the fundraiser with a model on each arm, the nifty escape from a HK high rise building, the 'billionaire absconds with entire ballet' headline but that's not the elephant, now is it?

Joker car window

From the perfect entrance (the pencil trick) to an entire scene upside down, Heath Ledger OWNS THIS MOVIE. I'd heard he was good. Folks have raved. But oh, boy, I was not ready.

So many lines which made me go "Ohhhh, that's where that's from", and immediately understand why those lines have been memed up to worldwide infamy levels. Ledger's Joker messes with my mind; the repeating of the story about the scars, showing nothing he says can be relied on but delivered so exquisitely that you imagine you misheard it the first time. Sliding down a pyramid of cash - I don't want to spoil his best lines here so forgive the lack of specifics. The muttering, in a standoff between Joker and Batvehicle, daring the Bat, Hit me! Hit me!

I think my favourite moment in the whole movie is the cop car ride, Joker is leaning out of the window, a glorious analogue of a Labrador shaking his hair and grinning at the sheer joy of the wind in his ears.

To think what more Ledger would have been capable of, what a loss.

So, I'm two thirds through the Dark Knight trilogy, weird that he Rises last but ok, I guess that's how nocturnal critters work. Onwards!


Dedication: This section is dedicated to Noby Arden, one of the stuntmen and women performing in Batman Forever as the Flying Graysons. From a circus family background, she contributed to a wealth of TV and movies (including doubling Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy The Vampire Slayer) but died at 55 in September 2020.

Stunt star Noby Arden and friend


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