CINEMA : Wholly boring, Batman!

I'M AFRAID that Batman Forever (PG) looks to be the measure of it. Invincible, indestructible, ineluctable, the caped crusader cruises, on inky wings, towards the millennium, a blot that can't be erased from the silver screen. Superman is exhausted, The Human Torch guttered out, while The Flash turned out to be just a flash in a pan. But Batman, like a diamond, is forever. A multi-faceted diamond, since Batman's complexity is the source of his robust longevity. Unlike Superman, Batman is one of us: human, confused and vulnerable, at times almost to the point of masochism. It is not hard to read a religious symbolism into this suffering saviour. No doubt Warner Brothers executives, after the movie took $53m on its first US weekend, offered up a prayer of thanks to the man in black.

It used to be said that the Batman comics (originated by Bob Kane in 1939) superseded Superman by be- ing better drawn, better villained and better plotted. The films, though, are stronger on villainy than plot, which looks to have been jotted down on the back of a book of Batmatches. The villains are the plot. Batman Forever unleashes a new gallery of grotesques: Harvey Dent or Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), a terrorist whose personality is etched on his double face - half ordinary flesh, half melted corrugations that resemble a cake left out in the rain; and Ed Nygma or The Riddler (Jim Carrey), a disappointed employee of Bruce Wayne Enterprises. He has invented brain- washing devices, which are marketed for recreation, but may be exploited more nefariously. It will come as no surprise that these men plan ill things for Gotham City.

These either/or names are typical of Batman, which is a tale riven by double identity. The last film, Batman Returns (1992), in which Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman prowled and purred, was so full of talk of masks and "finding one's true self" that Gotham seemed to need not a superhero but a psychologist. Batman Forever provides one, in the slinky form of Dr Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) - who sounds more like a bank than a shrink, but is a specialist in multiple personalities. She also provides love interest for Batman (Val Kilmer). Chase's blurring of professional and personal interest in the superhero has more than a hint of Lois Lane. She brushes off Bruce Wayne's overtures by confessing a prior infatuation: "You could say he just kind of dropped out of the sky - and bang!"

Chase fits just fine in a city that might have been dreamt up by Freud on an off-day. Trauma makes this world go round. At its most interesting (which is not saying much), Batman Forever gropes towards an equation of good and evil. Both heroes and villains are crippled by loss, fuelled in their ignominy or virtue by an insatiable desire for vengeance. Batman is avenging his murdered parents; Two-Face his mangled face; The Riddler his thwarted career. It is as if only psychic damage can motivate men to act. And the arrival, at last, of a Robin/Boy Wonder (Chris O'Donnell), neatly confirms the thesis. In one of the film's finest set-pieces, we watch Robin lose his family, a troupe of acrobats, in an attack on their circus by Two-Face.

The depiction of Robin betrays the new, not necessarily wholesome, spirit of the Batman series. Tim Burton's two Batman pictures were criticised - above all by the marketing men - for their unrelenting darkness. It's true there was monotony in the glacial elegance of Burton's vision. At least there was a vision. Joel Schumacher has replaced it with a canniness that borders on cynicism. There have long been those who have argued that Batman and Robin, seen in the comics lolling around Wayne Manor in dressing gowns, are an idealised homosexual couple. Batman Forever toys with the idea, as if seeking to woo gays without offending straights. Robin talks of "hanging out with a lot of biker boys", and indulges with Batman in the matey misogyny of the comics. But at the end the relationship is left ambiguous. "A man's gotta go his own way - a friend told me that," Robin gushes. "Not just a friend," Batman simpers back, clasping the boy's hand. "A partner." Whether the pair are gay or not, there is no doubting they are deliberately sexualised. Their costumes incorporate giant, armoured cod-pieces. They look like the sort of things an English cricketer might wear to face Curtly Ambrose - without a bat, let alone a batman.

Schumacher is a better story-teller than Burton, whose narratives were weighed down by Stygian gloom. Schumacher allows his plots to simmer nicely for a while, before bringing them to the boil. But neither director has much mastery of action scenes (it will be interesting to compare the expert Brian De Palma's fight scenes in the forthcoming Mission: Impossible). Schumacher has also hit on a more consistent house acting-style, half- way between cartoon and realism. Kilmer, taking over from Michael Keaton, has more butch presence, but less neurosis. He's also more active, with a less medievally weighty Batsuit. Kidman plies her classy smoulder for all it's worth, while Carrey's Riddler, kitted out in a lime-green, question- marked Nehru suit, almost unbalances the movie, as Richard Pryor did Superman III. Tommy Lee Jones's morbid Two-Face, with his bifurcated suits (half pin-stripe, half psychedelic), is a cross be- tween Savile Row and Death Row.

All are put in the shade - often quite literally - by the spectactular production design (Barbara Ling) and photography (Stephen Goldblatt). To- gether they have created a new Goth- am City, brighter and less claustrophobic than Burton's, awash with comic-book colours: magenta, saffron, pis- tachio green, moon blue. There is a crazy stylistic promiscuity. Under the lemon-coloured geodesic dome of The Riddler's lair, a gold, spiral ramp leads up to a circular platform. Here sits Carrey's Art Deco throne, flanked by two giant gold copies of Rodin's The Thinker. By contrast, Wayne's world is a baronial mansion full of wall-drapings and eerie shafts of light.

If the movie is worth seeing (an open question), it is for the odd moment of indelible visual beauty, such as an underwater shot of Batman crashing into the sea, his mighty but predatory bulk submerging into the dark blue brine. Goldblatt's photography blends the heroic (adoring long-angle shots for the heroes) and the macabre (the same Dutch tilts Carol Reed used for Harry Lime's Vienna). It's nice that The Third Man should provide a model for The Third Batman, but a pity Batman doesn't have Graham Greene's narrative drive. At times the viewer suffers from visual overload - too much to see, packed in too dense. I spotted, high on a Gotham City roof- top, an advertising hoarding: "Tired Eyes Use Ocu-Wash." Get me some Ocu- Wash.

Best of the rest is Country Life (12), Michael Blakemore's erratic transposition of Uncle Vanya to post-First World War Australia. Compare it with Louis Malle's recent Vanya On 42nd Street, and you will be disappointed. Take it on its own terms and you have a fascinating commentary on Vanya, which takes Chekhov's professor (here an ex-theatre critic) at his resentful brother's estimation: an impotent and depraved pedant and charlatan whose marriage to Greta Scacchi - excellent as an Edwardian English lady whose weariness verges on disdain - is as arid as the Australian countryside. Sam Neill is as strong as ever as the idealistic doctor (pro- Aborigine, anti-war and anti-British). That Blakemore should have chosen to play the monster critic himself is either self-revealing or self-lacerating.

Rudy (PG), the tale of a boy whose dream is to play college football, is so sentimental it moves you to laughter rather than tears. Eclipse (18), a variation, at the ICA, on La Ronde, about lovers linked by an eclipse, is pretentious soft porn. It makes Batman Forever look like Citizen Kane.

A word of welcome to the Cambridge Film Festival, which in recent years has eclipsed Edinburgh in inventive programming. It continues un- til 30 July and, in addition to many British premieres, will screen a centenary Buster Keaton season. There's also a retrospective of the Danish director Lars Von Trier, including his (reportedly) riveting new five-hour epic, The Hospital.

Cinema details: Review, page 82.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us