I LOATHE That Scene: Batman’s Day in Court in Batman Forever

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There are film scenes that we love, and there are scenes that we loathe (or hate).  As such, we like to celebrate the good ones and shame the bad ones.  Today, it’s time to talk about a bad one.  This is the scene from Batman Forever that causes us to involuntarily exclaim “I LOATHE That Scene!” whenever it is brought up in conversation, and that’s only if we’re being nice.  

THE FILM: Batman Forever (1995)

THE PLOT: After Tim Burton sent kids running away screaming with his ultra-grim Batman Returns, the franchise passed down to Joel Schumacher, who decided camp was the way to go with everything bigger and brighter.  Michael Keaton told Schumacher it all looked great before pulling a classic point-upward-and-yell “Oh, my God! What the hell is that?” and sneaking away when Joel turned his head.  So, Val Kilmer became the new Batman, agreeing to the role without having first read the script.  As such, he might have had no idea that the plot involves Harvey “Two-Face” Dent (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey) joining forces to take over Gotham City via a kind of mind-control device.

So, for the record, we went from this in Batman Returns (1992):

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“Mommy, please make the mean Penguin man go away!  Why won’t he go away?!”

To this in Batman Forever: 

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Holy campy duo, Batman!

Secondary to the main action is an origin story for Robin (Chris O’Donnell), Batman’s sidekick who similarly reacts to losing loved ones by donning tight leather and laying the smack down.  There is also a hot blonde doctor (Nicole Kidman) who mostly gushes to Bruce Wayne about the ultra-dreamy Batman and inquires if Bruce could somehow get her number to Batman.

(FOR EVERYTHING BELOW: SPOILERS AHEAD.  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.)

THE CONTEXT OF THE SCENE:

We are exactly 25 minutes into the movie, and we’ve already suffered through a neon-heavy opening action scene involving Two-Face.  Suddenly, they remember that we have no idea why the hell Tommy Lee Jones has half of his face painted an odd pink/purple mixture.  So, we get Bruce watching a news report which contains footage (from where?  Gothan City’s version of CourtTV?) of that one time a mobster threw some acid in Harvey Dent’s face mid-trial.  Acid in the face? Too bad.  Oh, well, what are you going to do, right?  Well, if you’re Bruce Wayne you’re going to keep beating yourself up because you were actually there at court as Batman that day and leaped to protect your best good friend Harv.  Alas, you failed, thus the shame and brooding.

THE SCENE:

WHY I LOATHE IT:

It presents more questions than it answers.

  • How did Batman get into the court room?
    • Did he arrive via tube, ala Futurama, since the film had earlier established that Bruce Wayne can apparently travel from his office at Wayne Enterprises to the bat cave via a trap door and an underground series of tubes?
    • Or did he show up at court as Bruce Wayne and sneak into a bathroom to retrieve a strategically hidden batsuit left for him by Alfred?  If so, did seriously no one notice him re-enter the room looking like that?
    • Or, since this is a point in his story where the police commissioner beckons him with a giant signal from atop police headquarters, is he just generally accepted wherever he pleases in the Gotham City justice system?  Did the court have to beckon him with their own bat signal?
    • Or was he some sort of invited guest?  Was he there as an expert witness of some sort?  How would that even go, “Please state, for the record, your full name, sir.”  “I’m Bruce Way….crap!  I mean…I’m Batman!”
  • Is this a new Law & Order phase of his crime-fighting career, where he both delivers the criminals to the authorities and then follows up at their court cases to bully and intimidate the bad guys?  Is he just always sitting in the back of the court room, feet up on the aisle in front of him, reading a newspaper, perhaps with novelty glasses and a funny beard on over his mask to make people think he’s not Batman?
  • Also, how did he know the mobster was about to throw that acid?  Does he just periodically lunge at witnesses in anticipation of them doing something nefarious?

It is just an incredibly stupid scene in a movie full of them.  I probably could have also talked about when Robin shows how he hangs up clothes, i.e., with kung fu, or when the batmobile nonsensically drives up the side of a building.  That being said, I don’t think the movie as a whole is horrible.  It is not on the same level of the Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan films, but Batman Forever is a perfectly fine, campy comic book movie that has admittedly aged rather poorly.  To its credit, it arguably attempts to do more with the character of Bruce Wayne than Tim Burton ever cared to.  However, in its overall campier tone there are some things that make sense and some that don’t.  For me, this quick origin story for Two-Face doesn’t make sense.

Or does it?  The scene is actually a direct homage to Two-Face’s origin story from the comics, which has been re-told multiple times but usually plays out kind of like it does in the film.  The first origin, from 1942, pretty much set the template:

Of course, when Christopher Nolan offered his own take on Two-Face in The Dark Knight he changed things up entirely.  Out was the court room and a mobster and his acid and in was a gasoline tank and a building exploding.  However, The Dark Knight is largely inspired by the iconic 1996/1997 graphic novel “The Long Halloween” which also tells an origin story for Two-Face.  How do they do it?    Yep, you guessed it – court room, trial, mobster, acid in face.  The main departure from tradition is that Batman is not actually there when it happens.

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“Here? Oh, I do so like surprises. I’m sure once this mysterious, oddly bubbling liquid hits my face I’ll be refreshed and ready to take on the new day.”  Photo credit: wikipedia.org

So, the Batman Forever scene in question has history on its side.  Knowing that, I respect their intentions a little more.  It still doesn’t stop me from chuckling every time I see the scene, though, because what works in a comic book does not always work in a film.

Okay.  This movie may have in fact aged far worse than I thought because that trailer makes the movie look horrible!   Eh, I at least know that one scene with Batman in the court room is terrible.  I loathe that scene.

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