Game Corner [Batman Month]: Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday of September to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 18 October 2011
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Batman quickly became a successful and dynamic character after his 1939 debut in DC Comics; over the years, the character’s world and mythos has grown considerably to include numerous spin-off comics and adaptations into not just cartoons and movies but also videogames. While Batman has fared rather well in that department, it can’t be denied that there were a few stinkers as well before Eidos Interactive acquired the rights to make a Batman game and brought in both Rocksteady Studios and celebrated Batman scribe writer Paul Dini to create the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (ibid, 2009) at a time when the character was hot off a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a celebrated triumph that perfectly captured Batman’s essence.

Development of a sequel began work before Arkham Asylum had even been completed; despite apprehensions about system limitations, Rocksteady had big ideas for the sequel, which would move away from the claustrophobic trappings of Arkham Island and into more open world territory. Having learned from their mistakes and feedback from the first game, the developers greatly expanded Batman’s arsenal, animations, and gadgets to make him a more capable character and significantly expanded the range of exploration and side missions available to players in the much-larger game world. All of that hard work paid off as Arkham City became one of the fastest selling videogames in history. Critically, the response was universally positive; critics lauded the voice acting and additional features and the high quality of the game’s mechanics and content. The game was so successful that it was released in multiple editions with access to different downloadable content (DLC) and won numerous awards for the sheer expansiveness of its included, and additional, content.

The Plot:
Some time after the events of Arkham Asylum, the city’s criminals and maniacs have been locked up inside a walled off section of Gotham City known as Arkham City, from which there is no escape and both supervillains and TYGER mercenaries under the command of Doctor Hugo Strange enforce martial law. Infiltrating the prison to investigate Strange’s unlawful incarceration of those who spoke out against him, the odds against Batman increase when the Joker shows up, apparently dying from TITAN poisoning, and infects Batman with his blood, forcing him to delve into the city’s underworld to find a cure.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City is a third-person, action/adventure game but, this time, you’re prowling the streets and rooftops of “Old Gotham”, a dilapidated and rundown area of Gotham that has been encased in high perimeter walls sporting gun turrets to house the city’s undesirables. Arkham City’s game world is five times the size of the one seen in Arkham Asylum and features even more recognisable landmarks from Batman’s famous city and areas to explore, as well as an endless supply of inmates and lowlifes to get your fists on. One of the best things about Arkham City is how the control scheme and core mechanics remain exactly as in the first game, just expanded considerably. Once again, Batman’s main method of traversal is his operatic cape and grapnel gun, which can now be used in conjunction and upgraded to allow him to effortlessly zip across the city. You can also dive bomb while gliding to take out enemies or pull up and gain additional height and length on your glide, allowing you to traverse the city prison in no time at all.

Combat and stealth are more fluid and satisfying than ever thanks to additional animations and options.

This more than makes up for Batman’s continued inability to jump and allows him to easily dart out of danger when spotted; Batman can still crouch with the Right Trigger and toss a quick Batarang with the Left Trigger, but now he can also quick-fire other gadgets, which is incredibly useful in combat and for solving the myriad of brain-teasing puzzles scattered around the city by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler. The “freeflow combat” mechanic of the previous game returns intact but greatly expanded thanks to the addition of more attack animations and combos; X allows you to strike in quick succession while a well-timed press of Y (indicated when the “counter” indicator appears) will allow you to block and counter incoming attacks and rack up a bigger and more fluid combo. The higher your combo, the more damage you’ll deal and the more dynamic the perfectly-placed fight camera will move to allow you to lunge at other enemies before they can land a blow. Since the streets are crawling with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of thugs this time around, there are far more opportunities to sneak up on them and perform a “Silent Takedown”, but this time you can perform a “Knockout Smash” (though this will attract nearby enemies) and you can even perform takedowns from floor grates, double or even triple counters and takedowns when in combat, attack parts of the environment (like fire extinguishers and electrical boxes) to disorientate or disarm opponents, and even slam inmates into walls or dangle them over ledges during combat or interrogations.

New additions to the Predator sections increase the threat to Batman and his takedown options.

Also returning is the stealth-based “Predator” mechanic; in addition to sneaking up on enemies, Batman can grapple up to stone gargoyles and other high ledges to review rooms of armed thugs using the x-ray and thermal vision offered by his “Detective Mode”. A simple press of the Left Bumper and you’ll be able to see enemies by their body heat, their current condition, and any interactable parts of the environment. Batman’s new array of gadgets (easily accessed using the directional pad) can also be used in new ways to lure enemies into traps or take them down and, while traversing the city, you’ll need to make liberal use of these (and Batman’s new smoke pellets) to dart away from gunfire and dispatch gun-toting enemies. Again, Batman is tough but can’t take sustained gunfire or explosions; however, his health will replenish after you clear out all nearby enemies, solve riddles, or find the many Riddler Trophies. These same criteria will earn you experience points (XP) to improve Batman’s armour, abilities, and weaponry once more but the game definitely mixes things up by having enemies be able to jam your Detective Vision and electronics and lay traps of their own.

Navigation is easier than ever thanks to a comprehensive map, waypoint, and compass system.

If you thought Arkham Asylum had a lot of riddles and Riddler Trophies, then Arkham City will blow your mind! The Riddler has placed his trophies not just out in the open but hidden behind walls, in cages, and a myriad of pressure pads and context-sensitive puzzles that will require all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to acquire. Similarly, there are riddles to find across the city and you can solve them by tapped LB to scan the environment when you spot glowing green question marks or the answer to the riddle. This time, there are also far more destructible elements to snag you some XP; the chattering Joker teeth return but you’ll also be destroying TYGER security cameras, balloons, and massive bobbleheads of Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, which all adds to the fun, as well as more opportunities to use your gadgets to open vents or shut off steam from pipes. The map screen returns, far more expansive and user friendly (as are all of the menus) than before; you can now set waypoints to your next mission or any other location on the map and a very useful onscreen compass and Bat-Signal will direct you towards your location with a minimum of fuss. Take note, though, that these features are suppressed when you have Detective Mode activated but, again, there are some opportunities to track targets using this vision mode.

The streets are crawling with more baddies than ever and they’ll repopulate areas as you progress.

Like the first game, Batman: Arkham City gets progressively difficult as you play but this is expanded upon greatly. You might come across a gang of Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s minions and engage them in combat, only for more and more nearby inmates to hear the fight and join in, for one thing. These enemies will, eventually, repopulate areas after you’ve cleared them out so you constantly have to be aware of enemies on the streets and rooftops and, like in the last game, enemies will increase in their aggressiveness and capabilities as you progress through the story. Also, like before, you can select different difficulty levels to play the game on from the start, with “Hard” mode including counter indicators this time but increasing the damage enemies will put out, but there are no Achievements tied to playing on Hard mode so you may as well play on “Easy” or “Normal” since “New Game Plus” offers an even tougher challenge than the game’s Hard mode. Where Arkham City excels, though, is in its sheer size; Arkham City is full of buildings to enter, Easter Eggs and references, riddles to solve, and side quests to keep you busy. For a returning player like me, it’s really easy to get distracted with side quests on your way to the main story objective and you can keep track of all outstanding missions from the main menu. From here, you can also view stories and character biographies, review Batman’s moves and abilities (and even view a tutorial if you need a refresher), and check up on any outstanding riddles and such. In fact, the only real downside to Arkham City is, again, the inability to quickly exit an area, which can be particularly bothersome when deep in the bowels of the city subway or the forgotten steampunk city, Wonder City, as it can still be a tad laborious to find your way back out sometimes.

Graphics and Sound:
Batman: Arkham Asylum managed to hold up impressively well over time and Arkham City holds up even better; it was already a big step up in terms of graphical quality and visual presentation so it’s only natural that it’s aged even better. As before, it’s a very dark game and takes place in one night so you might be relying on your Detective Vision or brightness settings to navigate in some areas but, thanks to many of the game’s locations taking place in indoor, more suburban (if equally dilapidated) areas, there are far more opportunities to bask in the impressive art direction of the game. Arkham City is split into different regions, with each one being primarily controlled by gangs of thugs affiliated with a different supervillain (Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker) and having a distinctive feel to them.

Each region of Arkham City is controlled by a different villain and has a different look to it.

Because the game takes place within a walled off cityscape, it must be said that it’s not immediately as visually distinctive compared to its predecessor as you’re surrounded by skyscrapers but I can forgive this as there are far more opportunities to see and explore the wider mythos of Batman’s world. You’ll stumble across Crime Alley, explore the remains of the old Gotham City Police Department (complete with Bat-Signal on the roof), fight through the museum and into the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, and take on the Joker’s gang at the dilapidated remains of the Sionis steel mill over on Amusement Mile. Similar to Arkham Island (which you can still see lingering in the misty distance), the city prison is a rundown, desolate place full of graffiti, burned out cars, litter, and chaos and there’s a real sense that the dogs have been literally let loose within its high walls and have turned the city into a veritable war zone. As you might expect, there are some more intricate and elaborate areas of the city, too. You can venture down into the abandoned subway and, of course, navigate through some stony catacombs and sewers beneath the city but, luckily, the game is far bigger and makes much better use of these environments when it comes to utilising Batman’s abilities so there’s far less awkward jumping and climbing and much more emphasis on the Line Launcher and grapnel boost, though you will need to get used to the new dive bomb mechanic in order to swoop in through some tight areas and get 100% completion.

Some nightmarish sequences, jump scares, and chilling encounters add to the world’s mythos.

Things definitely start to take a more visually interesting turn once you venture into the abandoned Wonder City, a town populated by deactivated robots and lost to the midst of times, and scale Wonder Tower to confront Hugo Strange. Sadly, there aren’t the same dynamic sections as those involving Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the last game but Arkham City does go to some lengths to recreate these sections when the plot demands that Batman suffer the effects of his poisoning. Later, during a side quest involving Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, you’ll experience a much more similar, twisted nightmare world but the game does include far more elaborate and layered areas to explore that change as the story progresses. The GCPD will freeze over because of Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze, the steel mill needs to be cooled down and then you have to enter through a different entrance that involves navigating past giant machinery and drills, Julian Day/Calendar Man is imprisoned beneath the courthouse, and the museum contains a gigantic frozen pool with a very large and unfriendly denizen awaiting you.

The attention to detail, new villains, and cameos are even better than ever this time around.

Thanks to the diversity in the game’s inmates, enemies have a lot more visual variety this time around as they wear different colourings and outfits. There is also a lot more chatter as Batman picks up on his enemy’s radio signals and broadcasts, with both Joker and villains like Penguin taunting you and issuing commands to their underlings. Batman’s suit, while visually very similar to the last one, still takes on battle damage as the story progresses and, as you’d expect, both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill knock it out of the park with their stellar work as Batman and Joker, respectively. Like before, Batman stops to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle but he also talks with his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, who sends additional equipment and offers council. The game also features far more references to Batman’s cast of characters and the wider DC universe and there’s even a much-appreciated cameo from a really well-designed version of Tim Drake/Robin for good measure. Cutscenes still make liberal use of the in-game graphics, which are even closer to the higher quality cinematics, and you’ll now see a helpful little recap of the story and your current outstanding missions when reloading a save.

Enemies and Bosses:
With Arkham Asylum gone, its inmates and the rest of Gotham’s criminals have been tossed into Arkham City instead; for the most part, the bulk of the game’s enemies are the same scumbags you fought in the last game but in different clothing and with more jeers to throw your way. Inmates will throw punches, grab weapons, toss items at you, and attack with both knives, guns, grenades (in a new twist), electrical batons, and will even pick up car doors to use as shields and ram you. Eventually, you’ll also have to contend with snipers, enemies wearing collars that will attract their allies when they’re downed, enemies that can jam your technology, ones that take hostages, and thugs will even use thermal vision to spot you and start destroying the ledges you’re hiding on if you linger too long or fail to stay hidden. While the crazed lunatics from the last game are gone, the TITAN monsters make a return and some inmates with be decked out in protective armour. A simple Batarang to the face is no longer enough to dispatch these goons; this time, you must use three cape swipes to stun them and mash X to beat them into submission while also countering incoming attacks. You’ll also have to contend with the one-armed Abramovici twins a number of times; these big bastards swing huge sledgehammers or scythes and must be blasted with a bolt from Batman’s Remote Electrical Charge gun to inflict damage on nearby enemies and pummelled with your attacks as they can’t be stunned so you have to strike, hop over to avoid their swings, and strike again to defeat them.

Solomon Grundy more than makes up for Two-Face and Penguin’s lack of physical challenge.

Arkham City is populated by a number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, basically all of them being new additions to the roster of bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Two-Face, who has taken over the courthouse and held Selina Kyle/Catwoman hostage. This is more of a tutorial for the basics of combat and Dent is dispatched by Catwoman in a cutscene rather than in an actual boss fight, and the following encounter with the Penguin is quite similar. This is basically the culmination of a side mission that sees you rescuing frozen police officers, freeing Mr. Freeze, and acquiring tech from his suit to deactivate his freezing gun (which the Penguin is using to keep you at bay). In fact, the first real physical challenge you have (aside from gladiatorial bouts against swarms of inmates or fights against one of the Abramovici twins) follows this encounter with the Penguin, which sees you facing off against the hulking zombie Solomon Grundy. You fight Grundy in a kind of gothic laboratory and must use your quick-fire explosive gel to close up three holes on the floor that regenerate Grundy’s health with lightning (while dodging said lightning) and allow you to put a beating on Grundy. This continues into the next phase, where Grundy tries to crush you with leaping attacks and two giant wrecking balls and sends weird little mice-things scuttling towards you. The third phase is more of the same but Grundy has one arm trapped in a machine; this time, the floor holes open sporadically for even shorter bursts and you need to avoid the shockwaves Grundy produces. Once he’s finally defeated, you have to dodge out of the way of the Penguin’s missile to punch him out once and for all, all of which is more interesting and engaging than the final boss of the last game.

While Rā’s tests your reflexes, you’ll need to use all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to bring down Mr. Freeze.

The next main story boss you’ll battle is Rā’s al Ghūl but, before this, you must first track down one of his ninja assassins by her blood trail, get past more of them in Wonder City (they can dodge your strikes and teleport in puffs of smoke before attacking with sword swipes), and endure the “Demon Trials” (gliding sections through a twisted hellscape where you can’t touch anything but the highlighted areas). You’ll face Rā’s in a desert that is part delusion, part reality, and have to take out hoards of sand men while he dashes at you from out of nowhere. Once you get past them, you must dodge the shurikens and blades he sends your way while blasting at him through his human shield with your Disruptor, and then mash Y to counter his attacks. The speed and aggressiveness of his attacks increases as the fight goes on but the final blow comes down to a well-timed toss of the reverse Batarang and Rā’ later meets a very gruesome end for his part in the game’s events. Next, you’ll have to take on easily the most intricate and complex boss of the game (or most games, for that matter) as Mr. Freeze betrays you and forces you into a confrontation. Depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, you may be forced to use every single one of Batman’s gadgets and abilities to deal damage and leave him vulnerable for a beatdown as Mr. Freeze learns and adapts his strategy as the fight progresses. Mr. Freeze will plod around the laboratory searching for you and sending heat-seeking globes to seek you out; you can use Batman’s glide attack, takedowns, and gadgets (like the explosive gel and Remote Electrical Charge gun) to deal damage but he’ll take action to ensure that you can’t do this twice (he freezes the ledges, grapple points, and vents, destroys parts of the environment, erects a shield, among other defensive measures), which forces you to think on your feet and explore options you might not normally use.

After stopping Strange and defeating Clayface, you’ll find some other villains to take down.

In the game’s finale, Strange activates the mysterious “Protocol 10” and commences a strategic bombardment of Arkham City; this briefly forces you to hack into circling helicopters in order to get inside of Wonder Tower and shut Strange down but, after you do, you’re forced into a confrontation with the Joker, who seems revitalised and has taken Talia al Ghūl hostage. Earlier in the game, you actually fight the Joker in his base form while his goons and out of control dodgem cars fill the arena but, when you confront him at the end, it’s revealed to have been Basil Karlo/Clayface in disguise; thus, the finale is, again, a battle against a hulking enemy. This time, you have to dodge Clayface’s cannonball attack and swinging arms while repeatedly spamming Freeze Blasts to whittle his health down. In the second phase, you grab a sword and slice up the mud men he spawns while repeating these tactics and avoiding his big sledgehammer shot in order to take him down. In between each of these main mission boss fights, you’ll come across a number of side missions that will draw you into confrontations with more of Batman’s rogues gallery: Floyd Lawton/Deadshot has been killing targets all over the city but Batman eventually tracks him down and must sneak past his one-shot rifle-arm to take him down; Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz has been killing people by luring them to ringing phones so Batman has to listen to his macabre life story to triangulate his location and then sneak around him in a partially flooded area to rescue his hostages; the Mad Hatter abducts you and forces you to battle waves of demonic rabbits; and the Riddler has also taken five hostages and placed them in Saw (Wan, 2004)-like traps. These hostages can only be saved by finding the Riddler’s Trophies, solving riddles, and interrogating his informants (highlighted in green) to gain access to his “Enigma Device” and locate each one in turn using the Cryptographic Sequencer.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, Arkham City features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and destroy cameras and such, you’ll gain XP. Upon levelling-up, you can again upgrade Batman’s armour (now separated into one that improves damage from melee attacks and one from gunfire) to gain additional health, add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (including a swarm of disorientating bats, bone-breaking takedowns, and weapon disarmaments), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Again, it’s pretty easy to fully upgrade all of Batman’s abilities if you engage with enemies and search out riddles on a regular basis, and it’s best to mix and match your upgrades for a balanced playthrough but you can choose to focus on making Batman more durable if you so wish.

Batman’s new toys let him charge power points and create temporary platforms, among other things.

Batman begins the game with many of the gadgets he had at the end of the last one, making him far more equipped for the rigours of Arkham City; many of his weapons, such as the grapnel gun and explosive gel, can now be used as quick-fire attacks to mix up your combos to allow for more diverse combat. Although Batman can no longer rip down walls with his grapnel gun, the Line Launcher can be upgraded to fire a second line and allow Batman to walk along it like a tightrope and he also has access to some new toys. The smoke pellets allow him to disorientate enemies and make an escape if needed, the Remote Electrical Charge gun allows him to power up electrical appliances, the Disruptor deactivates mines and renders up to two enemy guns useless, and the Freeze Blast (and upgraded Freeze Cluster) can plug up steam pipes and form ice floats on bodies or water to allow Batman to float around by grappling onto conveniently-placed hooks around the environment.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham City has fifty Achievements to earn, with the bulk of these popping simply by playing through the story, meeting certain objectives, and defeating bosses. One has you fiddling with the Xbox’s internal date and time in order to hear Calendar Man ’s chilling acts while most of the others are tied specifically towards starting or completing the game’s many side missions rather than solving or finding riddles (although this is a factor since you need to do this to rescue the Riddler’s hostages). No matter what difficulty you complete the game on, you’ll unlock a New Game Plus mode that offers and additional difficult challenge, mixes up the enemy placements, allows you to play the story with any additional DLC costumes, and carries over all of your gadgets and upgrades to a new game file. You’ll also be able to return to your original save file in a post-game world where the inmates will comment on the dramatic conclusion of the game and be freely able to switch to Catwoman at certain points on the map.

Alongside the Riddler challenges, there are a number of additional side quests to occupy your time.

This is super useful if you have any outstanding side missions to complete; not only are there some diving simulations to complete and a bunch of Riddler challenges tied to performing combat and gameplay manoeuvres, there are many other mysteries and villains out there to confront, such as tracking down Thomas Elliot/Hush (who has been mutilating victims to impersonate Bruce Wayne), figuring out the motives of the mysterious Michael Lane/Azrael, saving a number of political prisoners from random acts of violence, locating and reunited Nora Fries’ cryogenically frozen body with Mr. Freeze, and destroying TITAN containers in a fragile alliance with Bane. Additionally, there are way more Riddler Trophies hidden throughout Arkham City, many of which require precision gliding, pressing pressure pads, and using a variety of Batman’s gadgets to pick them up. Catwoman also has her own Riddler Trophies to pick up and, while there are no audio tapes to find this time, you can still unlock biographies, news stories, and audio clips by solving and finding riddles. As before, the game features a Challenge Mode, now rebranded as “Riddler’s Revenge”, which allows you to take on self-contained combat and predator challenges based on encounters in the game. You’ll battle a few waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rack up points by sustaining and varying your combos and pick off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as disabling your Detective Mode, shielding enemies from damage, or having reduced health).

Arkham City makes up for the last game with a whole bunch DLC skins, characters, and challenge maps.

There is also a new series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. These challenge maps, and the main game itself, can be expanded by purchasing the many different DLC packs for the game. As mentioned, Catwoman was a big selling point of the game and those who pre-ordered Arkham City or purchased her DLC can switch to playing as Catwoman during the story to follow a side mission involving Poison Ivy and stealing from Hugo Strange. The DLC for Arkham City is such a massive step up compared to the last game, adding twenty Achievements to collect and numerous costumes for Batman to use in New Game Plus and on challenge maps, and, best of all, the ability to play as Robin and Dick Grayson/Nightwing in the challenge maps. Each of the four playable characters plays a little differently (Catwoman is faster but weaker, slashes with her claws and tosses bolas; Robin uses his bo staff, riot shield, and faster (but shorter) version of the Batclaw; and Nightwing batters thugs with batons and utilises his acrobatic skill to take out enemies) and has their own gadgets but, sadly, only Catwoman is available to play as in the main game. Robin does take centre stage in a post-game DLC story, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge”, that sees him infiltrating the steel mill to rescue Batman; I had all of this DLC on the PlayStation 3 and greatly enjoyed the variety offered by the skins and each character but I do wish that the studio had allowed these additional characters to be used in the actual main game.

The Summary:
I was massively impressed with Batman: Arkham City when I first played it on the PlayStation 3; the game was just so much bigger and better than the original thanks to expanding the scope of the game world and the range of Batman’s abilities and gadgets. Everything that worked in the original game is back and improved upon, making combat even more fluid and diverse and truly defining the essence of Batman to set the standard for the remainder of the series. Rather than being confined to a claustrophobic, gothic prison, Batman is freely able to roam and fight around a dilapidated, walled off section of the city full of Easter Eggs, references, inmates to fight, secrets to find, and side missions to keep you busy for far longer than the first game. Best of all, the game is packed full of post-game and additional content thanks to these side missions, the New Game Plus mode, the expanded Challenge Mode, and the impressive abundance of DLC. Including additional skins, a short post-game story, and two of my favourite Batman characters in Robin and Nightwing really helps to expand the lore of this interpretation of Batman’s world and offers far more replay value. For me, Arkham City is still the gold standard for the Batman: Arkham series (Various, 2009 to 2015) and, while Arkham Asylum finally offered all of Batman’s abilities in a fun and engaging way, Arkham City expanded on them to the nth degree and truly defined what it means to play as Batman in an open world environment and it definitely deserves all of the praise it earned upon release and even to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think about Batman: Arkham City? How do you feel it holds up compared to the original games and its sequels? Did you enjoy that the game world was expanded into a city-sized open world or did you prefer to more claustrophobic aesthetic of the first game? Which of Batman’s new gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever track down all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Which of the side missions was your favourite to complete? What did you think to the game’s DLC and would you have liked to see Robin and Nightwing playable in the main game? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham City, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the next Arkham videogame!

Talking Movies [Robin Month]: Batman Forever


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate an entire month to celebrating the character?


Released: 9 June 1995
Director: Joel Schumacher
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $100 million
Stars: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, and Pat Hingle

The Plot:
Gotham City is being terrorised by former distract attorney turned acid-scarred supervillain Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Lee Jones), whose madness is only exacerbated when he teams up with Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Carrey), who has concocted a mad plan to absorb the intelligence and memories of Gothamites. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Kilmer) finds himself struggling with both the futility and loneliness of his life’s mission and his desperate need to discourage Dick Grayson (O’Donnell) from following the same dark path.

The Background:
Batman (Burton, 1989) was a massively successful adaptation of the DC Comics character, whose popularity had been somewhat waning and was in the midst of a dark, gritty reinvention. Although director Tim Burton was initially not interested (to say the least) in returning for a sequel, he was persuaded when Warner Bros. afforded him substantial creative control over the film’s production. However, while Batman Returns (ibid, 1992) brought in over $280 million in worldwide revenue against a $65 to 80 million budget, the film was criticised for its far darker presentation. While the film enjoyed mostly positive reviews, Warner Bros. were dissatisfied with its box office compared to the first film, parents were outraged by the film’s dark, macabre content, and McDonald’s were equally upset at being associated with such a gruesome movie. In response to this, Warner Bros. made the decision to replace Burton with a new director, eventually settling on the late Joel Schumacher, while keeping Burton on in a token producer role.

Returns‘ more ghastly aspects frightened investors, leading to a more light-hearted Bat-romp.

Although Schumacher initially wanted to produce an adaptation of Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1987), Warner Bros’ weren’t too keen on this idea and pushed, instead, for a more light-hearted affair that would sell toys and be more akin to the popular Batman television show of the sixties. This approach held little appeal for Michael Keaton, the star of the previous two Batman movies, and the role was recast with the notoriously-difficult, but far more physically-imposing, Val Kilmer assuming the mantle. Despite the wildly different tone of the film, Batman Forever contained a number of allusions, call-backs, and references to the previous films to set it in roughly the same continuity (save for recasting Harvey Dent from smooth-talking Billy Dee Williams to the maniacal Tommy Lee Jones). Warner Bros’ new approach appeared to be successful, with the film making over $330 million at the box office and pleasing parents and corporate sponsors, though the film garnered a somewhat divided critical reception. Much has been made of Schumacher’s aesthetic choices and direction, though the film but has earned a cult following compared to its grandiose sequel, with many calling for the release of an extended version to restore many of the excised scenes that added a darker subtext and scenes to the film.

The Review:
Right from the moment Batman Forever begins, you can tell it’s a very different film to its predecessors; gone is Danny Elfman’s iconic theme, the Gothic, enclosed sets, and the vast majority of the cast, replaced by an admittedly heroic and boisterous (if a bit over-played) score, a vast, near-incomprehensible Gotham City filled with neon, towering skyscrapers, and impractical architecture, a host of new faces, and, of course, a whole load of new toys. First, there’s the new Batsuit; though no longer as armour-plated as the Burton-era suits, this suit seems much more form-fitting and famously included nipples to give it a more anatomically-correct look. Unlike in the previous films, where Keaton was forced to be very stiff and was heavily restricted by this suit, Kilmer (and his stunt and fight double) move much more freely. He’s still not able to move his head, sure, but he’s far more agile and capable in his fight scenes, delivering easily the best live-action Batman fights at that point in time. With a new suit comes new gadgets, a new Batcave, and a new Batmobile, all of which are far more stylised and elaborate than in Burton’s movies and are introduced in a pretty cool “suiting up” scene during the opening credits. However, as much as I defend this movie, I do feel this scene is tarnished a bit by that cringey “I’ll get drive thru” line which, while amusing and I’m sure made McDonald’s happy, is a bit out of place. A simple “Don’t wait up” would have sufficed.

Kilmer was a pretty decent, physically imposing Batman and haunted Bruce Wayne.

I haven’t had much exposure to Val Kilmer in my life but, as much as I love Keaton’s intensity and the dark edge he brought to the role, Kilmer is actually pretty good as Batman. In Batman Returns, we saw that Gotham City was starting to become acclimatised to Batman but, in Forever, he’s very much in the public spotlight as a widely celebrated “superhero”. To clarify, I feel there’s a difference between a superpowered superhero like Clark Kent/Superman and a street level vigilante like Batman or Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. They are, technically, superheroes but I feel they shouldn’t be publically celebrated or acknowledged in-world like a Superman; in these Batman movies, though, Batman is pretty much the only masked crimefighter out there and, here, we see that he openly works with Commissioner Jim Gordon (Hingle) and appears in public, when necessary. Like Keaton, Kilmer assumes a deeper, gravelly “Bat Voice” for the role that is somewhere between a growl and a whisper. He tries to emulate Keaton’s intense glare but, where he fails in that regard, he succeeds in his imposing physical stature, appearing far more physically fit for the role than the slighter, shorter Keaton. Kilmer’s Batman is also much chattier than his predecessor, sporting a dry wit and a pragmatic drollness that would be amusing if not for the film’s excessive, over-the-top and cartoonish humour elsewhere. Kilmer is also pretty decent as Bruce Wayne; he doesn’t betray much emotion but he’s both awkward and charming when interacting with Doctor Chase Meridian (Kidman), arranges for full benefits for Fred Stickley (Ed Begley Jr) and his family after his apparent suicide, and is very patient with the fanatical Nygma when they first meet.

Carrey channels Gorshin’s spirit for his zany turn as the Riddler.

Speaking of Nygma, if you’re not a fan of Jim Carrey than a) What’s wrong with you? and b) This really isn’t the film for you. This was peak Carrey, with the actor riding a wave of well-received comedies, and he really gives it his all here, stealing every scene he’s in with a madcap, zany performance that is part Frank Gorshin and part classic Carrey. As Nygma, Carrey is a hyperactive and overly-enthusiastic employee who is completely obsessed with Bruce Wayne. Carrey brings a natural manic energy to the role, hogging the spotlight and stealing every scene he’s in with his rubber-faced antics and you really get that this guy is a fanatical individual who is infatuated with Bruce Wayne and desperate to showcase his mind-manipulating invention. This proves to be his downfall, however, as Bruce cannot in good conscience approve Nygma’s brain-altering invention, which crushes Nygma’s spirit and turns his heroic worship of Bruce into a sadistic mania. Nygma takes to sending Bruce threatening riddles (though Bruce is able to solve each one almost immediately, he spends the majority of the film completely stumped as to who sent them and what they really mean) but doesn’t descend into full-blown supervillain territory until seeing Two-Face in action. As the Riddler, Nygma is a completely unhinged maniac, teaming up with Two-Face to put his 3D “Box” in every house in the city to increase his intelligence and wealth. Amusingly, as Nygma transforms into a successful businessman and bachelor, he begins to borrow Bruce’s look and mannerisms but becomes increasingly unhinged as the Riddler, eventually setting himself up on a ridiculously elaborate island and freely partaking of the knowledge of all those connect to his Box.

For a guy who “couldn’t sanction” Carrey’s buffoonery, Jones sure does ham it up!

While the Riddler gets much of the film’s focus, Two-Face’s tragic origins and complex relationship with Bruce and Batman is almost completely glossed over; we’re introduced to Two-Face (annoyingly and constantly referred to as “Harvey Two-Face” for no discernable reason) after he’s already suffered his horrific scarring (here rendered in a far less disturbing manner, with a ridiculous straight line literally splitting Harvey’s face in two) and there’s only ever the briefest hint towards the character’s nuance and fall from grace. Instead, we’re left with a frenzied clown, a character far removed from the dark, tragic supervillain of the source material and more akin to the Joker, for lack of a better comparison. Ruled by his obsession with duality, his double-headed coin (which he is perfectly happy to flip over and over again until he gets the result he wants), and killing Batman (since he blames Batman for his condition), Two-Face is a ludicrous, flamboyant carton of a villain who would make Cesar Romero blush. I can only assume that it was Schumacher’s decision to make Two-Face this overexcited buffoon since Tommy Lee Jones, apparently, detested Carrey’s ostentatious antics and yet seems to be going out of his way to try and match Carrey’s far more amusing and far less grating physical humour.

Dick grows from an angry bad boy with an attitude to a selfless costumed hero.

Two-Face’s inclusion, though, allows Batman Forever to do something I will forever hold it in high regard for and that is introducing Dick Grayson/Robin. As a kid, I grew up watching the sixties Batman TV show and reading a number of different Batman comics, many of which included Robin in various forms and I remember being super excited about Robin’s inclusion here. In a fantastic example of adaptation, Robin is a combination of Dick (name/origin), Jason Todd (bad boy attitude), and Tim Drake (costume); garbed in motorcycle gear, with a piercing in his ear, he’s clearly an angst-ridden rogue who has no time for the luxury of Bruce’s lifestyle and wishes only to avenge the death of his family. Even better, the film does a great job of retelling Batman’s origin through the parallel of the deaths of Grayson’s family, which triggers Bruce’s flashbacks of his own parents’ deaths and delivers a haunting scene where, in relating the parallels between the two events to Alfred Pennyworth (Gough), Bruce slips on his wording and mutters “I killed them”, providing a glimpse into the survivor’s guilt and responsibility he feels. Bruce sympathises with Dick and takes him in; though he is angry and hungry for revenge, Dick is convinced to stay through a combination of Bruce appealing to Dick’s love for motorcycles and Alfred guilt-tripping the troubled acrobat with hospitality. Alfred plays quite the sly role this time around, offering Dick understanding and comfort but also subtly influencing his discovery of the Batcave and transformation into his own masked persona. Dick’s first instinct, though, is obviously to steal the Batmobile and take it on a joy ride; after taking his anger and pain out on some colourful street thugs, Dick directs these same emotions towards Batman when he arrives to confront him, blaming him for his family’s murder but, having vented his emotions, becomes insistent on Bruce training him to be his partner to give him the means to bring Two-Face to justice. Bruce is angered at the very idea and discourages him at every turn, not wishing Dick to go down the same path as he, much less commit murder.

Chase is the horniest psychologist you’ll ever meet. It’s fantastic!

Finally, there’s Chase Meridian; Kidman is absolutely gorgeous, of course, but man is her character one horny bitch! Chase is immediately fascinated, sexually and psychological, by Batman; she, like pretty much all of the public, isn’t deterred by Batman’s appearance and is, instead, in awe of his presence and attracted to his mystery and physique and even goes so far as to use the Bat-Signal as a “beeper” to tell him things about Two-Face that he already knows and are painfully obvious and to explicitly voice her interest in Batman in her attempt to seduce him right there on the rooftop! She is overwhelmed by the sexual magnetism and allure of Batman as the “wrong kind of man” and the mystery about what drives him to do what he does but is just a enamoured by Bruce, seeing him as something of an enigma who is haunted and hiding more than he lets on. It’s not the same as her attraction to Batman, which is very primal and sexual, but it eventually grows into the more “grown up” choice on her part and she is clearly elated to find that the two are one and the same.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Batman Forever is a loud, bombastic action film; essentially, it’s a live-action cartoon, with every set and action sequence having a garish, over-the-top presentation. The film starts off, as Two-Face says, with a bang; the sequence of Batman hanging from Two-Face’s helicopter looks pretty shit but I can appreciate the blending of practical stunts, early-CGI, miniature sets, and the age of the film, to let it go and the entire set piece of Batman’s chase after him is explosive and frantic and really helps open the film with a huge amount of energy, albeit energy that screams “live-action cartoon featuring a lauded superhero” rather than a dark, broody piece about an urban vigilante. Also, people think that Schumacher’s Batman films were all light-hearted and campy and, yes, they are but while Batman isn’t as vicious or brutal as before and is much more of a “superhero” than a brooding vigilante, he still directly and indirectly causes a lot of death and destruction, including the death of Two-Face (something he specifically ordered Dick not to pursue).

Nygma’s obsession with Bruce and Batman turns him into a twisted, monstrous nutjob.

Easily the star of the show, for me, is Jim Carrey as the Riddler. While I think Batman Forever would have benefitted all the more if Nygma had been the only elaborate comedic element in a film full of straight men, I am a massive fan of Carrey and his work in the nineties and the way he hogs every scene is just fabulous to me. I just love his many garish costumes, his elaborate movements, the way he emulates Bruce Wayne, and how he switches between manic energy and a sinister glee on a dime. Ultimately, neither Riddler or Two-Face are much of a physical threat to Batman and, far from the master of puzzles and conundrums of his comic counterpart, Riddler opts to force batman into making the now-cliché “choice” between the love of Bruce’s life and his crimefighting partner. Having faced his demons throughout the film and been reminded of why he became Batman, Bruce chooses to save both, reducing Nygma to a gibbering, crazed wreck in the process and finally putting to rest the demons that have haunted him all his life.

There’s maybe a little too much bombastic slapstick and cartoony elements, to be sure.

Of course, it’s naïve to pretend like Batman Forever is perfect; it’s mindless entertainment for kids, to be sure, but is maybe a little too loud, bombastic, and slapstick for parents or hardcore Batman fans. There are a few narrative inconsistencies as well, such as Bruce inexplicably deciding to retire Batman and settle down with Chase. I never quite got the logic here; Bruce seems to think Batman is no longer needed but it also seems like he’s willing to give up his crusade to be with Chase since he can’t justify being Batman anymore (despite the fact that, as Dick says, “there’s monsters out there” like Two-Face and the Riddler). Then there’s the ridiculously cartoony security guard from the start of the film, the garish new Batmobile, the way in which the Batcave opens up and comes alive every time there’s an intruder, the ludicrous moment where the Batmobile drives up a wall to safety (how the hell did it get down from there?), the sheer ineffectiveness of Gotham’s police department (seriously, the cops are completely useless and call for Batman at the first sign of any trouble), and the overly cartoony sound effects that punctuate a lot of Carrey’s scenes and the fight sequences.

Two-Face is easily the weakest and most annoying part of the film.

For me, though, the weakest part of Batman Forever is clearly Two-Face; he’s just a grating, annoying villain who goes way, way over the top at every moment. He’s also an absolute idiot; he holds the circus hostage under the belief that Batman is present or that someone there knows who Batman is, which is a bit of a reach, constantly goes against his modus operandi, and ends up being tricked to his death in the simplest way possible. The only positive to his inclusion is that it fuels Dick’s need for vengeance; Bruce lectures Dick about how killing Two-Face won’t take away his pain, how he’ll end up becoming an obsessed vigilante taking his anger and pain out on countless others if he kills Two-Face, but Dick’s only wish is to kill Two-Face for what he did and it’s only in sparing Two-Face’s life that he (Dick) comes to evolve into the same selfless hero we saw him to be when he risked his life to save the circus from Two-Face’s bomb.

It’s fantastic to see Robin done in live-action and used as a thematic parallel to Batman.

Make no mistake about it, this is a great film if you’re a fan of Robin and Stephen Amell O’Donnell perfectly encapsulates the “mad, broody youth” vibe they were going for. After Dick forces himself into Batman’s business, Bruce is livid at Dick’s recklessness and continually attempts to talk him out of pursing the same life as him. In the end, though, with Chase in need of rescue and his motivations resolved (Bruce remembered that he promised his parents that no one would ever have to suffer like he would, that he would take his revenge upon all criminals to safeguard others no matter the cost), Batman throws on his “sonar” suit and is in the middle of choosing between his Batwing and Batboat (all new toys for kids to buy/pine for) when Dick, now Robin, arrives and the two reconcile. Personally, I love this moment; the two basically acknowledge that each other were right, that each of them has their own path, and that they have converged into one destiny. Robin even admits that he can’t promise he won’t kill Harvey but Batman accepts this, and that Dick must walk his own path, and they solidify their partnership with a firm handshake…only to immediately be separated upon reaching Nygma’s island. Regardless, I’m continually entertaining by film’s smart use of Robin as a thematic parallel to Bruce. I’d love to see this concept revisited in a new Batman movie one day; skip retelling Batman’s origin again and, instead, have a darker, more jaded Batman begin to stray from his path but be brought back from the brink by adopting Dick, whose origin can be used as a direct analogy for Batman’s. Sadly, it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing that in a film any time soon but Titans (2018 to present) has done a really good job, in my opinion, of exploring similar ground with an even better version of Dick/Robin and taking that to its logical conclusion (the debut of Nightwing).

The Summary:
Batman Forever is a hugely entertaining kids’ movie which has a lot of potential that is sadly squandered by its execution. A lot of time is spent exploring Bruce’s psyche and motivations; not as much as was originally intended but far more than we had seen in live-action up until that point. The film suggests that Bruce has become so lost, so blinded by his pain, anger, and guilt, that he’s forgotten why he became Batman in the first place (to protect the innocent) and is, instead, lashing out at criminals out of habit. Dick is expertly used as a parallel to Bruce’s life and background; his anger is raw and in need of guidance. Bruce was guided by the bat he encountered as a child but Dick simply wants to kill Two-Face and has no clear focus beyond that. Bruce knows first-hand that killing the man responsible won’t bring Dick the peace or closure he so desperately seeks and that he’ll end up exactly like him, “Running out into the night to find another face. And another. And another!” It’s not massively dwelled upon but the film suggests that Bruce can use his experience to guide Dick in such a way to focus his rage and pain in a more productive way, one that sees him walk the same path but not so tainted by darkness and heartache. This turns out to be the case as Dick refuses to kill Two-Face, turning away from becoming a mindless killer and towards being an agent of true justice, which is something Bruce also learns to do through his relationship with Dick and Chase, which finally sets him towards a more productive path.

The unique exploration of Bruce’s grief and pain is offset by the film’s madcap attempts at comedy.

Sadly, though, the film’s themes and explorations are hampered somewhat by the madcap nature of Schumacher’s world; thanks to several subtle references, this is clearly the same world as Burton’s Batman movies but much bigger, grander, and more…operatic. Gotham City is awash in garish neon and giant, impractical statues and skyscrapers and the film has a manic energy thanks not only to Carrey’s scene-stealing antics but the infantile characterisation of Two-Face and his goons. Cartoonish sound effects permeate many of the film’s action sequences and I can’t help but think the film would have been more appealing if everyone played it entirely straight except for Carrey. Clearly, Schumacher is leaning heavily towards the sixties television show, which is fine since that is a classic in every way and a guilty pleasure, but what made that show work was that everyone played it straight, which only served to make the ridiculousness more entertaining. Here, it’s ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous so when there are moments or genuine humour (mainly from Batman and Alfred and Carrey’s less zany moments) they get drowned out by the overabundance of cartoonyness and Tommy Lee Jones’ grating performance as Two-Face.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Batman Forever? Where does it rank against the other Batman movies of its era, or even now? What did you think of the cast, particularly Kilmer, Carrey, and Jones? Were you excited to see Robin brought into the franchise or do you prefer Batman to “work alone”? What did you think of Schumacher’s version of Batman, his world, and his rogues? Would you like to see an extended cut of the film or do you think it’s best left as it is? Whatever your thoughts, go ahead and drop a comment below and be sure to come back next Tuesday for my review of the much-maligned sequel!