BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
Warner Bros. made a concerted effort away from the gothic stylings of Tim Burton when it hired Joel Schumacher to direct the third Batman film. Schumacher has long been a director of more style than substance, and the Batman franchise let him indulge all of his worst, over-the-top instincts. Though Burton stayed on (in title only) as an executive producer, star Michael Keaton wisely dropped out. Keaton was replaced with Val Kilmer. The cool color palette of Batman Returns was replaced with a garish, neon production design. And with that, we’re off to the races.
I first saw Batman Forever in the summer of ’95, not too long after it was released. It was one of many movies I saw with my friend Jonah while visiting him in Iowa. In the span of a few days, I saw this, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Crimson Tide, Braveheart, Casper, and Forget Paris. There may have been others, I can’t quite remember. That’s quite a line-up, and while Crimson Tide would ultimately end up being one of my favorite movies of all time, I was smitten with Batman Forever that summer. Apparently, I had very little allegiance to Burton’s vision, and was game for a new take on the character.
I wasn’t the only one. Batman Forever opened with the biggest box office take at the time: $52 million, or about 1/4 of what Avengers made in its opening weekend. Now, keep in mind: in 1995 – Jim Carrey’s star was about to blast off into the stratosphere. He had just done Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber the year before, and Batman Forever ended up being his victory lap and entry into expensive blockbuster territory. I was a huge Carrey fan back then (my fandom has cooled considerably over the years) and he made the movie for me. I loved his Riddler and would often quote many of his lines. I wanted to be Riddler for Halloween. I had posters of all the characters in my bedroom. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie though, so I was interested in re-watching it now, without the Carrey-colored glasses fogging my vision.
Wow. This is a bad movie, folks. People like to harp on Batman & Robin and call that movie a pile of shit, while Batman Forever seems to get a pass from everybody. I’m not sure why – we all should have seen Batman & Robin coming. Forever is a little bit better, only because it still had one foot planted in the Burton regime, and tried to tell a real story. It hadn’t gone Schumacher whole hog yet. But the warning signs are there, right at the beginning. The crotch shot of Batman suiting up. The joke about getting “drive through.” Tommy Lee Jones’ horrific over-acting as Two Face in the opening action scene. None of this works. It is consistently noisy, frantic, and obnoxious.
Val Kilmer makes for a wooden Bruce Wayne, and underplays the role too much. A young-in-her-career Nicole Kidman is the obligatory love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian. She’s hot for Batman, and enjoys kickboxing without working up a sweat. Kidman does what she can with the role, despite being saddled with many of the film’s worst lines of dialogue, and is really quite beautiful here in a way she hasn’t been in years. Chris O’Donnell shows up midway through as Dick Grayson, the Boy Wonder a/k/a Robin. There’s a decent set piece at the circus, where Robin’s trapeze artist family members all fall to their death, but most of the storylines involving Robin are pretty silly. Why would he go to live with Bruce Wayne as an orphan? Isn’t he college age, fully capable of living on his own? And, more importantly, why does he practice martial arts using his laundry? That scene is a howler, one of the worst here, and that’s saying something because there are plenty to choose from.
I still give Batman Forever a slight pass though because of Jim Carrey. Yes, he is way over-the-top and just mugging for the camera constantly, but I like Carrey’s body language in the role. The man was made to wear spandex and play a cartoonish villain. The character works for me. The story surrounding him is a mess though. Riddler’s big plan involves this “Box” he’s invented that creates 3D televisual images for the viewer, while sucking the intelligence out of them. How this affects Two-Face, and why them team up together is kinda questionable. I can go with it to a point, but Tommy Lee Jones continually ruins it for me because he looks like he’s over-compensating in the crazy department just to keep up with Carrey. Dumb move. Jones would never be able to equal Carrey – he should have gone a totally different direction with the character. Anything would have been better from the constant screeching and cackling he employs here.
I guess the movie served its purpose. For those who disliked the darkness of Batman Returns, Forever offered a brightly lit, cheerful family film with plenty of toy tie-in opportunities, and it returned Batman to the top of the box office charts. Another sequel was inevitable. As far as Warner Bros. was concerned, the franchise was back on track at this point. Kilmer would eventually exit, giving a one-and-done performance as Bruce/Batman, but no harm, no foul. The loss of Kilmer is the least of Batman & Robin’s problems. Without Jim Carrey to distract the viewer from some of the more hideous choices made by Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman here, there was nowhere to go but down.
NEXT UP: BATMAN & ROBIN….