Title: Batman Forever
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writers: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler, Akiva Goldsman (Based on characters created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane)
Distributed By: Warner Bros.
Starring: Val Kilmer, Chris O’Donnell, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar
Release Date: June 16, 1995
It’s time for another installment of Movie Mondays, folks! Last week, we took a look back at Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster hit Batman. Former Comic Attack writer, The Movie Lady, covered Batman Returns a while back, so take a look at her write-up when you’re done checking out this review. Following that film, there was considerable backlash from parents as well as the studio itself, claiming that Batman Returns was too dark and not kid-friendly enough, so the plan was to make a lighter, brighter, friendlier Batman film (I hate where this is going). Needless to say, we got Batman Forever.
When the 1989 film was first announced, fans were worried because the star and director were only really known for odd-ball comedic outings. With Batman Forever, fans got director Joel Schumacher, known for St. Elmo’s Fire, Falling Down, and The Client. They also got Val Kilmer who had recently played Jim Morrison in The Doors and Doc Holiday in Tombstone, as Batman. So, in a shocking reversal of expectations, fans this time around had no reason to expect a comedic, campy film and every reason to expect a dark, dramatic film. Expecting the latter, fans got the former.
One could go on and on pointing fingers, placing blame, and many fans do. One could lead an entire seminar about the evils of greedy, misguided studio interference. Many fans wrongly blame Schumacher for this films failings, but the real blame should be placed on the studio. Originally, Joel Schumacher set out to make a dark, grandiose origin story for Batman, and Warner Bros. essentially said: “no dark prequels, only happy sequels”. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at the results.
Starting with the positive aspects of the film: the heroes’ costumes are all pretty fabulous, Robin starting out in a spandex nod to the comics and eventually upgrading to the leather/rubber look of the films. Batman is wearing a more muscular update of the costume he sported in the last two films. The suit allows for more active fighting this time around, and the cape flows with just the right amount of heft. Many people have complained about the inclusion of nipples on the sculpted armor, but taking into account that comic book heroes are the modern era’s equivalent of Greco-Roman heroes of old, and their costumes in the comics look like a second skin, this reviewer has absolutely no problem with them whatsoever.
The actors all do a fine job with the roles they’re given, for the most part, and strike a nice balance between simply entertaining the audience as well as engaging them. Val Kilmer for some reason opts to give Bruce Wayne a lisp (a tactic adopted by later Batman actor Christian Bale for Batman Begins), but that’s the only thing this critic can fault him for. In the few remaining dark segments of the film that the studio didn’t cut, Kilmer nails the role. Grieving over the loss of his own parents, and now for the loss of his sidekick’s parents as well, he’s haunted by suppressed memories and nightmares and blames himself for the death of Robin’s family. The scenes where he confides in Alfred and his new love-interest are among the best moments in the film. The inclusion of flashbacks as a way of delving into Bruce’s tortured psyche is utilized wonderfully in this film.
Another standout performance comes from Chris O’Donnell as Robin who really captures the youthful rebellion and angst of someone in his unique situation. Of course, Michael Gough is charming as ever as Alfred, full of that dry wit one would expect from the character, and still providing a few perfectly sincere moments of compassion for his figurative son Batman, and his new charge Robin.
The characters of Sugar (Drew Barrymore) and Spice (Debi Mazar), Two-Face’s henchwomen, are not based on any comic character, and therefore unnecessary, but they’re sexy and entertaining, so they add to the film in that regard, and it’s fun seeing Barrymore and Mazar strut around in scantily-clad get-ups. Also, apparently the studio found them “too sexy” for a family friendly film, changing their original names of Leather and Lace to Spice and Sugar.
Before addressing the negative aspects of the film, let’s address the few parts that fall right in the middle. For about half of his time on screen, Jim Carrey provides an entertaining homage to Frank Gorshin’s manic portrayal of The Riddler from the 1960s TV Show and Movie. We’ll tackle the rest of his performance later. The design for this movie is pure eye-candy. The Batwing and Batsub look spectacular.
Another point of praise for an otherwise awful performance is for Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones). In his introductory scene where he pontificates on the equalizer of chance, he delivers lines with such authenticity that he’s actually scary. Lines like;
“One man is born a hero, his brother a coward. Babies starve, politicians grow fat. Holy men are martyred, and junkies grow legion. Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Luck! Blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck!” It’s a wonderful scene. And the only time we’re given an accurate portrayal of the character.
The rest of the time, Jones’ portrayal of Two-Face is a wacky, goofy, over the top parody of what should be a menacing, terrifying ball of psychosis. He’s basically playing a non-threatening version of The Joker. The final straw for this critic was the scene where Two-Face goes completely against character, by ignoring the outcome of his coin-toss repeatedly until he gets the result he wanted in the first place.
Earlier, Jim Carrey’s performance was mentioned as being only good for about half the time. The other half of the time, it’s just as crazed and ridiculous as his performances in Ace Ventura and The Mask. I swear, he offered a subtler and more nuanced performance in Dumb and Dumber. This leads us to the biggest grievance toward this film: the tone.
The tone of this film takes a drastic step backward from the dark nature of the previous installments, and goes more toward the campy side of things. Nothing is subtle in this film. It’s pure camp melodrama. Every single notion is spelled out for the viewer larger than life, because it’s supposed to be kid-friendly, even the adult (read: sexy for the sake of it) scenes which shouldn’t because it’s “kid-friendly”. Every thing about this film is ham-fisted and in your face. Now, things were pretty ham-fisted and obvious in this film’s predecessor, Batman Returns but that was tempered with a darker, somber tone.
The music lends a hand to the camp as well, as does the set design. The music is often bombastic and overdramatic. The sets are often noticeably fabricated or CGI, and littered with neon lights and overpowering color schemes. The two elements of the film work in tandem so that the visuals and the sound are equally loud and garish. This is unfortunate, because when composer Elliot Goldenthal shifts down a bit and provides more solemn musical cues full of strings, the musical storytelling is superb.
Another major gripe I have with this film is in regard to the character Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) in her entirety. Her sole purpose for being in the film is sex appeal. Considering having earlier praised the characters of Sugar and Spice for this same thing, this critic is all for sex appeal. However, when you’re the female lead and a major supporting character, one should do more than slink around pushing your breasts toward the screen and literally throwing yourself at the main character. From her first appearance in the film to her last, Chase generally just tries to get in Batman’s tight rubber pants. It’s mind-numbingly nauseating.
A minor criticism should be made in regard to the Batmobile. The car looks like a giant glow-stick from hell with wheels, in the shape of a frightening sandal designed by H.R. Geiger (creature design for Alien). The Batmobile, while pretty hideous, does however sport a long batwing down the middle, a nice nod to the ‘40s & ‘50s design. One last complaint must be leveled at the ears on Batman’s rubber suit. During much of the film, there isn’t a problem, but in the few instances of slow motion, you can see just how rubbery they are as they wobble to and fro atop his head.
As a film in general, Batman Forever is rather mediocre, with its best moments only serving to make the terrible parts all the more noticeable. As an adaptation of the source material it fairs no better. It earns a score of 6 out of 10.