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Batman Forever (1995)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

BATMAN FOREVER (1995)

Starring: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Chris O'Donnell, Nicole Kidman, Michael Gough

Written By: Akiva Goldsman, Lee Batchler (also story), Janet Scott Batchler (also story)

Directed By: Joel Schumacher

The Short Version

Tim Burton gives way to Joel Schumacher, and it shows.

There’s also a new Batman, and here comes Robin!

A more consistently present plot does not a better movie make.

The psychology is bad and the characters are flat.

Batman Forever is best enjoyed when played in the background with minimal attention paid to it.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEETOS.

“Look! My fingers are all day glo orange now!”


Pairs Well With...

WINE COOLERS.

At least a six pack of a mix and match sort, with the selections chosen based on how close to neon the colors are.

“Holy rusted metal, Batman!”


Tim Burton’s second Batman film, Batman Returns, was made using “the full Burton” approach of a dark, grotesque circus atmosphere.  Many people loved it, but there were also complaints that things had gotten too dark for The Dark Knight.  And so when it came time for the threequel and Tim Burton stepped down from the Director’s chair (though he remained a Producer), the opportunity was taken to go down a rather different road.  That road would be navigated by Joel Schumacher, and the results… well…

Take your pick as to whether Michael Keaton bowed out of the title role because he wanted more money than the studio was willing to offer or because he didn’t like the direction Schumacher wanted to take with the franchise; the truth probably lies somewhere in between.  In any case, Keaton’s depature allowed things be be changed even further, with an eye toward something more “hip,” with an eye toward that being synonymous with “younger.”  (Renee Russo was reportedly removed from consideration for a role for age reasons upon Michael Keaton’s departure.)  Alas for the generally held latter-day view of Batman Forever, “hip” has turned out to be “square.”

For my own part, I remember enjoying Batman Forever the first time around.  Sure, the main villains both got on my nerves a bit, even then, but I remember having fun anyway.  (I also remember very much enjoying the soundtrack, which quickly became a party staple.  It’s where I was first introduced to the group Massive Attack.)  This most recent turn, however, doesn’t sit nearly as well.  Time and an increased understanding of the stuff going on in the background has not done this movie any favors in my eyes.

Let’s break things down a bit, shall we?


Val Kilmer is Batman.  With Michael Keaton out of the picture, Top Gun’s Iceman got the nod as the Caped Crusader, and it’s reported that Mr. Kilmer’s performance ranked as Batman comic creator Bob Kane’s favorite of all.  I have yet to meet a single other person who agrees.  Though his performance isn’t bad, it’s far from inspired, and far from expressive.  Kilmer’s take on Bruce Wayne and the Bat is calculated, flat, and almost passionless, even when there’s high emotion to be expressed.  Physically, he draws no complaints (though he gets into relatively few scraps, and those he does participate in aren’t of the “high demand” variety), but overall?  Kilmer’s just “kinda there.”

Robin.  Fans of Gotham City crime fighting either love him or hate him; there really doesn’t seem to be any ground in between.  After being kept at bay for two films, Batman’s protégé finally arrives for Batman Forever, with the results often depending upon whether or not one thinks Chris O’Donnell (who was at least eight years older than his character is supposed to be at the time of filming) is hot.  If you did/do, then score.  If not…  If one is open minded about the character, O’Donnell really does do the best he can with what he’s given.  The angsty brat thing feels a bit overplayed (like bait for that “hip, young audience”), but overall, the actor’s all right, and if anything, he looks even better in a fight than Kilmer’s Batman.  And speaking of looking good…

Sex in the City.  Tim Burton got too creepy with the grotesque side of casual rape culture in Batman Returns.  Joel Schumacher has no interest in such monstrosity; he’s just out to make it all casually sexy.  (There is a huge difference.)  Way before Kilmer gets his close up latex ass shot, the camera spends an inordinate amount of time checking out Batman and Robin’s overstuffed codpieces, and the newly redesigned Batmobile is now ribbed for somebody’s pleasure.  There are also two henchladies (originally called Lace and Leather before being renamed as Sugar and Spice) whose primary function is very obviously to serve as eye candy under the bright lights and precious little else.  In this world, though, it’s hardly exceptional; nearly everyone untouched by acid in Batman Forever is played as a sex object, especially…

Chase.  Chase Meridian didn’t come from any comic book; she was the whole cloth creation of the writers of this film, and it’s obvious what they were after: a wannabe Bond girl for Batman.  Sure, they made her a Doctor, but that pop psychology she’s spewing isn’t just wrong: it’s dangerously wrong.  (Why dangerous?  Because for too many people, movies are the only way they pick up on ideas about mental health, and she’s doing no one any favors with her clinically incorrect crap.  But anyway.)  Not that the doc thing is more than window dressing and plot convenience, mind; from the very start, every non-pop psych word out of this character’s mouth is a come on, and she is very obviously thinking from a very wet spot between her legs.  (She hits on Batman the moment he drops into a crime scene, and later dresses up in lingerie to misuse the Bat Signal for a booty call invite… and that’s just the start.)  Nicole Kidman takes that notion and runs with it for all its worth, and given what the script asks of her, she succeeds wildly.  Just don’t try taking this character seriously as anything but an obvious sex fantasy, because if you do, you’ll find there’s just nothing there.

The Bad Guys.  Billy Dee Williams got a nice payday for being told he wasn’t being invited back to play Harvey Dent in his Two Face persona.  Personally, I think he got the best end of the deal.  Tommy Lee Jones is dreadfully miscast in a role that’s written as a cheap imitation of the Joker, and his take on Nicholson’s wackiness is almost painful to watch.  (It’s doesn’t help that the script gives him very little to do but whine about Batman’s persistence in avoiding death.)  Jim Carrey, meanwhile, brings his signature schtick to the character of The Riddler, and whether or not it works depends almost entirely upon whether or not one is a fan thereof.  To me, it’s obnoxious, and I just can’t go along with Carrey’s apparent belief that anything can be funny as long as it’s said loudly and with a distorted facial expression.  I didn’t like either of these villains the first time around, and I like them even less now.  (Did we even need two bad guys?)  But…

The Plot.  Whatever flaws it may have, at least the script for Batman Forever gives its largely one dimensional characters (each character is almost exclusively defined be a single signature emotional state; some pairs are allowed to share a shadow of a second) an actual plot to play with that shows up early and sticks around in plain view throughout.  Sure, the plot’s basic, but it is there, and that’s something new for this franchise.  Any subplots are ho-hum same-old same-old, save one: the oft revisited conversation between Chase and Bruce about being guarded from dreams.  Indeed, ham handed though the surrounding dialogue may be, that concept is the film’s most intriguing… right up until it’s tossed aside with a ridiculous throwaway gesture.  Oh, well…

Joel Schumacher.  After Burton’s angst, Schumacher just wanted to make Batman Forever fun and brightly colored and maybe a bit sexier, and I can’t fault him for the thoughts.  But I also can’t help but wonder if he was trying to recapture a little bit of Lost Boys cool along the way, and at that, he fails… as he does, sadly, with so much else about this film.  The flat characters, the dangerously awful pop psychobabble, the whiny villains…  Schumacher may have succeeded at making brightly colored background noise, but if one pays any kind of close attention to the reality of Batman Forever for more than a few minutes, it’s just not a good movie.  Not a good Batman movie, and not a good movie, period.  It’s a screensaver best enjoyed with the sound off.  (Listen to the cool soundtrack separately.)


Bottom line, I want to like Batman Forever, and I kinda did the first time (I’m pretty sure I bought into the Bond girl theory of Chase Meridian; hey, I’m human), but now, I just can’t.  Sure, it’s a step up from Tim Burton’s grotesque Batman Returns, but overall, Batman Forever just isn’t worth the time for anything other than the sick couch or as background noise that one will only be paying partial attention to.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2013


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