This week sees the premiere of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and despite my worry, I can’t help but be excited—I’ve been obsessed with the Dark Knight since I was a kid. Batman toys were everywhere thanks to the two Tim Burton movies, and Batman: The Animated Series began airing right around then too. But for me, the peak Batmanning came in 1995 with the release of the third film in the series, a confluence of everything my 11-year-old brain loved at that exact moment. In truth, I still kind of love it. Joel Schumacher‘s Batman Forever will always be MY Batman movie.
Holy long trailer, Batman! This is basically three and a half minutes of footage from every scene in the movie. Curiously, though, it uses almost entirely different takes. Why do I know this for sure? Because pretty much every frame of Batman Forever is seared onto my subconscious from endless re-watches on VHS—I’m pretty sure we wore out the tape. This was the first movie I ever paid for myself, accompanied by my aunt and uncle; this soundtrack was the very first CD I ever owned and I listened to it non-stop (even though what I really wanted was the score). I had posters, the novelization, I was even Two-Face for Halloween that year—only because my little brother got to be the Riddler. This was everything to me for about a two year span.
And because of that, I’ll never fully dislike this movie, even though it’s not the best. It’s certainly nowhere near as bad as the dreck that is Batman & Robin, nor is it as good as the first two Nolan movies or the first Burton film. But, having watched it recently, I’d actually contend it’s a better movie than a lot of us snooty critic types might give it credit for. If you move away all the campy performances, the bright day-glow scenery, and super weird CGI, you actually have a pretty solid story. It’s there, I promise you! But the script is no worse than either 1989’s Batman or 1992’s Batman Returns.
At the beginning of the movie, we find Batman (Val Kilmer) foiling a terrorist plot by Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones). Batman has drawn the attention of a psychiatrist, Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) and she’s not shy about wanting to get inside of the rubber suit. “Try firemen,” Batman counters, “less to take off.” At the same time, a scientist working at Wayne Enterprise’s R&D lab, Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey), has developed a device that beams television signals right into the human brain. When Bruce Wayne says the device is nowhere near ready for use, Nygma goes a bit insane, kills his supervisor, and plots a way to take out Wayne at his own game by becoming the Riddler and seeking out Two-Face for assistance.
Nygma promises Harvey that they will use the Box technology to discover “the mother of all riddles”: who is Batman? Soon, Nygma has used the capital from stolen goods to reinvent himself in the Bruce Wayne model and markets the Box to every home in Gotham City, from which they can actually extract information from the users’ heads as they input the TV signal. All of Gotham’s dirty little secrets with be his! But the Riddler isn’t content to just have it all—he wants to beat Bruce Wayne. And Two-Face wants to destroy Batman. And Chase wants to sleep with Batman and not Bruce, but then starts to fall for Bruce and rebukes Batman. It’s a sticky wicket.
And as if THAT weren’t enough, Bruce witnesses the murder of a circus act by Two-Face and his men, leaving the youngest Flying Grayson—Dick (Chris O’Donnell), who’s actually way too old to be playing this part—without a home. Sensing a kindred spirit, Bruce takes in the grown adult/kid and Dick quickly discovers Bruce’s secret and takes the Batmobile for a ride. He wants revenge on Two-Face and eventually becomes Robin in order to help Batman stop the pair of criminals. But can Bruce Wayne and Batman ever truly co-exist? Can he in fact be Batman…forever?
So, when I describe the plot of the movie, it sounds pretty good, right? The story and first version of the screenplay were written by Lee Batchler and Janet Scott Batchler. I’d love to read their initial version. This is the only Batman movie where the world’s greatest detective actually does detective work, after all.
All the foibles of the movie actually fall at the feet of Schumacher and the next screenwriter brought in, Akiva Goldsman, who—despite having won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind—doesn’t have the most stellar track record. Let’s just run through some of the things he’s written: Batman & Robin, Lost in Space, The Da Vinci Code, I Am Legend (he missed that book’s whole message), Angels & Demons, Winter’s Tale, Insurgent, The 5th Wave, and is slated to work on four of the next Transformers movies. He’s writing The Dark Tower, too, and I shudder to think what it’ll be like.
However, when I say Schumacher deserves some of the blame, it’s mostly because of his “let’s go campy” mentality which got bumped up to eleventy-stupid for Batman & Robin. Yes, the Bat-nipples are ridiculous, and yes a lot of the cast’s direction goes way over the top. (“I can never tell!”) But I actually think a lot of the action is really well handled, and he certainly added a real visual style to the movie that set it completely apart from Tim Burton’s intensely bleak and somber color palette. It’s a movie stuck completely in the ’90s visually, but one that cannot be ignored when you watch it. The movie insists upon itself but in a good way.
And I actually think the cast do a really great job. Kilmer, despite being apparently a nightmare to work with, is a really solid Batman and Bruce Wayne. He carries the movie really well through his pursed lips and constant scowl. Carrey and Jones seem to play off each other wonderfully, each trying to out-chew the scenery of the other. O’Donnell, as I said, is way too old to be playing Dick Grayson (even if they’re saying he’s a college student), but he’s pretty good. Kidman delivers the one-liners her character has to deliver with aplomb and you somewhat buy the absurd way she throws herself at Batman and then the way she backs away. 11-year-old Kyle was a big fan of hers.
So, 21 years later, do I think Batman Forever is a good movie? Probably not, but in its own bonkers fever dream way, it’s kind of a great movie and one I still love and enjoy, even if I wince at some of the lines or the weird plot holes or some of the line readings. It’s a Batman movie where people are having fun, and with six of the eight movies being all about dour poo-facedness, maybe the Caped Crusaders having fun once in a while isn’t a bad thing.
Let me know your memories of Batman Forever in the comments below!
Images: Warner Bros