Val Kilmer as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Chris O’donnell as Robin/Dick Grayson
Jim Carrey as The Riddler/Edward Nygma
Tommy Lee Jones as Two-face/Harvey Dent
Nicole Kidman as Chase Meridian
Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth
Pat Hingle as Commisioner Gordon
Batman Forever is a movie I have mixed feelings about. Which puts me in the minority because most people seem to either love it or hate it. It was quite a success at the box office (makes since because it seemed that everyone went to see it) yet comic fans have a generally negative view of it. Those who are all about movies tend to enjoy it. Because while it may be a bit lacking in the true Batman flavor, it is well-polished as a generic superhero movie.
The reason the series, of which this is the third entry, changed so much with this movie has to do with the crew change. Batman Returns was targeted by parents’ groups for violence and mean-spiritedness, especially because of The Penguin’s gruesome death in that movie. Say what you want. Children have always been a portion of this genre’s audience. According to interviews on the Returns DVD, director Tim Burton left of his own volition when he got a sense that that Warner Bros. didn’t want him to do Forever. Joel Schumacher got the job and he had his own vision.
First of all, the sets are fundamentally different from the two movies before this one. Not overly so in the daytime, but by night, everything is all lit up like Las Vegas. This is a very annoying excess.
But look isn’t everything. What about performances? Val Kilmer is arguably the best Batman with his intimating but not over-the-top performance and convincing physique. Every other live-action Batman (including Christian Bale) has failed on one of these counts. As Bruce Wayne, though, he’s too much like a generic businessman and not someone posing as a clumsy playboy to preserve his secret identity. Jim Carrey makes a very good psychotic villain and Chris O’donnell plays an OK Robin. Nicole Kidman makes a very interesting love interest for Batman. Somewhat similar to Kim Basinger’s character in the original, Kidman’s Chase character, a psychologist. adds some insight into Batman’s rather freaky lifestyle. And her performance is strong. As always, Michael Gough makes a great Alfred.
Here’s the worst of them all. Tommy Lee Jones is usually a great actor. I recently saw Lincoln and thought he came off exactly as a somewhat reluctant slavery abolitionist would’ve been, for example. But this movie portrays his Two-face character as a Joker clone. with a serious/clowning switch. In the comics, he’s a tragic villain with a good personality and a bad one. Though this is writer Akiva Goldsman’s fault, I have read the comic recreation of this movie and it doesn’t have Two-Face laughing maniacally or dancing jigs. Nor does the dialogue really call for these acts. So that’s on Jones.
Two-Face is the lesser villain anyway. The movie begins with a battle between him and Batman. And his backstory is told in a few seconds. The Riddler is the prime threat here. He has a very weak backstory in which his former indentity, Edward Nygma, loses his mind just because Bruce refuses to fund his project. At least his intellectual obsession with outwitting Bruce before killing him provides a good explanation of why he sends out riddles. And Carrey’s tremendous comic timing helps make up for Jones’ atypically lousy performance.
I have kinder things to say about how the heroes are used. Batman’s origin is revisited with the revelation that killing the Joker years ago gave him no peace. Meanwhile, he feels a kinship to teenage circus performer Dick Grayson because his family was killed by Two-Face and takes him in. When Dick learns Bruce’s secret, he wants in. Bruce refuses, warning Dick that revenge doesn’t make things any easier. In the end, Bruce relents and Robin is born.
Chase Meridian is named that because she chases Batman. She finds him both attractive and wrong, comparing him to a college boy in a leather jacket. Even though the love interest angle is getting cliche at this point, this is well-executed.
One thing Schumacher does better — much better in fact — than Burton is action. Whereas Burton’s Batman movies had slow-paced brawling, Schumacher shows quick fighting with great choreography.
But while the plot is acceptable, it borderlines on camp (to be fair, I’ve noted before that Burton’s movies had big plot holes). How does the Riddler’s island fortress magically appear? How is Batman able to jump from any height? What about the Batmabile driving up walls?
Watching the deleted scenes on the DVD, I wonder if too much was cut. Some of them aren’t just a little extra but actually would’ve fit in just fine with a little tweaking.
All in all, a very mixed bag. Some good, some bad. I wish Schumacher had gotten rid of what held this movie back instead of what worked.
Which reminds me. I am soooo not looking forward to Batman and Robin, which sits on my shelf, awaiting review. Ugh.
Overall: 6 out of 10