PG Cooper: Batman Forever Review

Posted: July 8, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Retrospectives

*Disclaimer: Review contains SPOILERS!!!

Release date: June 16th, 1995

Running time: 2 hours and 2 minutes

Written by: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler, and Akiva Goldsman

Based on: The character Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Starring: Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, and Tommy Lee Jones

In spite of Batman Returns’ financial success, Warner Bros. was disappointed with the film’s box-office, and thus decided to take a franchise in a lighter, more kid friendly root. So Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were out, and so was the darkness from the previous films. In their place, we had Joel Schumacher directing, and Val Kilmer in the Batsuit. The darkness and drama of before was replaced with kid friendly adventure and colourful sets. The end result was Batman Forever, a film that received mixed reviews from critics, but was a box office success that managed to out-gross its predecessor (though it did not out gross Tim Burton’s first film).

The film features two villains; Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), a former district attorney with half his face burned, obsessed with duality and killing Batman, and The Riddler (Jim Carrey), a deranged genius obsessed with his inventions and bringing down his former idol, Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer). Naturally, it’s up to Batman to stop them, but the Dark Knight has been struggling with his demons, for which he is aided by doctor/love interest Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman). Adding to Bruce’s stress is his new young ward Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell). Dick’s parents were killed by Two-Face, and now he seeks vengeance.

The most prominent thing one will notice when watching Batman Forever is that almost every element has been changed, whether that element be big or small. For example, the entire look and style of the series has been changed. What once was dark and gothic is now bright and colourful. Half the time it feels like I’m watching a neon light show. Visually speaking, it’s hard to believe this is suppose to take place in the same world as Tim Burton’s gothic films. I hate this new look; I don’t think it fits Batman at all and I feel it’s an insult to what Burton and the art and production teams accomplished with Batman and Batman Returns. Then there are smaller changes which just make me scratch my head. For example, the Batsuit has been changed. I don’t know why, the Batsuit in the previous films rocked. Was adding nipples to it really necessary? I also don’t get why they changed the Batmobile. The Batmobile in the first two films was awesome. Another big omission is Danny Elfman no longer doing the score, instead being replaced by Elliot Goldenthal. Now, Goldenthal is a talented composer, and his work on Batman Forever is serviceable, but it feels like it’s trying to be like Elfman’s score and it doesn’t even come close.

One thing that Batman Forever does try to retain from Burton’s previous films is the psychological examination of Bruce/Batman. In Forever, Bruce is struggling with his life as Batman as he feels revenge has taken over his life. He feels empty, unfulfilled, and alone. These are elements which had been building throughout Batman and Batman Returns. While I found these ideas very interesting, I ultimately find the execution in Forever leaves a lot to be desired. For one, Schumacher does not seem to have what it takes to bring these ideas to the screen effectively. But perhaps worse is the fact that such serious analysis is put in contrast with the rest of the film’s goofy antiques. It’s hard to take Bruce’s inner demons very seriously when the very next scene has Jim Carrey in green spandex grabbing his crouch. Ultimately, while the idea of concluding Batman’s psychological analysis is interesting, seeing it in Forever just makes me wish the material was handled by Tim Burton. Not that his Batman films were perfect, but even at their worst moments they were always interesting. I’m actually fascinated by what Burton could have done if he’d directed the third film.

As much as the complete change in tone and style pisses me off, I’m even more angered by the treatment of the villains. For some reason, the film focuses estensively on Riddler’s origin, despite Two-Face having a far more interesting back story, but that’s the least of its crimes. What angers me more is the way Riddler is portrayed has a goofy, giggling, maniac. Now, that’s similar to how Frank Gorshin played him, but while that worked in Batman, it doesn’t work here for three main reasons. First, Batman was complete camp and goofiness, so that kind of silliness works. But the audience is suppose to take Batman Forever, at least some what, seriously. Second, Frank Gorshin played The Riddler so perfectly that the goofiness was accepted. Third, Jim Carrey was a terrible choice to play The Riddler. Granted, you might say Carrey’s goofiness was perfect for the role given how often he plays those types of characters, but that’s exactly why Carrey is the wrong choice. In the 90s, Carrey made a huge name for himself by playing exaggerated comedy goof balls. So when he plays The Riddler the same way he played almost all of his characters in the 90s, it does not feel like watching a character. It just feels like watching Jim Carrey being Jim Carrey. As much as I enjoy watching Jim Carrey play those types of parts in films like Ace Ventura or The Mask, I expect more when he plays a major member of the Batman rogue gallery like The Riddler.

Even worse is Tommy Lee Jones performance as Two-Face. Now, I’m a Tommy Lee Jones fan, but his performance as Two-Face is one of the worst comic book villains in films ever. The problem is that this version of Two-Face completely misses the point of the character. Two-Face is supposed to be a tragic figure, someone who had noble intentions but was transformed into a monster. His obsession with chance stems from his thinking that what happened to make him a monster was a freak accident. Because of this, he feels there is no true justice in the world, that everything is random. His obsession with duality comes from the struggle between his “good” half and his “bad half”. He’s also someone who Batman himself has sympathy for, someone Batman wants to save. For while Batman does recognize that Two-Face is an enemy, he also acknowledges Harvey is a victim. Almost all these traits are completely absent from his portrayal in Batman Forever. Instead of being a lonely and tragic figure, Two-Face is reduced to being a one-dimensional laughing maniac. Gone is any sense of humanity or sympathy, instead Batman Forever presents a bland Joker rip-off. His obsession with chance and duality is still there, but it feels more like a gimmick rather than something born out of a demented mind. The thing that burns me the most is that Two-Face is easily one of my favourite characters in Batman lore and to see him treated so poorly just makes me sad. To get a true understanding of just how badly Batman Forever fucked up, watch it, then watch the Batman: The Animated Series two-parter “Two-Face” immediately after.

Some will remember my list of ten underrated performances, where I claimed Val Kilmer’s performance in Batman Forever is unfairly criticized. I stand by this. I don’t think Kilmer delivers a great performance or anything, but I feel he actually does an okay job with the material he’s given. Kilmer is clearly trying with the role and of all the main actors in Forever, he delivers the strongest performance. I realize that isn’t high praise, but still. Kilmer draws a fine line between Bruce and Batman, and you can also tell he’s doing his best to emulate what Keaton did. Is he as good as Michael Keaton was? Of course not, not even close, but I appreciate the effort that was put in. One of my many problems with Batman Forever is that it does not feel like a continuation of Batman and Batman Returns. At least Kilmer’s performance feels like a continuation of Keaton’s work, even if it’s overall inferior. The rest of the cast isn’t really noteworthy. Nicole Kidman’s Chase is a bland character involved in a boring and unconvincing love story. Chris O’Donnell plays Dick Grayson/Robin. O’Donnell is fine in the part, but the writing makes the character come off kind of annoying. Not to mention how strange it is that Bruce Wayne essentially adopts a twenty-some year old man. I’m not saying I wanted a little kid Robin out on the street in a live-action film, but making him a full grown man feels really weird.

Apart from the big problems I’ve discussed, Forever is plagued by smaller issues as well. The production values are not up to snuff with the previous films, with a lot of effects looking very fake. The action scenes are also not up to previous films. Not that the Burton films ever excelled at action, they certainly didn’t, but at least in those films the action scenes had a certain excitement. Here, everything is so cartoony that it’s hard to take seriously. There’s also a lot of small plot holes scattered throughout. These holes may be small in comparison to the films more prominent flaws, but they’re worth acknowledging all the same.

There are some things I like about Batman Forever. Kilmer, O’Donnell, and Gough (Alfred) give decent performances, and there’s a scene I like where Batman tries to reveal his identity to save lives but is unsuccessful. But ultimately, these few small things are lost in the sea of piss that is Batman Forever. The fact that they completely changed almost everything great about the Burton films is bad enough, but the horrid treatment of The Riddler and especially of Two-Face brings Batman Forever into new levels of awful. At the time of its release, Batman Forever was by far the worst Batman film ever made. But it would not hold this title for long.

Rating: F

  1. brikhaus says:

    Totally agree with you. This is by far the worst Batman movie of all time. The bat-nipples, Jim Carrey, the neon light show, “Holy Rusted Metal Batman” etc etc. Complete and utter garbage. Hollywood should be ashamed of themselves. I also agree that Val Kilmer got a bad rap in the role. He was probably the only actor in the role (until Bale) that could believably beat someone else up.

  2. Hmm… I remember sort of liking this when it came out, but not thinking it was all that great. I didn’t hate it though… it’s certainly nowhere near as bile-inducing as Batman Returns for me. Though I certainly can’t argue any of the points you make… it did go way too far in the other direction from the grim-dark aspect of Burton’s Batman, and the villains were off. Jim Carrey, in 1995, was not a skilled enough actor to play the Riddler (and what’s with the dyed hair, anyway? The Riddler always had brown hair in the comics.) Jim Carrey today might be able to pull it off under the right director.

  3. rochpikey says:

    I thought this was a little better than an F rating. I liked Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face even if he is not the same Two-Face of the comics. Jones brought his fast talking element to the role which i kind of liked given the characters irrationality and decision making skills being reliant on a flip of a coin. I also liked Kilmer as Batman, not the best but still was good. But yeah Carrey was a tad over the top. I always think of that Clint Eastwood quote about him when filming “The Dead Pool”: “Maybe we should just turn the cameras on and let him go.” I think that was the film makers plan when they shot this. Just let him go off an select snippets to assemble the scenes he was in. Good write up!

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