After Tim Burton’s Batman Returns drew a mixed reception among audiences, Warner Brothers decided to go for a more family-friendly route with the Caped Crusader. Hiring director Joel Schumacher and demoting Burton to the role of producer, things were taking a fresh turn. The cast also underwent significant changes: Michael Keaton was replaced by Val Kilmer as Batman and gone was the dark tone of the first two Batman films.
Two-Face (played by Tommy Lee-Jones) and his gang attempt to rob a bank, but are stopped by Batman and Two-Face escapes after a climactic chase across Gotham. Meanwhile, Edward Nygma (played by Jim Carrey), an employee at Wayne Enterprises, develops a machine that can read people’s minds. He meets with Bruce Wayne and pitches his idea to him, hoping he would accept. Bruce rejects Nygma’s idea, causing Nygma to kill his boss and assume the identity of The Riddler. Together, The Riddler and Two-Face work alongside each other to bring Batman down.
To start off, I truly think that this isn’t a bad movie. I think it had a lot of potential to be a good Batman film. Out of all the old Batman films, Batman Forever is the only one that goes into the details of Bruce Wayne’s early life. I actually enjoyed the scenes where Bruce tells Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridian about both his reasons for fighting crime and what inspired him to take on the alter ego. I also enjoyed Jim Carrey’s Riddler. He was thoroughly entertaining, even though it was just Jim Carrey bringing his energy from both Ace Ventura and The Mask. His extreme and contorted facial expressions further benefit his performance.
Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne is clever casting. At a glance, he might not stand out as much compared to Michael Keaton, but Kilmer in my opinion not only looked better in the Batsuit, he also brought a more sensitive and sophisticated take on the character. With regards to Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson, while he is older than the Dick from the comics, I think it was necessary to make it more believable that he could act as Batman’s sidekick. I really liked Chris’s performance as the Boy Wonder and thought that he did a wonderful job conveying Dick’s anger at the loss of his parents. One thing both Joel Schumacher Batman films contain exquisite and breathtaking set designs. Gotham City looks like an almost cyberpunk-inspired megacity, with a variety of colored lights. While I didn’t like the design of the Batsuit, it could’ve looked a lot worse (looking at you, Batman and Robin).
However, what brought the film down a couple notches is that it tried to balance its serious storytelling with campy scenes, mostly involving Two-Face. Tommy Lee-Jones is a fine actor, but he made the mistake of bringing more manic energy to the role, something Jim Carrey already did with The Riddler. By the way, I also didn’t see a point in Dr. Chase Meridian. She was introduced as a character to analyze Batman’s psychological state and is established as a strong, independent woman. However, in almost every scene she’s either thirsty as hell for Batman, or gets captured and tied up. She even goes as far as to light up the Batsignal to hit on the Caped Crusader and even partially strips for him. I thought this was supposed to be family friendly?
The film’s tone is a mess, switching from austere and haunting, to campy and dated, to romantic and even a bit fetishistic. One scene shows Batman having a serious conversation with Dick or Chase, but the following scene is made to cater to kids. All the while, sexual innuendos are sprinkled throughout the film. Again, I have no idea what was going on in Warner Brothers’ minds when they planned this movie out.
Batman Forever could’ve been one of the best Batman movies ever. However, due to an inconsistent tone, questionable character choices, and a radical shift in tone, the film was unable to live up to its full potential. While my opinion on Batman Forever has changed over the years, I still don’t think it’s a great film. However, it isn’t as bad of a film as many chalk it up to be. Joel Schumacher is capable of directing great movies and it’s wrong to blame him for the film’s failure. I say that as a personal apology to him, as I was one of these people who vilified him. Additionally, it’s also a shame that Val Kilmer never donned the cowl again, I thought he did a great job as the Caped Crusader. In several ways, this film feels like a prototype of Batman Begins. However, it would take another ten years for Warner Brothers to once again go the dark and serious route.