Should I Watch..? 'Batman Forever'
What's the big deal?
Batman Forever is an action superhero film released in 1995 and is the third instalment of the original Batman series. The film sees Bruce Wayne return to his crime-fighting alter-ego to battle the combined forces of Two Face and The Riddler while orphaned circus performer Dick Grayson gets a little too close to uncovering Bruce's secret identity. The film marked the departure of previous director Tim Burton and former lead actor Michael Keaton which coincided with a noticeable shift in tone towards the more colourful and camp interpretation of the sixties TV show. The film stars Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman and Chris O'Donnell and was directed by Joel Schumacher. Despite a more mixed reaction from critics, the film was still a success at the box office with global earnings of more than $336 million. This financial success would see Schumacher return for the fourth and final film in the series, the much derided Batman & Robin in 1997.
What's it about?
Former District Attorney Harvey Dent, now horribly scarred and known as Two Face, is conducting a wave of criminal activity in Gotham which is being countered by the efforts of Batman - the crime-fighting vigilante who is actually the CEO of Wayne Enterprises, Bruce Wayne. At Wayne Enterprises, science researcher Edward Nygma unveils his latest invention to Wayne but Wayne dismisses the creation, believing it capable of ultimately controlling people's minds. Obsessed with Wayne, Nygma resigns from Wayne Enterprises and begins plotting his villainous revenge.
Meanwhile, Wayne escorts beautiful psychiatrist Chase Meridian on a date to the circus where the Flying Graysons are performing. Sadly, Two Face and his cohorts strike and nearly succeed in killing every last Grayson, the sole survivor being young Dick Grayson. Taking Dick under his care, Bruce sees the desire for revenge burning in him but refuses to allow Dick to pursue Two Face. And across town, Two Face finds himself with a new partner - Nymga's new identity, the Riddler...
Bruce Wayne / Batman
Tommy Lee Jones
Harvey Dent / Two Face
Edward Nygma / The Riddler
Dr Chase Meridian
Dick Grayson / Robin
Commissioner James Gordon
Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler & Akiva Goldsman *
Release Date (UK)
14th July, 1995
Action, Fantasy, Superhero
Academy Award Nominations
Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing
Worst Original Song ("Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me")
What's to like?
Anyone who thought that Burton's previous film Batman Returns was too dark will be delighted to find some colour injected into the franchise. Schumacher deliberately created a version that went against Burton's excessively Gothic vision to appeal to a more family-friendly audience and sure enough, he did it. Compared to the two previous films, Batman Forever is positively awash with energy, colour and life - take the character of Two Face as an example, one side of him hideously disfigured but displayed more lurid shades and patterns than a night on magic mushrooms would cause.
The film throws a lot of new ideas into the mix including the long-awaited arrival of Robin in the form of baby-faced O'Donnell. Kidman's amorous analyst could also have been interesting but the film doesn't know what to do with her or her effect on Bruce so she's sadly reduced to a classic damsel-in-distress. The Batmobile also has a makeover and in many ways, this almost feels like a reboot which is a pity because I actually enjoyed the darker version of the character. Batman is unusual in that he can appeal to both adults and children depending on the desired audience and I don't think Schumacher should be pilloried for making a film for a younger audience.
- Keaton was scheduled to appear as Batman but dropped out when he learnt Schumacher would be directing. Keaton knew the project wasn't for him when Schumacher apparently said "Why does everything have to be so dark?"
- Billy Dee Williams, who played Dent in Batman, was also scheduled to appear in any sequels as the character according to his contract. Warner Bros. then decided to buy him out in order to cast Jones in the role instead.
- The film saw a couple of serious personality clashes off-screen. Kilmer and Schumacher fell out with Schumacher calling him "childish and impossible", forcing him to recast the role for Batman & Robin. Carrey and Jones also did not get along after Jones said that he hated Carrey and his films.
What's not to like?
What Schumacher can be pilloried for is a veritable flood of bad decisions. Kilmer and Jones are horrifically miscast as Wayne and Two Face, Jones especially getting the role spectacularly wrong. Carrey is also too comedic to be threatening as the Riddler, meaning that the movie contains little in the way of excitement or danger which makes it pretty boring. Kidman is underutilised as Meridian and O'Donnell's tragic attempts at being hip are simply embarrassing. Note that it was this film - not Batman & Robin - that first featured nipples on the costumes and close-ups of codpieces.
The story makes very little sense and is completely unmemorable and the film's overall tone clashes too greatly with Burton's previously established atmosphere. Although officially a sequel, this feels more of a unacknowledged reboot for the franchise and to those who were fans of the first two films, this is a massive shock to the system. The final straw came after Schumacher conceived a scene of the new-look Batmobile driving up a wall during a chase sequence. From this point on, the series was nothing more than a live-action cartoon and call me picky but I expected much more than this from a movie.
Should I watch it?
Today, Batman Forever looks increasingly frail and forgettable thanks to Christopher Nolan's fantastic work with the character. Yes, the film is more accessible for younger viewers but hardcore fans of the Batman will be put off by the cartoony antics, extreme uses of colour and the dearth of quality performances from any member of the cast. Unfortunately, the series still hadn't quite fallen as far as it could...
Great For: younger viewers, fans of the Sixties TV show, testing colour-blindness
Not So Great For: older fans of the character, fans of the first two movies, on-set comradery, Batman
What else should I watch?
If watching Batman Forever reduced you to tears at the demise of the character then please stay away from Batman & Robin because you will possibly hurt yourself with something sharp. George Clooney's calamitous appearance as Bruce Wayne was hampered by a goofy Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze, a less-than-charismatic Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and the worst possible Bane you can imagine. Trust me, Tom Hardy in the role looks like Laurence Olivier compared to professional wrestler Jeep Swenson.
Speaking of which, most fans of Batman will tell you that you only really need to bother with Christopher Nolan's imperious trilogy. Batman Begins offers a look at Bruce Wayne's transformation into Batman via a genuinely terrifying encounter with Scarecrow while The Dark Knight Rises sees Bruce taking on Bane in a battle for the hearts and minds of Gotham's residents. But it's The Dark Knight that remains possibly the best superhero film of all time, a darker and more cerebral superhero film than Marvel's Avengers Assemble but no less enjoyable because of it plus it also has Heath Ledger's now-iconic performance as the Joker.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox