Home > Reviews > Awful Movie Review: “Batman Forever”

Awful Movie Review: “Batman Forever”

Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Produced by: Tim Burton, Peter MacGregor-Scott, Benjamin Melniker, Michael Uslan
Written by: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler, Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler (story)
Starring: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Year: 1995

 

You know what? This movie gets too much of a free pass. I get that, compared to its sequel, it’s almost competently plotted out, but this in no way implies that this is a good movie. Make no mistake about this: Batman Forever is one of the worst superhero films out there, and it even lacks much of the so-bad-it’s-good qualities that its more ridiculous sequel possesses, making this almost more unbearable  than that infamous stain of a film. To say that Batman Forever fails where its predecessors succeeded is to undermine the severity of the film’s existence. To put it simply, Batman Forever not only undid much of the goodwill gained by critics and audiences with the releases of Batman and Batman Returns, it very nearly laid the groundwork for the death of the genre as we know it.

From the moment the film starts, you know that Forever is a whole different animal than what came before. From the terribly boring, Windows 95 screensaver-esque neon credits sequence at the beginning to Alfred’s opening line fussing over giving Batman a sack lunch as he’s on his way out (“I’ll get drive-thru,” Batman mutters.), it’s very clear that if it weren’t for the fact that Michael Gough still plays Alfred and Tim Burton has taken on the role of producer, Batman Forever is tonally, aesthetically, and dramatically divorced from the prior two films, thanks in large part to the series’ new director, Joel Schumacher, and the always meddling corporate execs.

I sometimes feel as though Schumacher gets a bit more flack than he deserves for his contributions to the series, as this change of command (and the actor playing the Caped Crusader) wouldn’t have necessarily been such a big deal had the studio not chosen to aim so “family-friendly” in tone (and, really, with the erotic overtones and sure-to-inspire-fits toy hawking going on, how is this really a “family-friendly” film anyway?). While the previous two films were not without their ridiculous qualities, they still veiled this nicely with a serious treatment of the subject matter and a thoughtful contemplation of what these characters signified and how they related to one another. This film, on the other hand, is almost insulting in its aim to show how ridiculous it all is, a definite harkening back to the days of Adam West and Burt Ward without the cleverness than it is to The Dark Knight Returns.

Forever does attempt to add some psychological complexity to the proceedings — the honestly fairly interesting addition of abnormal psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) to the proceedings seems to be one of the more inspired choices. Chase is the Batman twist on Lois Lane, a woman who finds herself unwittingly coming between her infatuation with the man in the costume and the man who’s merely putting up a facade, not knowing that they’re one in the same. Unlike Lois, Chase seems to take a “takes one to know one” approach to her psychology, as you kind of get the feeling that she knows she’s a bit twisted in her tastes in men. Actually, come to think of it, she definitely knows, as she hijacks the Batsignal with her own ulterior … *ahem* motives behind doing so. As a character who exists solely in this film alone, Kidman makes a strong impression as Chase, playing the character as someone who is equal parts intelligent and brazen in her whims, all without being a repeat of the Catwoman or Vicki Vale characters of the previous films. It’s just too bad that she’s basically wasted in a dud of a film.

Speaking of duds, can we talk about Val Kilmer for a second? Here’s the thing about Kilmer in this film: The man was apparently thrilled to be joining the project and did so without having read the script. From that, it seems pretty obvious that he really wanted to do this, but something must have happened on the way from his trailer every day he was on set because he’s the most detached actor in this film. Apparently he didn’t get along with Tommy Lee Jones and Schumacher himself. Which may explain why his Bruce is a dull, charmless mope and his Batman a philosophizing stick-in-the-mud. It’s part of the script, obviously, but delivery can mean a world of difference.

With Keaton, you had a Bruce Wayne who hid his madness in agony, who struggled futilely for normality in his relationships despite knowing that this would be impossible but hoping he was wrong. With Kilmer, we have a Bruce Wayne who’s really just kinda sad all the time and likely continues to pursue the Batman thing because of the positive attention it gives him — he even gives Commissioner Gordon the thumbs up as he flies past the cheering old man, which really comes off as a “Look at me, Dad!” moment in the goofiest way possible. Val’s take on the character is not a man I want to know more about, and it’s hard to feel for the guy as he begins to share more and more of his past with Chase and new partner, Robin.

Robin is actually one place where I didn’t mind too much of what they did with him. Having not appeared in a film since The Batman, where he was portrayed by Burt Ward, Robin had been part of early drafts of the scripts for the last two films before he was unceremoniously dropped. With the more “family-friendly” tone they were going for here, Robin was obviously added to allow younger kids to find someone to identify with, much like in his original comics debut, and yet they also struck an admirable balance between “junior partner” and a mid-90s-appropriate 90210 heartthrob. Much like with Ewan McGregor in the Star Wars prequels, Chris O’Donnell does his best with the material he’s given and manages to avoid becoming an annoyance where he can, and, unlike Kilmer, he brings along the charisma. Is it perfect? No, but in a film like this, you take what you can and try to ignore things like, oh, say, nipples and codpieces on the garish new Batman and Robin costumes. And when your scene-stealing villains are so obnoxious, it gets easier and easier.

A Batman film during this era was only as good as the villains that populated it, and Forever continues the apparent tradition set up by the previous film in taking two major, well known villains and having them team up against Batman for some reason or another. Here we have Two-Face, played by the hamiest Tommy Lee Jones you’ll ever see, and The Riddler, who is played by Jim Carrey due to his popularity exploding around the mid-90s and the execs’ belief that the role apparently needs to be overacted by a comedian (Robin Williams was also considered). If you didn’t appreciate the bizarre but arguably effective changes made to the Penguin in Returns, I’m not sure how you’re going to take to these two clowns — and I use that word purposely.

It seems as though both of them are trying to overcompensate for the fact that the far more interesting and scary Joker isn’t present, as the two cackling fiends cavort around Gotham on their crime sprees as if they were gleeful children taking their friends on a gun-toting rampage through a candy store. We know these two are evil, of course, because they don’t like Batman and such. It’s never entirely clear what drives Two-Face to do what he does beyond his initial scarring and Batman’s failure to save him in this ridiculous scene here:

… but at least there’s some gravitas to be had when he murders Robin’s family.

And while he’s not nearly as insulting to the character, the film’s portrayal of the Riddler is a considerable annoyance, considering that they gave him a new backstory, wherein he’s essentially a stalker who’s jealous of Bruce Wayne, nursing his hurt pride when Bruce rejects Edward Nygma’s brainwave-manipulating “Box.” It’s essentially a 3D image converter for your TV that produces the effect in your mind instead of externally with glasses, which has the funny side effect of sending brainwaves to the Riddler, making him ever smarter. It’s all very silly, and the fact that Jim Carrey’s in full blown cartoon mode here, it’s not even very threatening. Sure, we get the clever riddles (written by New York Times crossword master Will Shortz) and the green suit, but this Riddler’s essentially a closeted man acting out his homoerotic frustrations more than he is the cryptic sociopath we all know and love.

This scene was so ridiculous, even the cartoon series made fun of it!

Speaking of homoerotic (again with the segues), everyone knows that Joel Schumacher is gay, right? Well if you didn’t know it before, it’s going to be plainly obvious now when you go back and watch his two Batman films. I get that the character has a history of having subtle homoerotic undertones, but they’ve largely been apocryphal speculation and really haven’t been accepted into popular portrayals, so I don’t know what he was thinking when he added all that subtext to the film. The moment you’re given an eyeful of Bat-butt and Bat-crotch as he gears up, it’s at once hilarious and ridiculous, instantly reminding people that this film is essentially returning to the camp value portrayals of the Dynamic Duo. It’s certainly a valid interpretation, but the film doesn’t even have the good graces to be that funny.

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... & A

At least the film is kind of interesting to look at… from a certain perspective. Gotham has ditched the Gothic feel of the previous films and has been redone as a neon rave scene this time around. From the constant swirling lights in almost every action sequence to a street gang made up entirely of black-light illuminated thugs, the film essentially replaces the familiar “POW!” and “ZAP!” with lasers and day-glow scenery (though, they also added audible cartoon “floop!” sounds when people trip and fall, so I guess they have those, too). It still retains that art deco feel established in the previous two films in certain ways, but substitutes the film noir qualities with a flash of discotheque. It’s certainly interesting, like I said, but also fairly exhausting.

I’m honestly at a loss for what else I could point out was wrong with Batman Forever. I used to be among the apologists, but in my recent watching of the film after years of forgetting all its poor qualities, especially in the light of more recent and successful superhero films, even apart from the Batman franchise, Batman Forever just stands out as a serious waste of time with very little merit in existing. Sure, Chase and Robin are better than the rest of the film’s cadre of quirky characters, but their middling contributions to the mess hardly count as reasons to see the film. At it’s best, it’s a watchable mess, a proper example of where one can go wrong in making a superhero film, one that is not nearly as unbelievably boring as, say, Elektra, but one that is entertaining in a “Look how silly this all is!” At its worst, however, it’s a travesty that such a firm foundation laid by the superior two films before it was so quickly and unceremoniously revamped. I don’t know how they can consider this to be in the same series.

I guess it’s better to think of this and Batman & Robin as we do the numerous Bond films: certain actors may play the same roles throughout the films, but any bit of continuity between them is merely incidental. Unfortunately, while the deplorable Forever is easily set apart from other films in the franchise, its influence would remain with the series for another decade, ultimately culminating into what is widely regarded as not just one of the worst superhero films of all time, but one of the worst major films of all time, period.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1 / 5

  1. July 28, 2014 at 9:54 am

    “:Batman Forever is one of the worst superhero films out there” utter rubbish. Steel, Superman IV, Captain America (1990) and Batman & Robin are way WAY worse. Batman Forever is not fantastic but it did have some redeeming qualities like Elliot Goldenthal’s score, the flashback sequences and Jim Carrey as The Riddler. A 1/5 rating is a joke, it should be at least a 3.

    • CJ Stewart
      July 28, 2014 at 9:49 pm

      Sure, it’s in the upper levels of being awful, especially compared to many others, but it’s still pretty amazingly awful in my mind. Jim Carrey, though not exactly miscast, was misdirected, as if Schumacher couldn’t help but try to make up for a lack of Joker twofold with him and the even worse depiction of Two-Face. I’m also not a fan of the Goldenthal score, but I could understand why one would. As for the flashback sequences? Not enough to make up for it. I did like Chase Meridian, though, and wouldn’t mind her appearing again. A very interesting character, on the fringes of madness herself, just like Batman.

  2. Zokko
    February 23, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I enjoyed ‘Batman Forever’ far more than the overrated Nolan movies.

  1. April 20, 2012 at 1:58 am
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