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Review: Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever (1995)

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Premise: Batman (Val Kilmer) teams with Robin (Chris O’Donnell) to fight crime in Gotham City while Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) joins with The Riddler (Jim Carrey) to use a home television device to steal the citizen’s secrets.

What Works: Although Batman Forever includes some supporting cast members of Batman and Batman Returns, such as Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and Michael Gough as Alfred, this film is fundamentally a new start for the series. Director Joel Schumacher takes some of the Gothic look of Burton’s films but then combines it with the schlocky fun of the 1960s television series. The result is a piece that is more lighthearted than Burton’s Batman films and plays more like other Hollywood action pictures of the 1990s. The result is mostly positive; Batman Forever is almost nonstop action and the neon colored sets give sequences like the opening hostage crisis a frantic energy. Another of this film’s major changes from its predecessors is the characterization of Bruce Wayne/Batman. In this film the focus of the story is restored to Bruce Wayne and he is given a fair amount to do as he takes Robin under his wing and copes with some of his psychological traumas. Val Kilmer takes over the role and brings a toughness to the character that is akin to Christopher Reeve’s performance in Superman: The Movie, although when Kilmer’s take is set against Batman Forever‘s campy tone it comes across more like Adam West in the 1966 feature film. The picture also introduces Robin, played successfully by Chris O’Donnell. The Robin of Batman Forever is in some ways darker than Batman and the film gives him a vengeful streak that contrasts effectively with Bruce Wayne’s doubts about his mission. The best element—and quite possibly the saving grace—of Batman Forever is Jim Carrey as The Riddler. He is unlike any of the villains in Burton’s films but he is also unlike anyone else in Schumacher’s Batman films; the character is fragile and pathetic where everyone else in Batman Forever is heaving with machismo and the growing insanity of Carrey’s performance suits the wild visual style of the film.

What Doesn’t: Although Batman Forever intentionally takes the series in a different direction, it lets the style get in the way of the substance. Aside from Carrey’s Riddler, the rest of the characters are pretty flat. Tommy Lee Jones is cast as Two-Face and while his performance is different from a lot of the stoic characters he usually plays, Jones comes off as more of an imitation of Jack Nicholson’s Joker than a unique character. Nicole Kidman is also wasted as a psychologist and Batman’s love interest; she just doesn’t do anything except comment on how sexy she thinks Batman is. Batman Forever most notably suffers from its escalation; the neon colored action sequences, intended to give the audience a new visual experience, become nauseating and the action set pieces keep getting bigger and bigger until the picture gets to the climax in which the sets are so overblown that that the film loses much of its credibility.

DVD extras: The two-disc special edition includes a commentary track, documentaries and featurettes, music videos, trailers, storyboards, extra scenes, and character profiles.

Bottom Line: Batman Forever is a fun film in the Batman pantheon, despite its faults. Like Dick Tracy, the picture imitates a traditional comic book look in its sets, costumes, and makeup design. It’s disappointing to see Two-Face, a potentially exciting character, reduced to an underwritten sidekick, but Jim Carrey largely saves the picture with his upbeat performance.

Episode: #198 (July 27, 2008); Revised #398 (July 29, 2012)