a critiQal film review Batman Forever (1995)

Plot: two new forces of evil - Two-Face (Jones), formerly known as District Attorney Harvey Dent, and the Riddler (Carrey), previously an overlooked employee of Wayne Enterprises named Edward Nygma - join together to overtake the minds of Gotham's citizens and destroy their mutual enemy, Batman (Kilmer) and his new apprentice, Robin (O'Donnell).

Reviewed
912 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 33s)

While everyone has been concentrating on Christian Bale’s new take on Batman, I’ve decided to go back and re-watch some earlier incarnations of the Caped Crusader. Having already reviewed Tim Burton’s take on the character (Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)), I decided to give Joel Schumacher’s vision a shot, with Batman Forever.

As most viewers know, it was Joel Schumacher’s second effort at taking on the Caped Crusader (Batman & Robin (1997)) that killed off Batman like no supervillain could. At least until the legend was finally resurrected again, by director Christopher Nolan, in Batman Begins (2005), which is still going strong today.

But would that downward spiral show itself in Batman Forever? Or did Joel Schumacher get the formula right at least once?

Val Kilmer has always seemed an odd choice for Batman. Whether it’s his blond locks betraying the knowledge that Bruce Wayne has always been dark-haired, or is rather aloof persona in other films, he just never seemed a good fit for the role. He does, however, do a better than expected job in Batman Forever, delivering a solid – if un-exciting – performance. He’s a bit too stoic, however, to match wits with the foes he faces this time around, and comes off as rather smaller than life – a feat in and of itself when viewers watch his Batman perform spectacular stunts of derring-do.

Introducing Robin also never seemed to be a good idea. While the partnership may have worked well on the small screen, it just never seemed to jive with the “lone wolf” image of Batman portrayed on the big screen. Chris O’Donnell, then known for his roles in films like Scent of a Woman and Circle of Friends more than anything action-oriented, also seemed an odd choice for the role. He manages to keep up, but again, his performance is un-inspiring. He provides more of an unwelcome addition to a growing cast than contributing anything really meaningful to film.

By the time this third film came out, viewers expected the film to be more about the villains than the hero. Batman Forever doesn’t disappoint there. It brings in two big names to showcase their madness this time around.

Jim Carrey, who was coming off a slew of successes including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Dumb & Dumber and The Mask, is so over-the-top with his performance viewers can’t help but laugh. And since he seems to have a maniacal glee about going so overboard, viewers get the feeling he’s laughing right along with them. That makes his character the most enjoyable of the lot.

On the other hand, Tommy Lee Jones, as Two-Face (complete with split personality getup), looks like half a reject from a flamboyant circus than any looming threat to the hero. Still, he manages to spew out ridiculous lines while maintaining a presence – however diminished – on-screen. This says a lot about the character under the makeup, but not much for the film itself. He seems to take his character a bit too seriously, but his enjoyment of Carrey’s Riddler antics is his saving grace, since he’s obviously getting as much of a kick out of Carrey as the audience is.

On the surface, the plot of this third film seems to introduce some somber details more suited to the feel of the first two films (O’Donnell’s Robin, for instance, is introduced in a sequence which sees the death of his entire family). But, director Joel Schumacher seems to have none of Burton’s broodiness. He plays the film with a light-hearted campiness that takes even the most sobering of details and turns them into a sideshow act. It’s an odd turn for the Caped Crusader – and a turn that would eventually do him in on the big screen for over a decade.

The action sequences, while decent enough, really don’t introduce any fun new toys for the most part, other than The Riddler’s ridiculous mind-control device. The previous films (as well as the new ones) always give the viewer something new to awe them, but Schumacher seems content to use what he has on hand already. True, the film marks the first appearance of both the Batwing and the Batboat, but they are used as obvious second choices. Plus, their screen time is so minimal they don’t have a chance to shine in their own right. They could be considered throwaways, something to be used and then discarded easily.

With director Joel Schumacher taking Tim Burton’s original dark vision of the Caped Crusader and gradually turning it into a rampaging circus of campiness by Batman & Robin (1997), it’s probably inevitable some of that circus-feel would bleed into this film as well. There’s a compelling storyline basically tossed aside in favor of some over-the-top action moments that still come off as retreads of previous Batman incarnations. And a steadily growing cast that is starting to lose some of it’s focus. There’s also yet another love interest for Bruce Wayne (this time played by the sultry-yet-uninspired Nicole Kidman). Also, the light-hearted feel that continues despite some traumatic events. All of these help detract greatly from the film, leaving Batman Forever to be saved from disaster by the over-the-top hamming of Jim Carrey as the Riddler.

Carrey’s antics alone are worth the price of admission. Sadly, despite efforts from cast members like Tommy Lee Jones and Val Kilmer, his antics are probably the only thing anyone will remember vividly from Batman Forever. The rest of the film just can’t match up.

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