Synopsis: Riddle me this, riddle me that, you’ll find adventure on the wings of a bat! Brace for excitement as Val Kilmer (Batman), Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face), Jim Carrey (the Riddler), Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian) and Chris O’Donnell (Robin) star in the third spectacular film in Warner Bros.’ Batman series. Joel Schumacher directs and Tim Burton co-produces this thrill-ride of a movie that thunders along on Batmobile, Batwing, Batboat, Batsub and bold heroics. Hang on!
Batman Forever 5.0
eyelights: its comic book style.
eyesores: its campy feel. its hammy performances. its artificial look. its lame dialogues. the casting.
“Holy rusty metal, Batman!”
Shit, I still remember the first time that I saw ‘Batman Forever’. A friend and I had become HUGE fans of Jim Carrey, following his stunning breakthrough performances in ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective‘ and ‘The Mask‘ (but not so much ‘Dumb and Dumber‘), and we were curious to see this new Batman outing, even though its marketing hadn’t drawn us to the cinema.
So we got a laserdisc (remember those?) from the library and made a night of it.
It was so bloody awful that we didn’t even watch the final disc (laserdiscs couldn’t play more than one hour per side, so this one was spread over three sides). We just sat there aghast at the poor performances, the stylistic choices of director Joel Schumacher, and its overall campy vibe. It was a damned trainwreck, and it completely killed the franchise for both of us.
We were alone, it seems: Warner Brother’s decision to make the series lighter in order to gain a wider audience, after the smaller box office returns of its predecessor, ‘Batman Returns‘, played well – ‘Batman Forever’ got a small bump in attendance, no doubt due to Carrey’s appeal at the time. Although its budget was also much higher, this was considered a successful entry.
I only watched the movie once more, thinking I may have misjudged the picture at the time and that adjusted expectations might help me appreciate it. It was a moot point: the ridiculously titled ‘Batman Forever’ was all style and no substance – so, unless you appreciated its slick, campy, cartoony, style, there was no redeeming value in it. It was like a modern Adam West ‘Batman’.
Despite being a minor fan of the show, it only works because it’s unpretentious and clearly tongue-in-cheek. ‘Batman Forever’, however, is an exuberant exercise in flash – case-in-point, its opening sequence that gives us close-up shots of Batman suiting up and the new Batmobile. It’s all style, with bright colours and lighting, like a music video or a television advertisement.
The problem with Schumacher’s style is that none of it looks real. One could say the same for much of Burton’s Batman films, but they were so dark that at least some of it looked gritty, realistic. And, anyway Burton had a more artistic vision, whereas Schumacher’s costume designer days seemed to come to life here: it’s all flamboyance, from the costumes to the sets to the props.
There’s also an unexpected homoeroticism, which begins with the crotch and butt shot of Batman suiting up and continues to the end with Batman and Robin going to fight crime together. The homoeroticism isn’t at all offensive, but it was surprising given the era, 1995, and the fact that this was a big superhero movie. On the positive, one could argue that it helped mainstream homosexuality.
The biggest problem with ‘Batman Forever’, though, is that it just doesn’t make any sense: almost every moment defies all logic. I remember my buddy and I just shouting at the TV screen when we first watched it, not just in disbelief, but with our intelligence utterly insulted. Seriously, you’d have to comment on the movie in real time with pauses every other second to pick everything apart.
It’s that nonsensical.
But here are a few doozies:
- The opening sequence has Batman going out to stop Two-Face and his men from making a big heist, which has turned into a hostage situation. Large crowds have assembled outside and Batman meets his love interest, Dr. Chase. Two-Face easily escapes. When Batman tries to tend to the hostage, a bank guard, he walks into a trap: the vault was set to shut closed. Neither did the guard warn him (at least not until it was too late) nor was Batman careful in this situation.
Then Two-face, who had rigged the vault to some cables on his chopper, pulls the vault and its captives out through the bank’s walls and into the open air (um… vaults are usually not interned near outside walls… just saying). Then the vault starts to fill with acid (Somehow. Even though there’s no outward signs of any mods) putting them in jeopardy. So Bats uses the guard’s hearing aid (which is convenient given that he’s middle-aged) to unlock the safe and get out.
The scene ends with Two-Face crashing the chopper in the Statue of Liberty. But no one is hurt.
- How in the world did Bruce Wayne manage to have a tunnel built from his office at Wayne Enterprises all the way to the Batcave, which is on the outskirts of town? I mean, it’s technically improbable to the highest degree, but it’s also impossible without anyone noticing and thereby finding out his secret identity. Plus which there’s an obvious trap door right under the chair in his office. Wouldn’t someone in his staff, or even the cleaner, have noticed?
- Bruce Wayne takes Dr. Chase to the circus. Because the ladies dig that. In any event, there they see The Flying Graysons, who are wearing costumes very similar to Robin’s classic superhero outfit. Two-Face and his gang obviously show up, and kill the Graysons in the process of terrorizing the crowd. No one does anything to help. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson saves the day by tossing a large bomb that Two-Face brought outside – even though it must weight 500 pounds.
No one seems to notice. He’s not even thanked, let alone congratulated.
- Bruce Wayne invites Dick Grayson to stay with him, now that he’s orphaned, but he declines. At first. But, eventually, he gives in. Dick starts to notice that Alfred tries to keep him away from a particular room, so he finds a way to break into the Batcave: by simply slipping in after Alfred. No joke. It’s so easy. And the Batcave isn’t buried deep; it’s just one small flight of stairs down. Naturally, he steals the Batmobile and takes it for a ride. Ugh.
- Did I say Batmobile? I meant Sharkmobile, given its large fin. And wait until you see Batman drive it up a wall to escape Two-Face’s gang. No joke.
- Two-Face has paired up with The Riddler, a disgruntled, former employee of Wayne Enterprises, who creates a device that can beam television signals directly into its audience’s minds. Except that it also sucks people’s minds, to his benefit. And thus he and Two-Face tap into Bruce Wayne’s mind and find out that he’s the Batman. Naturally, they attack Wayne Manor by posing as trick or treaters just as Wayne is about to hang up his cowl and cape and reveal himself to Chase.
So… um… wait-a-minute. They give out candy at Wayne Manor? People go that far out of town for frickin’ candy? And Wayne Manor doesn’t ave better security than this? And Wayne was willing to quit because he’d fallen in love with Chase, a bland woman with a non-descript personality, with whom there is absolutely NO heat (you have to watch them kiss to believe it!)?
- Two-Face’s hoods have a riduclously slap-sticky chase with Wayne and Chase around the Manor. Meanwhile, Riddler tosses grenades around the Batcave and destroys everything. Everything? Not quite: he conveniently missed the prototype Batsuit, Batwing and Batboat that will come handy at the finale. And, of course, after kidnapping Chase, they leave Bruce to die, teasing him with a riddle. They don’t kill him: Riddler’s argument is that he won’t learn otherwise.
- Dick returns and conveniently enough, Alfred found the time somewhere to make him a Robin costume. So the dynamic Batduo launch an air and sea attack on The Riddler and Two-Face – who defend themselves via a makeshift game of Battleship that fires missiles at the pair. Naturally, they sink Robin’s boat (“You sank my Battleship!”, Riddler exclaims) and knock the Batwing out of the sky, but neither are injured. And guess who gets to save the day after all of this?
I don’t know if it was intentional, or if it was poor direction on Schumacher’s part, but everyone in ‘Batman Forever’ overplays it.
Well, almost everyone.
- Val Kilmer’s Batman lacks gravitas, despite the growly voice. And when he’s Bruce Wayne, he’s so one-note and numb-faced, he makes you miss Michael Keaton.
- Similarly, Nicole Kidman gives us a Dr. Meridian Chase with no emotional range whatsoever. She’s just a generic blonde waif who’s permanently sedated.
- Chris O’Donnell is okay as Robin. I used to hate him, because he’s not a great actor. But here’s he’s nearly stellar compared to the others.
- Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma and The Riddler is basically a crap Ace Ventura/The Mask: same energy and physicality, but absolutely not funny. What’s annoying is that Bruce Wayne/Batman doesn’t recognize Edward Nygma as The Riddler, even though they’re unmistakable the same person – except with red hair and tights.
- Tommy Lee Jones is WAY OVER THE TOP as Two-Face. It’s like he was contractually obligated to be manic and did it despite himself. Or maybe he was trying to keep up with Jim Carrey. Le sigh. The worst of it is that he serves no real purpose plot-wise, once Jim Carrey’s Riddler arrives; he’s basically a second banana. And, to make matters even worse, Two-Face’s make-up looks like rubber, not scars. So TLJ looks like goof in this. What a waste of talent.
- Drew Barrymore is mere eye candy, a prop, as one of Two-face’s molls.
Between that and the unbelievably terrible dialogues, ‘Batman Forever’ cannot be taken seriously. It looks like f-ing $#!t b-movie but with a decent production budget: everything is ostentatious and utterly artificial. Money was thrown at this picture, but you simply can’t buy veracity and a sense of fun. And it would only get worse with the sequel, as unimaginable as that may be.
This was the beginning of the end. Forever, indeed.
Date of viewing: April 22, 2016