There’s actually a lot to talk about with this movie, so I’m going to keep the behind the scene details to a minimum. I may talk about some of it when I get to Batman & Robin instead. Let’s get this started.
Batman Forever released in 2005, marking a major change in the direction for the Batman quadrilogy. After Batman Returns (while successful) disappointed at the box office and created a minor, Tim Burton stepped back into a production role, while Joel Schumacher took over the director’s chair. Although Schumacher also wrote and directed a number of darker films, like Phone Booth (a claustrophobic thriller), A Time To Kill (a fairly good court drama), and the rather disturbing movie about snuff films, 8mm.
Schumacher also had experience with more lighthearted, fun movies, and that’s what Warner Bros wanted for the third Batman movie, something safe and marketable. Michael Keaton dropped out from the role of Batman, so they hired Val Kilmer instead. Nicole Kidman soon joined as psychologist Chase Meridian. Tommy Lee Jones was hesitant to take on the role of Two-Face, until his son insisted. Michael Jackson lobbied hard to play The Riddler, but they ended up choosing Jim Carrey for the role. For Robin, a whole bunch of young actors were considered, most notably Christian Bale (who would later portray Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy). Eventually they brought in Chris O’Donnell.
Elliot Goldenthal was hired to create an entirely new Batman theme for the movie, and the result might be my personal favourite Batman theme. There are elements of darkness hidden within, but it’s also energetic, kind of epic sounding, yet also lends itself well to slower, more dramatic moments.
Batman Forever ended up earning $336 million worldwide on a $100 million budget, which made it the highest earning movie of the year 1995. The critical reception was lukewarm, with a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 5.2/10. The Rolling Stone review criticized the movie for it is excessive commercialism and a lackluster script compared to the original. ReelViews gave the movie a positive review, saying “It’s lighter, brighter, funnier, faster-paced, and a whole lot more colourful than before.” Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both gave the movie mixed reviews, with Ebert giving it a thumbs down while Siskel gave it a thumbs up. In Ebert’s written review, he said “Is the movie better entertainment? Well, it’s great bubblegum for the eyes. Younger children will be able to process it more easily; some kids were led bawling from Batman Returns where the PG-13 rating was a joke.”
Most of the harshest criticisms aimed at Jones’s portrayal of Two-Face as more of a Joker knock-off than a multi-layered villain.
Despite the mixed reviews, the movie earned several Academy Award nominations, including Cinematography (lost to Braveheart), Sound Mixing (lost to Apollo 13), and Sound Effects Editing (also lost to Braveheart). U2’s song for the movie “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” was nominated both at the Golden Globes for Best Original Song (lost to “Colours of the wind” from Pocahontas) and the Razzie for Worst Original Song (lost to “Walk Into the Wind” from Showgirls). At the MTV Movie Awards, it received 6 nominations, winning Best Song from a Movie for Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose.” As far as I’m concerned, that award is well earned. It might even be the best song Seal’s ever made, and that’s saying a lot.
Batman Forever happens to be the first superhero movie I ever saw. Before that, I was already intrigued by the idea of Batman, despite only knowing that he was a superhero. My mom didn’t really like us watching the animated Batman series, thinking it was too violent. My dad didn’t mind nearly as much, but still encouraged us not to upset her. My first real exposure to Batman was when a babysitter brought over the Batman Forever VHS, and we watched it that afternoon. Back then, I loved it. The movie’s main soundtrack theme was instantly and forever etched into my mind. It would be around 10 years before I’d see the movie again, but I remembered three major scenes. 1, the circus fight. 2, the flashback to the bat cave. 3, the climax where Batman dives down a huge drop to save both Robin and Dr. Chase.
My opinion on this movie has definitely changed since then. Overall, I think this movie’s alright. It’s not a good Batman movie, even if there is a great Batman movie hidden somewhere within this mess. There are times when it’s overly loud and obnoxious to the point where it’s annoying. The bright neon lights all over the place, even on Two-Face’s henchmen’s guns, is way too much. At the same time, there are moments where the movie is very entertaining, both ironically and unironically.
First off, Val Kilmer isn’t a bad choice for Batman. Some of his mannerisms are a bit strange for Batman, like how his mouth is always a bit open. It often makes him look like he’s mentally challenged, or at least really confused, even if that’s warranted in some cases. He’s better overall as Bruce Wayne than he is as Batman. As Bruce, he’s clearly conflicted about whether he wants to continue his crusade on the criminals of Gotham. Witnessing Dick Greyson’s family dying only re-enforces that self-doubt. It leads to this movie’s best dramatic moments, where he confronts his past, does his best to steer Greyson away from the life of a vigilante. Eventually he accepts that Batman is who he really is, and that he’s still needed. Keaton is better overall and could have pulled this role off, but one could argue that Kilmer is better for this movie in particular.
I wish I could say the same for the rest of the cast. While Jones is clearly having fun playing Two-Face, and at times you kind of have fun with him, he’s way over-the-top. He cackles constantly while he’s attacking Batman, whines like a child any time Batman seems to escape his traps, and rarely shows the true dark nature of Two-Face’s duel personality. There are hints of his darker, split nature here and there, but it’s often overshadowed by his crazed antics and poor writing.
O’Donnell could have been a good Robin, but the writing and directing behind his performance severely hurt his portrayal. He’s often referred to as a child, despite how O’Donnell would have been in his mid-20s when they filmed the movie. He didn’t even look that young at the time. He also spent a lot of time acting like a brat, and while it’s understandable considering he witnessed his entire family dying, the movie fails to explore his emotions on a deeper level to justify it.
Kidman isn’t a bad actress by any means, but it feels as if she was cast solely to be as hot as possible. She spends more time acting seductive around Batman than actually putting in a real performance. Most of her dialogue points in that direction as well. Again, she shows moments of great dramatic acting, especially when she’s helping Bruce work through his traumatic past, but those moments are few and far between. On that note, Drew Barrymore appears as one of Two-Face’s lovers/henchmen, and she’s pretty much reduced to the same kind of seductive role, just on the side of the villains. Her role is relatively minor though, so I’ll forgive that one.
And then there’s Jim Carrey as the Riddler. This doesn’t feel like any genuine version of The Riddler ever portrayed before. It’s just Jim Carrey being Jim Carrey. On the plus side, he’s a scene stealer, and more often than not he’s entertaining. On the downside, it leads to several cringe moments. In one such cringe moment, he’s overly exaggerating with his crying while offering a witness testimony for a murder that he disguised as a suicide. It’s not convincing at all, and anyone with a brain would realize he’s hiding something. Another would be the well-known crotch grab. This following scene perfectly sums up Carrey’s performance as a whole.
Visually, this doesn’t feel like Gotham City at all. It’s more like a mix of Metropolis and Las Vegas. There are way too many lights, colourful environments, and over the top outfits. This is especially so with The Riddler – he’s surrounded by so much green lights and glows that it’s ridiculous. Two-Face’s henchmen are also over the top with their excessive face piercings, machine guns with red neon lights, and their facial expressions that often feel like they’re straight out of a cartoon. Even the Batmobile, traditionally black, is covered in blue lights.
Perhaps the most interesting part about this movie’s development is, there’s a lot of evidence that even Schumacher didn’t want this to be the movie’s direction. There’s talk that he wanted the movie to focus mainly on Arkham Asylum. Thanks to the Arkham Asylum video game, we know that could make for an amazing movie. Batman Forever went through a number of major edits before it released. The original run time was closer to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Some of those deleted scenes are available on DVD and Blu-Ray releases brought out since 2005, but many are still not available to the public. One of these deleted scenes is this much darker opening showing the aftermath of Two-Face’s escape from Arkham Asylum.
Around the same time that Schumacher died in June of last year, a number of media outlets reported that there may exist an extended, “Schumacher Cut”. This version is apparently much darker and more dramatic, and contains less campy schlock than the theatrical cut. This cut includes more of Bruce Wayne exploring his psychological issues with Dr. Chase, less emphasis on Robin, and even a frightening scene where a young Bruce faces off against a human-sized bat. Apparently this cut would include 50 minutes not seen in the theatrical cut, some of which are included in the deleted scenes. Warner Bros confirmed that the cut existed at one point, but some of the footage may be lost. There is talk about how they may try to release the Schumacher cut at some point, but so far, Warner Bros hasn’t declared any intention to release it.
Considering the success of Superman II’s Donner Cut, and the fanfare surrounding the Snyder cut of Justice League, we may one day see the Schumacher cut of Batman Forever. I’d certainly watch it if it ever emerges.
As it stands, Batman Forever is more of a curiosity than anything else. Some people call it a terrible movie. Some call it a misunderstood masterpiece. I’m somewhere in the middle. There are hints of a brilliant Batman movie marred by all of the overacting, the obnoxiously loud sound and bright colours, and the often questionable writing decisions. Overall, it is the movie Warner Bros wanted, and it was a success, but it’s not a good movie. I wouldn’t recommend Batman Forever, but I won’t tell you not to watch it either.
Next up is Steel, starring Shaq. Then we’ll look at Batman & Robin, which almost single handily destroyed the superhero film genre. Thankfully X-Men and Spider-Man saved the superhero movie shortly after, but it would be a while before another good DC comics movie released. Catwoman will come after Batman & Robin, then it’ll be the Dark Knight trilogy, with Superman Returns in there somewhere, before I wrap up this blog series with 2019’s Joker. I haven’t seen Joker yet. Seeing it for the first time to wrap up this blog series feels just right.