Originally Reviewed – 5/29/2012
As a 15 year old Batman fan in Northern New Jersey, Batman Forever wasn’t just a movie. It was an event. The theater was packed with Batman fans the day my brother and I saw it on the big screen. The crowd was buzzing with advertising generated current. From McDonalds Happy Meals to a barrage of TV commercials, the film looked to be bigger and flashier than the previous installments. As the lights dimmed, the murmur of the mostly teenage audience quieted. All was still until one moviegoer, fueled on popcorn and Coca Cola products, shouted in a loud, bellowing voice, like Batman himself would do “ARE YOU READY FOR THE BATMAN?” The entire theater burst into laughter, myself included. Whenever anybody asks me what the greatest moment of my film going life has been, that’s the one. The outburst was the perfect setup for what lay ahead. Burton-less, Keaton-less and shined up with a new coat of neon paint, Joel Schumacher’s reimagining of the Batman franchise is loaded with flashy action and nifty gadgets but what the film gains in style it loses in substance.
Half a reboot, half a continuation of the previous movies, Batman Forever finds the Caped Crusader (Val Kilmer) defending Gotham from an unlikely team of super criminals: the nefarious gangster Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and the joke spewing Riddler (Jim Carrey). With Two Face’s muscle and the Riddler’s ingenuity, the pair looks to put a devious product on the television of every family in Gotham, simultaneously streaming the brainwaves of the world into their not so secret lair. Due to Michael Keaton declining the role after Tim Burton stepped down as director, Val Kilmer was chosen to fill out the Bat Suit. When wearing the cowl, Kilmer’s Batman works fine as an action oriented superhero. Thanks to some great fight choreography and Kilmer’s athletic skills, Batman Forever features some of the most exciting action sequences of the series. The problems begin when Kilmer does his impersonation of Bruce Wayne. Trying too hard to be a bumbling bachelor when he clearly isn’t, Kilmer never connects to the core of the character, despite some handy plot contrivances to help him do so. Val Kilmer is too “movie star” for the brooding superhero, creating an uneven experience. Not a terrible Batman, but nowhere near the quality of Keaton’s interpretation.
Luckily for Mr. Kilmer, the movie wasn’t his to drive. The energy of the film squarely comes from the scenery chewing Two Face and Jim Carrey’s manic Riddler. Tommy Lee Jones is fun to watch as he emotionally flip flops from crazy to cool but Carrey steals every scene he’s in. To be fair, this is an early Jim Carrey comic performance, before the world discovered his acting chops, so if you were a fan of his Ace Ventura rubber faced style, you’ll have a great time here. If not, he’s down right overwhelming. Still, I found the Riddler gave the film a much needed shot of life that wasn’t created by the swirling lights and 80’s tinged visuals.
Playing opposite Kilmer in the love interest slot is Nicole Kidman as the lovely psychologist Chase Meridian and Chris O’Donnell as the boy wonder Robin. Despite her being very easy on the eyes, the only connection Kilmer and Kidman share is in the first letter of their last names. Kidman’s character is horribly underwritten and comes off more as a horny fangirl than an actual human being. Rather than develop them as a genuine pair, the script uses her as a device for 30’s style one liners and pointless banter. Robin, a character purposefully avoided by Tim Burton, also comes off flat, forced and a bit annoying. O’Donnell gives the role his absolute all, but Batman has always worked best as a sole vigilante, making Robin unnecessary and underdeveloped, despite a head scratching backstory involving Two Face, a slowing rising bomb and his family of acrobats. Despite the screenwriters attempt to hem in all this mayhem with a halfhearted attempt at Batman’s origin story, everything seems manufactured around potential advertisement taglines.
In fact, this is a nagging problem of Batman Forever, a cancer than would become malignant in the fourth movie. With all of the silliness of the story, the awful relationships and convenient plot points, the film is a lot of fun. The fights are well executed, Batman has a variety of entertaining gadgets and toys and when things are clicking, it’s a great ride. The problem is that it all seems carefully calculated to sell toys and Halloween costumes. Burton’s Batman may have not been perfect, but they were artistically honest, products of a desire to bring the character back to an original vision. The first Schumacher effort, while wildly entertaining, feels like simple product. Batman Forever isn’t the ninety minute toy advertisement it’s predecessor will be, but it lacks much of the credibility of the Tim Burton features. Slick, cool and immediately forgettable, Batman Forever’s biggest sin isn’t in the writing, the characters or even the full frame Bat Butt shots the cheeky director peppers into the final cut. The movie’s biggest fault lies in the $336 million it took in at the box office, prompting the studio to make one more film, a movie that would suck the franchise dry. Get your Bat Buckets ready for some bile. Next up: Batman and Robin.
Score – 60%