Sometimes I can’t think of a real intro for one of these reviews so instead I just recount the first time I saw a film. Batman Forever came out in the summer of 1995. I was 13 years old and just before we were due to go on a good old fashioned Butlins holiday I decided to squeeze in seeing the new Batman film before we went to a place that was sure to be bereft of cinemas. I do like to cram in a film before I go away, it usually backfires though. I’ve now see Prometheus 3 times for example after cramming that in before my holiday to Sweden. When I arrived at Butlins it turned out it did have a cinema, with just one screen. Showing just one film. Luckily it wasn’t Batman Forever but the cinematic classic that was Mighty Morphin’ Power rangers the Movie! I went to see that out of “boredom” and then out of “boredom” took my cousins to see it a second time. On the last full day we were there they changed the film they were showing and I had enough money to go one last time. That film was Batman Forever. I saw it twice in one week because I assumed the Butlins holiday camp wouldn’t have a cinema and it turned out it had one and they were showing that exact film. Seeing Batman Forever twice in the cinema equals the amount of times I’ve watched Batman & Robin since it’s release. Once I’ve written this review I have to watch Batman & Robin for a third time. Lets get this over with…
Batman Forever marked quite a departure from the previous two Tim Burton directed films. Batman Returns was a success but Warner felt it should have done better. They felt it’s violent and dark tone went too far so being the sort of knee-jerk reactionaries that they were they politely told Burton he would only be producing the third film and hired the crown prince on neon Joel Schumacher. I quite like Schumacher’s work. He has a very stylised approach to shooting his films, prone to Dutch angles and odd lighting choices, but by this point he had never really had a massive budget to play with. A lot of directors who came to the fore in the late 70s and 80s were stylists and the same fate befell nearly all of them. They made a few low budget films that had a unique look, built up a cult following a respect from their peers and then some studio gave them a near unlimited budget and they went too far. Batman Forever is one of those films.
The story concerns Two-Face Harvey Dent (One of my favourite villains played here by Tommy Lee-Jones) who has apparently broken out of Arkham Asylum, although that scene was left on the cutting room floor, and now he wants revenge on the Batman. This involves him cackling like a loon and then playing second fiddle to the films other villains Ace Ventura Pet Detective. OK so it’s meant to be The Riddler but seeing as he’s played by Jim Carrey at his more face gurningly over-the-top he’s pretty much Ace Ventura in spandex and with red hair that may be a little too close to pink at times. His plan is to get revenge on Bruce Wayne for shooting down his brainwaves manipulating TV device. He plans to do this by acting like a cartoon and cackling all the time. I’d say about 85% of Two-Face and The Riddler’s dialogue is either idiosyncratic nonsense or maniacal laughter.
It seems when Warner said “Hey Joel, we need a more kid friendly Batman” Joel heard “Make the 60s show whilst on this LSD we’re pumping into the room”. Joel then assumed he was on LSD and decided that Gotham should be lit entirely by neon tube lights, that the villains should have the depth of a wafer thin mint (which ironically made them be too much to take) and that the Bat-suit needed nipples. This film is so hyperactive and it’s a shame because there’s a few elements that hint at something a little bit better.
See if you run through the deleted scenes you’ll come across a series of scenes that show a slightly darker tone as far as characterisation goes and at least one scene that would have been daring enough to have either been great or fallen flat on it’s face. Joel’s hinted at making a directors cut version one day but that’s never happened. I’d like to see it though because a lot of the deleted scenes play into a sub-plot involving Bruce’s repressed memories that because of the cuts now don’t have the full pay-off. The story itself is full of issues like this. It feels like two writers wanting different things were at war over what to put in but neither ever discussed their differing views. Instead they kept rewriting until it was too late the film was shot.
Batman this time around is played by Val Kilmer, a guy currently doing a fine impression of Mr Creosote. He’s not entirely bad here but he plays Bruce and Batman the same way, without even making the slightest change in tone to his voice which is common in Batman depictions now, an element actually created by Michael Keaton. Joining him is the Boy Wonder and totally not gay love interest Dick Grayson aka Robin (Chris O’Donnell) who spends the film being angsty and rebellious until Batman decides he has no choice but to let him help. And by help I mean get the brand new Bat-boat blown up and then captured within 10 minutes of his first mission out. To be fair the Robin portion of the storyline plays out fairly well but he’s meant to be a teenager here and Chris O’Donnell just looked too old for that role. Get this, the role of Robin almost went to Leonardo DiCaprio. Man that would have messed up his career.
The love interest is played by Nicole Kidman who was last featured on my dumb little blog playing the female lead in the Australian “Citizen Kane of BMX movies” BMX Bandits. Now I’ll hand it to Joel Schumacher, he can sure pick and shoot hi8s female leads. Chase is a psychiatrist torn between her obsession for the man behind the bat whilst becoming fascinated by what lies in the tortured past of Bruce Wayne. Which leads to Bruce questioning who he should be. Who does she want and by extension of that who does Gotham want/need. Naturally this is played out in as basic a way as they can in a film such as this but there’s enough of it to at least give us something a little smarter than the cackling villains could provide.
What this film needed really was less of an electricity budget and a few less action scenes. During the films second act I swear there’s an action scene for every non-action scene. This leads to them eventually just becoming tiresome. Also the lack of logic I’ve mentioned being an issue in the previous films is way more prevalent here. At one point in the film Riddler and Two-Face are robbing all sorts of places to get the funding for Riddler’s Nygmatech Box thing. Now there’s no reason why Batman couldn’t have stopped them. He wasn’t currently suffering from a broken back or on one of his emo “Gotham doesn’t need me” moments. He just doesn’t show up to stop them. By proxy he allows the villains to get to the point where they can build a giant man made island. Bruce had also already encountered Nygma’s technology at his own company which brings up two issues. Firstly, Nygma created that device whilst working for Wayne and so surely the patents belong to the Wayne Corporation. Secondly Wayne knows that they manipulate brainwaves but doesn’t bother doing any of his classic corporate warfare shtick to take Nygma out of business. Granted at this point he doesn’t know Nygma is The Riddler but he knows what Nygma is doing is wrong and still doesn’t stop him. This makes Batman look lazy and the citizens of Gotham look like a bunch of dribbling morons.
I could pick holes in the plot all day here but that would make this seem as bad as the film that follows. It really isn’t. Batman Forever may be a mess but it’s a very colourful and entertaining mess. It’s aged really badly but it still manages to be fairly impressive in terms of scale and production. Val Kilmer may be too doughy and wooden to play Batman but he doesn’t cause the film to be a total car wreck. It’s one of those odd films that teeters dangerously on a tightrope right in the middle of good and bad, sometimes leaning a little too close to the bad side than the good but always managing to maintain at least some level of enjoyment. What I’m saying is this could be a hell of a lot worse. Two years after Batman Forever we got a hell of a lot worse. And that review is coming soonish… if I can force myself to get through the film that is.