Batman Forever was the third film in the first run of Batman films that started in 1989, and the first one directed by Joel Schumacher. The two prior to this one, Batman and Batman Returns, were directed by Tim Burton and starred Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight. But for backstage Hollywood reasons of some kind Burton and Keaton opted to move on so a new director and star were needed. Enter Schumacher and Val Kilmer or Real Genius and Top Gun fame. It also had a shift in the overall tone away from the darker, Burton-esque tone and into a literally brighter one. Schumacher’s Gotham City was not as dark or Gothic as Burton’s and was instead bathed in bright day glo lights throughout. It also introduced us to the first big screen version of Batman’s sidekick Robin (the Dick Grayson version), played by Chris O’Donnell.
The story for this one revolved around Bruce Wayne’s psychological exploration into why he dons the cape and cowl, Grayson’s desire for revenge against his parents killer, and to help Batman in his mission to clean up Gotham. The villains here are the Riddler, played by Jim Carrey and Two-Face, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Riddler is out to literally read everyone’s minds using a virtual reality device he invented to sell to the people of Gotham to make their TV watching that much more awesome, and Two Face is basically doing generic bad guy stuff and trying to kill Batman (he’s also the guy who killed Grayson’s parents). So how was it? Well, I put it in ‘Mediocre Movie Reviews’ so it can’t be but so good, right? Let’s see.
What Worked for me
I loved Carrey’s rendition of the Riddler. Riddler is a super genius who is also a vindictive homicidal maniac and Carrey nailed all of that, in my opinion. And his story arc was probably the best thing about the movie. In my opinion they got him down cold from the motivations, the schemes, and the riddles he left as clues. His performance literally made the Riddler a character I was interested in from that point forward. I thought O’Donnell was good as Dick Grayson/Robin. The day-glo aesthetic is at times silly, but it also helps make things less depressing and boring. Val Kilmer wasn’t a great Batman to me, but he was good enough outside the occasional wooden line delivery.
What Didn’t Work
As much as I loved the Riddler in this movie, Two-Face was awful. In this film he was pretty much a low rent Joker who flipped a coin before he did things. They didn’t even get the coin fixation right. For Two-Face the coin isn’t just the final decision maker it rules his entire decision making process. Coin flips have led him to rob a bank then give the money to someone in need, or to blow the brains out of a bad guy as he would someone of the good side of the law. Here it’s just a prop to delay the inevitable; in one scene he keeps flipping it until he gets the desired outcome and that’s not what he’s supposed to do at all. Two-Face is a tragic figure driven into madness by his disfigurement constantly going back and forth between the mad criminal that he’s because and the driven enforcer of the law that he once was. It’s impossible to get the character right without giving him a proper origin story and here they just dropped him in the movie so that the Riddler would have some help and Robin had someone to beef with.
The other real problem with the story was that two thirds of the way through Bruce Wayne is ready to retire the cape and cowl and live a nice, quiet life with his love interest Dr. Chase Meridian. There’s no way on earth that Bruce Wayne would retire from being Batman while two next level villains like Two-Face and the Riddler were on the loose committing crimes and killing people. They actually handled this right in the first film when Bruce made it clear to Vicki Vale that yes he wanted to try the whole relationship thing but that Joker was out there so he had to deal with that first and foremost. No way Bruce quits his night job in the middle of what was going on.
It’s obvious from watching it that someone in a corner office wanted a shift away from Burton’s darker tone. While Batman Returns made a lot of money and got Michelle Pfeiffer an Oscar, it went a little too far down the Tim Burton rabbit hole for a a lot of people. The end result here was a tight rope walk between what Burton had established and the Adam West television show that was a serious story for onscreen that came off corny and ridiculous to those of us watching. There were corny lines and some overly simplistic dialogue at times. And obviously Schumacher got the wrong message from this film’s success because he cranked the camp and cheese up to 11 in the fourth and final Batman film of this run, Batman and Robin. Batman movies should be serious with a few jokes thrown in, trying to make it lighter is just a bad idea. Why? Because the Adam West series was so well done as superhero camp that no one should ever even approach that take on it.
I don’t care what anyone says, I liked this movie. At the same time to try and tell people it’s even very good would require some mental gymnastics I’m not capable of. Sometimes you like something that isn’t that great because hey, you’re human and it shakes out like that sometimes. That’s where I am with this. If you haven’t seen it, I say check it out and make your own judgement. But for God’s sake skip Batman and Robin.