Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever (1995)

Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey

New villain the Riddler teams up with Two-Face to take down Batman using a mind manipulation device.

We rented this not too long after it came out on video and while Batman Returns was fairly offputting, this one didn't fare well at all. I'd actually forgotten how bad it was. I knew it wasn't particularly good, but this garish, campy mess presaged the utter cinematic nightmare that is Batman & Robin. For years, director Joel Schumacher has borne the brunt of the blame for the two Bat-films he helmed, but apparently it was more executive meddling at work than anything. Unfortunately for him, the brand of shame remains. With the casting of Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent in the first Batman, there's the great missed opportunity to see how he would've portrayed Two Face (which was exactly why he was after the role in the first place). Now, I think a straight portrayal by Tommy Lee Jones would've been just fine, but instead we have him not just chewing the scenery but gorging on it as a cackling lunatic in a bitter war of one-upsmanship with Jim Carrey to see who could be the most outrageous live-action cartoon character. While it isn't quite as vicious an assault on the senses and sensibilities of the audience as the sequel, it does pummel you pretty hard if you're not expecting (or wanting) a heaping helping of camp that would make even the Adam West series blush.

Ridiculous as the movie is, it's not all bad. There's some interesting exploration of Batman's character, his struggles with who he is and what he does. Also, while I prefer the Riddler's portrayal in the animated series better, it was interesting to see him as an obsessed stalker of Bruce Wayne and Nygma's imitation of Wayne as he tries to make his mark as a high-powered businessman was a clever touch. I mentioned things being garish before and that's certainly the case, but I can't deny that the reimagining of Gotham is very visually striking. Also, Elliot Goldenthal's score is pretty good and feels like it thematically flows from what Danny Elfman established in the previous films.

If I didn't know it was going to be the standard girl of the week deal, I might care more about Bruce and Chase's romance, but, man, has that girl ever got issues. I guess if you're loony tunes and don't want to get locked up, you become a shrink. (You may enjoy comparing her stalkerish tendencies with Nygma's.) As for Chris O'Donnell's Robin, I can't say I liked him too much at all (though not as bitterly as I despised him in the next film), but I thought holding up his story in parallel with Batman's origins worked well thematically (and played well with Batman's struggle with his identity that was the main thrust of his character arc). Michael Gough never fails to class it up as Alfred and he gets one of the best lines in the movie.

I certainly don't like to think of myself as one of those grimdark-loving, brown shooter-obsessed types, but I tend to like my Batman stories on the darker and more serious side. (Though for some reason I love the camp value of Batman: The Brave and the Bold and tend to enjoy the Adam West series if for no better reason than childhood memories.) As such, this one struck out for me. Particularly the portrayal of Two Face rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not going to recommend it, but I'll readily admit that if you like more of a campy, jokey take on Batman (or if you can screen out that to focus on some of the good character dynamics), then you may actually enjoy it.

Avoid It