Batman Forever (1995) – Directed by Joel Schumacher – Starring Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Chris O’Donnell, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, René Auberjonois, Ed Begley Jr., Debi Mazar, and Michael Gough.
BATMAN FOREVER is a louder and dumber Batman film than its two immediate predecessors, but it’s also a film designed to appeal to a wider audience; it is a live-action Saturday morning cartoon, big on overblown colors and action, yet unlike other, finer examples of the type (like the highly underrated Speed Racer), FOREVER is spiced with a bit of campy bawdiness.
As an attempt to be big, loud, and colorful, BATMAN FOREVER is a resounding success, but as an attempt to be anything more than that, it’s an artistic failure. There’s nothing smart or clever or insightful about BATMAN FOREVER, and save a few scenes between Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donell) and Alfred (Michael Gough), there’s not much here to dwell on.
Of course, BATMAN FOREVER isn’t the kind of movie that’s meant to be dwelt upon; unlike BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS, FOREVER is simply meant to offer enough bang and flash to get your butt in the seats. Back in 1995, they got my cash and buckets more from other people, so while the film is an artistic dud, it was also a huge commercial success, grossing over $300 million worldwide. So I’ll give the film it’s due as a commercial powerhouse before getting to the part I care about – the actual movie.
There’s any number of ways to approach tearing this movie apart, but it’s the characters that ultimately doom FOREVER. Joel Schumacher is every bit as talented a director as Tim Burton, but for all of his skill with the camera and with pacing, BATMAN FOREVER is simply obnoxious thanks to the clowns that fill up the screen.
While it’s easy to point to the malodorous and buffoonish Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), it’s the Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) character that’s the most silly. Chase is a shrink brought to town at the request of Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), and she’s a full-on wannabe Batman groupie. From the moment Bats drops down out of the sky, Chase lets her intentions to get herself some cape and cowl action be known. While there’s nothing wrong with a smart professional woman wanting to get a piece, Chase uses Two-Face’s assault on the bank and taking of hostages as an opportunity to present herself to Batman, flirting and fawning over him. She’s little more than a silly male fantasy – she’s brilliant, she’s gorgeous, and she’s obsessed with you. Oh, and when she eventually rejects you, she’s actually rejecting the you that wears rubber for the you that wears a suit. I think I can safely say from experience that this is not the normal path women follow. I can’t tell you how many times a brilliant, gorgeous, obsessed woman has ordered me to come to her place at midnight, kissed me when I arrived, instantly changed her mind about the whole thing, told me I’m some silly schoolgirl fantasy, and then sent me away so she can make out with me later when I’ve taken off the rubber suit and replaced with a turtleneck and blazer combo. Oh wait, I can tell you how many times that’s happened because it’s happened zero times. If they don’t want you in the rubber suit, they don’t want you in a turtleneck. Chase Meridian is a ridiculous human being.
This might be the dumbest Batman (Val Kilmer) on record, as he spends most of the film staring stupidly out from behind his mask. Kilmer couldn’t look more bored, though I guess we’re supposed to see him as stoic and emotionally detached. He gives such a blank performance that it’s hard to find a lot to say about him; it is nice to see that Schumacher actually has an interest in Batman, and if there’s one area where FOREVER is better than RETURNS, it’s in the focus on the guy whose name is in the film’s title. Unfortunately, Kilmer has all the charisma of a wet napkin.
His scenes with Chris O’Donnell fall flat.
His scenes with Nicole Kidman fall flat.
In fact, the only person in the film he has any kind of chemistry with is Drew Barrymore’s Sugar, and even then, it only works compared to everything else.
Kilmer also has to perform one of the single dumbest scenes in cinematic history. After Bats shows up at Chase’s place to be her late night booty call and she rejects him in favor of Bruce, Kilmer-as-Batman walks forward, stops in frame, and puts on the fakest smile ever. It’s the single most uncool moment a superhero has ever had.
It also brings up FOREVER’s biggest sin, which is that things happen because the moment needs them to happen; there is little sense of an actual story here, of actual character arcs or narrative cohesion. There’s a constant sense of the story being made up as it goes along. Batman gets rejected by Chase in one scene and in the next one he’s decided Batman is retired forever. We know he means this because he walks around with a remote control shutting down the Batcave, but it comes out of nowhere. It’s like he’s a teenage boy with a job, who then touches his first boob, and decides he’ll never work again.
If there is a Hell, and if Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey wind up there, they’ll spend eternity watching these performances. Both actors spend the film trying to out-ham the other to such a ridiculous degree that one might wonder what they’re doing in the movie. In part, the answer is that it was 1995, a time when Tommy Lee Jones was in 18 movies a year and Jim Carrey was just starting to become a major Hollywood superstar. They are nearly unwatchable, however, and the decision to have Jones try to out-crazy Carrey was an insanely dumb one. When Jones is good in the movie, it’s when he plays things understated. When he’s over-the-top, he just looks old and pathetic.
As for Carrey … good Lord, what were you thinking, early ’90s? Carrey doesn’t give a performance as much as he just throws silly voices and faces and poses at the wall in the hopes that you find him amusing enough to allow him to have a career. I hate him in this role. I would say it’s the worst role of his career, but he does have the Grinch on his resume. If this is better, it’s only slightly so, because he is god-awful here. He’s not playing the Riddler; he’s playing Jim Carrey wearing the Riddler’s clothes.
All of that said, BATMAN FOREVER is not without some redeeming qualities. There’s the Robin-Alfred relationship. There’s the breakneck pacing. The U2 song isn’t bad. There’s … um … well, that shot of the Bat signal being turned into the period at the bottom of a question mark is pretty cool. The reference to Metropolis ain’t bad. Beyond that, though, BATMAN FOREVER is just a really stupid movie.
Unless watching the Batmobile drive up the side of a building is your thing.