Rachel Trombley defends the first of Joel Schumacher’s “neon nightmares.”
Who made it?: Joel Schumacher (Director), Akiva Goldsman, Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler (Writers), Tim Burton, Peter Macgregor-Scott (Producers), Warner Bros. Pictures.
Who’s in it?: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore.
Tagline: “Courage now, truth always…”
IMDb rating: 5.4/10.
Despite my love for all the Batman movies (excluding one), the third instalment is the one I remember the best, and definitely the one I watched the most as a kid. My favourite colour happens to be green, and there is A LOT of green in Batman Forever… perhaps there’s a connection there. This movie is not the cheesiest, not the most over-the-top, and not even the worst of the Batman collection. I think we all know which one is, especially when reinforced by the Nostalgia Critic. But it is cheesy and over-the-top. And neon. My god, is it neon…
The opening credits display confidence that the audience knows exactly what movie this is, like old friends returning, and they don’t waste any time with over-long introductions. The star names swish past us, accompanying the altered theme by new composer Elliot Goldenthal (Alien³), who was not encouraged to take inspiration from Danny Elfman’s previous work so that Forever would have its own sound. There is absolutely no need to place Batman’s name anywhere; the title is completed by the green lettered “FOREVER” materialising over the Bat symbol. Tim Burton returns for his third Batman outing, but this time he takes on the role of producer and hands over the directorial reins to Joel Schumacher, director of classic vampire tale The Lost Boys (1987) and The Phantom of the Opera (2004). And, yes, Batman & Robin (1997), but I will say no more on that – it just needed to be pointed-out that he has done decent work, too. We all make mistakes.
Batman Forever kicks-in with extreme close-ups of Batman’s gadgetry as he prepares to head out into Gotham. His entrance is fittingly mysterious, although not quite as dramatic as previous introductions, as he sweeps up the steps towards the Batmobile. There stands our Dark Knight as we pull-up to reveal his face; Micheal Keaton wished to pursue other projects rather than reprise his role, so we are introduced to the latest Batman player, Val Kilmer. Loyal butler Alfred (Micheal Gough) stands at the ready, before they utter the first exchange of the film:
“Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?”
“I’ll get drive-thru.”
Bam! Welcome to Batman Forever. Embrace the insanity and enjoy the ride, because that’s just a taster of what’s in store.
When Batman pulls up at the scene of chaos he’s been beckoned to, it’s a blaze of colour. For some reason, there is a neon theme running throughout this film which I can only assume is the result of being made in the 90s, so Gotham looks more like Tokyo. Even the people in the crowd reflect this, some of them having ultra-bright hair that belongs to the Capitol citizens of The Hunger Games. However, the look is reminiscent of traditional comic book panels, where everything was bold and colourful. Forever is something of a reprise of the cheesier, more playful (and most importantly, child-friendly) Batman series of the 1960s. In fact, the rating for this sequel was lowered to a PG, whereas the previous two instalments were both 15 certificates in the UK, with much harsher edges and more obvious violence. Batman Returns (1992) grossed nearly $300 million worldwide, which was still less than Batman (1989). Warner Bros suspected this was because of its darker tones. Feeling that they had lost money, they requested a sequel which was family-friendly, and Forever was deemed a success when it came away with a higher taking of $336,531,112.
Commisioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) waits in the opening scene with a newcomer to Gotham, Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), a psychologist who is both smart and sexy. And apparently Bats has a thing for blondes, too, as they also appear to be a running theme throughout the films.
After a little flirty introduction with Chase, Batman goes to deal with one half of our villain duo, Harvey Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones). No doubt there have been many comparisons between this Two-Face and the version played by Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight (2008), and for me, Eckhart wins completely. His take on disgraced DA Harvey Dent is subtle but emotional, and he is much more frightening than the brightly coloured, over-dramatic and batshit-insane type that Jones brings to the table. Eckhart is human, whereas Jones is hammy, making his performance perfectly acceptable for kids but draining away the potential scariness of a character so damaged for the older viewers. Hell, even Jack Nicholson’s Joker managed to be frightening despite his performance being that of a caricature. Jones just looks ridiculous, although it’s impressive how the acid which scarred his face a vivid magenta managed to do so in a perfectly straight line. And on top of all this, his henchman look like gimps with their balaclavas and piercings.
After the exaggerated pursuit is over, and the amorous Chase has lured Batman in for another flirting session with the Bat signal, we are introduced to our second villain, Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey), a worker at Wayne Enterprises who is scarily obsessed with Bruce Wayne. To fanboy level, actually. It’s actually more unnerving than The Riddler is at any point in the film, which is a shame. After failing to impress Bruce with a “mind manipulating” invention, Nygma sets out to prove him wrong, experimenting on his furious boss before killing him and faking his suicide. Nygma takes inspiration from Two-Face when he sees him attack a charity event on TV, and creates his own “villain” persona. While he and Two-Face make an insane and ridiculous team, it’s clear that Nygma is younger and more enthusiastic, but not as experienced, shall we say, in his villainous line of work. This is despite the fact Two-Face is much like an overgrown child himself.
Sadly, Jim Carrey is more Jim Carrey than either Edward Nygma or The Riddler, which is a downfall he has experienced in a number of films. One of my personal favourite performances of Carrey’s is in I Love You Phillip Morris (2009), where, despite slipping into himself in a couple of moments, I was impressed overall by his take on the character of Steven Russell, a gay con man who falls in love with a fellow prisoner during his time in jail. Out of the two performances, I feel that Carrey’s is better, because he at least carries some undertones of the 60s Riddler played by Frank Gorshin, even if he is wildly exaggerated.
Batman Forever is also the first introduction in this series of the Boy Wonder, Robin/Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell). He is orphaned after his acrobat family is killed in an attempt to stop a bomb set by Two-Face at a charity event, which Nygma watches. After feeling guilt at being unable to save his parents, and understanding the pain of losing family, Bruce convinces Dick to stay with him at Wayne Manor. Robin’s acrobatics outfit harks back to the 60s costume Robin used to wear, before it is replaced with his own rubber suit with subtle colouration. This Robin is definitely more badass than the boy running around in little green hot pants, though. At one point, he even steals the Batmobile for a joyride around the seedier streets of Gotham, and saves a girl from a neon catacomb and its army of brightly-painted ninja thugs. Luckily, Batman catches up with him.
Meanwhile, Riddler and Two-Face team up to carry out a heist and steal enough cash to get the green imp mass production for his “boxes.” These devices are designed to sit atop a television and suck in the viewer, while their secrets and thoughts are beamed directly into The Riddler’s brain through a massive green aurora floating through the skies of Gotham. And they look like blenders with crystallised polystyrene in them. (Just for fun: when watching the movie, see if you can spot the continuity error when The Riddler is examining a diamond during the heist.)
Two-Face agrees to a partnership just because he wants to kill Batman, which The Riddler promises him is possible with his help. It was by a flip of his famous two-headed coin that Riddler was lucky enough to get the deal going rather than getting shot in the face. Only a couple of these in-between scenes have any weight to the story – some show the villains progress in carrying out their plans, but mainly they are opportunities for mild cross-dressing and silly slapstick, such as the “show me how to punch a guy” moment.
They seem to be filler between the scenes with Chase and Bruce, examining their growing feelings for each other whist they discuss the riddles which have been sent to him, and Chases’ dilemma in being torn between Bruce and Batman. Meanwhile, Bruce is consistently troubled by his past and memories of his parents’ funeral. This is a subtle reference to Batman: Year One by Schumacher.
Using the brain-draining machine, Nygma manages to steal the memory of an ominous flying bat from Bruce’s mind at a party celebrating his sales success, leading him and Two-Face to discover that Bruce is secretly Batman. Acting on this knowledge, they break into Bruce’s mansion on Halloween night before he can confess all to Chase, kidnap her, destroy the Batcave, and leave him with one final riddle to solve. He and newly-accepted partner Robin finally collaborate to take them on, engaging in a final battle at Riddler and Two-Face’s island hideaway.
There is almost a “happily ever after” ending in which Chase is well-aware of Bruce’s secret career and accepts it, happy to be in love with the man behind the Bat. Batman and Robin, the Dynamic Duo, have been born and, as we all know, they’ll return in another adventure. But that’s a story for another time.
The first two films under Burton’s direction were much darker in lighting and atmosphere, giving Gotham a far more, well, Gothic and shadowy look – a distinct comparison to the bright lights and bigger city of Batman Forever. And Gotham had a lot more personality when it was sinister and gloomy, unfortunately. This goes for the Batcave, too, which is far less cavernous and impressive than it was in Batman Returns, looking more high-tech but sadly downsized. Even the DVD covers show a massive difference between the movies; Returns is simple yet well-composed, with the three main characters’ faces shrouded by blackness, making them stand-out. Below them is a very small, unobtrusive image of the penguins with their little rockets. The Forever cover is, just like the film, ablaze with colour and a tad overcrowded. It tries to fit in all five main characters, plus the Batmobile and the Bat Signal, with little regard for composition, other than to ensure Batman’s image is the biggest.
And yet we see much less of Batman actually fighting in Forever. More often than not he is driving or using gadgets, and even when he swoops down to save Dick from being overpowered by thugs, it’s the only thing he has to do to send them running. A disappointment when you remember the fantastic skills seen in the last film, fighting circus freaks in the streets with his bare gloves. Overall, though, Batman Forever is most definitely fun. Why so serious? If you want a straight, dramatic and dark Batman adventure, go and watch The Dark Knight. If you don’t mind a little cheese, but want more drama than the original 60s Batman, Forever may be just the ticket. You can watch it and still enjoy it even if its ridiculous, because the ridiculousness is actually quite funny. It may be aimed at a younger demographic, but it is still Batman.
Oh, does anyone remember the end credits track, “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me” by U2? Beware Bono’s orgasm near the end.
Two-Face and The Riddler successfully break into the Batcave. Wow. Shame it isn’t as suspenseful as it should be.
- Val Kilmer learned he was the new Batman while he was literally in a bat cave in Africa, doing research for The Ghost and the Darkness. He accepted the role without reading the script.
- In the original Batman, District Attorney Harvey Dent was played by Billy Dee Williams. Williams accepted the role with the knowledge and expectation that Dent would eventually become Two-Face: he reportedly had a clause put into his contract reserving the role for him in any sequels, which Warner Bros. had to buy out so they could cast Tommy Lee Jones.
- Dick Grayson suggests “Nightwing” for a hero name; an in-joke for the comic books, where Dick Grayson had appeared as Nightwing, an identity he took after he abandoned the Robin costume in the 1980s, before leaving it to become the new Batman over 25 years later.
- When left at Wayne Manor, Grayson informs Wayne that he is leaving. To this, Bruce replies that the circus would be halfway to Metropolis, which is the city of Superman. The Man of Steel would be referenced by name at the start of Batman & Robin.
- There’s a lengthy deleted scene in which Bruce comes across a presumably imaginary giant bat in the caves beneath the mansion. Was this a test for a future instalment featuring Man-Bat?
- In the movie, there is a scene where Two-Face keeps flipping his coin until he gets a result he wants. In the comics, a key element of his split personality is that he unquestioningly accepts the result of a single coin toss concerning any decision he makes.
- This film marks the first appearance of Arkham Asylum in a live action Batman film.
- Elizabeth Sanders, who plays Gossip Gerty, is the widow of Bob Kane, the man who created the Batman character.
- Joel Schumacher’s decision to put nipples on the Bat-costumes and an earring on Robin caused controversy – it even bothered Batman creator Bob Kane. Schumacher said he wanted the costumes to have an anatomic look, while the earring was supposed to make Robin more hip.