This is the point in the original Batman franchise where the tone and quality of the films completely change. Tim Burton’s Batman was dark, but still kid-friendly enough to sell movie tickets. In fact, I feel that movie perfectly walked the fine line between being too kiddy and too adult. It was great for (almost) all ages. Batman Returns was clearly going for a different feel, and probably lost a lot of its young audience as a result. Batman Forever is the start of a massive overcorrection to steer these movies back into kid movie territory. But instead of a nudge, which is all that was really needed, this film was shoved way over the line.
The result is pretty bad. Everything is cartoony, but too much so. At the same time, Gotham is semi-reimagined to look more like a real city. The juxtaposition of over-the-top sets, like The Riddler’s hideout, and street scenes that look like they were filmed on actual streets is weird. the filmmakers were clearly trying to make Gotham feel like a real city. However, it’s inhabited by mostly one-dimensional characters, which is a huge problem.
This brings me to the cast. Val Kilmer takes over the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, and he’s very good at both. It’s a shame he only got one turn in the suit. (Though I’m sure a part of him is glad after having to deliver the cringeworthy “I’ll get drive-thu” line, which was clearly included for fast food tie in commercials.) Tommy Lee Jones replaces Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, which is also a shame because I would have loved to see Lando Calrissian’s interpretation of the role. Jones is good, but a bit too overblown. It also bothers me that his character is introduced before his backstory, and that said backstory inadequately explains why Dent would go from trusted district attorney to crazed murderer. Jim Carrey is The Riddler, a one-dimensional character if there ever was one. His true identity, Edward Nigma, has a massive man-crush on Bruce Wayne, but when Wayne shoots down his latest invention he goes crazy. Well, more accurately, he goes crazier; he was already pretty crazy before. Nicole Kidman is… there. I can’t even remember her character’s name or importance to the story.
And then there’s Robin. We are finally introduced to the Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson, played by Chris O’Donnell. How to describe him? Well, the name “Dick” has never been more apt. He’s a major jerk, and I’m not surprised Batman doesn’t want to work with him. I admire Batman’s restraint because I would have definitely punched him in the face. I also can’t pin down how old this character is supposed to be. He’s definitely not a teen, but he certainly acts like a punk-ass 14 year old.
The music in this installment is also lacking. The score composed by Danny Elman in the first two is abandoned. This sucks because it was awesome. However, I do have a major soft spot for Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose,” which was included on the movie’s soundtrack. I was heavily into watching VH1 by 1995, and this music video aired pretty much every day for two solid months.
I really liked this movie when it first came out in 1995. I was the definition of their target market, a nerdy teenager who loved comics. This film delivered then, but it has lost some of its lustre since. I don’t like it when people lump this film in with the debacle that is Batman and Robin though. While Forever is not a great film, it is not as bad as Batman and Robin. It is much better.
Val Kilmer replaces Michael Keaton in this film and he brings new complaints. Keaton was a solid Batman, but struggled to convince the audience he could be the debonair playboy Bruce Wayne. Kilmer is the opposite, he has the playboy good looks and charm you would expect Bruce Wayne to have, but he struggles as Batman. I’m not sure why he doesn’t make a good Batman. There is just something missing. Keaton had a very pronounced jaw line that looked really good in the Batman costume, and a naturally deep voice. Kilmer has neither of those things so he struggles to pull off the Batman costume well.
As with most Batman films, the movie is made or broken by the villains. Tommy Lee Jones is an ordinary Two Face, but it’s not his fault. The script gives you none of his back story. The character arch of Harvey Dent is one of the most heartbreaking fall from graces in literature, but here all of that is swept aside and Two Face becomes not much more than a deranged bank robber who has a grudge against The Dark Knight. The other villain is different. It was a surprise when Jim Carrey was cast as the Riddler. Some old school Hollywood talent like Robin Williams had been petitioning for the role for years, but Carrey was the flavour of the month in Hollywood during the mid-90s. He was coming off huge hits with Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb & Dumber. It was smart to get someone so popular in this film given the gap between the last film and the big changes the studio wanted in terms of tone from the last film.
Warner Brothers considered the last film, Batman Returns, to be something of a disappointment financially. They thought the film was too dark, so there was a big push to make this film more family friendly and more similar in tone to the 60s TV series. Tim Burton and his gothic style was punted to a producer credit, and there is a distinct push to make the film feel more cartoony. This is apparently why Michael Keaton turned down the role of playing Batman for a third time as he didn’t like this new direction the series was headed in. You can argue about this all you want, but the fact is, Batman should be for kids too. He is a comic book character and if children can’t see the film, there is probably something wrong with it. People complain a lot about Carrey’s over the top performance, but you can’t really. You don’t hire Jim Carrey to be anything but over the top in his films. He is a lot of fun as The Riddler and has some of the best lines and facial expressions of the film. By this time, Carrey was one of the most well-known and popular actors in Hollywood, and this was a big coup to get him in this film.
Another new addition to the cast is Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson, better known as Robin. I have a few problems with this casting, but understand why they did it. In the comics, Robin is meant to be not much more than 12 or 13 years old. I completely understand why the studio would have reservations about pairing a swinging bachelor like Bruce Wayne with a teenager. In today’s society there are too many question marks about paedophilia with their relationship , but it is still a shame they couldn’t be truer to the character. O’Donnell looks at least 25 in this film, and while he is a fun and charismatic character, it would’ve been nice if they could have stuck more closely to Robin’s comic book roots.
Nicole Kidman rounds out the cast as a token love interest for Bruce Wayne/Batman. She’s fine, but not much more than that.
I still like this movie. It is entertaining. After watching them so close together for the first time in a while, I like it just as much as the original Batman. It’s very different from the first two, but I think people need to understand that Batman wasn’t always this brooding loner and for a big part of his comic book life, he was a lot more colourful. This film does a really good job of walking the line being too ‘kiddy’ but also entertaining the adult Batman fans. And compared to the next instalment, it’s friggin Citizen Kane.