Batman Forever Retrospective

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By: Kimberly Kuxhause

Batman Forever debuted in 1995, three years after the iconic Batman Returns, with the wondrously dark tale of Bruce Wayne and his tortured psyche fresh in our minds. Yet it was obvious from the get-go that the character on our movie screens was not the same caped crusader we had come to know and love. His alien world, changed face, and newly nippled chest sent viewers on a chaotic thrill ride through a nightmarish cast of characters. Although the movie achieved financial success, critics were less than pleased. So what caused the bat-astrophe known as Batman Forever?

First, let’s look at the positives. Batman Forever was a financial success, partially because of its lighter tone and decent effects. It had an entirely original score, thanks to Elliot Goldenthal, which, like the movie, achieved commercial success. The softer material allowed families the opportunity to see the film together (no pesky penguin to bite off fingers here!). And yet, despite the lighter characters, it still had an all-star cast. Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, and Jim Carrey brought their acting chops and displayed them with vibrant gusto. In re-watching the movie, their performances made me wonder why I didn’t revisit Batman Forever more often. Then, I remembered.

The darkness of Batman and Batman Returns brought a serious tone to the series, granting a sense of risk and urgency. This urgency was necessary to maintain the audience’s interest for an entire two hours. Yet that urgency faded in Joel Schumacher’s adaptation, which included a dizzying number of characters – Jim Gordon, Robin, Batman, Chase Meridian, Two Face, Riddler, and Alfred, among others. The movie’s segmented scenes attempt to give each character their own story arc. Harvey Dent’s origins get but a mention on a TV news station, which is easily missed, and Edward Nygma’s mental break occurs within the span of two minutes. Villains appear, and then exist, with little to nothing justifying their descent into lunacy. The same is true with our supposed heroes. Dick Grayson is introduced and characterized in a flash and in the exact same scene, his entire family is killed. The Waynes iconic death scene is explored (a second time) as Schumacher attempts to revisit and rewrite the Dark Knight’s origins with a guilt-tripping journal thrown into the mix. And yet the origin’s attempted exploration, and explanation, fades away in light of Dr. Meridian and Wayne’s budding love story…or do I mean Dr. Meridian and Batman’s love story? At this point, I doubt even the characters know.

And a lot of what made Batman Returns a critical success, like the dark wit and the mysterious sets, disintegrated in favor of a lighter background and comic relief. The city of Gotham became some kind of mash-up between New York City and the futuristic cities of Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Neon signs and graffiti were everywhere – on gangsters’ faces, on walls, and on buildings. Nightmarish statues lurked above the cramped town, depicting gargoyles and tortured souls. Gotham’s twisted streets became mockery of itself – the criminals weren’t actually dangerous and the heroes weren’t all that good. And boy oh boy, do I have words about the constant, never-ending pun-land. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pun and oodles of situational irony, but Schumacher’s vision sapped out every cringeworthy ounce of hokey-ness the script could offer, particularly in Robin’s case.

I don’t blame the actors for their performances; in fact, I think they did rather well with the task at hand. And I can’t completely hate on Schumacher, as I thoroughly enjoyed his work on The Phantom of the Opera and Phone Booth. But the overall tone, comedic relief, and warped vision of Gotham left me uncomfortable and unsatisfied. It’s predictable and alien all at the same time. Mainly, I attribute the film’s failings to the new “light” concept executives wanted Batman Forever to have. Batman is either a dark (see Keaton or Bale) or campy (Adam West) character; there is no in between. Anything in between and you get a confused, aimless character. In my experience, a straight to film adaptation of comics isn’t enough to attract moviegoers and I think that’s what Schumacher attempted to do here. Whether you look at Batman Forever, Superman Returns, or the incredibly cringeworthy Hulk (2003), the comic format isn’t forgiving on the big screen.

All this being said, there are those who adore Batman Forever. I both see and acknowledge you. But for me, and a significant number of others, the chaotic compilation of good, bad, and neutral characters diluted the plot and simplified the characters. The film did not achieve the depth of its predecessors which made it hard to care about Gotham’s fate. I left the movie conflicted about the series – a feeling which only worsened with the sequel.


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