Retrospective: Batman Forever

The franchise undergoes dramatic changes both in front and behind the camera, with Joel Schumacher being entrusted with the Dark Knight. Meanwhile Val Kilmer is the millionaire behind the mask reluctantly teaming up with a troubled youth to take on a dastardly double act threatening Gotham’s people – and their minds.

Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris O’Donnell, Nicole Kidman, Michael Gough
Rating: 12
Run Time: 121 Minutes
Release Date: 16 June 1995 (US)

“Holy rusted metal, Batman!

If one quote ever summed up a film, it was this.

Tim Burton’s efforts for the first two Batman films had established the lead character as a dark brooding loner in a dark gloomy city. There was no mistaking the intention or presentation. However it was that environment and character outlook that was worrying Warner Bros. would alienate a whole market they could not tap into for the all-important merchandising; kids and families. A hark back to the family-friendly Batman of the 60s.

Changes were made; Burton’s role was changed to producer, while Joel Schumacher was brought in to direct, charged with dragging Batman from his dark gloomy world and making him appealing to a bright, funny, family-friendly environment. Where his likeness could be used for t-shirts and stationary and McDonalds tie-ins, and not have it be linked to a man who (maybe inadvertently) drops men into vats of acid. This was a new Batman for a new generation, and we had better get used to it. And get used to it we had to quickly, as it was apparent immediately what changes had been made. Gotham was no longer a gothic, noir-like setting, there was colour, neon colour at that, and it was brighter. The film was a marketer’s dream. Commercialisation is a fact of life – especially in big-budget Hollywood movies – but after what Burton had brought is previously, this seemed out of place. As too did the lead; Keaton had pulled out of returning for a third crack at the Bat, and Val Kilmer was drafted in to replace him. Immediately a connection was lost, as Kilmer regrettably does not possess the charisma to lead a film as it’s hero. His Bruce Wayne is not particularly likeable or funny. His early scenes with Kidman’s Dr Chase Meridian (a character neither meangingful or that important, unfortuntely) come across as awkward and I’m not sure they are meant to. And when he suits up, he is nothing more than a dressed-up fighter with no real personality. There is nothing that compels the viewer to make you root for him to overcome the odds. A problem amplified when he is faced with two men who have charisma and screen presence to spare.


Warner Bros.

In Burton’s original the main issue was that Batman found himself playing second-fiddle to Jack Nicholson’s Joker, which was no fault of Keaton and more because the writing and direction of that movie predominantly focused on that. Here, Kilmer is given every chance to hold him own against Carrey’s Riddler and Jones’ Two-Face. Unfortunately he comes up way short. Carrey in particular steals virtually every scene he appears in, and is a joy to watch as he totally immerses himself in the character, and most times it comes across that he isn’t even trying. It’s such a natural role for him and one that suited him perfectly for his usual film roles at that time. Other top names were rumoured for the role, but after watching Carrey prance and preen it is nigh on impossible to see absolutely anyone coming close to matching what he did. The scene in which he takes apart the Batcave is a delightfully-performed masterpiece in comedy acting. It almost seems cruel to have Kilmer head-to-head with him when there is no chance of Carrey being outperformed in this movie. Every scene Batman (or Wayne) and Riddler share is so one-sided it makes you wonder if Schumacher knew and was okay with having his lead be overshadowed like this by the villain of the piece. It was Burton’s Batman all over again.

No slouch himself, Tommy Lee Jones of course brings his natural charisma to the screen, though it would have been good to see him play Two-Face as somebody more than just a deranged Joker knock-off, especially when there was so much more depth he could have explored with it. Even if the character’s origins (which was briefly touched upon via flashback) weren’t utilised, it still felt like a waste of something that could have been so much more. Jones was clearly using this for fun and certainly could be accused of hamming it up. The later revelation that he originally took the role purely because his son was a fan of the character would suggest that it was a fun role for him and nothing more.


Warner Bros.

We also got introduced to Dick Grayson/Robin for the first time in the big-screen Batman story. It’s fair to say that the experiment did not pay off, with O’Donnell coming across most of the time liked an undisciplined boy and not the rightful partner of the Dark Knight. Subtle changes were made to Grayson’s backstory, of course, and there was even time for a Nightwing reference early on. Must appeal to the comic book fans still sore over the previous movie’s deviations from the source material.

Elsewhere there was cosmetic changes made to Batman and his toys. The Batsuit was changed, with a new edgier suit favoured. By the film’s end another new costume had been introduced, featuring sonar capabilities conveniently required for the movie’s final act battle. The Batmobile too underwent major changes, again to fit the desired tone of the movie. All of these changes didn’t seem required following Burton’s two Bats outings, but new costumes and vehicles (including the Batwing and Bat-boat) all aided towards merchandise sales. Once again, marketability won out over artistic merit.

The story of the whole film really.


[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]
Carrey lights up the screen as Riddler
While Two-Face could be better, Jones adds much-needed charisma

[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]
Heavy family-friendly marketing hurt the character
Poor creative and design decisions.
Kilmer tries, but he fails to pull off a convincing Bruce Wayne or Batman


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A co-owner of this here website, as well as a Writer, Podcaster and Designer. I'm well known for my enthusiasm and positivity. You can find out what's on my mind by following me on Twitter and by checking out The Geek Show, The Podcast of Wisdom and Ring the Bell.