Before I get into the inevitably sad but nostalgic discussion about Joel Schumacher’s first (and, actually, best) Bat-film, Batman Forever, I’d like to tip my hat to Bat-fans. Off all of the fans in comics, they’ve been through the most. They’ve stuck with the character through thick and through thin and have lived through not one, not two, but three reboots of the Caped Crusader on screen.
First came the corny but endearing Batman TV show (and 1966 film), followed by Tim Burton’s Batman and the darker and weirder (and Burton-y-er) Batman Returns. Then came the dark times, when Schumacher went overboard and gave us Batnipples and Tommy Lee Two-Face.
You either a die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself dressed like Lady Gaga
Luckily, Christopher Nolan stepped in and set the record straight, making Batman cool again while giving us the fantastic and astronomically successful Dark Knight Trilogy. Now, we’ve got to endure yet another rebirth as Batman will once again be rebooted for Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs. Superman. This is a welcome move, and probably the best one, but my god, what a journey we’ve been through, eh?
The fact of the matter is, they will always be making Batman movies. Even if they have to go full on James Bond with the character they’ll do it, because the franchise is worth about as much money to Warner Bros. and DC as Bruce Wayne has in his trust fund. While fanboys are still raging in various corners of the internet about Ben Affleck’s casting, I’d like to shift gears and go back through time, and take a look at the unbelievably fun atrocity that is 1995’s Batman Forever.
First and foremost, this movie accomplishes what it sets out to do. Is it trying to be the dark and gritty take on Batman that we’ve grown to prefer? Absolutely not. Instead, Schumacher is stepping away from the tone of Burton’s films in favor of something more light and fun. Many criticize him for this now, but at the time it ended up being a tremendous success, which is what prompted him to go off the deep end for Batman & Robin.
In this film, it’s handled surprisingly well. We still get glimpses at the darker sides of the Bat, like brief flashbacks to his past, as well as the origin of Robin, but it’s all juxtaposed against a wild and wacky sensibility.
This brings me to the best aspect of the film, and the reason to return to it from time to time: Jim Carrey’s performance as the Riddler. It may not be the more calculating mastermind we’ve grown to love in the comics, but he’s great as a more over-the-top, Jim Carrey version of the Riddler. He completely overshadows Tommy Lee Jones’ horrible Two Face role, and almost makes up for TLJ’s inclusion in the film at all.
Unfortunately, TLJ is in the film. A Lot. In fact, the movie starts off on the wrong foot by featuring Two Face robbing a bank and taking hostages. The fact that his performance feels over the top in a film like this is really saying something. He also has some of the worst lines of dialogue in the film, which are just a precursor to the abominations that Schwarzenegger will have to speak in the sequel. While Nolan managed to give us a reason for caring about Two Face, all Schumacher manages to do is have him say lines like this when performing his iconic coin toss:
“Ah. Fortune smiles. Another day of wine and roses. Or, in your case, beer and pizza!”
To be fair, he does have one line he says to Batman that resonated with me as a kid that I still love to this day: “Why can’t you just die?” In a movie full of bad moments, that one is so, so good.
There’s one thing in particular that dooms this film even more than Jones: The Boy Wonder himself, played by Chris O’Donnell. Not only is O’Donnell pretty bad, but there’s nothing about Dick Grayson in this movie that couldn’t suggest he be played by someone who’s 16. And yet O’Donnell is 25 in this film and looks a bit older than that, making Bruce taking him under his wing a bit… creepy.
Casting a younger Dick would have at least excused his constant childish behavior, like taking the Batmobile on a joyride or this scene where he does his laundry like an asshole:
Oh, man. I wish I was that cool.
Can you believe this film was nominated for three Academy Awards? Yep! Cinematography, Sound, and Sound Editing. While I have no real complaints about the sound or sound editing (how are those two different things?), the cinematography in this film needs some work.
In fact, the whole production design is off, making this film exist in some alternate dimension where backgrounds are horribly computer generated and gangs operate in alleyways lit with black lights. It all adds to the film’s goofy aesthetic, which is fun to a certain degree, but a bit painful to look at nearly 20 years later.
One of the biggest problems with this film is that it’s completely impossible to take Batman seriously. Schumacher takes every opportunity to make a mockery of him, either with overly cheesy dialogue, his infamous “Batman suiting up” sequences, ridiculous gadgets, or having Alfred blatantly mock and make fun of him.
Joel Schumacher lingers on this shot for an… uncomfortable period of time.
Even Batman doesn’t take himself seriously! There’s seriously a moment in the film where Bruce is sitting at his desk in his office at Wayne Enterprises and says the word “chair,” which opens up a trap door beneath his desk that leads right to the Batcave. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up!
What if Bruce has a colleague over, who decides to sit at the desk and say, “Man, this is a nice chair!” WHOOSH! To the Batcave he goes! You’d think the world’s greatest detective could think of a better password, something you can’t use in casual conversation… like… “Banana Jam.”
Batman Forever is a film undoubtedly rife with problems and is yet a fun film to revisit every few years. Hardcore Bat-fans may find it atrocious, and the first nail in the coffin of this franchise before things truly got out of hand. Still, it’s fun to see Batman roaming the streets of Gotham fighting crime, and Jim Carrey’s performance makes the whole thing worthwhile. The scene where he infiltrates and destroys the Batcave still sticks with me to this day, not just because of its cheesy awesomeness but because The Riddler has found the Batcave! It’s goofy but tense at the same time.
Sure, Carrey is no Heath Ledger, and his spandex costume is godawful, but it’s okay to appreciate it for what it is.
When it comes down to it, that’s what you really have to do to enjoy this movie. It exists in a strange middle ground between Batman & Robin and Batman Returns, and though it’s safely sandwiched between the two, it’s a movie that’s in a league all its own.
Take a Drink: every time Jim Carrey dances
Take a Drink: every time Two Face flips a coin
Take a Drink: when Nicole Kidman tries to act (but completely fails)
Take a Drink: at every cheesy sound effect
Take a Drink: every time Alfred makes fun of Bruce
Take a Drink: every time they hint at Bruce’s parents dying
Do a Shot: when the Batmobile goes straight up a wall!!!
Do Another Shot: “I’ll get drive thru.”