Batman Forever (1995, Joel Schumacher)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

It’s double trouble for Batman when he has to combat both former District Attorney Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent and ex-employee Edward Nygma, aka the Riddler…

Good guys: Michael Keaton jumped ship after two films, so Batman has been recast. It’s now Val Kilmer in the role and he’s absolutely rotten. There’s no charm, no sparkle, no life to the performance – at times, no expression. We see newly shot flashbacks to Bruce’s parents’ murder, then scenes of a young Bruce in mourning and being terrified by a giant bat. The present-day version sees something of himself in new friend Dick Grayson – they’ve both been orphaned – but he’s initially reluctant to have the lad as a sidekick. We first meet Dick (Chris O’Donnell) when he and his family are in an acrobatic circus troupe called the Flying Graysons. After the others are killed, Dick is taken in by Bruce. Intrigued by a locked door in Wayne Manor, Dick stumbles across the Batcave, steals the Batmobile, and pretends to be Batman to impress women. He then decides he’s going to be Batman’s partner – using his dad’s old nickname for him, Robin, and a costume that echoes the red and green of his acrobatic outfit. Meanwhile, Bruce is having a romantic subplot with psychologist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman, bland). There’s no chemistry at all between her and Bruce. Rene Russo was originally cast in the part and would have been *much* better, but there was a worry that she was too old (41) to play opposite Val Kilmer (36). Sigh.

Bad guys: Again, there are two villains. Harvey Dent had been in the first film in this series, but Billy Dee Williams has been replaced by a more bankable star: Tommy Lee Jones. Dent was Gotham’s DA. After being attacked in court (a scene we see briefly), he’s disfigured and insane. His face and costume are split 50/50 down the middle, reflecting his new name: Two-Face. He tosses a coin to help make decisions and has homoerotic henchmen. Out for revenge, he wants Batman dead – so teams up with the film’s other big guy. Jim Carrey does his usual tiresome shtick as the Riddler. The character begins as geeky lab rat Edward Nygma, who works for – and has a man-crush on – Bruce Wayne. He’s been researching brainwaves; after he goes a bit crazy, he starts to send Wayne cryptic messages. In order to get the money to launch his new 3D TV system, which reads people’s minds, he joins forces with Two-Face. Bruce ends up using his machine, so the Riddler learns that he’s Batman. He and Two-Face then break into Wayne Manor and destroy the Batcave; they kidnap both Robin and Chase, but are defeated. The Riddler ends up in an asylum.

Other guys: Alfred and Gordon are back from the last couple of films, again played by Michael Gough and Pat Hingle. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar appear as Two-Face’s diametrically opposed molls: Sugar and Spice.

Best bits:

* Gotham City has had a makeover. Architecturally speaking, it’s still a masterpiece of heightened Gothic design – there are also bits of Art Deco and baroque in there too. But it’s had a pop-art infusion of colour: virtually every space has floods of red, purple, green or yellow light. It’s like a nightmarish neon-lit Tokyo.

* Batman’s escape chute, allowing him quick access from his desk to the Batcave.

* Batman, to Chase: “It’s the car, right? Chicks love the car.” Later in the same flirty banter, Chase refers obliquely to Catwoman.

* When his boss fires him, Nygma pushes him out of a window. Defenestration or people falling off a building are a recurring theme in these movies – Lois in Superman and Superman IV, Gus in Superman III, Grissom in Batman, Selina in Batman Returns

* The fake suicide note: “To: Whom It May Concern. From: Fred Stickley. Re: My Suicide. Goodbye Cruel World!”

* Nygma’s ridiculously narrow apartment.

* Bruce looking at a Rorschach test and assuming it’s a picture of a bat.

* Two-Face threatens to blow up a circus tent full of people if Batman doesn’t reveal himself. Bruce shouts out: “I’m Batman!” but no one hears him in the panic.

* A quick reference to Metropolis.

* The Batmobile driving up the side of a building.

* Nygma using Photoshop to try out looks for his new persona. He has a list of potential names too: “The Puzzler? The Gamester? Captain Kill? Question-mark Man?”

* Two-Face’s divided-down-the-middle lair: in each half, there’s a girlfriend and a different design aesthetic. (It reminded me of that Steptoe & Son episode where they cut their house in half but can’t decide who gets the telly.)

* The Riddler and Two-Face’s version of Crocodile Dundee’s “That’s not a knife!” joke – this time with diamonds.

* We see 32 TV viewers captivated by the Riddler’s 3D TV device. One of them is a dog.

* Batman crashing through a skylight, landing in a fountain and back-flipping into some bad guys. The Riddler, to Two-Face: “Your entrance was good; his was better.”

* “I need a name,” says Dick. “Batboy? Nightwing? What do you think? What’s a good sidekick name?”

* The Riddler and Two-Face playing Battleships for real as Batman and Robin approach in boats.

* “Holy rusted metal, Batman!” exclaims Robin as he notices the ground is made of metal. “It’s full of holes. You know, holey.”

* Batman getting Two-Face to toss his coin – then throwing a handful more at him.

* Oh, look: it’s Rene Auberjonois (Police Academy 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Warehouse 13) as a doctor at Arkham Asylum.

Review: “Was that over the top?” asks the Riddler at one point. “I can never tell!” Well, yes. Yes, it was. Batman Forever often matches the 1960s Batman series in terms of how ridiculous, outrageous and risible it is. However, that earlier incarnation had a clear underlying irony. New director Joel Schumacher doesn’t seem aware of the concept. He’s gone for a very different tone from Tim Burton’s take: more flippant, less witty; more cartoony, less plausible; more childish, less interesting. There are off-kilter camera angles, whether they suit the scene or not; there are numerous self-referential gags; and half the cast think they’re in a panto while the other half think it’s a daytime soap opera. It was a chore watching this one.

Three Bat-nipples out of 10.

Next time: Clooney. Schwarzenegger. Thurman. That’ll be good.

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