A Review of BATMAN FOREVER, 10 Years Later Posted by: Bill "Jett" Ramey (Follow @BATMANONFILM)
Originally Posted on: January 17, 2005
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared on BOF in 2005 to mark the film's 10th anniversary. It it being reposted to mark the 20th year since its 2005 release. - Bill "Jett" Ramey (June, 2015)
As you may have read in my previous retrospective on 1992’s BATMAN RETURNS, I was tremendously disappointed in director Tim Burton’s “demented fairytale” that he tried to pass off as a Batman movie. Undoubtedly, the studio felt the same way as BATMAN RETURNS was not what they had in mind for a sequel to 1989’s BATMAN. To secure the reluctant Tim Burton for a Batman follow-up, Warner Brothers had ceded him virtually total creative control over the film – a decision that would come back to bite them in the rear. The depressing, macabre, and morose sequel turned average movie-goers off, while it met with mixed reactions among Batman fans. As a result, BATMAN RETURNS earned significantly less than its predecessor, and Burton was replaced as director in charge of the Batman franchise.
Joel Schumacher (THE LOST BOYS, A TIME TO KILL) was hired by Warner Brothers to direct the next Bat-film and change the “atmosphere” – if you will – of the film. Lee and Janet Scott Batchler wrote the story and screenplay for BATMAN FOREVER as it was to be called, with Akiva Goldsman also given a screenwriting credit. While Schumacher would provide WB the change of direction they wanted in the Bat-series, they would ultimately make the same mistake that they made previously with Burton – too much free rein over his sequel.
Another significant change occurred with this third installment of the series – there was to be a new Batman. Michael Keaton, allegedly not too fond of the change in direction of the new Bat-film, decided not to reprise his role as The Dark Knight. Val Kilmer (THE DOORS, TOMBSTONE), who was 34 at the time, would replace Keaton in the title role (more on Kilmer later). This leads me on a bit of a tangent, so please oblige me.
Just where did Keaton want to go with Batman? I suspect that he wanted something darker – and shockingly even more morose – than RETURNS (Keaton played Batman as if he was a depressed, borderline psycho). Did he simply object to Mr. Burton not directing or did he really have a problem with the script? If you read the original screenplay of BATMAN FOREVER, it comes across darker and with more depth than what ultimately made it onscreen. In fact, it had the chance to be the best of the four films produced during the Burton/Schumacher era. So I don’t see what Mr. Keaton objected to – perhaps he was made aware of some of the lighter aspects of the film (the neon, camp, etc.) that don’t show up in the script, and decided it wasn’t for him. Or did he just want a rehash of BATMAN RETURNS? If so, why would Mr. Keaton want to take the character even farther away from his comic book persona?
Recently, Mr. Keaton’s turn as BATMAN has been revisited in the media as BATMAN BEGINS nears it’s premiere in summer 2005. Interestingly, Keaton has said that he wanted BATMAN 3 to be a prequel to his original BATMAN. He wanted to explore The Batman’s origin, which is not covered at all in the any of his Bat-films. Now, this could be nothing but a case of revisionist history, as that is the crux of BATMAN BEGINS - who Bruce Wayne is and how The Batman came to be. Nevertheless, Keaton said “No thanks,” Schumacher said “OK,” and in steps Val Kilmer.
Kilmer, who was almost ten years younger than Keaton, would provide youth to the role of The Dark Knight, which was good for the longevity of the series. Frankly, the 6 foot Kilmer was more physically suited for the role than 5-10ish, slight of build Keaton. Plus, he possessed “leading man” type of looks that was an asset – perhaps even a requirement – for portraying Bruce Wayne. Honestly, no matter how well Keaton played Batman – and he did, no question – I could never get past Keaton’s lack of physical prowess and the fact that he didn’t convince me he was “Bruce Wayne.” That was not a problem with Kilmer.
To this day, many people refuse to accept anyone else in the role of Batman other than Michael Keaton. Mr. Kilmer and Mr. Clooney both are “counterfeit,” if you will, Dark Knights. Many from this group of fans are even refusing to accept Christian Bale in the role in the new BATMAN BEGINS - even though Mr. Bale has been suggested for the part for years by fans on the internet. My hypothesis is that since Keaton offered the first “serious” portrayal of Batman on film, he is considered the only person who could possibly play the role – many refusing to accept anyone else as the movie Batman. It just so happens that it was Keaton who was the first grim and gritty Caped Crusader. That’s somewhat understandable, but do these people remember the HUGE outcry in response to Keaton’s casting? People petitioned Warner Brothers back in ‘88 to recast the role for goodness sakes! I’m willing to bet that the people that said “That’s great casting!” when hearing that Keaton won the role were few and far between. Anyway, thanks for weathering my small tangent.
As far as the rest of the cast, Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey as the villains Two Face and The Riddler respectively – good choices it seemed for both. (It must be noted that while FOREVER was set in the same continuity as the two previous Batman films, Billy Dee Williams had portrayed D.A. Harvey Dent – who becomes Two Face – in the first Batman film.) Nicole Kidman was cast as Bruce Waynes’s love interest Dr. Chase Meridian. Rene Russo had originally nabbed the part, but a younger actress replaced her once Keaton left and Kilmer came aboard. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle reprised their roles of Alfred and Commissioner Gordon in BATMAN FOREVER. After two failed attempts, Robin would finally make his appearance on film as 24 year old Chris O’Donnell was cast as the “Boy” Wonder.
When news began to trickle in that a third Batman film was indeed in the works, I began to follow the project with great interest. The first time I heard that Michael Keaton had been replaced and Val Kilmer was in, must have been sometime in the fall of 1994. I was actually at a local bar with some buddies and just happened to see an “ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT” report on the casting change. At first, I was pissed – Michael Keaton WAS Batman! And just why in the hell were they going with this Val Kilmer? I don’t know why, but I was thinking Kilmer was too young – even though he was five years older than me! As far as the other cast members, I thought the selections were very good – particularly Jones as Dent and Carrey as The Riddler. I decided to take a wait and see attitude towards Kilmer as Batman.
The first glimpse I got of the cast in costume was again via a television entertainment news program sometime in the spring of 1995. You couldn’t tell much about the plot, but you certainly could gather that BATMAN FOREVER was going to look much different - and probably BE much different - than RETURNS. And this was not a bad thing in my opinion. I liked the look of the new sleaker-looking Bat-suit (called the “Panther suit”) and Kilmer in it. Very Batmanish I thought, maybe he would be alright. The Robin costume was sort of the movie version of the current comic book Robin costume. Not too bad either. Carrey looked spot-on as the Riddler, while Tommy Lee Jones sort of had a “meh” look about him. If half of his face was destroyed by acid, how the hell could this happen so perfectly? I mean, his face is precisely divided right down the middle! And why is it reddish-purple? Anyway, my initial reactions to BATMAN FOREVER were favorable – most likely because first and foremost, it was Batman.
I first reviewed this film back in 2000 I believe. At the time, I gave BATMAN FOREVER a highly favorable analysis. In fact, I graded it almost as high as BATMAN ’89. While I still think fairly well of this film, I do not score it as high today in 2005 as I did five years ago. Perhaps it is because BATMAN BEGINS -which I believe has finally nailed the character of Batman – has tainted me a bit on the Burton/Schumacher era. There is an argument for that here and I freely admit that those films – the ones I enjoyed – have become somewhat lost on me. However, what I think influences my opinion most about BATMAN FOREVER is my disappointment on what it could have been.
Val Kilmer as Batman and Chris O'Donnell as Robin in BATMAN FOREVER
At it’s core, BATMAN FOREVER is a look at Bruce Wayne’s struggle to come to grips with his inner demons that created his alter-ego, The Batman. In fact, this was the first film of the series that really attempted to focus in a bit on Bruce and his motivations. The “red diary” and repressed memories storyline was an excellent way to show the audience why Bruce became The Batman. However – and I’m not sure exactly why – the film was cut to offer only a half-assed version of this storyline. If these edited scenes were included, we would know the reason for the red diary – which belonged to his father, Dr. Thomas Wayne. In it, Thomas writes that young Bruce insisted on going to the movies that ill-fated night of the Wayne murders. Therefore Bruce blames himself for his parent’s deaths. But he didn’t read the entire passage and the complete story would be revealed later in the film. It was the Waynes, not Bruce, who insisted on seeing ZORRO that night, and not the cartoon that Bruce wanted. Bruce is able to finally let go of his guilt and Batman stands for justice, not revenge. And he accepts that he will be Batman “forever.”
The maddening thing is that these scenes were shot but many ended up on the cutting room floor, which actually makes the plot more confusing than streamlined. This at the same time is one the best and worst parts of FOREVER. That’s why I said that this film had the potential to be one of the best personal studies of Bruce Wayne of the four films. It still is a little, but not like it should have – and easily could have – been. The scenes were shot for pete’s sake!
Let me continue to list the negatives of FOREVER before I move on to what made it a good film. Some of these I’ll simply mention as they speak for themselves and there is no need for me to offer analysis.
THE NEON: The film has been criticized for its “neon” look, and I concur for the most part. The green, yellow, and reds that seemed to bathe Gotham took away from the dark and grittiness that people expect from Batman’s hometown. WB wanted to “lighten” Batman up a bit and Schumacher seemed to have taken that literally. However it must be noted that Schumacher was attempting to portray “Gotham like a comic book come to life” – thus the neon colors and slanted camera angles. The latter of which was a nod to the 60’s TV show I believe. Nevertheless, both proved a negative in the production.
NIPPLES AND BUTT SHOTS: Just what the hell were those there for? I’ll leave it at that.
THE BOX: Couldn’t this have been replaced with something else? Perhaps a drug of some sort that Nygma peddles to Gothamites? Hell, I don’t know – I just thought this “brainwave sucking” machine was a bit much for a “realistic” character such as The Batman. To me, this “stupid-up’ed” the plot of BATMAN FOREVER.
COMMISSIONER GORDON: Again, Gordon does nothing. He discusses the Two Face situation at the beginning of the film. He confronts Batman and Chase on the roof of the GPD – in his pajamas! And he yells “Go! Go!” near the end of the film as Batman flies overhead on his way to take on Two Face and The Riddler. Like I said, basically nothing. What a waste of this classic Batman character in all four of the Burton/Schumacher films.
REALLY UNREALISTIC MOMMENTS: The Batmobile climbing up a wall. The “Box” (as previously described). Bruce Wayne busting down Dr. Meridian’s very thick and large office door. Street gangs parading around Gotham with fluorescent face paint. There are others such examples not mentioned here. Some work OK – Batman using his cape to slow down 20+ story jumps. Some don’t – such as those mentioned. There were elements of this in all four of the previous Bat-films – particularly in BATMAN AND ROBIN. Even though Batman is a fictional character, he is the most “realistic” of the comic book superheroes – and he should be presented that way. Sure, there are going to be elements of the fantastic in any Batman film, but he should be grounded in reality as much as possible. Thanks goodness for Chris Nolan and the upcoming BATMAN BEGINS!
THE CUTS: One of BATMAN FOREVER’s biggest faults should have been huge assets: the scenes that were cut from the film. While I understand that if included, would have made FOREVER a bit longer than the desired two hours; BUT, they would have made this film significantly better. In particular, the following: Two Face’s escape from Arkham; the “Red Diary;” dialogue directly referencing BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS; the “amnesia” episode; the confrontation with “The Bat.”
ROBIN: I’m am of the opinion that The Batman works best – particularly on film – alone. Therefore I was not too fired up to see the character of Robin added to FOREVER. Chris O’Donnell’s portrayal of “The Boy Wonder” at times had the character coming across as an arrogant whiner. It would have been fine with me if the character was cut from the film prior to filming – as had been the case in the two previous films.
TWO FACE: Perhaps the biggest negative – although disappointment may be a better description. He starts out fairly good in the beginning – I thought the “blind luck” speech delivered to the bound security guard worked well – but the character goes straight downhill from there. Number one, just what was his motivation for getting Batman, other than he’s a bad guy and that’s what they do in Gotham City? Perhaps if we as an audience found out just why Harvey hated Batman so, his actions would have made more sense. The fact that Harvey Dent was once a good guy - the Gotham D.A. – is displayed in a flashback scene that if one blinked, they would probably miss it. And that is a sad thing because this is one of the more interesting and tragic members of Batman’s rouge’s gallery. Jones plays Two Face in a manic, “Joker-ish” manner that is not suited to the character. It is as if he began to try to out-Carrey Jim Carrey himself as the movie progressed. I don’t fault Jones, I fault the director and screenwriter(s). They just didn’t get this character, or so it seems. Case in point: Two Face would NOT flip his coin continuously to get the desired side – the coin would determine his actions either way (ex. Flipping the coin to decide whether or not to shoot Bruce). Other than the opening sequence and the circus scenes (which introduced Dick Grayson), I frankly had no other use for him in FOREVER.
OK, it must sound as if I hate this film, but I actually like BATMAN FOREVER as there are many good things about this film.
THE POSITIVES IT AIN’T BATMAN RETURNS" You know, I had to get in a shot on that piece of crap. But seriously, the film took a more overall positive and heroic tone than its depressing predecessor. It was more “Batman.”
JIM CARREY’S RIDDLER: Carrey did a fantastic job as both Edward Nygma and his alter ego The Riddler. Carrey’s Nygma is a wormy, pathetic nerd with no life. His idolization of Bruce Wayne – who he perceives has “rejected” him – leads to his transformation as the extroverted “Riddler.” His Riddler is evil and over-the-top with a purpose. Sure it is a bit much at times, but he’s much better than Jones’ Two Face and actually serves a purpose in FOREVER. The Riddler is one of the best depictions of a Batman villain in all of the Burton/Schumacher Bat-films.
BATMAN:BATMAN FOREVER portrays Batman as a true hero – even more than he was in BATMAN ’89 in my opinion. From the very beginning of the film, The Batman is in action – He suits up and heads out of the Batcave to confront Two Face. He is locked in a safe and escapes - while saving the security guard. He makes his way to Two Face’s helicopter in a failed attempt at capturing the maniac. The entire opening sequence is a statement that in this film, Batman will be portrayed as a heroic, man of action.
Also, it is made perfectly clear that unlike the Batman of the two previous films, this Batman does not kill. This was a major problem for many Batman fans (including this author) – Batman’s blatant, remorseless killing in BATMAN and particularly BATMAN RETURNS. In fact, the original script has a storyline in which Batman is somewhat haunted by his previous actions and he is even accused of being as much of a killer as the criminals he hunts down. If these scenes had been included, it would have made his anti-killing council towards Dick Grayson that much more meaningful. Also, this explains the “Maybe their right about Batman” scenes with Alfred near the end of FOREVER.
FOREVER is also a stronger character study of Bruce Wayne than any if the four Burton/Schumacher films (and would have been way better if several scenes had not been cut, as previously discussed.). For the first time, the audience is shown the inner demons inside of Bruce Wayne. He became Batman because his parents were murdered in front of him. But we also find out that Bruce feels that it was his fault for some reason – he is a man haunted by anger, guilt, and revenge. Chase Meridian says it best I think, “What kind of crime could this man have committed to subject himself to this type of punishment night after night?”
ROBIN: Yes, I know I listed Robin as a negative, but his inclusion in FOREVER is also a positive. His origin is depicted excellently in FOREVER and comes straight out of the comic books – He is part of the “Flying Graysons” family trapeze act and his parents are murdered when the act is sabotaged. This strikes a chord with Bruce Wayne, as he just happened to be in attendance the night of the doomed performance. The is one of the core storylines of FOREVER - that Bruce and Richard Grayson share a common experience – the murder of their parents at the hands of a madman. Dick’s thirst for revenge against Two Face (who is the Grayson’s killer in FOREVER), leads The Batman to question his previous methods of “justice” (as seen in BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS). In fact, the original script has Bruce coming to grips with the fact that he killing in the name of justice was wrong and included several direct connections to the two previous Bat-films. These scenes would have made the Bruce-Dick/Batman-Robin relationship much deeper and interesting – and what you see of it on screen make more sense. Particularly as to why Bruce takes Dick in and why he tries to steer him away from revenge. Also, Dick entering Bruce’s life is what helps to trigger the “repressed memories” that are a prominent storyline – as we’ve already discussed - in FOREVER. For these reasons, the character of Robin is important and certainly a positive in the film.
POPCORN: This will be debatable among fans, but BATMAN FOREVER - while not as big of a “blockbuster” as BATMAN ’89 –succeeded as a likable “popcorn” flick among the general movie audience. It was accessible to a wider audience – from young kids to adults. And it was much more of a success for that reason than the 1992 Bat-film it followed – which is what WB was looking for.
MUSIC: Not the score – I wish that they would have stayed with the Elfman theme too – but the soundtrack. U2’s “HOLD ME, THRILL ME, KISS ME, KILL ME” and Seal’s “KISS FROM A ROSE” were both hits – and pretty good tunes as well.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In conclusion, I’ll ask the same question of this film as I did of BATMAN RETURNS - “Is BATMAN FOREVER a good Batman film? My opinion is yes, it is. It is certainly not a great film in general, by no stretch of the imagination. It is not art – as one may argue its predecessor as being. But it is is what it is: a good and successful “popcorn” Batman movie. It moved Batman away from the macabre weirdness of the bizarre RETURNS, and gave audiences a heroic, action-packed Batman that all could watch. While it is certainly not the “definitive” Batman film, it may have offered a Batman that was closer to the comic books than any of the four Burton/Schumacher films.
While I certainly don’t think as highly of it as I did when I first watched it back in 1995, I still dig it – and I probably will, uh, forever.
A Note from Jett: This retrospective is dedicated to my daughter Makenzie, and sons Micah and Jake. I’ve spent many-a-hour watching this film with them, as it may be “our” favorite BATMAN on film...so far. Chris Nolan's reboot, BATMAN BEGINS hits theaters this Summer. Here's hoping that it takes FOREVER's place in our home.