Batman Forever (1995)

Joel Schumacher

Val Kilmer - Batman/Bruce Wayne
Chris O'Donnell - Robin/Dick Grayson
Jim Carrey - The Riddler/Edward Nygma
Tommy Lee Jones - Harvey Dent/Two-Face
Nicole Kidman - Dr. Chase Meridian
Michael Gough - Alfred Pennyworth
Pat Hingle - Commissioner Gordon
Drew Barrymore - Sugar
Debi Mazar - Spice

Genre - Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Comic Book

Running Time - 121 Minutes

Even though the character was very popular in comic book form and due to its nostalgia from the popular 1960's television show, it wasn't until Tim Burton's mega successful BATMAN (1989) and its awesome sequel BATMAN RETURNS (1992) that Batman became a pop culture phenomenon. The films were both critically and commercially successful. Studios started to realize that adapting comic books into serious films was a good business move. Merchandise and comic book sales rose. And the films led to the creation of one of the best comic book cartoons ever, Batman: The Animated Series. Warner Brothers and Tim Burton had turned a popular comic book character into a household name - which led to other comic book characters finally getting their due as well.

Even though 1992's BATMAN RETURNS was a critic's favorite and financially successful, Warner Bros. was still very disappointed that it didn't make more money than the studio had hoped. The reason for this was due to Burton's quirky and dark take on the mythos within the sequel, which seemed to turn off parents who felt their children shouldn't watch a film that violent or sexually charged as BATMAN RETURNS. Also, a lot of sponsors pulled out for the same reason, which turned off the studio heads. So when discussing the next BATMAN sequel, it was decided that changes needed to be made.

Feeling that Tim Burton had started to take the franchise into a darker and "non-family friendly" direction, Warner Bros. demoted Burton into a producer rather than a director. The studio felt that to save the franchise, the sequel needed to be a bit more upbeat, comic book like, and have elements of the 60s television show that still remained popular with the mainstream. Due to Burton's loss of control over a franchise he helped build financially, Michael Keaton [offered $15 million to star in the third film] decided not to return as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He didn't think the new direction was a good fit for the franchise, feeling that he'd be better off focusing on more "interesting roles". Also, the proposed spin-off with Michelle Pfeiffer reprising her role as Catwoman was now dead in the water.

As producer, Burton got a hand in picking the sequel's new director. He chose Joel Schumacher, best known for his work on THE LOST BOYS and THE CLIENT. Schumacher wanted to do a sequel based on the classic comic book story, Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, which dealt with Batman's origin. However, the studio wanted to continue what was already established in the previous films. So the idea was rejected, even though portions of it still remain in the actual film. Schumacher hired Val Kilmer as Batman, impressed by his performance in 1993's TOMBSTONE, even though Kilmer didn't read the script or even know who was directing the film [Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Ralph Fiennes were also up for the Batman role]. Tommy Lee Jones replaced Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent/Two-Face in a controversial move, only because his son loved the character. Jim Carrey won the role as The Riddler after Robin Williams and Micky Dolenz fought for the role as well. Chris O'Donnell was cast as Robin, even though Marlon Wayans was considered since the inception of BATMAN RETURNS. And Nicole Kidman was cast as Dr. Chase Meridian, Batman's new love interest.

Schumacher also wanted to recreate Gotham City, giving it more color and wanting a look that resembled images that appeared in a Batman comic book from the 1940s and 1950s, combining architecture from 1930's New York City mixed with modern Tokyo. The Batmobile also got a sleeker look, as well as a new Batman costume. Rick Baker was hired to do prosthetics, while John Dykstra and his crew handled the visual effects. Plus, the film got a more contemporary soundtrack with modern artists [for its time] playing within the actual film to give it a more mainstream and MTV-friendly feel. The production wasn't always smooth, as Schumacher had issues working with both Kilmer and Jones. Kilmer acted like a jerk to the rest of the crew and refused to listen to any sort of direction without some sort of a fit. Jones was threatened by Carrey's growing popularity and bigger role in the film, feeling he should have been the main villain due to his stature in Hollywood.

None of this really mattered, as BATMAN FOREVER would become the 6th highest grossing film of 1995. It made $336 million on a $100 million budget, being more successful than BATMAN RETURNS. While it wasn't as critically embraced, it seemed the new direction had worked in the studio's favor. But does it still hold up after 17 years?

Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman (Val Kilmer) is still dealing with his place in Gotham City as the famous masked vigilante. While he struggles with his own internal issues that stem from his parent's murder, two new villains are adding to his stress. First is Harvey Dent (Tommy Lee Jones), a former district attorney who was once an ally of Batman until acid was thrown on half of his face, causing him psychological trauma that convinced him he's better off as a criminal. Now as Two-Face and flipping his trusty coin that decides the fates of his victims, Dent blames Batman for his troubles and plans on killing him. Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), figuring Batman could use some help, brings in a well renowned criminal psychologist named Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) to give some insight into Two-Face. However Batman proves to be a distraction, as Chase is immediately smitten with the Caped Crusader on first sight.

Meanwhile in Bruce's personal life, he has to deal with a bitter scientist named Edward Nygma (
Jim Carrey). Nygma has created an invention that can read brain waves and wants Bruce to approve of making more items of this invention. Unfortunately, Bruce turns Nygma down, making Nygma angry and out for revenge on Bruce. Killing his boss after realizing he can use his invention to not only read brain waves, but manipulate them and feed them to his own brain, Nygma decides to become a criminal called The Riddler. Seeing an ally in Two-Face, Riddler decides to join forces with him to take down Batman and take over Gotham City. This alliance is heightened when Two-Face invades a traveling circus and murders an acrobatic family called The Flying Graysons except for the youngest son, Dick (Chris O'Donnell).

This adds more stress to Bruce as he takes in Dick as his ward, knowing that Dick wants revenge on those who murdered his family. Bruce also has to deal with his feelings for Chase, who has feelings for Batman, not realizing that Bruce and Batman are the same person. Bruce starts to question whether Batman is necessary in his life, wondering if the costume is holding him back from achieving true happiness. When Two-Face and The Riddler realize that Bruce and Batman are one and the same, Bruce realizes that he needs to be Batman in order to stop these two villains - taking in Dick as his sidekick under the moniker of Robin.

I was one of many who went to theaters to watch BATMAN FOREVER, digging it more than a lot of people I knew. Sure, it wasn't as deep, dark, or as well structured in a narrative sense than the previous two films. But I still managed to have fun with the film, even if it was silly and different from the previous two. Even 17 years later, I still find the film entertaining in a "popcorn movie" sort of way. But I do see its flaws and understand why so many fans consider BATMAN FOREVER one of the weaker installments in the franchise.

The problem really lies in the screenplay. There's a ton going on, with not much depth to anything either. We have two villains who want to hurt Bruce Wayne/Batman for different reasons. They come together, then they grow apart due to ego, and then come back together again when they realize two are better than one [even though it's never really compelling to watch]. They each have their own story. They each get their moments to shine. Bruce has feelings for Chase. Chase has feelings for Batman. Then Bruce wants to tell Chase that he's Batman to be with her, but Chase would rather be with Bruce. Then the whole deal with Dick Grayson/Robin wanting revenge, which matches what Bruce went through when he became Batman. While you're into it all from a visual standpoint, and because the film is paced quickly, there's not much substance to any of it.

Yes, it's great that BATMAN FOREVER has a theme where every major character in the film is psychologically split into two personae, or going into two different directions in terms of motive and love. It keeps the story going and it's the best thing about the narrative, since that is what Batman should be about - dealing with the schism of his dual-identity and how it effects the people around him [same goes with his rogues gallery and supporting characters]. It's easy to understand and it never hammers it into your head in a way you wish the subplot would just move on. But there's just so much action that it never really means all that much at the end of the story, due to the fact that this schism effects mostly everyone in the film. Because of multiple character arcs in a two-hour film, it can never develop in a way the previous two films did. That hurts BATMAN FOREVER, even though the story is still pretty much a success in terms of fun and entertainment value. It wants to be a character study, but also wants to be a fun comic book with nods to the 60s television show. It never truly balances the two out believably.

A lot of this has to do with the way the characters are presented. Luckily here, the heroes have the most depth out of anyone. Bruce Wayne is still dealing with his parents' murder and his struggle to balance both his billionaire life and his superhero life. He's still haunted by his past and how it's effected his present, especially when it comes to his personal life, his heroic life, and the parallels to Dick's tragedy because Two-Face was targeting him. Unlike the previous two films, this film does have a lot of Batman stuff going on here and he does feel like a main character rather than a supporting character. So that is a step forward and makes it easier to relate to our hero. Dick Grayson is similar to Bruce Wayne when he was younger, as he's struggling with his family's murder and only sees revenge as his form of healing. Dick has an ego, is cocky, rebellious, reckless, yet potentially heroic. Plus his role is the student to Bruce Wayne, who gives Dick advice about how vengeance could corrupt a person's life, eating away at the individual for the rest of their life. I do think this version of Robin is a bit too old compared to Batman, but the dynamic still works somewhat as you understand why Batman would want to mentor him. Robin isn't my favorite character in the world, but I think he fits pretty okay in BATMAN FOREVER. He has a believable purpose in this film, and that's why Robin works.

Unfortunately the other characters, while silly and fun, are pretty shallow. This is really strange, especially for the villains, as they're usually the highlight of these movies due to their depth and the way the characters are portrayed in context to the story. The Riddler comes across better than Two-Face, in all honesty. While silly and over-the-top, at least The Riddler is fun to watch and has the best dialogue in the film. I do think Edward Nygma comes across as a bit cartoonish at times, with one-liners that will either make you laugh or make you roll your eyes. He also doesn't have much of an origin we can really connect with, as he's just a scientist who feels rejected that his idol doesn't want to sponsor his insane and dangerous project. You mean an invention that manipulates brain waves of unsuspecting victims wouldn't be allowed mass production and consumption without a test run? Gee, you think? But at least he has a motive to go after Bruce Wayne, and then Batman, to become the number one guy in Gotham. Sure, he's a genius. Sure, he's anti-social and weak physically. Sure, he makes more jokes than one villain should [The Riddler is NOT The Joker]. But at least of the two villains, The Riddler comes across as the more interesting and watchable one. To be honest, I think he should have been the only villain of the film. The narrative would have been a lot deeper and stronger because of it.

It's too bad that isn't the case and Two-Face is also in the film. I don't mind the character at all, as he should be in a Batman film as a lead villain. But there's no depth to this character at all unless you already know who he is from the comics and the cartoons. The first mistake was not giving Harvey Dent a true origin as he becomes the Two-Face character. We see a snippet of it during a news broadcast, as acid is thrown in Dent's face during a criminal trial. But it's not enough to really understand his motivations or his sudden change in personality. THE DARK KNIGHT did the character justice because we got to see Harvey Dent as a hero for the people before his unfortunate accident that psychologically traumatized him. The moment BATMAN FOREVER begins, he's already Two-Face and trying to kill Batman. There's no sense of their friendship in the past. There's no build up to Dent's transformation that could have created a lot of tension and drama in the film [which is much needed]. He's just a Joker wannabe who flips a coin so he decide what to do with his victims. He's also second fiddle to The Riddler, who is a much more interesting character because he did get a proper build up that revealed a lot of that character's personality and motive. I will say that I do like that Two-Face has two girlfriends - one for his Dent side [Sugar] and one for his traumatized side [Spice]. And the character does have his moments, in particular the circus scene where he murders Robin's family. But otherwise, the character should have been in another sequel. Maybe The Riddler could have scarred Harvey Dent trying to get to Batman, which would have led to Dent turning into Two-Face out of revenge for Batman in the following sequel. I guess when all you can see is money, logic is never welcome.

And then we have Dr. Chase Meridian, a character who wasn't part of any of the Batman mythos until this film was released. I'm half and half on this character, as I felt she has a ton of potential that really went nowhere at the end. She's a criminal psychologist, which automatically makes her our eyes because she can see these characters for who and what they are. She sees Batman, Two-Face, and even The Riddler as schizophrenics and psychopaths due to their behavior and needing to be two people in order to live their lives normally. But she also comes across as psychologically disturbed due to her behavior towards Batman and Bruce Wayne. She's immediately attracted to Batman because he's different and because she likes bad boys that can analyze. She's not into Bruce Wayne because she sees him as a normal guy who happens to be rich. But she suddenly changes her mind out of the blue, with no build up or even an explanation as to why that change even occurred. I really don't understand this character. Then again, I don't understand women in general, so maybe this is normal behavior. My issue is that she could have been a really compelling love interest. I think she's stronger than Vicki Vale, but nowhere the level of Selina Kyle. Plus she was a more independent woman who could stand her ground and get what she wanted because she went for it rather than play games to do so. So I like Chase for that. But she doesn't really add as much as she could to the story because we know she's nothing but a shallow footnote on Batman's bedpost.

That being said, do I think the story is terrible? Absolutely not. Yes, it has many flaws. But BATMAN FOREVER does try and be a good sequel with its attempt to tie all of the subplots nicely in a tight bow by the film's conclusion. It's easy to follow. The structure is your typical comic book adaptation narrative. We know who we should care about and who we shouldn't. There's a ton of action. There's a ton of jokes and witty dialogue. The characters all feel different from one another. The serious moments are quite good, especially the origin stuff and the mirror theme between Batman and Robin. All the elements are there and BATMAN FOREVER works as a brainless summer popcorn flick. The script definitely displays the franchise's new direction into something lighter and mainstream. After all, with a new director and new actors, it couldn't be the same kind of film as BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS. Still, those two films had big shoes to fill, which makes BATMAN FOREVER kind of disappointing, even if it is harmless and silly fun. It's a comic book brought to life and I can understand that on a business and financial level.

The visual presentation of BATMAN FOREVER is a complete 180 degrees from the previous two installments. Gone are the gothic sets and the bleak and decaying look of Gotham City. Instead, we have a ton of neon lights and more daytime scenes with sun shining all over the place. It has a film noir/1940s kind of decor that I actually like quite a lot here. Every set and location are quite stunning. The Batcave is different, but I dig it. The circus stuff looks really awesome, with bright colors and gargoyles inside the tent. I love Two-Face's headquarters with its two colors to reflect his two personalities. The large tower that The Riddler hides out is also very nice to look at, especially with the neon green. It's all very flashy compared to the darkness Tim Burton had infused previously. But Burton's world would have never worked with Joel Shumacher's vision here, so I'm more than okay with it. The visuals definitely enhance the viewing experience and makes it look like a fun cartoon rather than something we ought to take seriously. Again, it's disappointing compared to the previous films, but as its own film, I find it quite charming and enjoyable to look at.

I also thought the action scenes were actually handled better here than they were in previous BATMAN installments. While it's silly for Batman to have all these gadgets at hand anytime he's in a terrible bind - and coincidentally, the gadgets happen to be the ones needed to solve the problem, as if Batman knew what was gonna occur - it's still cool to see the Caped Crusader go all out and do some cool stunts. From grappling hooks, to visors that can scan things, to Batarangs that can do just about anything, the action is definitely eye-popping. I love how the Batmobile can scale walls at a dead end. I couldn't stop laughing. Plus Batman moves a lot faster here and does have some great fight choreography in his hand-to-hand combat sequences. Anything is possible in BATMAN FOREVER, which makes it easy to digest. If the story isn't deep, why should the action be? At least I can respect its consistency.

Director Joel Schumacher is considered the man who destroyed the first BATMAN franchise with BATMAN & ROBIN, but I don't think he does a terrible job with BATMAN FOREVER. Schumacher keeps the film's pace quick, has a ton of visual style, and knows how to direct some exciting action. I do think Schumacher should have reined in Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones a bit because they really pushed the boundaries of overacting at times [I guess to compensate for a hollow script], but Schumacher treats BATMAN FOREVER like a live-action cartoon anyway. Also, the homoeroticism slowly creeps into the franchise [wait until BATMAN & ROBIN!] with the Bat-Butt, Bat-Nipples, The Riddler grabbing his crotch as a squeak sound follows, and so on. I think a lot of people blame Schumacher for the look and tone of the film [I'm sure the studio had some say in that], but it is what it is and fits the narrative well enough to entertain. Schumacher seems to be enjoying creating a flashier and campier version of the Batman character, but he never overdoes it. There's a decent balance of the darkness that was established with the more livelier atmosphere Schumacher infuses. BATMAN FOREVER is a nice looking film and it's directed well. Too bad I can't say the same about the next installment.

The acting is more hit than miss. Val Kilmer replaces the superior Michael Keaton as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Kilmer doesn't have the presence or the charisma of Keaton in the role, but he does his best filling in while creating his own take on the character. I honestly think Kilmer made for a better Bruce than he did a Batman, but he handled the material well I thought. Too bad he was such a prima donna because I wouldn't have minded if he had starred in another sequel. Jim Carrey is the star of the film as Edward Nygma/The Riddler. He's more Frank Gorshin than what's portrayed in the comic books, but he energizes the film anytime he appears. He does happen to be a bit silly and corny at times, but I laughed for much of what he says and does. Like I mentioned earlier, it would have been nice if Schumacher toned Carrey down a bit. But Warner Bros. hired the manic and overboard guy who made ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and THE MASK so popular. And that's exactly who appears in this film.

Nicole Kidman plays Dr. Chase Meridian, who is nothing more but a love interest and damsel-in-distress for Batman. I'm not a big Kidman fan, but she does well with the role and makes the most of it. Plus I don't think she ever looked as sexy as she does in this film. I would have revealed my identity for her too. Too bad she was replaced by a wax figure later on in her career. Chris O'Donnell gets a lot of flack with his take as Dick Grayson/Robin, due to many finding that he's trying to hard which causes him to appear annoying to audiences. But he doesn't annoy me at all in this film. I honestly don't think he's all that bad in the role, even though I think he's a bit too old to play the part. He's not the greatest actor, but I've seen a lot worse. We also get cameos by Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar as Sugar and Spice. Michael Gough returns as Alfred, still rocking the part. Pat Hingle gets even less to do as Commissoner Gordon. Why this important character is treated as an afterthought in the original franchise is beyond me?

And then we get to Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. Wow, is his performance really bad or what? I'm not sure it was because he was trying to compete with Jim Carrey, had no idea who his character was due to the script, or because Schumacher wanted Two-Face to be a less interesting Joker wannabe. But I didn't like Jones' performance back in 1995 and I still don't like it now. He's a great actor in the right role [which is usually 95% of the time]. But he's a terrible Harvey Dent/Two-Face. I kind of feel bad for him because he deserved better than what he was given. I think BATMAN FOREVER should have been The Riddler's story rather than The Riddler trying to share it with Two-Face. Jones does his best, but it's not enough to save the character.

By the way, I thought Elliot Goldenthal did a nice job with the score of the film. It's not Danny Elfman, but he puts his own twist that I enjoyed. Plus the soundtrack is pretty cool in this as well. I still love the U2 and Seal songs today.


- Dr. Chase Meridian finds Batman attractive once she lays eyes on him. Lucky he digs chicks. She'd be wasting her time if he were a fruit bat.

- Two-Face's helicopter crashed into the face of Lady Liberty. Well, she was looking for an excuse for that face lift...

- Edward Nygma was starstruck by Bruce Wayne. I guess some people can't control themselves when they see their idols In Living Color...

- Nygma's invention drains the brain power of others to give him more intelligence. Hopefully with this, he'll finally be smarter than that 5th grader.

- Two-Face has two girlfriends - one for each side of his personality. Schizophrenics have all the luck with the ladies.

- En Vogue have cameos as Gotham City hookers. Their motto: My lovin', you're never gonna get it - unless you pay in advance.

- Both Batman and The Riddler have a thing for Chase. Well at this point in her career, she was TO DIE FOR.

- The Riddler read Bruce Wayne's brain waves to find out that he's Batman. I guess we now know who the REAL GENIUS is in this equation.

- Two-Face and The Riddler play Battleship to stop Robin in the Batboat. And they said Family Game Night wasn't productive...

While nowhere near the level of BATMAN, BATMAN RETURNS, and later on BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT, BATMAN FOREVER isn't all that bad. Sure it's made for a younger audience. Sure it's a big cartoon with its silliness, bright neon colors, and its homage to the old campy television show. But even with its flaws, it still manages to do more right than wrong. Definitely a step down from the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton era due to its unevenness, but BATMAN FOREVER still manages to be fun and entertaining on a superficial level. Too bad I probably won't be saying the same for the next installment. Sigh...

2.5 Howls Outta 4


U2 - "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"

Seal - "Kiss From A Rose"


  1. Great fuckin' review man. I haven't seen this in years... but I too saw it in the theater in my early teenage years and kinda liked it. I've actually seen all four of the first series in the cinemas (missing out on only Batman Begins later). The last one really soured me, and I didn't really feel the love for the new series from the first trailer. Don't know why.

    I like how you review. Everything you said here makes a lot of sense and is spot on. I'm a Val Kilmer fan, but the stdio and everything done after the second film, they really fucked up bad! Imagine what it would have been like if back in the day Michelle got her own Catwoman movie. Money is a hell of a drug... and looking back, maybe the money wasn't worth it producers.

  2. "Riddle me this, riddle me that. Who's afraid of the big Black Bat?!" :D

  3. @Erik - Thanks a lot, dude! The only BATMAN films that I didn't see in theaters was BATMAN & ROBIN, which shows I made the right call to wait for cable. I think the Nolan films have saved the franchise IMO. I hardly have any issues with the two films so far.

    Appreciate the compliment. I usually have to edit myself, but I like to make sure I get every major point in there to explain the reasoning for the score. And yeah, I would have loved to have seen that CATWOMAN film. Too bad we got the Halle Berry version instead. Money can be a great thing and a terrible thing. Lately, it's been the latter when it comes to Hollywood.

    @Jenny - :)


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