Batman Forever (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It's lighter, brighter, funnier, faster-paced, and a whole lot more colorful than before. There's a new actor underneath the cape, a new girlfriend on his arm, and a new partner by his side. The director is different and the composer has changed. The villains -- Jim Carrey decked out in a neon question-mark jacket and Tommy Lee Jones with a face out of The Elephant Man -- are making their debuts. Yet somehow, perhaps because of the costume, it still feels like the same Batman we've gotten to know in two previous films. The same, yet different -- and much better.

Considering all the attendant hype and long box office lines for Batman Forever, a review is almost superfluous. Regardless, I still have an opinion, and since this is my usual method of getting it into the open, I see no reason to change now. So, here goes...

This time around, the Caped Crusader (Val Kilmer) is faced with a new pair of dastardly bad guys: the Riddler (Carrey) and Harvey Two-Face (Jones). The Riddler, aka Edward Nigma, is a scientist working in Bruce Wayne's electronics factory. When he invents a device to beam television waves directly into the brain, then tries it on himself, he becomes unhinged ("wacko" is the "technical" term used). Now, he's out to control all of Gotham City and humiliate his former boss in the process. To that end, he joins up with Two Face, who has a more modest goal: kill Batman, whom he blames for his disfigurement. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is falling for his third woman in three films. This time, it's a lady doctor with a name that sounds like two merged banks (Chase Meridian, played by Nicole Kidman). She's a psychiatrist who specializes in split personalities (something that afflicts just about everyone in this movie). And, in the person of Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell), who takes on the appellation Robin, Batman gets a sidekick to help use all his bat-gadgets and pilot his batmobiles, bat boats, bat planes, and bat subs.

There's a lot going on in Batman Forever -- probably much more than in either Batman or Batman Returns -- yet Joel Schumacher keeps things on an even keel, moving swiftly without creating such a strong undertow that the viewer loses his or her footing. The film is a blast and, ultimately, a very quick two hours. In a relatively short time, we get a solid action/adventure story, an odd romantic triangle (Chase is attracted to Batman; Bruce Wayne is attracted to Chase -- it kind of recalls the old Lois Lane/Clark Kent/Superman thing from the first two movies about that superhero), and the most detailed exploration of Batman's character to date. All-in-all, this is a very full motion picture.

Schumacher's vision of Gotham is similar to, yet different from, Tim Burton's. The same bizarre, larger-than-life architecture is evident, but Batman Forever's city is bigger and brighter. This is a jaunty, multi-hued place that reflects a lightening in the movie's tone. Burton's efforts were lugubrious and occasionally borderline demented; Schumacher acts like a grown-up having fun in a toy store. How else to explain calling his hero "a grown man who dresses like a flying rodent" or making sly references to Superman and the old, campy Batman TV series?

As the pop icon du jour, Jim Carrey gets the lion's share of screen time. Schumacher lets him go pretty much unchecked, which leads to a great deal of over-the-top zaniness. Carrey fans will lap it up. Personally, however, I prefer the comedian diluted -- there are times when his Riddler gets a bit unbearable. By comparison, Tommy Lee Jones' equally (and wonderfully) overacted Two-Face appears subdued. Nicole Kidman is smart and sassy -- perhaps not as appealing as the leather-clad Michelle Pfeiffer, but certainly an improvement over Batman's Kim Basinger. As Robin, Chris O'Donnell is a hip and charismatic choice. And for those who want an anchor to the previous films, we have Michael Gough's reliable Alfred.

Then there's the new Batman himself. Admittedly, under the suit, there isn't a whole lot of difference between Michael Keaton's version of the Caped Crusader and the one brought to the screen by Val Kilmer. After all, it's just a matter of how well their lips act. As Bruce Wayne, however, the change is evident, and it's an improvement. Keaton's Wayne seemed stuffy, standoffish, and one-dimensional. Kilmer's personae brings the billionaire down-to-earth and gives him elements of passion and insecurity. I certainly didn't spend more than thirty seconds mourning the change in lead actors.

Given Hollywood's poor track record with second sequels -- take the third installments of Superman, Star Wars, Alien, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard as examples -- it's understandable if a viewer approaches Batman Forever with a measure of skepticism. In this case, however, the trepidation can be put aside. The latest Batman proves it's entirely possible for a big-budget, overcommercialized blockbuster sequel to offer even the most cynical viewer a wholly enjoyable time at the movies.

Batman Forever (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 2:01
U.S. Release Date: 1995-06-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1