Well, Tim Burton had a vision of Gotham, and it was dark and gothic. Joel Schumacher, on the other hand?
He saw it as a bit more colorful than that.
Spoilers all around, you guys. Sorry.
Batman (Val Kilmer) takes on both Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Riddler (Jim Carrey) this time. Also, he reluctantly picks up a new, orphaned sidekick, Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and has the most awkward love triangle ever between himself, Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), and his own secret identity, Bruce Wayne.
1. I don’t know if I can argue that this is a very good movie—actually, I already know I can’t—but I think it’s a fun guilty pleasure and regardless, I have such nostalgia tied up in this film that there’s no way I’m ever going to properly separate my feelings from my critical opinions on this story as a whole. I mean, I’m going to try here, but I expect I won’t be entirely successful. Batman Forever was not the first movie I saw in theater, but it was definitely one of them, after . . . Jesus . . . Free Willy. (I know. I know. Sometimes, we make horrible life decisions when we’re seven years old. I begged my mom to take me to see it because I thought the movie my dad and sister were going to see—The Fugitive—was a horror movie, and back in those days I didn’t actually like horror movies. I know. Blowing your mind right now. If anybody had properly explained to me that The Fugitive was just an action movie, like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon, I wouldn’t have to carry around this spiritual burden. I wouldn’t have to know that I actually saw Free Willy in theater by choice.)
Anyway. What I’m saying here is that going to the movies when I was a kid was kind of a big deal—I’m thinking maybe once a year—and Batman Forever was a pretty great theater experience. The credits sequence, where the names are in a bazillion-size font and super colorful and sort of swooping down at you? I thought that was just the most awesome thing at the time. Sure, I was nine and sort of easily amused, but it’s a good memory for me. Even when I’m cringing at some of the spectacularly bad puns, I’m always going to love this movie.
2. Besides, some of the complaints about this movie are just sort of silly. Look, it’s fun to make the easy jab about how colorful this Gotham is—I did it approximately two minutes ago—but I really don’t think people should take it so seriously. Sure, my personal vision of Gotham is something darker and more mysterious than what I get in Batman Forever, but if Burton gave us a sort of weird, 40′s-esque, noir New York, then Schumacher gave us a corrupt, colorful, 90′s Vegas, and I don’t think that’s such a ridiculous way of looking at Gotham City. I mean, it’s different, sure, but we’re still talking Sin City. It’s not like Joel Schumacher turned the town into Pleasantville or something.
It’s totally cool to have a personal preference, but honestly, there are far more serious complaints to be had about this film.
3. For instance, the romance between Bruce Wayne and Chase Meridian is absolute bullshit.
I’m afraid we’re going to have to go through this relationship, bit by torturous fucking bit. Kick back. Get a beer or something. Seriously.
Back? Okay. Batman meets Dr. Chase Meridian in the beginning of the movie, ostensibly because she’s an expert on multiple personalities (and thus Two-Face) but really because it’s not a superhero movie without a love interest. (Seriously, can you think of a single superhero movie that doesn’t have one? Green Hornet, maybe? I haven’t seen it, and it’s the only one that seems even remotely likely.)
So, Chase’s first words to Batman are, “Hot entrance,” and I’m not saying you can’t be both an intellectual woman and a woman who makes the first move, but “hot entrance” is just stupid and besides, perhaps flirting can wait until after we’ve rescued the hostages? Well, whatever. Batman says that Chase’s work is “insightful, naive, but insightful.” Which would have annoyed me, personally, because I don’t take backhanded compliments all that well, but Chase is so turned on by the fact that Batman knows who she is that she apparently doesn’t mind being called naive and might as well fan herself as Batman makes a dramatic exit.
The next night, Chase uses the Bat Signal to get Batman’s attention and flirt with him some more.
Oh, she has a “professional” reason for calling him, but even Batman isn’t fooled by this—because it’s the most useless, pop-psych bullshit ever. (Also, FORESHADOW.) Batman is understandably annoyed by all this, reminding her that the Bat Signal is not a beeper . . . although, honestly, it kind of is, and why he has to pose with his hands on his hips to tell her this is beyond me. Chase then moves into straight seduction mode, and seriously, I’m all for a woman knowing what she wants, but there’s a line . . . no, there’s a giant gap . . . between a funny, confident, forward woman and a useless bimbo who clearly doesn’t think about anything but sex with Batman all the time. Attaching an MD to a character’s name does not automatically make said character worthy of the audience’s respect, and not only do I not buy Chase Meridian as a psychologist (or, hell, even as an actual person), she’s not even half as sexy as Michelle Pfeiffer was in Batman Returns. Which is sad, really, because clearly, that’s all Chase has to offer as a character.
Well, anyway. Chase has done her homework, so she makes a crack about Batman’s past love affairs, namely Catwoman—although, honestly, I’m not even sure how she could possibly know about the two of them—and continues flirting. I will admit to liking the line, “I’ll bring the wine. You bring your scarred psyche,” but this does not at all make up for—
Batman: “We all wear masks, doctor.”
Chase: “My life’s an open book. You read?”
—or half the other things these two say to each other in the course of this movie. Commissioner Gordon pops up to break the mood, and Batman takes off—personally, I would like to know what kind of security the Bat Signal is under, if a psychologist from out of town can just waltz up to it at any given moment and make a booty call, but whatever.
Now, Bruce Wayne first meets Chase without the mask when he goes to ask her about the creepy riddles he’s been getting in the mail. He ends up kicking her door down when he mistakes the sound of her kickboxing for being in trouble. Admittedly, he does kind of ridiculously overreact, and I’d be a bit annoyed about this too, but she is a touch bitchier than she really needs to be. He was trying to help, after all, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to pay for that door. It’s no excuse, anyhow, to be completely unprofessional when a guy’s coming to her for help because he’s got a crazy stalker who’s likely going to try and murder him. Seriously, Bruce appears to take “he’s a total whacko” as charming or something, but if Bruce were seriously concerned about his life right now, I don’t think he’d find her casual dismissal of his possible upcoming murder to be quite so adorable and clever. Although I’m not actually sure why he’s there at all, to be honest—either he did tell Commissioner Gordon about the riddles, just to keep up appearances, or he just wanted an excuse to meet Chase as Bruce Wayne instead of as a dark avenger of the night.
Bruce sees a rorschach that, for fuck’s sake, is clearly a bat, and also a Malaysian Dream Warden that lets Chase have the incredibly deep insight that Bruce is something more than he seems. (How does Bruce seem to Chase, I wonder? She’s not from Gotham and clearly doesn’t know his tragic history, but she does knows his name and supposedly his reputation—not that this movie bothers to, you know, give him a reputation, other than being rich.) All of this hot talk about creepy stalkers and nightmares turns Bruce on, apparently, so he asks Chase out to the circus in the most awkward way possible.
At the circus: now that Chase knows that Bruce has issues, she seems to like him more. Still, when Bruce asks her out on a second date before they’re even halfway through the first one, she tells him that she’d love to, but she’s already met someone.
Bruce: “That’s fast work. You just got into town.”
Seriously, clearly I don’t like Chase myself, but if I were her, I’d be so pissed off right now. Instead, she’s too busy mooning over the possibility of screwing Batman to even realize that what Bruce has just said borders on seriously dickish. Then Two-Face ruins the fun by busting in, demanding to know Batman’s true identity, and then killing three people. (Two-Face also leaves before getting any answers, so his whole plan seems a little problematic, but I guess that’s how it goes when you’re completely psychotic.)
So sometime later—they don’t do a great job depicting the passage of time in this movie—Bruce and Chase are chilling at her pad, and he’s telling her all about his repressed memories of his dead parents when he sees her desk covered with articles on Batman. He says this goes way beyond taking her work home with her—which, it doesn’t really, not if she was actually writing a paper on Batman; it’s like five magazines and a newspaper—and she asks if he’s jealous. Amusingly, Bruce says that he can’t be jealous of Batman, although he totally is, and she responds with this:
“I want to be close, but you won’t let me near. What are you protecting me from?”
And—wait, what? What does that even mean? How did we get from Bruce is jealous of Batman to Bruce, you’re not letting me in? And since when do you want to be close, anyway, Chase? The last time we saw you, you told Bruce that you had just met somebody. Now he’s the one holding back? Who the hell is writing this dialogue?
Bruce quickly has to skedaddle because Robin has boosted the Batmobile, but the next time we see our lovebirds, they’re together at a giant party hosted by Edward Nygma. (Because wanting to bang Batman is only problematic when a guy invites you rock climbing, apparently.) I wish I could have seen the scene where Bruce invites Chase: hey, lady, what’s up? Look, I know you said you were seeing someone else, and I know our last semi-official date ended pretty horrifically with three people dead, but I was thinking . . . you want to be my date for this ball? Er, please? The party ends when Two-Face busts in, and seriously, if I were Chase, I might stop going out with Bruce after this. If the same supervillain keeps interrupting all your dates, maybe you should take it as a sign. Meanwhile, I’d like to point out that since the Bat Signal scene earlier in the movie, Chase has not attempted to do anything anywhere in the realm of providing insight on Two-Face leading to his capture. It’s good to know that her professional work ethic is just as strong as Vicki Vale’s.
Batman saves Chase at the party, and she responds to this by telling him to come to her place at midnight. When he does, though, Chase can’t go through with all the hot sex that she’s been promising. Tease. She does kiss him (for plot-related reasons) but tells him that she wishes he were someone else. Wow. That’s a serious kick to the balls. Seriously, these two just keep saying shitty things to one another, but whatever, they’re cool with it. That’s what love is, right? Right? Bruce is just happy because he knows this mean Chase loves him for him and not for being a bad boy in black rubber.
Of course, Alfred, the sentimental bastard, thinks it’s time for Bruce to tell Chase all about his secret identity, and seriously, people. What is wrong with you? How long have these two even known each other? Bruce, to my utter horror, not only agrees to this but has also apparently decided that it’s time to completely give up being Batman. And sure, there are always going to be bad guys, but is this really the best time, right now with Two-Face and Riddler on their ridiculous crime spree? More importantly . . . Bruce and Chase have had two quasi-therapy sessions and two dates that have both ended with gunfire and/or death. That’s it. That’s all. Bruce, you’re just going to give up your secret life for a woman you’re not even officially dating? For Christ’s sake, you haven’t even had sex with her yet!
I hate this kind of bullshit. I hate when movies speed through a romance like this, like it makes any kind of sense at all for Batman to just be quitting the business because he and Chase are in luv, only how could they be at this point? There’s no way. It’s ridiculous. It might actually be the most ridiculous thing about this movie, and that’s saying something.
There are other scenes, of course—Chase discovers Batman’s secret identity because, hey, she recognizes those lips! . . . and then she gets kidnapped and rescued and things are happily ever after (until the sequel)—but I think we’ve more than covered why these two truly and heartily suck as a couple. So moving on.
4. Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman . . .
It’s not that he’s so awful, exactly, it’s just that he’s so bland, so lifeless. I mean, there are a couple of moments that show a spark of personality—I really do like when he says he can’t be jealous of Batman—but for the most part, Kilmer seems very vanilla. There’s really no edge to him of any kind. His performance isn’t terrible. His performance isn’t captivating. It’s just . . . there. Which, sadly, is still an improvement on what happens in the next movie.
5. This movie also introduces Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson/Robin.
. . . who, yes, I totally had a crush on when I was nine years old. Shut up. I don’t even want to hear it from you. And I must say, I’ve always felt a little bad for Dick Grayson. I have this thing for sidekicks, for wanting to know more about the man standing beside The Man, and in so many interpretations, Robin gets nothing to do but say things like, “Holy rusted metal, Batman!” (Also, that particular shout-out? It still makes me laugh.) Chris O’Donnell as Robin may actually be the edgiest version of Robin that’s ever been seen on screen, and that’s . . . well, that’s sort of sad, really. But at least he isn’t this:
Chris O’Donnell isn’t phenomenal here or anything, but I do enjoy him for the most part. I buy his Anguish Face well enough, and while some of his lines flop pretty hard—”I’d rather see you in jail” springs to mind—I’m not sure who exactly would have saved them. Besides, I love the scene where he steals the Batmobile and tries to pick up the En Vogue hookers.
Burt Ward would never have done this.
6. Also, the scene where Robin does kung-fu laundry is one of the most awesomely ridiculous scenes of all time.
Seriously, this is totally how I would do my laundry. You know. If I didn’t have an actual dryer. (Which, hilariously, is sitting right there behind him.)
7. Now, to our villains . . .
I’m well aware that everybody and their dog hates Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, but . . . to hell with it, I kind of love him. Yes, there are scenes where I desperately wish he would pull back a little bit, but at least no one can say that he didn’t commit heart and soul to this movie’s campiness. Plus, for every silly reaction that goes just a little too overboard, Jones has a moment of pure and utter WIN. Like in the beginning when he’s terrorizing the exceptionally annoying security guard, or when he tells Bruce, ”Why, yes, of course you’re right, Bruce. Emotion is always the enemy of true justice. Thank you, you’ve always been a good friend.” Hee.
Also amusing—the news footage of Batman (in full costume) leaping in slow motion through the courtroom to try and save Harvey Dent from being splashed with acid. That shit just never gets old.
Okay, remember how I said I sometimes wish Tommy Lee Jones would pull back just a bit? Okay, well, that’s how I feel about Jim Carrey times twelve in this movie. I mean, he does have moments I like. There are scenes that genuinely make me laugh, along with scenes that show the potential for actual creepiness. Like, how he looks at Stickley after Stickley fires him? Creepy. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jim Carrey play an actual villain at some point. (Not a superhero movie. More like a serial killer movie. I’d like to see if it could be done.)
But too often, Riddler feels less like a fun, silly character and more just like an opportunity for Jim Carrey to ham it up as loudly as possible. It’s kind of like watching Toys all over again. (I referenced that movie in my review for Batman Returns, didn’t I? Maybe I should watch it again. Anyway.) There’s like this fun, absurdist piece somewhere inside that movie—you get to see glimpses of it, now and then, when Robin Williams isn’t running around like crazy, just being Robin Williams over and over and over again. Batman Forever is by no means a serious film, but sometimes it kind of feels like Jim Carrey’s antics just run roughshod over the rest of the story.
8. I’ve mentioned this in the past couple of Batman movie reviews, but this is the first movie in the series that you really spend any quality time with Bruce Wayne himself. The villains have plenty of screentime too, of course, but I wouldn’t say that Two-Face or Riddler have more time than Bruce . . . unlike in Batman and Batman Returns, where Penguin, Catwoman, and certainly the Joker spend more time on screen than off. And it’s not just Bruce walking around, watching the telly—telly? the hell? when did I suddenly become British—and finding good deals on the Home Shopping Network. This movie actually deals with the whole trauma Little Bruce must have experienced, the repressed memories, the discovery of the cave, etc, etc. And that’s actually kind of cool.
9. It’s just too bad that the writing is so awful. Bruce having flashbacks and guilt and blah blah blah is all fine and dandy, but the whole emotional arc he’s supposed to go through? It is seriously half-assed and often just makes no sense of any kind. When Batman tells Riddler at the end of the film, “Poor Edward. I had to save them both. You see, I’m both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Not because I have to be, no. Because I choose to be,” it’s said with a note of triumph, like this is something the movie’s been building to this whole time, like it’s the godamned thesis, and really . . . no. No.
For starters, Bruce was ready to give up the business . . . what? Two hours ago? Of course, why he was ready to give up the business at all—other than having more time to spend with Chase in bed, of course—is really never made clear. Because he’s having flashbacks? Does he think quitting Batman will somehow stop the flashbacks? Or is he just so unhappy because his life has become all about vengeance? He’s concerned about Robin’s life headed in the same direction, and that’s at least understandable . . . but when he saves Robin and Chase, suddenly everything is good again? What? Batman’s struggles with duality and guilt are very poorly written, and the decisions he makes—the to be or not to be—are never backed up with any kind of argument or, hell, even common sense.
It’s just like the writers thought, hey, Batman should totally have a crisis about whether he still wants to be Batman or not, and figured if they wrote Batman saying things like “I don’t wanna” and “Yay, I’m going to be Batman forever!” the audience would just fill in the pieces. It’s incredibly lazy writing, is what I’m saying.
10. Although Batman Forever did kind of predict the future, in a way. 3-D is evil. EVIL!
Also, why does The Box look like a blender full of styrofoam?
Seriously. Even as a kid, I had problems with this.
11. Time for some quotes:
Dick: “How come this is the only locked door in this museum? What’ve you got back there?”
Alfred: “Master Wayne’s dead wives. The silver closet on your way.”
Two-Face (shoots his gun in the air): “What’s the point, Big Boy?”
Riddler: “Has anybody ever told you that you have a serious impulse control problem?” (Two-Face immediately puts his gun to Riddler’s face.)
Riddler: “This is the point.”
Dick: “I need a name, Batboy, Nightwing. I don’t know, what do you think? What’s a good sidekick name?”
Bruce: “How about Dick Grayson, college student?”
Dick: “Screw you!”
Dick: “You want to take a ride in my love ma-chine, baby?”
Two-Face: “The Bat has taught you well. Noble. Stupid, but noble.”
Robin: “Holy rusted metal, Batman!”
Robin: “The ground is all metal. It’s full of holes. You know, holey.”
Edward: “Ngyma, Edward Nygma. You hired me personally. We’ve never actually met, but your name is on the hiring slip. I have it.”
Two-Face: “Why won’t you just DIE!?”
Two-Face: ”The Bat’s stubborn refusal to expire . . . is driving us INSANE.”
Alfred: “You really are quite bright, despite what some people say.”
12. Finally, a few of the more groan-worthy moments:
A. Batman giving Commissioner Gordon a thumbs-up in his Bat-Plane and Gordon cheering, “Go, go! Ha ha ha!” Sweet Jesus.
B. “I’ll get drive-thru.” That kind of told you from the get-go what sort of movie you were getting into.
C. Chase’s aforementioned seduction scene next to the Bat Signal.
D. “I’ll see you in Hell” paired with “I’d rather see you in jail.” Ugh. Ugh. First, bad rhyming. No bueno. Second, this is one of those annoying things that movies and TV shows love to do where the hero decides not to kill the villain because vengeance is bad and blah blah blah, but of course the villain dies later anyway because the hero or heroes had to kill him in self-defense. Boo, hiss. This is boring.
E. The Bat Butt
Funny story about the Bat Butt: when I saw this movie in theaters, I went with my sister, my best friend, and my best friend’s family. Now, I didn’t notice this at the time—probably because I wasn’t sitting right next to her—but when the Bat Butt made it’s big screen debut, my best friend’s mom apparently reached out with both hands and made grabby, squeezy motions at it. So now, even though I didn’t actually see her do it, I almost remember it as if I had, and I’m forced to think of this every single time I watch this movie. I just thought I’d spread along the trauma.
Don’t let anyone tell you different: writers write primarily to share their childhood traumas. Scars sells better than love.
Silly and badly written, but funny at parts. Serious guilty pleasure.
Tommy Lee Jones. Yeah, I said it.
CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED WITH A BIG, DEAD, SMELLY FISH:
Bruce. I really, really wanted to say Chase, but . . . not only are you telling her the truth, you’re giving up your whole Batman deal before going out on a date that doesn’t end in bloodshed? How have you kept up a secret identity for three movies with decision-making skills like this?
B- (It really should be less than that, but I love this movie too much. Affection boosts the grade. Not fair but true.)
Repressed childhood memories of your dead parents can easily be conquered if you just save your not-quite-girlfriend and newfound partner from two arch-criminals. Seriously. You’re all cured now. Go have Bat Babies or something.