We now live in a world where owning a movie you love on DVD isn’t as necessary when old movies show up on one of any streaming serves. You can go back and see older movies you used to love – or discover films you didn’t get to catch up with. I have decided to do a blog series on movies I find streaming that interest me. The first one – I decided – needed to be Batman Forever. Thank you for coming back to read me after I took such an extended break.
Picture yourself in 1995 looking to see the next Batman film come to theaters. We’d had the wildly successful “Batman” featuring Michael Keaton and the sublime Jack Nicholson followed by the less successful but well regarded “Batman Returns”. The studio had recast the title role with a big star (at the time) Val Kilmer who was arguably a better casting match for Bruce Wayne on the page than Michael Keaton. The cast would feature two iconic villians embodied by the biggest comedy star on the planet Jim Carey – coming off of The Mask and Ace Ventura and Tommy Lee Jones coming off his Oscar win for “The Fugitive”. Joining the good guys was the current Mrs. Tom Cruise Nicole Kidman (who had been nominated for an Oscar as well at this point) and Chris O’Donnell who was just Golden Globe nominated for surviving Al Pacino’s award bait movie “Scent of a Woman.” – Maybe it’s hard to imagine these as stars now, but this would be like casting Chis Pratt, Jonah Hill, Christoph Waltz, Shailene Woodley, and Josh Hutcherson in those roles today. Anticipation was high for this film in the Holt household. McDonald’s had those glass mugs which I collected and kept until 2009 when my parents moved from my childhood home. At nine years old, this was the first movie I have vivid memories of seeing in theaters with my dad.
Coming out of theaters in 1995 I was convinced this was the best Batman movie that existed. I couldn’t have been higher on the film. Jim Carrey was a comedy god to me and those riddles were so good. Batman was such a genius for figuring out “If you look at the numbers on my face, you won’t find thirteen anyplace.” The bright colors and spastic tone appealed to my sensibilities at that age. I will admit that until “Batman Begins” came out in 2005, I would tell you that “Batman Forever” was my favorite Batman movie. At the time of ‘Begins” I went back to these films on DVD and quickly knew that Tim Burton’s 1989 film was the best of those first four movies and that “Batman Begins” blew all of that out of the water. I will say I’ve maintained strong nostalgia for “Batman Forever” though, and I really wanted to challenge those old feelings to find within myself if the movie still works today.
After hitting play, the film opens with a tone that I can really go with. Tommy Lee Jones hasn’t shown the scarred side of his face and starts delivering this creepy monologue. He’s got a hostage. Batman arrives to discuss Two-Face’s psychosis with Dr. Chase Meridian (giving a ‘saucy’ performance that is just as hammy as Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy from the next movie). Batman busts in, beats up Two-Face’s goons, gets trapped, saves himself and hostage, and then tails Two-Face onto his helicopter. There are sequences here I like a lot. Tommy Lee Jones is giving a performance instead of trying to copy Jack Nicholson and Batman reminds us about Harvey Dent and their previous partnership on the side of justice. While there is the comical replacement of the safe by a grapple line anchored to drywall, I still like the sequence a lot overall.
I will saying going through this movie, the things that hold up the worst are the villains. Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal loses all of its duality after the first scene and he dives head first into trying to emulate the delicious menace of The Joker. He is unsuccessful at this and comes across too broad and non-threatening. The most painful aspect is that one of my most beloved childhood entertainer’s material doesn’t work for me now. Jim Carrey’s energy was explosively hilarious in 1995 – but comedy is the medium of entertainment that dates itself the quickest and the worst. His scenes as Edward Nygma pre-Riddler are caustic. There are two scenes where I really still love his performance The scene of him Two-Face’s layer in the green suit and bowler is classic RIddler. He is funny, a little menacing, and he displays intellect in hatching his plan with Two-Face. The other scene is honestly the party scene in which he is emulating Val Kilmer and tricking Bruce Wayne to go into ‘The Box’ device. Outside of those scenes, I want to also emphasize the cane work done by Carrey. It’s sublime and it accentuates Carrey’s body control and rubber physicality. Onsie Riddler, in a question mark robe Riddler, climax Riddler, and any other scene with the Riddler just doesn’t play anymore. None worse that the invasion of the Bat-cave which is capped off with Looney Tunes sound effects and ‘JOY-GASM!”
Plot wise – I really don’t think it is such a terrible plot. Riddler wants to do a play on the pop culture fear that ‘TV will rot your brain’ by siphoning off the intelligence of Gothamites. This plot however, is really poorly told and constructed. It also brings up a weird schism in Riddler’s methodology. On one hand, it is in Riddler’s character to want to amass the most knowledge and be the smartest – but he is also obsessed with challenging others to solve his riddles. If he made the whole city stupid, he would have no one to challenge which would be fulfilling. I do like that the film plays with duality of Batman/Bruce Wayne and it really could have supported a better parallel to Two-Face/Harvey Dent.
Something else I really like is the Bat-gagets. He’s got a sonar Batarang, he’s got a fire proof cape, the Batboat and Batwing, he’s got an electro-pulse device for incapacitating goons, and the Bat-mobile that could scale the walls. Similarly, I find that the Batman fight choreography is acceptable for the time. It isn’t very good or tactical, but it demonstrates Batman’s prowess as well as possible for a movie made in 1995.
Ultimately, I still recommend this movie and find it to be an acceptable entry into the interpretation of Batman on film. I would say it falls fifth out of seven movies in my rankings, but is worth your time. It is a great Batman entry if you have younger children. It is not a threatening and expressionist as “Batman 1989”, not as psuedo-sexually perverse as “Batman Returns”, and not as ridiculously terrible as “Batman and Robin.”
I am glad to be back from paternity leave and please keep coming to the site to see what is on my mind.