Superhero Month: "Batman Forever" Review

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Superhero Month: "Batman Forever" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (strong stylized action)
Length: 121 minutes
Release Date: June 19, 1995
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy

Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) has had a string of recent unsuccessful romances, the last of which was with the slightly deranged Selina Kyle/Catwoman in the previous film in the series, "Batman Returns." One would think he would take a break from the ladies, but at the beginning of "Batman Forever," he finds himself attracted to psychologist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), whose books he has read. Unfortunately for Bruce, Chase seems more interested in Batman, because she's an expert in dual personalities and wants to know what makes a man want to dress up in a suit and fight crime. Little does she know her two potential suitors are one and the same.

Chase could probably learn just as much about dual personalities from Dr. Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey), an employee of Bruce's company. Nygma is a mad genius of sorts who has invented a device meant to beam television waves into the human brain, but can also steal brain waves as well. He's quite taken with his invention, but Bruce doesn't share his enthusiasm, deeming the device as risky and unethical. Nygma defies Bruce's order to stop developing the device by testing it on himself, which causes him to go mad. He transforms into a new personality he calls the Riddler after trying out several other names. As the Riddler, he intends to mass produce his device and get one into every home in Gotham City, where he will then steal everyone's brain waves and put them into his own head, causing his intelligence to increase. One can definitely have too much of a good thing, even if that good thing is intelligence, a lesson the Riddler will soon learn.

To help him with his plan, he enlists Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), the disfigured former District Attorney of Gotham City who blames Batman for his acid-burned face. They're a formidable team who can't be stopped by the police alone. Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) asks for the help of Batman, who uses his Batmobile and Batwing (which later turns into a submarine) in order to fight the duo, while still trying to bond with Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell), who'll later become his sidekick Robin. Before the epic finale there is action, drama, romance, one-liners, and even a few sly references to the campy cult classic TV series from the 1960s.

The two previous films in this Batman series, 1989's "Batman" and 1992's "Batman Returns" were fairly dark takes on the superhero genre. Though dark superhero movies are now fairly commonplace, back in the 1990s, this was a bit of a shock to many moviegoers. It was a welcome change, but Warner Bros. wanted to lighten things up a bit when making "Batman Forever" in order to try and draw viewers who might not go see a darker version of the Caped Crusader. They replaced director Tim Burton with Joel Schumacher, whose previous works were more dramatic fare like "The Client" and "Dying Young." He makes the transition from high drama to fantasy and superheroes seamlessly, creating a new vision of Batman that's familiar, yet fairly different from the previous two films. Burton took a step down and served as a co-producer here, which no doubt helped make the transition from one vision to the other much more fluid.

The director's chair wasn't the only thing that changed hands for the film. The duties for the film's score went from Danny Elfman to Elliot Goldenthal, who earned a Grammy Nomination for his efforts. The cowl and cape also switched hands from Michael Keaton to Kilmer, who gets to interact with new character Robin. O'Donnell plays the part as a hip young man, which will probably surprise fans of the comic books, since "hip" is not a word used to refer to Robin, ever. As for the villains, Jones takes a fun break from his usual gruff characters to play Two-Face, while Carrey chews a little scenery in an energetic performance as entertaining as his turn in "The Mask."

"Batman Returns" was meant as a semi-reboot of the series, giving it a fresh look in anticipation of many more films to come. There was certainly a lot of source material to choose from and plenty more DC Comics villains who could do battle with Batman for future installments. Schumacher was already on board to helm the next film, and the future looked bright for the franchise. Somehow the wheels came off the train, and the series ended with the fourth film, "Batman and Robin" in 1997. Whatever happened behind the scenes to end the series, "Batman Forever" still stands as an admirable course correction that blended drama, action, and two distinct visions to make a cohesive and entertaining film.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5