How can a film with all the right ingredients get everything so badly wrong? One of the greatest superheroes (check), two of his greatest villains (check), a decent cast (check), a budget that is more than enough to create a classic (check)! I’ve never written a film or directed a movie but I am a huge Batman fan and believe that if a studio told me to create a Batman film that included The Riddler, Two Face, Robin and Nicole Kidman, I could do a very good job of it. It would feel like half the work is already done for me. I always stand by one philosophy; If I can do a better job than the “professional” then they are rubbish at their job!
It’s difficult to know where to start. From the beginning there are issues with the chaaracters. We are introduced to Two Face almost immediately, with little establishment of his interesting and creative origin, and instead of a complex, conflicted criminal with revenge driven motivations, we are treated to Tommy Lee Jones version of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. He’s silly, crazy, has a manic laugh and a very questionable agenda. He’s a million miles away from Nolan’s Two Face, which is much more of a dark, creative and accurate portrayal of the comic book character he’s based on. It’s a missed opportunity because Tommy Lee Jones could have done a great job of the character.
There are always issues with having multiple villains in films. Batman Returns just about gets away with it but even this is lacking. Batman Forever tries it again and picks a fantastic villain in The Riddler. The issue is that Edward Nigma is a genius thief who poses cryptic and almost impossible riddles that only a master detective like Batman can solve. He isn’t Jim Carrey’s version of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Aside from the fact that Carrey can throw himself into the wacky, crazy and humorous much better than Jones, there is no distinguishable character between the two villains. They are both wise cracking and crazy for the sake of it.
The film is Batman by the numbers. It’s almost like Joel Schumacher watched Burton’s films and made a checklist, two villains was done, next is the love interest. The main difference is that Burton develops the complex relationship between Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale or Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman so that the love story isn’t rushed and their attraction makes sense. What Schumacher gives us is Nicole Kidman’s Chase Meridian making corny innuendoes and invading Batman’s personal space and he instantly falls for this! There is no development. After sharing three scenes, he is considering telling her his secret identity.
To his credit, Schumacher does try to add a new dimension to the movie but this is, unfortunatley, Robin. Robin will never work on-screen. He is comic book character which took years of development and complex story telling to explain and justify. A grown man, a superhero, having a child sidekick which he repeatedly and knowingly puts in danger, doesn’t make sense when you only have two hours to explain it. Chris O’ Donnell plays a decent enough superhero and can carry off the suit and stunts, but if Dick Grayson isn’t a troubled teen, he isn’t Robin. It was one ingredient too far and was unnecessary.
It isn’t all bad though. Val Kilmer is convincing enough as Batman and does a decent job as Bruce Wayne. He seems to fit the cowl and carries himself convincingly. I don’t think he’s as good as Keaton or anywhere near as good as Bale but he is clearly the best thing in the film. The visual aspect, a key part of the Batman films up until Nolan took over, is also great. I love the laser question mark on the top of the Bat Signal and the cool design of the Batmobile. It just isn’t enough to make this film any good though!
Overall, I can’t believe how poor Batman Forever is. It has great actors, great characters, an established franchise and an audience ready to watch and Schumacher somehow manages to create a corny, cheesy, rushed mess which never lives up to its huge potential. What baffles me even more is he got to have another go at Batman after this terrible movie…
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)