Imagination Connoisseur, Ash Chauhan, makes a case for re-considering BATMAN FOREVER – often maligned by fans as “the other Schumacher film.” But is that fair? There’s more to this movie than the over-the-top performances of Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey – and it may be worth a second look.
Read his review to learn more.
BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
Review by Ash Chauhan
The scene starts out with a shadowy figure bathed in darkness, lost in thought. Tension and dread fill the air. The musical score anxious and despondent.
“All I can think about every second of the day is getting Two-Face,” says Dick Grayson, pacing about the Batcave, lost in thought, fragments of light reflecting on his solemn face from the waters below. “He took my whole life. When I was out there tonight, I imagined it was him that I was fighting – even when I was fighting you – and all the pain went away. Do you understand?” A morose Bruce Wayne emerges from his armory, making his way to Grayson.
“Yes, I do,” he says, sympathy in his voice.
“Good! ‘Cause you got to help me find him. And when we do – I’m the one who kills him!” proclaims Grayson. Face to face, Wayne stares at the vengeful youth, dreadful memories of his own engulf him. “So you’re willing to take a life?”
“As long as it’s Two-Face,” Grayson declares without hesitation. Wayne sighs. “Then… it will happen this way. You make the kill. But your pain doesn’t die with Harvey, it grows. So you run out into the night to find another face… and another… and another. Until one terrible morning you wake up and realize, revenge has become your whole life, and you won’t know why.”
“You can’t understand,” says a frustrated Grayson. “Your family wasn’t killed by a maniac.”
“Yes they were. Were the same.”
“Then if we’re the same, Bruce, help me! Train me! Let me be your partner!” Grayson pleads.
“No. I can’t. You still have a choice.” The words linger as Wayne stares into Grayson’s disapproving eyes.
“Look, Bruce – I’m a part of this, whether you like it or not.” Grayson backs up and runs off into the shadows determined to get his way. Wayne turns around and notices Alfred, his faithful butler and surrogate father, who had been watching the entire time, a look of empathy on his withered face for young Grayson.
More than a quarter-century after its release, Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN FOREVER (1995) – the third entry into the Batman franchise which began in 1989 – still has one of the best scenes in any Batman film ever made. Despite its outward cartoonish façade, BATMAN FOREVER is not without merit and has many more dramatic scenes punctuated with great dialogue like the aforementioned scene between Bruce Wayne and his new ward, an orphaned Dick Grayson. There is much to appreciate in BATMAN FOREVER, in fact – dare I say it? – it’s the best Batman film from the eponymous Burton/Schumacher era. Twenty-six years after its release, it’s time we appreciate what BATMAN FOREVER got right instead of emphasizing what it didn’t.
BATMAN FOREVER marks a proper return for the Caped Crusader
With Joel Schumacher at the helm, BATMAN FOREVER was not only tasked with creatively reviving the Batman franchise after Tim Burton’s nightmarish BATMAN RETURNS (1992), but also reviving it commercially after Burton’s film underwhelmed at the box office and alienated sponsors. And boy did BATMAN FOREVER step up to the challenge.
Val Kilmer was cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne. He was coming off of a critically lauded portrayal of Doc Holliday in TOMBSTONE, and gave BATMAN FOREVER a much-needed jolt after Michael Keaton declined to reprise the role for the threequel. Tall and broad shouldered, sporting a sharp jawline and a booming baritone voice, Kilmer offered a physically imposing Batman that many fans hoped for.
Jim Carrey, then at the height of his box office stardom, and recent Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones were cast to portray the villains Riddler and Two-Face respectively, their castings a real coup for the studio. Nicole Kidman, then married to Tom Cruise, gave Batman a love interest who was much more than a damsel in distress. And up and coming actor Chris O’Donnell, fresh off the success of SCENT OF A WOMAN opposite Al Pacino, rounded out the cast as a badass Robin, complete with a fashionable earing and trendy buzzcut.
The film opened on June 16, 1995 to a then record 3-day take of $53 million, and finished with a $184 million domestic haul ($387 million adjusted) and $336 million worldwide gross. The highest grossing film of the summer, a double-platinum soundtrack with the chart topping song “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal, and merchandise flying off the shelves, Batman dominated the zeitgeist of the summer of 1995 as he once did the summer of 1989. Batman was back as the crown jewel for Warner Bros.
Despite the success of the film, many view BATMAN FOREVER in hindsight as the beginning of the end of the Batman franchise. And after the release of the subsequent catastrophe that was “BATMAN & ROBIN” (1997), BATMAN FOREVER has been mired in a retroactive malice it doesn’t deserve. Much of the hate comes from Schumacher’s creative decisions for “Batman Forever” – from the lighter tone, to the bright color palette, to the cackling slapsticky villains, to Batman having a gadget for just about any scenario – his vision harkened back to the camp of the 1966 “Batman” television series starring Adam West, a cartoonish era Batman fans had long since tried to escape.
Oh, and how could we forget the Greco-Roman statue inspired nipples on the bat-suit and that brief shot of a Batman’s sculpted rubber ass (an obvious moment of levity in the film)! Twenty-six years later, these elements are STILL the most talked about features of Schumacher’s Batman reign. “I just know that I’ll always go down over the nipples on Batman starting with BATMAN FOREVER.” Schumacher reflects. “Such a sophisticated world we live in where two pieces of rubber the size of erasers on old pencils, those little nubs, can be an issue. It’s going to be on my tombstone, I know it.”
Often overshadowed by a cornucopia of flashy villains, Batman was relegated to a supporting character in his own films. But unlike prior Batman films, “Batman Forever” attempted to do something its predecessors didn’t – focus on Batman and make him the star of his own film. And this is where “Batman Forever” succeeds, and why it’s the best of the Burton/Schumacher era of Batman films.
“Batman Forever” finally delved into the character of Batman, particularly focusing on his duality. Throughout the film, Wayne struggles to live his life as both millionaire CEO by day and masked vigilante by night, often times becoming one at the expense of the other. This is further accentuated when a love triangle forms between Bruce Wayne, Dr. Chase Meridian, and Batman. A cruel joke on Wayne, for it’s Batman who Meridian is enthralled with, at least at first.
Wayne is given the binary choice of being either Bruce Wayne OR Batman, but never Bruce Wayne AND Batman. Wayne’s prime conflict in the film isn’t with the villains, but with himself – Does he want to be Batman? Does he need to be Batman? Can there be a balance between Batman and Bruce Wayne? Is he destined to be Batman forever? So many questions, it’s no wonder The Riddler was chosen as one of the villains of the film, tasked with solving the greatest riddle of all: “Who is… Batman?” That just so happens to be a riddle Batman is trying to solve as well. “Batman Forever” does a great job of taking the Bruce Wayne/Batman dichotomy seriously, almost to the point of being an existential examination. Almost.
What could have been
Unearthed deleted scenes showcase how gloomy and introspective the film could’ve been. From a scene in which a pensive Wayne struggles to determine if Batman is the cause of all the mayhem and villainy in Gotham City and if his quest has any meaning after avenging his parents, to another scene in which Wayne goes into the pitch-black caverns of the Batcave and comes face to face with the literal bat that haunts his dreams, feeds his fears, and resolves his destiny, there is much left on the cutting room floor that could have added to and expanded the narrative. But after the grim and dark debacle of Tim Burton’s previous BATMAN RETURNS (1992), it’s no wonder these cuts were made. To be too adult risked alienation; the film had to cater to the masses. However, the final theatrical cut doesn’t feel abridged and still works without these scenes as Wayne is able to find the answers he seeks regarding his struggle with duality and his acceptance of his true identity.
Wayne’s new role as a surrogate father to an orphaned Grayson adds even more subtext to the drama. Guided by a hatred and a desire to exact revenge on Two-Face – the villain responsible for his family’s murder – Grayson looks to Wayne for guidance. Like all good fathers, Wayne leads Grayson away from the same mistakes he made as a youth when drunk on vengeance. The themes of justice versus vengeance resonate throughout their cerebral encounters as Grayson starts to form his own duality, while Wayne comes to terms with his.
In the climactic showdown with The Riddler, a newly defiant Batman faces a literal binary choice poised by The Riddler: save Meridian, Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend, or Robin, Batman’s partner, from imminent death. Only one can be saved. Batman saves both of them, symbolizing his victory over his struggle with duality – he can have his bat-cake and eat it too. A triumphant Batman, finally accepting and at peace with his internal struggle, stands over a defeated Riddler and reveals, “Poor, Edward. I had to save them both. You see, I’m both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Not because I have to be. Now… because I chose to be.”
Beyond the story, the film is also a technical and visual feast that still inspires awe and holds up after all these years. Stephen Goldblatt’s Oscar nominated cinematography gives a vibrant, colorful comic book feel eschewing the drab color palettes of the previous entries. No longer feeling relegated to the suffocating confines of soundstages and exaggerated matte paintings, Gotham City is vast and massive in scale.
The spiers of Gotham City rise to dizzying heights, the city finally realized in a mixture of full-scale, miniature, and CGI shots that bring the vast metropolis to life in all its comic book glory thanks to Barbara Ling’s glorious production design. And Elliot Goldenthal’s score was a worthy successor to Danny Elfman’s iconic arrangement, blessing the franchise with yet another memorable Batman theme. I can still hear Goldenthal’s Batman theme and hum it at any given moment, a true testament to his musical craftsmanship.
Comic book Easter eggs
BATMAN FOREVER also brought to life the comic book page, giving fans of the comic what they had always hoped to see depicted on screen. Iconic shots of Batman soaring through the concrete jungle of Gotham City, cape dramatically billowing in the wind, were finally realized. The modern cinematic iteration of Robin, batman’s faithful sidekick, finally made his debut with a comic accurate costume and black outer cape with yellow inside. And those toys, those wonderful toys!
From a stocked armory of bat-shaped weapons, to an upgraded bat-suit with sonar modifications, the iconic Batmobile, along with a Batjet and a Batboat, and the villain’s diabolical device capable of reading minds and transferring brainwaves into a host, the comic book page, in all its absurdity and glory, was cinematically realized in BATMAN FOREVER. But the thing we remember most is when Wayne made mention of the city of Metropolis. Long before any concept of a shared cinematic comic book universe was even a tangible idea, this little Easter egg in the film got everyone’s heart racing! Do Superman and Batman inhabit the same world? Could we see Superman and Batman in a movie together?! BATMAN FOREVER opened many doors that we never thought were possible in a comic book adaptation circa 1995.
Before comic book adaptations dominated the box office with multiple releases a year, a Batman film every three years was what we had to look forward to back in the 1990s. The success of BATMAN FOREVER caused Warner Brothers to fast-track a sequel for summer 1997. What resulted was BATMAN & ROBIN, one of the worst films ever made. Among many of the film’s mistakes was that it made Batman a supporting character in his own movie again, something that BATMAN FOREVER remediated.
Years later, Schumacher apologized for “Batman and Robin” to fans that had high expectations after the success of BATMAN FOREVER. And could you blame them? BATMAN FOREVER had it all. There is much to defend in the film. In a 1995 interview with Charlie Rose, Schumacher, responding to “The New Yorker” movie critic David Denby’s trashing of the film, defended his vision – “Well, it’s sad when life has changed so much and some people live in a time, in a place, in an anachronism within themselves. It’s hard for a deracinated East Coast critic to really understand what entertainment is for the rest of the planet. I don’t know what David is comparing [BATMAN FOREVER] to – “Potemkin”?
This is a Batman comic book. I think there is a strong story in this. It introduces the Robin character, there’s a love story with Val, [we] have two great villains in this movie, and a lot of fun. I’m sorry that all of the hard work and energy, the beautiful sets, the costumes, the jokes, the choreography, disturbs him so much. I’m sorry he finds our film disgraceful. However, I can’t agree with him.” I can’t agree with him either, Mr. Schumacher.
BATMAN FOREVER is pure unadulterated joy. But it’s the movie’s deep reverence for Batman as a character, and the thoughtful examination of him that caused me to revisit the film. I finally cast aside childish jokes and suppositions piled on the film and appreciate it for what it was, even if it did take 26 years to ascertain. Rumors swirled as recently as last year’s DC Fandome event of a “Schumacher Cut” of BATMAN FOREVER. Sadly, there won’t be a director’s cut – Schumacher died in June 2020. Some still besmirch BATMAN FOREVER as the beginning of the end of the Batman film franchise. On the contrary, I feel BATMAN FOREVER saved the franchise, giving it the best Batman film from the Burton/Schumacher era, and a Batman film that still holds up a quarter-century later.