Batman Forever

Batman Forever ★★½

Much like everyone has their own James Bond movie, the one they fondly remember from childhood, most people roughly 30 & under doubtless have their own Batman movie and, without question, Batman Forever was mine. After at least a decade since last watching this, I was immediately transported back to the 13 year old callow youth mesmerised in the cinema as Elliot Goldenthal's rousing Bat-theme blasted in as the names of Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones et al raced at us across the screen in typically overblown theatrical fashion, in many ways setting the tone for everything that follows. I loved Batman Forever when I was 13. Do I love it now? Maybe a little. Do I think Joel Schumacher made a particularly great movie? Not at all.

Following the dark and Gothic Batman interpretations delivered by Tim Burton--relegated here to mere producer--a marked change took place as Schumacher grabbed the directorial reins to move the series into more commercial territory and, inevitably, that meant removing the Burton-oddity and darkness that perhaps wasn't to everyone's taste (even if it was far more fitting to the character himself). Right from the opening scenes of Batman suiting up, rubber nipples enhanced, a heroic introduction interrupted by Michael Gough's ever deadpan Alfred asking if he wants to take a sandwich with him, the lightness of touch is evident. What Schumacher actually does almost immediately is send Batman back 30 years, back to the camp pastiche that the iconic 60's series & subsequent movie impressed upon a generation of Bat-fans - the only difference being in the 60's they knew full well it was a satire, whereas here Schumacher delivers pantomime without the underlying subtext. Even compared to Burton's previous efforts, it's remarkably throwaway and hollow.

That's not to say, admittedly, there aren't elements here to enjoy. The colourful brightness of Gotham City is arresting even if it all looks very much like one big soundstage with the often gaudy lighting, and there are certainly two highly memorable villainous turns by Jones as Harvey Two-Face (all Joker-esque drawl, grimace and mania) and Jim Carrey as the Riddler (though you may tire very quickly of his gurning schtick if, like me, you prefer him when he tones it down); they're not nearly as well drawn as Burton's bad guys however, less grotesques and more clowns, lacking truly that undercurrent of menace, sexuality or sadism the previous movies delivered. A much clearer attempt is made to give both Batman & Bruce Wayne a narrative here than in Returns, but Val Kilmer--though perfectly decent in both roles--essays largely a Michael Keaton impression without playing anything else, saddled unfortunately with an irritating Chris O'Donnell as his would-be Robin & an embarrassingly sultry Nicole Kidman as love interest Chase - now I could watch her smoulder up the screen all day, and she's gorgeous throughout, but she is perhaps the chief victim of a frequently cringe-worthy script that serves as Forever's biggest crime. At times you wonder why they even bothered writing one.

In many ways, Batman Forever is as much a film of two faces as Tommy Lee Jones' chief villain. It's a paean to gaudy, commercial excess but it's not nearly as bad as the movie that followed it. It's overblown, silly, camp and frequently quite stupid in a way Tim Burton's films assiduously avoided, yet it retains a certain kind of dated charm--and it does feel dated, more so than its predecessors. And despite boasting an often awful script, it retains a more than decent ensemble of actors who gamely ham it up in the name of entertainment. Yet there's no getting away from the fact Batman Forever triggered a tainted legacy it took a decade to start washing away and, much as my childhood memories mean I'll always be fond of it, let's hope the Dark Knight is never portrayed as lightly as this again.

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