Batman Forever

Batman Forever ★★★

An almost-offensive step backward from Tim Burton's excellent "Batman" and "Batman Returns," Joel Schumacher's "Batman Forever" expunges the franchise's authentic darkness, weight, and soul in exchange for neon colors, overwrought silliness, and superficial spectacle. Reducing Bob Kane's cape and cowl wearing crime fighter and his shadow-concealed heroism to a plastic, studio-scrubbed superhero works in terms of building a crowd-pleasing antidote to Burton's elegant esoterica, but it does not create anything with depth or resonance. Still, Schumacher's film is committed to its new direction and is able to entertain despite its frustrating emptiness.

Beginning with winky one-liners and scenery-chewing characters, "Batman Forever" instantly begins down a new tonal path. It is, once again, an operatic superhero outing, but the narrative eschews any kind of inviting earnestness and dark-tinged whimsy. Instead, from its outset, the film seems to poke fun at the previous chapters' evocative seriousness and puts a premium on hyperactive pop.

Packing in as many characters as its story can handle, "Batman Forever" finds Batman at odds with the destructive forces of Two-Face and the Riddler. Allied with Dick Grayson and Dr. Chase Meridian, Batman must work to save Gotham City and its denizens. To the narrative's credit, it successfully mines the sillier side of its source material. Not finding its inspiration in Frank Miller's gritty "The Dark Knight Returns," the story is fueled by kid-friendly scripting and the goofier portions of the Batman canon.

Those goofier areas fuel the production, as well, but they are amped to headache-inducing levels. Schumacher assembles something loud, garish, and full of energy where the film's villains prance manically and the heroes are an afterthought. It is a large-scale, fully rendered carnival ride with canted angles and a refusal to take itself seriously.

The cast ideally fits the film's tone and color. Val Kilmer is a smug pretty-boy but eventually gels into his role as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as, respectively, the Riddler and Two-Face howl throughout the work and devour scenery by the flat-full. Nicole Kidman is not given much of any interest to do as Dr. Chase Meridian, but Chris O'Donnell actually begins to develop a compelling Dick Grayson.

Turning 180 degrees from Burton's sophisticated superhero epics, "Batman Forever" succeeds at creating something engaging in spite of its lack of control and charm. The film makes no apologies for its style and noise and, perhaps, should be commended for its commitment to the series' change in direction. It may disappoint fans of Burton's bat-films, but it makes for a superhero film that can, at least, never be accused of being bland.

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