Batman Forever

Batman Forever ★★★★


"Was that over the top? I can never tell."

Batman Forever is more of an extension of Burton's two Gothic tragedy pieces than many realize, both in their joyous, external depictions of internally traumatized villains and in the continuous back and forth progression of campy banter. Schumacher, while hired to veer the series back into kid-friendly territory, also understood that after Batman Returns, an eerie, haunting exploration of various wounds and fetishes, nothing could top it. Instead director Schumacher and Michael Keaton replacement Val Kilmer shake an already strange depiction of Gotham City and infuse neon sights, homoerotic overtones, and an icy pitch-black layer of overblown goofiness to mix with Burton's original character foundation.

It is in many aspects a commercial product but no less a vision, breaking away from grotesque Burton sensibilities in favor of a colorful dreamscape with rainbow-plastered images and staging comparable to a more gaudy Golden-Age musical. Its contained structure begins with a suit-up sequence (complete with a crotch shot!) leading right into a bank robbery by Two Face. No opening origin, no secondary character details, just action and reaction, character and relationships. Nicole Kidman's Dr. Chase Meridian stands out as one of the main cartoon personalities - a psychologist (I think?) who just wants to fuck the shit out of Batman from the first conversation - and Schumacher squeezes every inch of melodrama out of her performance, blasting wind into her hair and zooming in on her lustful, fascinated expression as Batman arrives at the scene of the crime with pinkish expressions highlighting the jazzy displays of architecture.

Schumacher's commitment to a multicolored, dazzling version of Gotham city also allows Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey - playing Two-Face and The Riddler respectively - to embody the radiant construction of the sets and the rockin 90s tune/Elliot Goldenthal soundtrack combo. Bonkers is a word that doesn't even scratch the surface of what Jones and Carrey achieve here, which aren't even accurate character portrayals but more of an outward theatrical fashion show, with their individual ambitions being worn like a heavy, overpowering fur coat. For example, Two-Face's lair is *literally* split in half, with one girl dressed in pure costuming while another embraces a hellish Goth look, even though it doesn't matter because both sides are inherently bad. Schumacher and Jones take a frankly stupid interpretation of the character and beautify it; building an entire performance out of the relationship between individual and set, objects and spaces, and a grandiose world versus the showy creations that inhabit it.

Through the wacky villains and their plans, Val Kilmer's Bruce Wayne shines because he's the only classical soul left in a throw-up collage of animated crime and Technicolor splendor. His manor, besides the nutty Bat-Cave and its various gadgets, is like a long-gone tribute to a quieter time, and Wayne's nightmares haunt the house, boosted by the introduction of a college-aged Dick Grayson and his similar loss of family. It makes for one of the most interesting live-action Batman/Bruce Wayne dynamics because Batman is a vigilante who melds with the times. His glitzy, glowing appearances hide his pains, and his campy exterior only enhances the tired anguish of the past.

And even with the psychedelic humor (it's a LAUGH RIOT) and the seemingly plotless turn of events, Batman Forever emerges through its undeserved hatred because it knows exactly what it's doing. Every dutch angle and sensational line ("OH NOOOOO! IT'S BOILING ACID!!!!!") builds a universe that we haven't seen since Batman & Robin. Is that for better or for worse? Your mileage may vary, but I'd rather soak this up instead of sitting through The Winter Soldier again.

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