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25 Years Later: Batman Forever

14 July 20 words: Charlie and George Alexander

We take a trip to the neon-coated streets of Joel Schumacher's Gotham City...

Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey
Running time: 129 minutes

Similar to the Daniel Craig/Sam Mendes revamp of Bond, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy undoubtedly revolutionised the cinematic image of Batman. Dark, gritty and unrelenting, it’s vast critical respect and huge box office takings cemented Nolan’s Batman as the new archetype. In absolute contrast, Joel Schumacher’s 90’s double of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin were slandered on release, with the criticism and ridicule growing stronger as time has passed. Yet 25 years on and in today’s world of seemingly never-ending gloom and misery, there is something profoundly refreshing in the ludicrous and nonsensical Batman Forever. Alfred opens the film asking Batman whether he’d like to take a packed lunch for his crime-crushing journey in the Batmobile, and as Val Kilmer responds dryly with, “No, I’ll take drive-thru” we are instantly set up for the foolish extravaganza that lies ahead.

Gotham has never looked so freakish. From the glow in the dark street thugs with neon glow-sticks for weapons, to the flamboyant and ever-evolving wardrobe of Jim Carrey’s Riddler, it’s dramatic 90s aesthetic is where the film manages to upkeep its engagement. This visual focus is evident from start-to-finish, offering respite from the mayhem of the script through the medium of diamond-infested suits and epic, mesmerising city-scape images. Schumacher perfectly captures the facetious nature of this comic book romp through his crass, intoxicating use of colour and imagery. Although it’s not enough to build an appraisal purely based on budget injected achievements, it would be a serious discredit to not mention this aspect of the film; zesty and punchy aesthetics to cloak this anarchic and bewildering plot. 

The exaggerated colour palettes would have felt out of touch if it wasn’t for the film’s cast, who match the nonsense toe-to-toe through their entertaining but hyperbolic over-acting. The casting of Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones is utterly integral for the film to be accepted as a farcical but fun joy ride. We are introduced to Carrey, through the origin story of the Riddler, Edward Nygma, the stereotypical crazed scientist, angry at the world for his loneliness and insignificance. The drab and overused character traits are easily cast aside by Carey’s goofy antics, contorting all aspects of himself, through body, face and voice, creating an enjoyable chaotic mess of a character. Jones’ Harvey “Two Face” Dent has a similar effect, strutting his stuff in ridiculous multi-coloured outfits whilst in fits of comedic rage; both actors seem to have really enjoyed themselves and this helps us to as well. 

Maintains some level of investment without requiring too much brain-space

Yet, the fun and games are spoiled by the clear and unapologetic misogyny towards the female characters. Nicole Kidman is shoehorned into the most sexually-driven criminal psychologist Hollywood has seen to date. Dr Chase Meridian manages to evade any sense of intelligence through her infantile obsession for Batman’s sharp pecs and his lack of any sense of emotional depth. Although posed as an independent and astute woman, Chase submits as a total slave to his aura; a disappointing but predictable regression into the sexist tropes of Hollywood. Jones and Carey are also supplemented by simplified women - Drew Barrymore offered limited speech but constantly draped in ridiculous attire. Although this is not a dominating aspect of the film, it does seriously prohibit a wholly enjoyable experience. 

From its ever gimmicky punchlines through to the absurd twists and turns, Batman Forever manages to maintain some level of investment, without requiring too much brain-space. The two-dimensional female characters cannot be excused as simple comic book damsels in distress and this is a major flaw of the feature. Yet the level of self-awareness for its camp and frivolous nature makes for an amusing couple of hours. 

Did you know? Shortly after Joel Schumacher’s passing in June 2020, it was revealed that an unreleased 170-minute cut of the film exists. This extended version is said to be considerably darker, including scenes that explore Bruce Wayne’s psychological trauma and even an appearance from the classic comic book villain Man-Bat.

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