I didn’t mention it in my review, but I’ve always thought of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm as a live action movie that was done as a cartoon. In the case of Batman Forever, I’ve always thought of it as a cartoon that was done as a live action movie.
There’s really no way this movie can be viewed as any attempt at a serious action/adventure/thriller. It is a comedy, plain and simple. I realized this way back in 1995 when I first saw it, and I maintain that stance today. And that’s not to say that Batman Forever is a terrible bad movie per se. Oh, it’s far from a good movie; but I must admit it’s rather fun to watch (at times). I’d even go as far to say that it’s actually more interesting than Batman Returns.
It’s abundantly clear as soon as this film opens that it does not intend for the audience to take it seriously. Consider the fact that this is the opening sequence:
Alfred: Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?
Batman: I’ll get drive-thru.
Cute and funny to be sure, and if this were a cartoon or a Mel Brooks parody of some sort it would be understandable. But this is the third entry in a series of big budget, made-by-committee, Hollywood blockbusters; when your opening scene is this cheesy it sets a tone of the entire film and that tone is comedy.
I wouldn’t even consider Batman Forever “campy.” Sure, the first two Tim Burton-directed Batman movies had their campy moments, but they were indeed moments. With Batman Forever, the franchise (now directed by Joel Schumacher) has gone the route of pure zaniness. There is no intensity, no drama, no character development, no mystery, no suspense, no detective work, and most of all – nothing in the way of a story-oriented script. This is a movie that exists strictly for its superficial elements in terms of surrealistic appearance and wacky tone. It seems to be self-aware and doesn’t try to convince the audience that it’s any kind of credible adventure story (which is more than I can say for the first two films). In that aspect it succeeds.
All the characters are simplistic and plain, which is ironic since every other aspect of the movie is extreme and over-the-top.
- You would think Val Kilmer would be a better Batman than Michael Keaton, but he is still even more stiff, monotone and milquetoast.
- Nicole Kidman plays essentially the same role as Michelle Pfeiffer from the previous flick. Nearly everything she says is either technobabble or erotica. Her tone is that of a phone sex operator whenever around Batman – as though she can’t stop herself from orgasming at all times. This film most definitely fails the Bechdel Test.
- Jim Carrey does not play The Riddler, Jim Carrey plays Jim Carrey and he Jim Carreys up every line and every scene. There is absolutely no difference between his performance in this film and his performances in Ace Venture, The Mask and Dumb & Dumber. Much of what he says and does is actually pretty funny… or at least interesting. Though repetitive and predictable, it’s not nearly as grating as I remember.
- Tommy Lee Jones does not play Two-Face, either. Tommy Lee Jones plays Jack Nicholson playing The Joker playing Two-Face. This may be the least developed villain in all of cinema history. There is little backstory, absolutely no character development and nothing resembling emotion in this performance. Ironic since I’ve always thought of Tommy Lee Jones as a great actor capable of being a worthy adversary (did you ever The Fugitive?). There was absolutely no reason to include this character in this movie because he has so little effect on the plot. Delete all his scenes and the story would still play out the same.
- Chris O’Donnell may be the only person playing a character with any breadth or depth. We know exactly why he acts the way he does. That being said, it’s still a cliché character – the short-tempered bad boy.
Clearly, Batman Forever is not the kind of movie you watch as a character study. It actually pre-dates Michael Bay’s Armageddon in the “two hour trailer” genre. Subtlety is for suckers; everything here is big, loud and in-your-face (literally). And while everything that happens is silly at best and ludicrous at worst, there really isn’t a dull moment. Schumacher seems to realize that this franchise could in no way be approached with the slightest of earnestness so he takes the opposite approach and is at least able to make a watchable movie.
But as I originally said, I think Batman Forever would’ve been a fine film if the exact same script had been animated in the spirit of Super Friends. The tone is so light, the gags are so obvious and the jokes are so corny that they cannot be taken seriously except in the context of a cartoon.
If you absolutely must watch Batman Forever, I’d say in order to prevent its silliness from driving you crazy you should do one of the following:
A) Watch it with young children and assume it’s meant for them (this really could’ve been rated PG anyway).
B) Close your eyes and imagine it’s a cartoon.
C) View it under the influence of a of Schedule 1 narcotic.