“Sugar” and “Spice” are not opposites. So why are they the names of Two-Face’s girlfriends (Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar), when everything about him is supposed to be split into opposing dichotomies? Apparently, “Leather” and “Lace,” the monikers used in the script, were deemed to suggestive for the family audience Warner Brothers was trying to placate after the horrifically demented BATMAN RETURNS (1992), so safer names were substituted at the expense of logic. It’s only one small detail, but it reveals the problem underlying the whole of BATMAN FOREVER: this is a film not designed to be the best piece of pop art it can possibly be, but calculated to draw the widest possible demographics in order to please WB’s merchandising partners, whether or not the result satisfies the actual audience.
Actually, if this film had come directly after BATMAN, it would have been an appreciable improvement. On a superficial level, Joel Schumacher is a better director of mindless action movies than Tim Burton is, and Schumacher also knows better how to negotiate his way through a production behemoth, serving up the requisite elements without much personal style or conviction to get in the way of the Hollywood hype.
Besides that, the script at last fills in the obvious blank: why is Batman a bat? Not only that; the writers even account for why the previous films did not explore this mystery (the memory was repressed so deeply that Bruce Wayne himself did not recall it). Fans of the comic book should appreciate this faithful nod to the character’s origin.
Beyond this, however, the film is a disappointment. For all the colorful chase sequences, true excitement is missing. The problem is that the action seldom advances the story and never changes the balance of power; after each getaway by the villains, things are pretty much as they were before. In fact, the proceedings get downright repetitious, with numerous failed assassination attempts by Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones).
The relationship between the new Batman/Wayne (Val Kilmer, replacing Michael Keaton) and Robin/Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) is well-handled, and Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Meridian is a serviceable combo of love interest and shrink (though she is no match for Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in the previous outing). Even the ever-reliable Alfred (Michael Gough) is given a more satisfying role, helping to cement the relationship between Wayne and Grayson.
Unfortunately, the villains are a major let-down, and the obvious reason is that there is one too many: namely Jim Carrey’s extraneous Riddler. Acting as the brains of the villainous duo, he never really convinces us of his genius; worse, his origin story takes screentime away from Two-Face/Harvey Dent, the character who really motivates the story.
The plot attempts to depict a parallel between Batman and Robin, and Two-Face is the character they share in common: Wayne’s former friend, once a District Attorney, now a criminal responsible for the death of Grayson’s family. The Riddler/Edward Nygma is frankly irrelevant to this story; introducing him results in a structure more convoluted than that of BATMAN RETURNS, and for all of Carrey’s over-the-top hi-jinx, he never justifies his character’s presence. Instead, he ends up pushing the film perilously close to the campy tone of the old 1960s television series.
In the central role, although Kilmer may not look quite macho enough to be a totally convincing comic book superhero, he is perfect as millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. He somehow looks “to the manor born,” in a way that Keaton never did. He may not be a perfect Batman, but he handles the role competently within the context of this film. Unfortunately, he would pass the cape to George Clooney for the next film, the even more misguided BATMAN AND ROBIN.
The title “Batman Forever” was a bit of wishful thinking on the part of Warner Brothers, implying that the franchise would go on like the James Bond films. Instead, it died out after one more movie (BATMAN AND ROBIN), until it was resurrected ten years later in 2005’s BATMAN BEGINS. The plot’s justification for the title is that Bruce Wayne comes to terms with his alter ego and decides he does not mind being “Batman Forever.”
An early draft of the script suggested a romantic tryst between Dr. Meridian and Batman, who managed to perform sexually without taking off his cowl and revealing his identity. The scene of Meridian summoning Batman remains, but in the film the Caped Crusader manages to keep on both his cowl and his costume.
BATMAN FOREVER (1995). Directed by Joel Schumacher. Screenplay by Lee Batchler & Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman, from a story by Lee Batchler & Janet Scott Batchler , based on the character created by Bob Kane. Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicol Kidman, Christ O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar, Rene Auberjonois.