'Batman Forever' movie review
By Desson Howe
June 16, 1995
Pardon the hysteria, the crowd and the car horns, but the "Batman Forever" juggernaut just rolled up to your local multiplex and, boy, does it take up space.
On this particular world tour, Batman (Val Kilmer) fights a couple of psychotic villains (Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey), tries to block out that dark day when his parents were slain, and fights valiantly not to fall for a sultry executive (Nicole Kidman) who salivates over his black leather briefs. Along the way, he befriends an acrobat called Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell), a young man bent on getting revenge on Jones for deep-sixing his entire family.
It's generic Batfare but the faces are new: As Batman, Kilmer replaces Michael Keaton, who may have vanquished the Joker, the Penguin and Catwoman in previous installments, but came up short against Warner Bros. when he asked for more money. O'Donnell plays Batman's sidekick with appealing, testosteronal pluck. As abnormal-psychology shrink Dr. Chase Meridian, Kidman is covering the same love-interest territory as predecessors Kim Basinger and Michelle Pfeiffer. But at least she looks different. It's the nose, mainly.
In the more interesting villain corner, Jones is appropriately fiendish as Two-Face, a former D.A. who turned nutso when a disgruntled defendant disfigured half his face with acid. But like everyone else, he's eclipsed by Carrey.
As the Riddler, a bug-eyed, madly inspired lunatic who spins riddles, twists his body into every conceivable position and spouts one-liners with every breath, Mr. Ace Ventura is the Biggest Kahuna of all. Even though the movie starts long before his entrance (as Batman squares off romantically with Kidman and pugilistically with Jones), things really don't get started until he shows up.
Initially an underling for Bruce Wayne (Batman's alter-ego, just in case you've been away from Earth a few years), he tries to get the millionaire to sponsor his new invention: a 3-D box that sits in front of the TV and pumps the viewer's brain with fully interactive holograms. But when Kilmer rejects Carrey's idea ("It raises too many questions," says the goody-goody millionaire), Carrey goes out on his own.
Reinventing himself as the Riddler, he joins forces with Jones, finances his invention with organized robberies, and sells a lot of gizmos. Turns out, those boxes actually draw neural energy from viewers' brains and download it into Carrey's brain. The Riddler is sucking up the collective mental power of Gotham City, as if that guy needs any more active software in his head.
"Caffeine will kill ya!" he yells with that beady Jim look, after cold-cocking his first victim with a coffeepot. "That's never going to heal unless you stop picking," he says later, referring to Jones's gruesome features. Carrey seems to increase energy as he goes along. "Was that over the top?" he asks, at the end of one particular bout of inspired insanity. "I can never tell!"
Carrey lights up an otherwise over-scripted, over-frenetic potboiler. There are so many characters to deal with (including the extended story of how Robin and Batman become partners), "Batman" has to swoop from one subplot to another. First, it's time for a dangerous flirtation with Kidman; then there's a flurry or two with Jones (who spends the movie flipping his trademark coin into the air and failing to kill Batman); now a clash is needed with the Riddler; then it's bonding time with Robin; after that, a gratuitous car chase through Gotham's atmospheric streets must be squeezed in—and so on.
Director Joel Schumacher torques up the action with the impatient, music-video-style editing and dizzyingly close-in shots he brought to his own "Flatliners." Departing from former "Batman" director Tim Burton's gothic approach to New York, Schumacher and production designer Barbara Ling compulsively layer the background with a futuristic city design that seems to aim for "Blade Runner" by way of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." But it really doesn't matter what the filmmakers do. It hardly matters who plays Batman, although, in fairness, Kilmer makes an appealing superhero. Productions like this—with assured audiences, well-paid technicians and artists, a huge special-effects budget and enormous studio commitment—are virtually idiot-proof. The big RV just has to show up at the theater on time. And there's every reason to suspect it won't be moving from its prime spot for a long while. That's why they called it "Batman Forever."