Critics' Corner

Desson Howe - Weekend section, "It's generic Batfare, but the faces are new."


Hal Hinson - Style section,
"Satisfying, thrilling."


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"Batman Forever" has the record for an opening weekend at the box office: $52.8 million. It made more than $184 million.



'Batman Forever': Robin Debuts

Batman fights two psychotic villains (Two-Face and The Riddler), tries to block out that dark day when his parents were slain, and fights valiantly not to fall for a sultry executive, Dr. Chase Meridian. Also, he befriends an acrobat called Dick Grayson, a young man bent on getting revenge on Two-Face for killing his entire family.
-- Desson Howe Rated PG-13


Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Val Kilmer; Jim Carrey; Chris O'Donnell; Tommy Lee Jones; Nicole Kidman; Ed Begley Jr.
Running Time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Filmographies: Val Kilmer; Jim Carrey; Chris O'Donnell; Tommy Lee Jones;
Nicole Kidman; Ed Begley, Jr.



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Riddler 'Forever'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
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."

Batman Forever (PG-13) — Contains minor sexual situations and theatrical violence.

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'Batman': The Riddler Forever?

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 16, 1996

In terms of the pleasures one usually expects from big-budget Hollywood films, "Batman Forever" is easily the most accessible and satisfying of the three movies based on the adventures of Bob Kane's Dark Knight. Sometimes thrilling, but rarely inspired, it is thoroughly—almost perfectly—adequate.

With its cleaner narrative lines, its jokey, self-deflating tone and its more conventional new leading man, "Batman Forever" is probably a lot closer to what most people expected when Warner Bros. began adapting the comic book to the screen with "Batman" in 1989. For die-hard fans, Michael Keaton, star of the first two installments, always seemed like an offbeat choice—they complained that, for starters, he was too short to be a superhero—and with a dark visionary like director Tim Burton at the helm, "Batman" and 1992's "Batman Returns" managed to become blockbusters almost in spite of themselves.

Journeyman Joel Schumacher directed "Batman Forever," and he has rehabilitated a franchise that, for some, had been undermined by Burton's highly idiosyncratic excesses. Unlike Burton, Schumacher doesn't dawdle or get sidetracked by peripheral issues; he keeps the story skipping along briskly from one incident to the next.

As usual, Batman (played by Val Kilmer) is called upon to save Gotham from the clutches of madmen—this time it's Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Riddler (Jim Carrey). And as usual, the hero must balance this challenge against his growing infatuation with a beautiful woman—in this case, a criminal psychologist named Chase Meridian (a lackluster Nicole Kidman).

The difference is, "Batman Forever" is actually about its story and not—as with Burton—some conflict buried deep in the film's subtext. As a result, Schumacher's movie is easier to follow than Burton's. Gone are the flashes of poetry, the macabre grandeur and the atmosphere of psychological dysfunction. In their place, Schumacher substitutes an old-fashioned sense of meat-and-potatoes filmmaking with a slight Euro-disco flavoring.

Oddly, "Batman Forever" comes across as more of a sequel than "Batman Returns." As Batman and his alter ego, millionaire Bruce Wayne, Kilmer is a more traditional heartthrob than Keaton. But while Kilmer has shown considerable charisma in other films—particularly in "The Doors" and "Thunderheart"—he doesn't make a strong claim on either Wayne or the superhero within. Under that body armor, he seems a little . . . canned.

To some extent, though, Batman is always less vivid than his villainous rivals, and with the illustrious presence of Jones and Carrey in supporting roles, the good guy seems even more marginalized than usual. As Two-Face, the former Gotham district attorney whose face was horribly scarred in a courtroom accident, Jones gives a reprise of his no-holds-barred performance in "Cobb" (though with far less gratifying results). But not even this impenitent ham can compete with Carrey, whose Riddler is like a combination of Fred Astaire and Caligula. Dressed in skintight bodysuits covered in question marks, the Riddler is a living conundrum—an expression of pure irrationality—and with his sharp, dancerly movements, Carrey gives him a quixotic Trickster energy that seems genuinely malevolent. It's his show.

The other noteworthy addition to the series is Chris O'Donnell, whose confident first showing as Robin upstages Kilmer's debut in the lead role. Like Batman himself, Dick Grayson (a k a Robin) lost his parents to criminals. But rather than brood over his loss, the would-be hero springs immediately to his revenge, giving the story a much-needed sense of fire and urgency.

With Burton directing, the "Batman" movies were strangely grave, almost mythic; Schumacher's "Batman Forever" returns the story to its pop origins. It may be dark, but it ain't heavy.

Batman Forever is rated PG-13.

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