Take a nostalgic neon-lite trip back in time, as I review the third installment in the Batman franchise. Is it as bad as everyone seems to remember? Or has it fallen victim to unfair criticism over the years?

Reviews Opinion

In one of Gotham City's land mark buildings, Wayne Enterprises, Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) rejects an invention (which beams television directly into a persons brain), created by researcher Edward Nygima (Jim Carrey), who then feels betrayed by Wayne (whom he idolized), when he's unable to gain his approval. During an argument with his supervisor Edward uses him as a ginny-pig to test his device, discovering his invention is also capable of stealing brain-waves. He promptly sets a plan into motion using his device and riddles as clues to bait Bruce Wayne (whom he later discovers is Batman), into a trap. Inspired by his affinity for riddles, Edward assumes the criminal identity of the "Riddler". As the Riddler he forms an alliance with Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), the alter ego of the disfigured former district attorney Harvey Dent, who blames Batman for his affliction and declares, "The bat must die!".

When Batman prevents Two-Face from wreaking havoc on Gotham City during a bank robbery, he meets Dr. Chase Meridian, a renowned psychiatrist, specializing in the criminally insane, played by Nichole Kidman. Batman and Chase share an immediate and mutual attraction to each-other. But when Bruce Wayne uses the riddles he's been receiving from Edward as an excuse to meet Chase out of costume, he quickly learns the good doctor is interested in pursuing Batman. Despite the competition, Bruce invites Chase to a charity circus event. At the circus, in an attempt to learn Batman's secret identity, Two-Face murders The Flying Grayson's (a family of acrobats), save the youngest member Dick (Chris O'Donnell). Despite Bruce Wayne's valiant efforts to prevent disaster he watches Dick's family fall to their deaths at the hands of Two-Face. This trauma awakes repressed memories from his childhood and Bruce is forced to relive the violent, tragic loss of his own parents. Bruce assumes responsibility for Dick and convinces him to stay at Wayne Manor. Though Bruce warns him about the emptiness of revenge, Dick still plans to avenge his family's murder and when he discovers Bruce's secret identity as Batman, he insists on becoming his partner. Though Bruce initially refuses Dick's involvement in his nocturnal activities as a masked crime-fighter, Dick assumes the identity of "Robin", a nickname given to him by his father after saving his brother when falling from a tight-rope routine, Dick "flew in like a Robin."

With the Help of Chase, Bruce is able to piece together the fragments of his past but he's concerned over Chase's obsession with his alter-ego. Though Chase is conflicted over feelings she has for both Batman and Bruce Wayne, she ultimately chooses Bruce. While visiting Wayne Manor, Chase soon learns her choice is redundant when Bruce reveals his secret. Suddenly, Two-Face and Riddler storm Wayne Manor, rendering Bruce unconscious, they leve behind another riddle and kidnap Chase, intending to use her as bait for a trap. Upon waking-up Bruce discovers the batcave, batmobile and most of his paraphernalia destroyed. With an untested prototype-bat-suit, Batman and his new protege must now rescue Chase and save Gothamites brain-waves from being manipulated, but in their first outing as the dynamic duo, Robin is captured by Two-Face and Batman is forced to choose between saving the life of his junior partner or rescuing the love of Bruce's life.

Though lighter in tone than the Tim Burton directed Batman and Batman Returns, director Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever still retains a psychological approach to the characters akin to it's predecessors. Though all the Batman films focus more on it's villains origins, shrouding Batman in mystery, the third installment in the Batman franchise, at least makes an attempt to explore Bruce Wayne's past and what motivates him as a crime-fighter. The idea of Bruce Wayne's repressed memories, due to childhood trauma, being triggered by guilt he feels for failing to prevent the murder of Dick Grayson's parents is intriguing. It resurrects the guilt he harbors for not being able to intervene in his own parents murder as a boy. The idea of Chase integrating Batman and Bruce Wayne into a whole identity as apposed to duel personalities is also interesting. Unfortunately these concepts aren't fully explored, the focus is still diverted by the films villains. Prominently by Riddler played by Jim Carrey. A rising star at the time, Carrey dominates a lot of screen time.

One of the scripts major flaws is everyone discovering in one way or another that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Another is the corny dialog. Though cheesy most of the time, the dialog is reminiscent to the 1940's Batman comic books to which the film is influenced by. The neon-colorful back-drop of Gotham city also reflects the comics of that era. Though visually stimulating, Schumacher went way overboard with all the neon. One of the the biggest complaints visually would have to be the abysmal downgraded look of the batmobile. It just doesn't compare to the original. The silver prototype bat-suit featured in the films third act is also unimpressive. Yet another attempt to appeal to children, and base action-figures on and sell toys. However, the Robin-suit is a somewhat decent representation of his comic book counterpart.

Michael Keaton who played Batman in the first two films would be a tough act to follow but Val Kilmer does an adequate job of filling the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight. His performance as Bruce Wayne, plays-up more of the millionaire playboy aspects of the character than previously depicted. Instead of Dick already being a trained martial artist in addition to a professional acrobat, it would have been a more plausible transition if Batman had taken on the role of crime-fighting mentor to Dick earlier in the film and spent some time training him. Though the choice to make him a seasoned fighter comes off as lazy script writing, Chris O'Donnell's portrayal of Robin is a nice blend of three of his comic book counterparts. Though his family's death is inspired by Dick Grayson's (the original Robin) origin, his tough-guy attitude and knowledge of motorcycles is influenced by Jason Todd (the second Robin). His discovering Bruce Wayne's secret identity as Batman is taken from Tim Drake, the third teen to assume the Robin guise. Though the beautiful Nichole Kidman's attire is way too sexy for her to be taken seriously as a psychiatrist, her delivery of dialog as a competent, strong, independent woman is very believable and her chemistry with co-star Val Kilmer is delightfully playful.

While Jim Carrey's portrayal of Riddler is great fun and a nice homage to Frank Gorshin's Riddler from the 1960's Batman television series. His performance is too over the top as Riddler, taking over a large portion of the movie. A little Carrey would have gone a long way in this film. Veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones' energetic performances' usually elevates a film to soaring heights, sadly, such is not the case with his portrayal of Two-Face. Which is unfortunate because it's the first time the character's been featured in live-action form. Aside from a couple of devilishly-clever one-liners, Jones' Two-Face is more of a re-tread of Jack Nicholson's performance as the Joker. Failing to deliver any thing unique or memorable as the the former district attorney turned psychopath. It would have been interesting to see what Billy Dee Williams interpretation of Two-Face could have been like. Williams portrayed Harvey Dent in the original Batman film but was obviously replaced by Jones.

It's unfortunate Warner Bros was intent on delivering a more "kid-friendly" Batman film because the DVD release of Batman Forever, features a couple of deleted scenes with some very interesting psychological themes which would have fit in nicely with the rest of the film. One scene depicts Two-Face's escape from Arkam Asylum, and another gives insight into why Bruce decides to use the guise of a bat as a crime-fighter. The reason the scenes were cut was because they didn't reflect the lighter tone Warner Bros was intent on delivering to concerned parents who were disappointed with the darker approach of Batman Returns. The film tries to balance comedy with action and drama but feels uneven. Just when your engaged in what little dramatic scenes the film has to offer it's over-powered by comedy-relief. The films most interesting parts are between Bruce/Batman and Chase, involving Bruce's repressed memories. Unfortunately those scenes are too few and too far between. As it's predecessors, Batman Forever is far from perfect, but also like it's predecessors, it manages to be very entertaining. It also succeeded at revitalizing the franchise.

Batman Forever has the misfortune of being confused or attached to the downfall of the franchise due to its critically panned follow-up Batman & Robin also directed by Joel Schumacher. Though a direct sequel to Batman Forever, Batman & Robin would take the franchise in an even more "kid-friendly" direction. Similar to the 1960's campy television series starring Adam West as the caped crusader. A direction the Tim Burton Batman films worked very hard to break free from. Batman & Robin's dumbed down and toyetic approach was not well received by audiences and is deserving of being criticized as one of the worst films in it's genre. But that should have no baring on it's predecessor. Batman Forever should be judged as a stand alone film. Though a departure from the preferable darker approach of the Tim Burton films, this "kid friendlier" Batman deserves a 3 out 5 stars. It may have been a bit better if the film had taken more serious approach to it villains and focused on it's title character.

Thanks for reading.

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