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'Batman Forever' (1995) — An Analysis

Property of Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Comics
Both Bob Kane and producer Michael E. Uslan concluded that 'Forever' came closest to original Batman comics by original scribe, Kane.

Now it’s an interesting fact of recent history that most people who claim to be Batman fans (and claim to have a great knowledge of it) regard Tim Burton (director of 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns) of giving Batman the artistic justice that Bob Kane, the creator of the Batman universe, himself rather thought Joel Schumacher (exclusively on this film; Kane would die in 1997) did greater in respect to his comic. Burton did take inspiration from Frank Miller’s interpretation of Batman in his Dark Knight comic series of the 80’s whereas Schumacher used Kane’s material from pre-’66 while still trying to retain a dark punch. There is more attention to loyal details here than in the previous ventures. The film opens to extravagant gadgets that Batman did not sport in the first two films, reminiscent of the James Bond movies, are the first indication of something finally given to us: This is by far the closest interpretation to the original Bob Kane comics that the older generations remembered growing up embracing.

The film definitely embraces its comic book aspect with a very unique story that definitely screams comic book. It also uses its characters for a great structural design surrounding the subject of obsession. It can be argued that Burton’s Batman films are used more as practice for his style (the original film is more admirable for getting the ball rolling on serious B-man than as a well made film & with Returns... since when was the Penguin a deformed freak and Catwoman a metaphysical figure in the comics???), and that Forever is the only film that is close to Bob Kane/Bill Finger’s original comics. If you doubt me, just grab an older comic and look at the colors and notice that 1939-66 old classic, Dick Tracy-inspired super fantastic style and flare to it. Great example of how loyal it is can be seen in the villain, Two-Face, and his origin-- he was splashed with acid by Moroni during a trial. Some people may disagree with the sensibility of it, which by today’s standards may seem dated (it’s NOT inspired by the ’theatre of the absurd’ 1960’s Adam West TV show as some people seem to believe), but it can be argued that this is a merely a gripe over surface details and not the more crucial points of form and substance. One has to remember that sensibility and craft are two different things ALWAYS. Forever is a well-crafted film, and the following 1997 Batman & Robin is not at all no thanks to an inane script, a push for returning to the 60’s show nature, and a studio rushing production.

Batman Forever is also the best written live action film out of all the films prior to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (based on the more modern comics) of 2005. It was the only Batman film to tackle the past and humanity of Bruce Wayne and really give us a fascinating story structure concerning obsession: Hopelessly lost Two-Face obsesses to kill Batman, Riddler -like a child- obsesses to top and destroy Bruce Wayne, Dr. Chase Meridian is obsessively attracted to Batman, and Robin is obsessed with getting back at Two-Face for the murder of his family (thus, Dick Grayson/Robin’s origin story loosely based on the second Robin’s story—Jason Todd from the 80’s). All this is occurring as BW is trying to figure out who he is as Batman vs. his Bruce Wayne persona. This brings up another interesting point concerning the presented design of alter-egos conflicting with each other: Bruce Wayne vs. Batman, Two-Face vs. Harvey Dent (Batman tries to reach him as Harvey—always addressing him directly as Harvey when he’s got his heart into it), Riddler vs. Edward Nygma (Wayne really only knows him as Edward), Robin vs. Dick Grayson (determined to have Batman train him to kill a man), and Chase caught between Bruce Wayne and Batman.

The plot of the movie revolves around the disturbingly psychotic Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones in his most unique performance researched from actual mental patients), a former district attorney who is left deranged after half his face is scarred by acid. The former ally, Harvey Dent, blames Batman for his condition and for the last two years has had one singular obsessive objective: kill Batman for not saving him. The character of Two-Face is a walking contradiction. He hates what he has become and yet he seems to enjoy himself every chance he gets, which makes it the more frightening. Two-Face as a victim seems to represent what Batman is fearing: is he really helping and has he become a bad influence? This brings us to the parallels recognized by Bruce Wayne that leads to his analyzing as to how and why he became Batman. His motivation is clear, but is his objective clear? For freakish humor, we are introduced to Edward Nygma (played by Jim Carrey, heavily inspired by Frank Gorshin’s version of the character), who warps his brain turning him into the knowledge hungry and childish/egotistically driven showman, The Riddler, who teams up with Two-Face under the promise that he will deliver Batman. All of this to outdo the idol who rejected him: Bruce Wayne. Another consequence of Batman/Wayne’s actions. As all the other characters obsess over this one man (for the exception of Dick Grayson who however obsesses to persuade Batman for help), the film asks and to some extent answers many of the philosophical pontifications Batman has about simply being himself and what the future may hold.

Joel Schumacher makes a generally successful effort to expand on material that Christopher Nolan would later explore as well in his subsequent film. Val Kilmer’s turn as the Caped Crusader is praise worthy as many people thought he was a good facsimile (if not better) to Keaton’s Batman. However, many people had complained prior to the film of Keaton’s inappropriate look as Bruce Wayne (described as a handsome playboy) not coming up to expectations earning him the name of ‘Batmom’ (taken from Keaton’s film Mr. Mom) by some. Kilmer easily produces this request creating a far more appropriate and compelling Bruce Wayne. Another improvement is the ever inspiring 1930’s New York/modern Tokyo look of the movie (enhanced by Stephen Goldblatt’s Oscar nominated cinematography) created to duplicate the look of Kane’s art (as opposed to the very brooding, "Who would want to live here?" look of Burton’s Gotham City) showing Schumacher’s general appreciation toward Kane’s material. Elliot Goldenthal’s old jazz/30’s soundtrack is definitely note worthy too.

Upon its release in 1995, the film ranked as the highest weekend opening at the time and created the Even Film Curse (based off the Odd Film Curse of Star Trek movies) where in this case the odd numbered films usually turn out big financially and eventually critically, but the even numbered films turn lesser results at the box office or with a consequential fear that the series had been killed off. After Forever’s release, there had been a desire to see a film purely based on Batman’s roots despite the release of Bruce Timm’s excellent animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in 1993 and this film’s own small, but poignant exploration—which admittedly was never truly this film’s sole job to answer that call since this shows us an already established Batman, but eventually the release of Begins did deliver this promise in great detail. Despite that even and the apparent reboot status Begins holds, Forever should stand tall (and forever time can only tell) as the strong and loyal Batman of Bob Kane’s.