It’s a heady moment. You know the one; that moment when the quality of a franchise drops sharply and you know that all is lost. Usually this moment happens between installments, a change of director or some other behind the scenes component; like unwanted studio tinkering, perhaps, or maybe too much time has gone by since sequels. The point is that it can happen for many reasons but in all my years of watching movies I can only recall one instance where that drop happens during the actual runtime of a movie: and that movie is Batman Forever.
That notorious loner Batman (aka billionaire Bruce Wayne) is still fighting crime and we rejoin him as he fends off a ridiculously complicated assassination attempt by the acid scarred former district attorney Harvey Dent, now going by the apt moniker Two-Face. Surviving the old drowned-in-a-bank-vault-of-boiling-acid routine (if I had a penny for every time someone tried that…), Gotham’s Dark Knight also finds himself assailed by the voracious advances of psychiatrist Dr. Chase Meridian who openly wants to jump his Bat-bones and former Wayne Enterprises employee and gonzo Bruce Wayne stalker Edward Nygma whose new IQ sucking invention is the catalyst for him to become the question marked clad super villain, The Riddler. As the threats mount even Batman starts having trouble fighting crime on multiple fronts, especially when Two-Face and The Riddler team up (it’s a 90’s movie, the villains ALWAYS team up. It’s the only plot they have) for an unprecedented crime wave. Enter Dick Grayson, circus trapeze artist and recent orphan thanks to Two-Face, a machine gun and a big assist from gravity, who Bruce takes in due to his own traumatic childhood but who discovers his secret because Alfred the butler is a bit shit. Adamant he should be Bruce’s partner Dick pushes the issue (even going as far to carjack the Batmobile) but will Bruce relent, even in the face of such overwhelming odds?
Well… of course he does. There’s action figures to sell…
Much has been made about Joel Schumacher and his influence upon the Bat-franchice but to be brutally honest, his style of spraying neon lights all over Tim Burton’s notoriously gothic Gotham was a smart business choice, guaranteeing that many a Happy Meal and action figure was sold as multiple hero and villain costume changes and a veritable bat-convoy were released all over the screen like a day-glo discharge. Also the film benefited hugely by catching the crest of Jim Carrey’s meteoric rise who appeared in Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb & Dumber and this in under 24 stunning months and the film literally coasts along powered almost purely on his manic gurning. It’s a good thing too as Val Kilmer’s Batman is kind of a static faced mumble and Chris ‘O Donnell’s Robin has the whining power of 50 Luke Skywalkers, while love interest Nicole Kidman is relegated to predictable damsel duties by the climax. However, spare a thought for poor old Tommy Lee Jones; caught directly in the limb flailing tornado that is Jim Carrey he desperately tries to keep up while laughing maniacly, braying like and animal and jumping around like an idiot but only manages to come across as a poor man’s Jack Nicholson.
Despite this, the film moves at a fair old clip, hurling a wall climbing, H R Giger style Batmobile into the mix and veering amusingly (yet dangerously) into pantomime territory with Elliot Goldenthal’s energetic score which borrows more than a little from the absurdist romps of the Adam West TV show. We’ll forgive the “chicks dig the car.” line just this once…
And then we get to the final reel and the film suddenly tumbles into an abyss of utter stupid. Batplanes and Batboats are shot down by Two-Face and Riddler playing Battleship, Batman nets up a gang of evil suba-divers, Ridder’s island lifts into the air like a giant wheelchair lift and Robin spits out an unholy “HOLY (blank) BATMAN” joke which causes involuntary eyeball twitching.
It’s not fatal, but instead it was a chilling look at our Batman related future in which blinding neon lights, an over reliance on bat ropes and having an A-lister scream incoherently was going to be crammed down our throats with all the subtlety of a glow in the dark condom at mass.
But back then, in more innocent, pre-Batman & Robin times, the balance between a broadly fun, comic book movie and utter blockbuster sludge was shakily held. Just.
Killer fucking soundtrack, though.