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Forgotten Childhood: Batman Forever

Forgotten Childhood: Batman Forever



Fun fact: the first film I remember seeing in a theatre was Batman Forever. It was the small, vermin-ridden local cinema of Longford town, where I spent my earliest years as a child. I remember there were couch seats down the back that myself and my brother sat on (they could’ve been actual couches), and I remember loving the film. So much so that Batman Forever remains, to this day, my favourite Batman film. Yes, Batman Begins is the best origin story we may ever get for the Bat on film, and yes The Dark Knight is something very special in its duality of The Joker and Batman distilled against a backdrop of crime and governmental misgivings. But Batman Forever is something special in my mind for the Batman; it comes closest to capturing the spirit of 90s animated series in aesthetic, and has a lot of fun in the process.
maxresdefaultJim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones are what I find most memorable about Batman Forever, and for good reason. Carrey‘s Riddler is, literally, what made him my favourite Batman villain. It is, in retrospect, a by-the-numbers performance because Carrey‘s Edward Nygma begins as a mad scientist and transitions into a mad scientist in a green jumpsuit that speaks in riddles. In 1995, Carrey‘s star had gone supernova thanks to Ace Ventura, The Mask and Dumb & Dumber, and the formula he used in those performances is the same for Nygma; manic, exuberant, eccentric with a dash of refined madness. Highly entertaining though he is, there’s not a lot of substance to Carrey‘s portrayal outside of the punchline. Except when he’s on-screen with Tommy-Lee Jones‘ Two-Face.
The Two-Face of Batman Forever is just bizarre. Holed up in an actual lair with a hot woman on each arm and a penchant for coloured duality, Tommy Lee Jones‘ performance does leave something to be desired, but gets points for sincerity. Whereas Carrey‘s Riddler is by-the-numbers, Jones just flat-out doesn’t want to be there, which makes his Two-Face all the more villainous. Instead of going full slapstick, his obvious annoyance at the whole production adds a kind of tension to his scenes with Carrey‘s Riddler. When the two are together, Riddler is moving around constantly, flailing and dancing around any space he can find, while Two-Face looks increasingly agitated to the point that you image the film may derail into just the two main villains having a poorly choreographed fight over who gets to keep the lair when Batman is defeated.
batman-forever-robin-renewedBut the film never does that, because there’s vengeance to be had. Batman Forever‘s big emotional crux comes in the form of Dick Grayson, played by Chris O’Donnell, who seeks out Batman to become Robin and defeat Two-Face, who killed his family. Val Kilmer‘s Bruce Wayne is the voice of reason, calming him down and allowing him to see sense in order to focus his need for blood into heroism. Neither have a huge amount of chemistry, but you believe them as the Dark Knight and Boy Wonder, at least enough to accept that when they face off against Two-Face and The Riddler, it’ll be fun. Which they eventually do, on Claw Island, because of course the evil lair is called Claw Island.
I think that’s largely why I enjoy Batman Forever as much as I do – it’s just a fun superhero film. It isn’t concerned with being taken seriously, it isn’t concerned with telling a compelling story, it’s concerned with being fun. At the time, the film was made as a calculated effort to draw in a more family-friendly audience, and that’s very obvious by the cartoony vibes that flow through-out the film like fluorescent bulbs. The colouring, set-design and angles all lend themselves to an animated feature more than a live action film, especially now that the value of hindsight allows us to compare Batman Forever against Batman films that took Bruce Wayne far more seriously. Still, as campy, bizarre and unashamedly family-oriented as it is, Batman Forever is a moment in time it feels like we’re in need of. Superhero TV shows and films now run a slightly blurred line between being unashamedly earnest and too serious, disallowing viewers the chance to enjoy the characters as simply being ‘fun’. We don’t need another haphazard performance like Carrey‘s, and we could certainly do without the faux-emotional baggage of O’Donnell‘s Robin, as well, but the latter seems to be what has stuck.
Although Batman Forever isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it remains my favourite in the franchise and it also spawned one of the best U2 songs, the mighty ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’.