Of the countless adaptations to come out of the Batman mythos, Batman Forever has always been the hardest one to pin down. The film, released to financial success and critical failure in 1995, never really managed to obtain a solid identity. While Tim Burton‘s prior films were clear in their aspirations of a darker tone, and franchise follow-up Batman & Robin was infamously committed to being a real-life cartoon, Joel Schumacher‘s first venture into superhero movie making was a little less defined.
As a result, the movie has become somewhat of a “forgotten installment” in Batman’s cinematic history. Not as silly as its sequel, but still a far cry from the graphic material of its predecessors. It’s likely that this is the reason many have failed to remember the crowning achievement of Forever, rising to claim a title that has yet to be truly challenged. It can be argued that the film does indeed have an identity and one that makes it very special. To this day, there has never been a hornier Batman movie.
Yes, I have seen Batman Returns. I am very aware of the tension Michelle Pfeiffer brought to the table and the sparkling chemistry she shared with Michael Keaton‘s Bruce Wayne. Trust me when I say, after back-to-back viewings of both films, that Forever earns this honor just a little bit more. Before I get to dive into why it should be clarified that I actually think Val Kilmer‘s one-and-only romp in the Bat-suit is an all-around much better film than it gets credit for.
It seems audiences found it fairly easy to dismiss the project when it came on the heels of the excellent Burton installments, flagging it as a waste of time and moving on rather quickly. However, this ousting does not take into consideration any of the reasons the movie is how it is. After the wildly adult themes and imagery of Returns, Warner Bros. wanted a threequel a little closer in tone to the campy adventures of Adam West‘s Caped Crusader and a little further in tone from the Creepshow vibes of Danny DeVito‘s child-murdering, potato-sack wearing Penguin. Conflictingly, the studio also still wanted the movie to be in line with the world established by the previous entries.
Honestly, with these goals in mind, Schumacher no sort of nails it. Forever is the perfect mix between West and Burton, with goofy surrealistic villains and over-the-top character archetypes stirred into the established pot of gothic neon gravitas brewed by the first two films. Despite Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson mostly being the worst character on screen at all times, his scenes with Kilmer surprisingly make for some of the more earnest Bruce Wayne content caught on camera.
Though often a bit on the nose, Forever takes its look into the psyche of Wayne seriously, giving fans both sides of his coin in equal measure. Speaking of which, Tommy Lee Jones‘ Two-Face and Jim Carrey‘s Riddler are maybe better antagonists than you remember. They’re not really threatening, and both are basically just new skins for the Joker, but it is immensely comical to watch them chew up screen time. The laughs don’t always come when the script might have intended, but they will come.
The emotional crux of the film is where we re-enter horny territory. Again, this is a movie that hopes to explore the duality of Bruce Wayne and the Bat. The title itself comes from a line in the film in which Wayne declares that he’s accepted his demons and chosen to be “Batman forever“. It’s just the way the story decides it will demonstrate this is questionable at best, or not to be questioned at all, depending on your configuration.
Bruce is forced to confront the longevity of his double life when he meets Dr. Chase Meridian, played by AMC spokesperson Nicole Kidman, and realizes how badly he wants to get laid. The problem is that, while Dr. Meridian also wants this, she is far more interested in the mystique of Batman than any amount of charm or money Wayne can throw at her. What comes of this is an enthralling cat-and-mouse game of two people with deeply rooted psychological issues and massive libidos. I’m no professional, and I can’t diagnose why this is true, but something about this conflict is far raunchier than anything Batman and Catwoman are able to muster up in the preceding entry.
Literally every single scene Kidman is in, features her trying to seduce Batman, or to a lesser extent, Bruce Wayne. All of them except for when she becomes a damsel in distress; an unfortunate consequence of being a movie made anytime prior to the last five years. It doesn’t stop there, either, as several of the other characters get in on the fun before credits roll. A not-so-keen eye will notice that Carrey wears tighter clothing each time he’s on the screen. He also becomes less aware of personal space and a lot more mindful of how attractive everyone else is, something he comments on frequently.
This is another spot where I should stop and remind the reader that I do not think this is a bad attribute. In fact, it feels pretty at home in the context of the vibe. Even the typically staunch Jones has populated his elaborate lair with sexual energy. Although the moral ramifications of his keeping two mistresses, each scantily dressed to represent one side of his personality, probably should be debated. I digress, it furthers my point.
Batman Forever just captures certain erotic magic that no other comic book film has come close to matching. Both the title character and his youthful sidekick are adorned in stiff costumes, with chiseled abs and nipples added for flavor. It’s worth noting the latter detail would be more questionable if the teenager wasn’t played by a 25-year-old man. Batman & Robin tries to bring the energy back with Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy, but a lack of chemistry or wanton desire prevents any attempt from hitting home. Matt Reeves’ The Batman is making a strong case for itself as a contender, with certified heartthrobs Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz producing steam through the screen, but it remains to be seen if they can conquer the mountain ahead of them. At the very least, until March 4th, Kilmer will remain the most indisputably aroused Batman.