Batman Forever is quite possibly the best cinematic representation of the Batman/Bruce Wayne mythos that has ever and will ever exist. It’s very rare to see a film production make every single right choice from beginning to end, but that’s exactly what Joel Schumacher and his crew managed to accomplish behind the scenes of this cinematic behemoth and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. So, Let’s start at the top.
One of the hallmark nerd debates to have among your core group of friends is which actor makes the best Batman. A lot of people often pick the film/actor that they grew up with, which in my case would most definitely be Michael Keaton. For most of my life he was the man I most associated with Batman (him and Kevin Conroy at least) so it always felt natural for me to pick him as my favorite. It definitely wasn’t going to be George Clooney and anyone who picks him can go right ahead and fuck off. Christian Bale is a phenomenal actor and really did well in the part but people remember the Nolan trilogy more for their villains than the man who played the caped crusader. I love the Nolan’s films but in terms of the acting aspect, Bale was surrounded by some of the best actors on the planet so he was always going to have to fight for visibility. Either way he’s one of the finest living actors and serviced Bats and his story about as good as anyone can. Then came along the man who definitely deserves to be in the conversation for the best portrayal of the character across any medium… Ben Affleck. My favorite Batman story has always and will always be Frank Millers seminal tale The Dark Knight Returns. I just love the idea of a grizzled old veteran Batman who’s been cleaning up the streets of Gotham for multiple decades and is starting to blur the lines of justice himself in the name of making crime pay. Affleck very much captures the spirit of this version from top to bottom in his debut Batman V Superman. I know that is a divisive film itself, but most people can agree that one of the sole good things about the movie is the way Ben plays the character. He brings a gravitas and a level of darkness to an already brooding character that largely goes unmatched.
At least… that is until you start talking about Val Kilmer.
Let’s cut to the chase. Kilmer is without a doubt THE BEST Batman that has ever graced the silver screen. The range of emotion and the amount of pathos he is able to convey from behind what has to be an ungodly amount of rubber that makes up the Batsuit simply goes unmatched by anyone else. It was always going to be an uphill battle for him following after Keaton who put the character on the cultural map with his to Bat films, but Kilmer Is more than able to provide for us a portrayal that one could say is synonymous with the character of Batman himself. Over the years there have been actors that have come and gone. Some played in the superhero sandbox and have completely owned that character from beginning to end. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and RDJ as Iron Man are two of the biggest examples of actors who have so completely nailed down their respective roles that it’s hard to imagine them ever being replaced or recast. Val Kilmer is also such an actor who is able to stand toe to toe with likes of the previously mentioned stars. His turn as the caped crusader has become ingrained so much in the minds of Batfans the world over that it’s really hard to imagine anyone else playing the part? Ben Affleck and company are part-time off-Broadway hacks compared to the gravitas and scene stealing Kilmer.
But as much as I could go on for months and months about just how head to toe awesome Val is, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rest of the genius movie that surrounds him. It’s not often that a studio makes every single right creative decision leading to an almost near perfect film, but Batman Forever is one of the few films in cinematic history where every single frame is used to perfection and every performance is pitch perfect from start to finish. The glossy and over stylized look represents a mid-90’s contemporary mixture of steam and cyber punk with the over saturation of the bright neon colors. The large comically gothic sets might seem like a bit of an over embellishment, but you’d be wrong. Batman Forever isn’t trying to be a grounded take on a grounded superhero. This movie is slamming its foot down on the pedal of creative wackiness and going full tilt boogie in the other direction. Honestly? I really really dug it. It seems like Joel Schumacher and team spent very little time finding the line of grounded reality and pole vaulted over it without ever thinking about where they were landing. Jim Carrey’s version of the Riddler was like a super manic cartoon character had just pounded 5 straight Mountain Dew’s and used his new energy to hate the shit out of Batman. In a career full of characters who represent varying degrees of crazy over the top energy… this is the absolute zenith. Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face just might be the best on screen Bat villain of all time. The dual nature of the story behind Harvey Dent and his descent to madness was always looked at as a perfect foil to the journey that Batman himself takes. Where Harvey takes his defining incident and uses it as a spring board to indulge in his fascist criminal dreams, Batman decides to take his tragedy and fashion it into a persona that strikes fear into the hearts of villains everywhere.
We should also not forget Nicole Kidman’s Chase Meridian and Chris O’ Donnell’s Robin/Dick Grayson. Chase represents a way out for Batman, a means for him to hang up the cape and life of solitude in favor for a normal and domesticated life. Each scene that Kidman and Kilmer share to together is electricity personified and there are several moments where you almost want to see Bat’s hang up the cape. The chemistry that Nicole Kidman shares with Kilmer is so palpable that you almost want to see a movie detailing the life of Bruce Wayne and Chase Meridian without all the superhero theatrics. Chris O’ Donnell’s Dick Grayson represents the cock sure brash and impulsive side of Batman. Grayson dedicates his life to revenge after witnessing Two Face murder his friends and family. Batman was once also driven by the rage to avenge his own parents’ death and sees a lot of himself in the young Grayson. Even though Bruce and Dick end up becoming crime fighting partners, the subtle shades of a father/son dynamic really heighten an already expertly crafted relationship between the two.
I can perhaps see how a very select few of you might but up against this film considering the very dark and bleak Batman Returns is what preceded this, but I dare you to watch this movie again. Some films soften with time and your opinions that were once heated and negative can actually become very cooled and transformed. However, once in a generation a film can come along that is so misunderstood and misrepresented on the time of release that it’s genius and groundbreaking mentality gets lost in the shuffle. Sadly, I think that’s what happened to Batman Forever, a film so advanced and ahead of its time that we’re only just know finally being able to interpret the genius mad scientist like nature of the movie. Over the course of cinematic history, there are films that leave such large and unquestionable mark on film as whole that they are talked about in film history classes for all eternity, Batman Forever is one such film. Do me a favor, whatever it is you’re currently binging, stop. Pop this bad boy in your player or stream it on your preferred service and I PROMISE you that you’ll be watching one of the best films every committed to celluloid. You can thank me later.