Happy Batman Day! Today is the second year for celebrating one of the most iconic of comic book characters. After a successful Batman Day last year, one that celebrated his 75 year history, DC Comics and Warner Bros. decided to do it again! I’ve long been a fan of The Dark Knight and some of my fondest memories revolve around my excitement for his on film appearances. While I was too young for Batman and Batman Returns in theaters, my first Batman movie was 1995’s Batman Forever. While the first outing for director Joel Schumacher wasn’t nearly as critically derided as 1997’s Batman & Robin, many fans and critics look back on it as the beginning of the end. I do not and Batman Forever happens to be my favorite Batman movie along with featuring my favorite take on the character by actor Val Kilmer. Okay, you may be thinking I have a few bats in the belfry for making such audacious comments, but I now invite you to take a look back at a film now 20 years old on the day us fans call Batman Day!
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Batman Forever was widely considered to be a reboot for the series after the dark and gothic Returns opened in 1992. While many believe Forever to be a sequel to the last Tim Burton entry, it is not. Batman Forever can be seen in the same way that 2006’s Casino Royale was a soft reboot of the James Bond film series. The character at this time was a hit among fans, kids and adults. Batman was already dominating the comic books, cartoons, and toys stores. Warner Bros. and DC Comics wanted a more family friendly and significantly more light hearted take on Batman so in developing Forever they went with portraying a comic book world with neon lights and day glow paint. A city inspired by 1930’s New York City and then modern Tokyo architecture. A hero that wasn’t completely at war with himself and one that certainly didn’t kill. Throw in Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, and Nicole Kidman and you have Batman Forever. Let’s not forget about a song by U2 and Seal.
Batman Forever released June of 1995 (June 16th) and came out in an interesting time that many youngsters today simply could not fathom. Forever released during the early days of the world wide web, well before entertainment sites and blogs, and long before fans knew what “leaks” really were. Sure, we heard our rumors, but they weren’t these entertainingly written posts that we are all familiar with today. Just google the upcoming film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to see any number or rumors and speculation amongst enthusiastic people. My first real memory of Batman Forever is how I primarily learned of the film while at the now defunct Warner Bros. Studio Store. A film of that size was given the expected treatment of fanfare and for those that remember the store, they had one main floor with a huge screen. During the lead up to the movie, it was not outlandish to expect the Studio Store to play the Batman Forever trailer in heavy rotation. It was also not outlandish to think that I would spend my time glued to the screen waiting to see Val Kilmer’s Batman come crashing through a skylight and kicking two thugs. My only other source of information regarding the film was through the merchandise and promotions such as the rollout it had at McDonalds (“I’ll get drive-thru.”) I remember finishing my kindergarten year and all I could think of was seeing Batman Forever and getting my hands on the toys.
Outside of a lack of internet savvy and no social media tools, going to the movies was an exciting event. There was a real sense of showmanship behind it. For a child, it was you get the toy, you see the movie, and you get more toys. When I finally saw Batman Forever with my family and friends, I was very much indoctrinated into the ways of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation. With the action figure in hand and a t-shirt on my back, this was my Batman and he was forever!
Batman Forever is not a perfect movie by any means, but it is a fun one to watch and enjoy. The beauty of the film, outside of the obvious directing of Joel Schumacher which gave the film a tone far different than Tim Burton, was the story and script by Lee Batchler and Janet Scott-Batchler (and Akiva Goldsman.) The script maintained the heavier dilemmas that Bruce Wayne almost forces upon himself to contemplate, along with featuring two great villains that reflect Wayne’s real nature. Featuring The Riddler (Jim Carrey) who forces Bruce Wayne to question his mission, and Harvey Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) who quite heavy handedly embodies the split personalities of Bruce Wayne, Batman Forever is very on the nose for those that wish to critique it. However, there’s a certain charm that the 1995 picture has that has long been missing from super hero movies. It’s the spirit of imagination.
The cast wonderfully brings out the uniqueness of Batman Forever in a way that probably wasn’t seen again until the cast of 2008’s Iron Man assembled. Val Kilmer, at the time, was a big star with movies such as Real Genius, Top Gun, and Willow under his belt. (Not to mention Tombstone and Heat.) While there were rumors that circulated regarding him being difficult to work with, I do not necessarily believe that to be true. Instead, I’d like to focus on a few aspects of Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He learned that he was cast in the role while in a bat cave in Africa, went on to be praised by creator Bob Kane who shortly before he passed went on to say that Kilmer was his favorite, and to this day will still speak highly of his experience making Batman Forever. There’s a sense in the movie that while Bruce Wayne is torn between giving up the cape and cowl and being Batman forever, that he enjoys his life while keeping up this image of being a cool and aloof playboy. We didn’t get that in Michael Keaton’s first two outings as it always felt that Wayne was uncomfortable in his own skin and in the black rubber. With Kilmer, it was one of the first times that it seemed as if Bruce enjoyed being Batman, like he knew he was a “super” hero and that everything was under control. Also, he had one of the coolest cars!
Batman Forever has a very well layered story that starts out along the lines of Batman ’89. After Edward Nygma becomes The Riddler and Jim Carrey is allowed to bring his kind of humor to the film, Forever does become more comic-booky near the end. Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are perfectly over the top in Joel Schumacher’s film, but maintain their performances in such a way that this was probably the best installment for villains.
Let’s not forget that this was the first Batman movie to introduce fans to Dick Grayson/Robin outside of Burt Ward’s performance. At the time Chris O’ Donnell was a heartthrob and brought a roguish quality to the orphaned acrobat and circus performer. While Robin could be seen as campy in as much the same way as Batman can, Forever stands out for developing Dick Grayson in a way that feels respectful of the comics yet daring enough to be different.
I was six years old when Batman Forever released and it easily left an impression on me that I still carry with me today. Many that know me are aware of how much I love Superman and would probably tell you that I dislike Batman. That could not be further from the truth. I love Batman. Along with some of the pulp heroes and The Incredible Hulk, he was one of the first comic book characters that I very much enjoyed. Batman Forever accomplished what a superhero/comic book movie in the 90’s needed to accomplish – pure, fun, entertainment. While there are deeper contextual issues within the script by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler, and Akiva Goldsman, the film is primarily a two hour episode of the Bruce Timm animated series. As I sit and write this I can’t help but remember my time spent wearing the costume for that year starting well in the summer, collecting the glasses at McDonalds, and believing their to be some personal message in the film for me that would help my younger self in some way.
Little did I know that Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer’s Batman did help me and left an impression that will last FOREVER. Happy Batman Day!
…”The Bat Signal is not a beeper!”
But we would like to spotlight two songs from the Batman Forever soundtrack album that you may enjoy.
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