Notably, Chris O’Donnell’s portrayal of Dick Grayson in this film was part of how I developed a crush on O’Donnell. According to The New York Times review:
BATMAN FOREVER” brings on the very secular sensation that you are part of something larger than yourself. Toys, games, comics, videos: each has its place in the cosmos of this multimedia phenomenon, and the consumer’s role is no less well-defined. As for the actual movie, it’s the empty-calorie equivalent of a Happy Meal (another Batman tie-in), so clearly a product that the question of its cinematic merit is strictly an afterthought. More to the point is its title, a proud affirmation that the venture is still flop-proof. “Batman Forever” is both a threat and a promise.
And “Batman Forever” is a viable installment in the “Batman” series, though Joel Schumacher’s flashy direction is messier and less interestingly macabre than Tim Burton’s darkly ingenious films in this genre. Mr. Schumacher favors vertiginous angles that turn into overkill during his film’s awkward action sequences, but he’s better when it comes to displaying the contents of Batman’s closet. Pandering more directly to a teen-age audience than either “Batman” or “Batman Returns” did, this third film also dwells on sophomoric wisecracks. Like this: “You trying to get under my cape?”
Serious audiences will be less interested than ever in what’s under Batman’s cape or cowl. There’s not much to contemplate here beyond the spectacle of gimmicky props and the kitsch of good actors (all of whom have lately done better work elsewhere) dressed for a red-hot Halloween. The prime costume is now worn by Val Kilmer, who makes a good Batman but not a better one than Michael Keaton, and is just as hamstrung by the straight-man aspects of the role. High on the list of innovations we didn’t need to see this year: nipples on Batman’s redesigned rubber suit.
If that’s how “Batman Forever” means to announce a more interesting Batman, it doesn’t work. Neither do flashbacks to Bruce Wayne’s childhood brush with the dark, winged side of his nature (i.e., a real bat) at the time of his parents’ death. For all the money and talent that have gone into bringing “Batman” to the screen, this is still just a live-action comic strip hero with a lot more black-tie evenings on his calender than Superman had. Only by virtue of his Bruce Wayne-Batman dichotomy does he qualify as a two-dimensional character.
Since Batman always needs some backup in the personality department, he has two colorful new antagonists this time: Two-Face, the walking makeup marvel (Tommy Lee Jones), and the Riddler, played to the hilt by Jim Carrey in scene-stealing high gear. Mr. Carrey is the only performer in “Batman Forever” who is right in his element, frantically campy and reveling in wildly jokey effects. “Caffeine’ll KILL ya,” he exclaims, clobbering someone with a coffee pot. All dimples and insane glee, he can magically sap the malice out of a moment like that.
While it would be nice to see him play something other than a nerd venting psychotic spite, that does seem to be Mr. Carrey’s frequent strong suit. And he’s great fun here, channeling every ounce of malevolent energy into ruining Batman’s day, or declaring his intention to become “Gotham’s cleverest carbon-based life form.” Incidentally, his riddles ultimately turn out to be as tricky as some of the math problems tossed into “Die Hard With a Vengeance,” the ones that are supposedly solved on the run by a bomb-dodging Samuel L. Jackson. Who says the kids aren’t learning anything this summer?
They’ll be learning a few extras from the Batman-Robin relationship, which has been revived to bolster this film. What with everyone’s skintight superhero clothes, Bruce Wayne’s remarkable interest in becoming the guardian of handsome young Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) and the mutual interest these two share in Bruce’s motorcycles, “Batman Forever” is the most sexually ambiguous of the three films. On a very different note, Mr. Carrey also turns up in one scene sporting a diamond tiara.
Batman’s heterosexuality is staunchly emphasized by Nicole Kidman’s svelte, double-entendre-slinging presence as Dr. Chase Meridian. This psychiatrist, whose looks are as striking as her name, starts out trying to analyze Batman and winds up in nicely confused romances with both him and Bruce Wayne, his alter ego. As an added bonus, Dr. Meridian is around to call out “Don’t work too late!” to Batman and Robin in the film’s final scene. That’s in case anyone wonders whether Warner Brothers has thought about a sequel.
(Mr. Schumacher has said that Warner’s top executives spoke of Batman as “the company’s largest asset” when they offered him this directing job.)
With a cast that also includes Michael Gough’s own brand of heroism in the role of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s long-suffering butler, “Batman Forever” centers on the Riddler’s invention of a brainwashing device that can implant or withdraw holographic images, which in one demonstration look like three-dimensional fish swimming out of a television screen. (The six-year-old in my company, being much closer to the optimum age for a fan of this third “Batman,” described it better: “The Riddler made up IMAX.”)
Armed with this and abetted by Two-Face, the Riddler would surely succeed in capturing every gargoyle in Gotham City if this film’s three credited screenwriters (Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman) weren’t under some obligation to give Batman a fighting edge.
Mr. Schumacher makes the mistake of opening “Batman Forever” in mid-turmoil. But the film recovers from that initial confusion to get stronger as it goes along, and to shape up as a free-form playground for its various masquerading stars. Like Mr. Jones, an actor as divided as Two-Face, who is this time in his shrill mode from “Natural Born Killers” rather than the lean, mean persona he brings to better roles. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar turn up occasionally to vamp by his side.
Mr. Kilmer makes a muted, whispery Batman at first, but he develops more dash as the story unfolds. Perhaps daunted by the job of protecting Gotham City, he should be relieved to know the place isn’t as dangerous as it looks. Gotham is now a few shades brighter and less forbidding, as befits the Happy Meal ambitions of “Batman Forever.” When Robin leaves the Batmobile running during one sequence, nobody even steals his toy.