Batman Forever was a film that, on its release, was credited with breathing fresh life into the Batman franchise. That still staggers me, although I understand why that conclusion could be drawn. After all, Tim Burton’s really very good Batman Returns had taken the films down a dark and not-very-family-friendly route, and heaven knows just where Burton would have taken things had he stuck around for a third film.
But that wasn’t going to happen. And when the box office returns for the second Batman film proved to be a good deal less than those of the first, then Warner Bros would hardly have been too distressed when Burton passed on a third film. Likewise, the decision of Michael Keaton to hang up the Batsuit Warner Bros turned to its commercial advantage, and the recruitment of director Joel Schumacher and lead actor Val Kilmer gave the studio the chance to make a far more family friendly film. Brighter, packed with movie stars and much easier to sell, Batman Forever brought in more money than Batman Returns, and instantly gave Joel Schumacher the keys to make a fourth Batman movie.
Personally, though, I can’t stand Batman Forever. I find it every bit as nauseating and troubled as Batman & Robin, and while I’ve no wish to do a hatchet job of a review, I can’t disguise the fact that I think it’s a shallow mess. I was hoping that rewatching the film far away from the glare of its original launch would help, but it really doesn’t. The whole production simply feels watered down: there’s little edge to it, and instead you get a pair of underdeveloped villains in Two Face and The Riddler – played by Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey – that you never really feel that Schumacher is in control of.
Furthermore, there’s the packing in of Robin and a backstory too, and this remains for my money a major mis-step for the franchise. Chris O’Donnell was perfectly fine in Scent Of A Woman, but buying him as any kind of action hero is simply a stretch too far. And while I can cope with Val Kilmer’s decent enough take of Batman, he’s the only one of the star names – with the possible exception of Nicole Kidman who’s decent enough as Dr Chase Meridian – who actually comes close to earning their cheque.
By the time the film reaches its conclusion, I can’t be alone in not caring diddly-squat about the film, and its laborious journey from A to B. And while Batman & Robin watered the franchise down still further two years later, I remain convinced that the rot is right here, in Batman Forever. Schumacher – a director of whom I like several films – was simply the wrong choice, and rewatching Batman Forever over a decade later bangs that message home. This isn’t just a bad Batman film, it’s a bad film.
The Blu-ray? It’s not too bad. The picture quality seems that bit sharper than that of Batman & Robin, and certainly there’s a broad colour palette that the 1080p transfer does a good job of representing. It’s still not a cutting edge restoration/recreation of the image, but it’s quite good, and a good upgrade from the DVD. The vibrant surround sound mix, likewise, is good, and will give a broad soundstage quite a workout.
The extras package is once more ported across from the DVD special edition of a few years back, but it’s a good set of extras you get. Joel Schumacher is a little less chatty than we find him on the Batman & Robin commentary track, but I found his guidance through the movie quite interesting nonetheless. He gives you a good few anecdotes for your money, from the turning down of Nicole Kidman for the Julia Roberts role in Flatliners to his reasoning for Val Kilmer being the best big screen Batman. He also hints at surprising budget restraints, and takes time out to point out an early-in-his-career Jon Favreau – he who would direct Iron Man – in one of the scenes.
The rest of the extras? Good stuff again. The Shadows of the Bat documentary series that runs across the Batman discs is very good, and we also get featurettes that delve into the change of director for the franchise, the production design, the look of Gotham, stunts, visual effects and the creation of the score. There’s also a look once more at the heroes and villains, and a generous smattering of deleted scenes, chopped to keep the running time around the two hour mark. The disc is then rounded off with a trailer, and a Seal music video.
It’s quite a good special edition in all, although the picture and the audio upgrade may not really be enough to convince many to shell out the extra shekels. The film, though, is a mess, and really quite hard to derive too much entertainment out of. But I appreciate I may be in a bit of a minority there…