If I had been excited leading up to Batman Returns' release, I was absolutely giddy waiting for Batman Forever. There was one word alone that lead to this giddiness, and that word is "Nightwing." I bet you expected me to say Robin, didn't you? But no. While I had already been ridiculously excited about the fact that Robin was going to be introduced into the films, it was the preview clip where Dick Grayson says "I don't know.. Batboy, Nightwing, what's a good sidekick name?" that made me jump up and down in fangirlish glee. It was a teeny, tiny detail, but for me it was a moment where I first felt I was in on a secret joke. I knew exactly what they were referring to, and the fact that they had taken the time to acknowledge comic book fans in that moment was enough to make me really happy.
I was also 14 and therefore at the appropriate age to like Chris O'Donnell and be happy with the choice. I also may have been young enough to overlook some of the goofier aspects of the film. So having not really watched the film in years, I was very curious to see if I would still love this film as much as I used to or be a bit embarrassed by the fact that I still own the Batman, Robin, and Riddler mugs that McDonald's sold. No, I don't know why I don't have the Two-Face mug either.
Overall, I'm not ashamed. While the movie is definitely more about action and humor then drama or emotion, it excels at those two elements for the most part. The action scenes may completely defy the laws of physics, but they're fun enough to watch that I find myself unable to care. Everything is a mix of blacks and neons, and while certainly a very different color palette from what Burton was previously using, it still looks really nice. While some of the humor is a little stretched, the rest is over the top silly fun that can make you smile.
The stretched humor lies with Jim Carrey. While there's certainly a Frank Gorshin influence in his Riddler, there's also a lot of Ace Ventura there. I think being a former fan of his allows me to tolerate this style now, even though I definitely can't say that I like it much anymore. I imagine individual opinions on that are going to dictate just how someone feels about this film today.
But if you can ignore it, I think you're in for a treat. Tommy Lee Jones plays Two Face with the kind of gleeful psychotic mayhem we're often used to seeing in Joker portrayals, but then every now and then Harvey Dent surfaces and he's suddenly so serious and somber. It's unfortunate that he mostly plays second billing here to Riddler. I think a movie that would have shown us more than the abbreviated version of his story would have been really great. There is of course also the fact that Billy Dee Williams had previously portrayed Dent in the first film, but this isn't the first or last time a character has been recast through the course of a film series. And considering that Batman was also recast, it's very easy to overlook.
I appreciate the fact that Kilmer seems to have at least tried to create a distinction between Batman and Bruce Wayne, even if this Bruce Wayne isn't the bungling playboy we're used to in other adaptations. He's a little closer to Adam West's Bruce Wayne I think. But I like that he at least tries to change his voice a bit when he's Batman to disguise his identity.
This is also the first time in this series that I feel like we're getting a real story arc for Batman himself - both in dealing with his repressed memory of his youth and the fact that he's finally found a female who understands him in a way the previous two didn't. Chase Meridian is a little too forward for my tastes at times, but there's no denying that she's a strong woman who knows exactly what she wants. The only thing is when you've got Bruce Wayne coming to you about the trauma of his past, and you fully acknowledge that Batman must have had a trauma in his past... you shouldn't have to wait until you kiss both of them to figure it out.
But let's face it, this move is still all about Dick Grayson for me. I feel like they gave him a little bit more attitude than necessary, but I guess with the older age and the fact that he's currently reeling from the death of his family it's excusable. I'm also fairly certain that the main reason he has a brother is just because most acrobatic acts are in fact made of four people, but I could be wrong. Considering that he dies along with his parents I don't think it is a horrible change. I really enjoy the dynamic between Dick and Bruce, and how it's very obvious that even from the beginning, Bruce truly cares about him. Alfred's push to have Dick become Robin reminds me a lot of A Lonely Place of Dying, where Tim Drake and Alfred both insist that Batman needs a Robin, until eventually the latter hands the costume over to the former to take on the role.
Once again, this isn't a great film. It's far more campy than the 1960s show ever was in some ways. It's silly and generally played very over the top. A lot of the dialogue sounds more like something written to aid the movement of the story rather than how people would actually talk. There are nipples on the Batsuit, and Riddler might as well be Ace Ventura or The Mask. But I feel like it manages to strike enough of a balance that this is still a fun film to watch.
By the way, I find myself completely unable to fairly comment on whether or not the soundtrack is dated or appropriate. See, I purchased it even before the movie release and it got a lot of play from me. I love nearly every song on it. Even Method Man's "The Riddler." So if anyone else has opinions on whether Brandy, The Offspring, and The Flaming Lips belong in the midst of a Batman film, I'd be interested to hear it.