Batman's reins have been turned over from director Tim Burton (now producing) to Joel Schumacher, from lead Michael Keaton to Val Kilmer, and from an old, baroque Gotham to a heavily stylized, kiddie-pop city.
A lot can be said for the idea that the setting of a picture thoroughly controls its tone. What we Batman Forever is an attempt to make Gotham more like Los Angeles, full of neon, black lights, and people sporting primary-color wigs. Unfortunately, something has been lost in translation.
What we lose is the idea of Batman as The Dark Knight. Instead, he spends a large bit of celluloid pontificating about the morality of killing people, telling us like a public service announcement that it won't make things better. Okay, I buy that, but why is Batman telling me this? Batman is supposed to be a kick-ass-and-take-names type of guy, not some lousy pacifist. The message is entirely out of place. Also lost is a real villain...instead, we get Jim Carrey's over-the-top interpretation of The Riddler, who was always a wuss on the TV show, and Tommy Lee Jones's Harvey Two-Face, who I don't think I've even heard of.
On the subject of villains, Carrey plays Carrey -- what more can you say? He's strangely hilarious, obviously made for the role, but the part isn't written well enough to carry the picture alone. Jones is downright awful as Two-Face, mumbling his lines in every scene and trying desperately to live up to the actors with much better parts who refuse to give him even a little piece of the show.
At any rate, here's what the new Batman brings to the table. Foremost is Chris O'Donnell as Bruce Wayne's young ward, Dick Grayson, aka Robin. O'Donnell saves the film more often than he saves Batman, proving what a generally good actor he is, even with a bare-bones role. Also good is Nicole Kidman as Batman's love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian, who ends up psychoanalyzing him out of his costume. It's too bad the love story isn't written very well, either.
And that's not all that's poorly written. The plot has enough holes to drive the Batmobile, the Batplane, and the Batboat through. Everything is an homage to the first two films: the obligatory car chase, workmanlike fight scenes, people discovering Batman's true identity...yawn. When you see the film, try to guess what will happen next: you'll be right.
Overall, there's very little originality on the screen...not that you could see it, thanks to a nonexistent first act, some dismal photography (Stephen Goldblatt, out of his element), even worse editing (Dennis Virkler, surprising considering his two Oscar nominations), and some dull, unrealistic digital effects.
Thank God for the self-deprecating humor in the film, with Batman and Robin poking fun at their small screen past. If you watched the series at all, the jokes make the movie worthwhile. Kilmer is good, as usual, as the man behind the mask, and there are a few good action sequences. If you see the film, try to ignore the preaching, pinch yourself awake after the first half hour, and pray that Burton makes a really good movie next to make up for this one.
The new Anthology DVD set includes the first four Batman films: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. Each comes in a two-disc pack (that's eight discs total), with commentary tracks, making-of featurettes, music videos, and deleted scenes (for Forever and Robin). Extra points for an impressive box design.