Riddle me this: I was enormously popular yet everyone hates me now. I star multiple Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning actors yet every performance is terrible. I feature the so-called “world’s greatest detective” and make him look like an idiot. What am I?
Why, of course we’re talking about 1995’s Batman Forever, the first of two regrettable Batman movies directed by Joel Schumacher after Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton both exited the franchise. Somehow, despite being flagrantly awful in every respect, the film was inexplicably successful, outgrossing its predecessor (1992’s Batman Returns), briefly setting a record for biggest opening weekend of all time, and falling only behind Toy Story at the top of the domestic box office for the year. Yes, more Americans went to see Batman Forever in the theater than Apollo 13, GoldenEye, or international winner Die Hard with a Vengeance. I’ll be damned if I can understand why.
|Year of Release:||1995|
|Watched On:||4K Ultra HD Blu-ray|
|Also Available On:||HBO Max|
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms
Schumacher passed away in 2020 and I probably shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. I like a few of the man’s movies and would not call him untalented, though his taste was often questionable and he had a serious blind spot for judging the quality of a script. Even in 1995, he seemed an odd choice to take over the Batman franchise. He was never the sort of filmmaker anyone could call a “visionary,” and nothing he’d made previously suggested that he had what it takes to direct a big-budget superhero epic. On the other hand, the last couple assignments he did for Warner Bros. (Falling Down and The Client) were both solidly profitable, and I guess that’s all it took to land the job.
With Michael Keaton out, the studio selected hunky Val Kilmer to step in as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and paired him with Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey as villains Two-Face and The Riddler, respectively. For marketability, this looked like (and clearly was) a winning combo. While Kilmer had yet to headline a big hit on his own, he was a valued supporting player in movies like Top Gun and Tombstone, and his performance in Oliver Stone’s The Doors was singled out for praise even if the film itself bombed. Jones had recently won an Oscar for The Fugitive, and Carrey was right at the height of an improbable winning streak of blockbuster after unexpected blockbuster. Joining them would be up-and-coming ingénue Nicole Kidman playing Batman’s new love interest, criminal psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar pop in for small supporting roles, and a young actor named Jon Favreau is credited with a bit part. That’s a pretty respectable talent pool for a comic book movie of this sort. And not a damn one of them can save this wreck.
From start to finish, every creative decision in Batman Forever is the wrong choice, starting with the dreadful screenplay by Akiva Goldsman. The plot is too idiotic for me to bother recapping here, and practically every line of dialogue is a groan-inducing pun. Right off the bat (dammit, now I’m doing it!), the movie sets a jokey, juvenile tone that never lets up. Either of their own choosing or mandated by the studio, Goldsman and Schumacher immediately strip away any trace of the dark, broody atmosphere so appealing in the Tim Burton films and replace it with low-rent camp. Batman Forever is less a comic book movie than a full-on cartoon.
I’ve previously admitted to being a fan of the silly 1960s Batman, and have written of my growing dissatisfaction with the “gritty” and overly-serious direction the franchise has taken in recent years. Part of me hoped that a rewatch of Batman Forever might put me in a mood to better appreciate the lighter tone Schumacher was going for. Sadly, the movie is just so gratingly obnoxious that it crosses all my tolerance thresholds for its willful stupidity.
The performances are all pitched not just to “11,” but to at least 14 or 15 on the 10-point scale. Carrey is in full Ace Ventura mode, mugging frantically to the camera any time it points at him. His Edward Nygma character doesn’t transform from a hapless loser to a loony psycho; he’s a loony psycho from the first frame. How could anyone stand to be in the room with him, much less hire him at a reputable company like Wayne Enterprises and let him work on important, sensitive projects?
The comedian claims that the famously cantankerous Tommy Lee Jones told him before shooting that he hated him and could not sanction his buffoonery – which would be fair enough (Carrey was pretty insufferable in those days) if Jones weren’t equally manic and hammy playing Two-Face. The role is really out of character for the normally stodgy actor, and he looks uncomfortable delivering it. The Men in Black movies at least had the sense to let Jones play straight-man against the wilder comedy elements, but here he’s asked to be wild and zany himself, and that’s really outside his skill-set. This role is a huge black mark on his career.
As Batman, Kilmer is supposed to be the actual straight-man, and he mostly looks stranded, like he has no idea what he’s meant to do, either in the Bat-suit or as Bruce Wayne. The actor had such a miserable time making the movie that he chose not to come back for the next sequel. I see this, like so many other problems with the film, as a failure of direction.
Chris O’Donnell is also introduced as Robin, the Boy Wonder. At 25, he was definitely too old for the role. He wears a douchey earring, looks ridiculous in the costumes (both the one that’s intended to look ridiculous and the one that’s meant to be an improvement), and is written as an impetuous jerk.
Schumacher sets his mark on the project with a gaudy and ostentatious visual design filled with garish colors and dumb camera tricks. Almost every action scene is photographed from the worst possible angles to make their choreography incoherent. One big set-piece is shot entirely under blacklight for some reason, and another has the Batmobile drive up the side of a building as if gravity suddenly stopped working. (Where does it go when he gets to the top?) The makeup and the effects – both the miniatures and the crude CGI – all look really crappy, especially for a movie that cost $100 million when that was still a rarity.
The director also put nipples and bulging codpieces on the costumes, and had the Batmobile redesigned to look like a painful S&M sex toy, for reasons that I’m sure he thought were subversive.
In spite of all these issues, Batman Forever somehow struck a chord with viewers and raked in a lot of cash, way more than it deserved to. However, for such a successful movie, it had an extremely short shelf-life. By the time Schumacher’s sequel Batman & Robin was released just two years later, audiences were over it, and quickly came to realize that Forever was also a dog. From that point forward, both movies were inextricably tied together as the laughingstock low point of the Batman franchise.
If anything, Batman Forever has only gotten worse with age. I found it a real chore to suffer through this viewing. It will almost certainly be my last.
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Batman Forever was released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in 2019, sold either individually or in a 4-Film Collection with Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), and Batman & Robin (1997). Going in, I assumed that the film would have been remastered from a new 4K scan, as the first two clearly were. That doesn’t appear to be the case. From the best of my ability to discern, this one looks like it comes from an older master that’s been uprezzed to 4K.
I wasn’t able to do direct comparisons, as I don’t own any other copies of Batman Forever and don’t intend to spend more money on one now, but the 1.85:1 image has evidence of both Digital Noise Reduction and artificial sharpening, which paradoxically leaves it looking both sharp and soft simultaneously. Close-ups have adequate detail, but wider shots are often mushy. Some grain is still present despite the DNR, but it looks noisy. Technically, the movie has been encoded in HDR, but contrast isn’t particular crisp, highlights are unimpressive, and Schumacher’s gaudy colors really ought to pop more than they do.
Ironically, recycling an old master has one important benefit, in that the studio didn’t inflict Batman Forever with a teal-and-orange revisionist color grade. The movie still has actual blues in it! I wish I could say the same for either Batman or Batman Returns, both of which sacrifice the color blue for a blanket of teal. That said, the Schumacher colors are obnoxious in their own right.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack has lots of loud rumbly bass that rarely extends very deep. The opening credits whoosh right over your head into all available height speakers, and the first scene has a helicopter buzzing from above to grab your attention. More height effects are used periodically, but fidelity of the track is mediocre overall. The score by Elliot Goldenthal (doing his best to ape Danny Elfman) is a little flat and dull.
Like every title in the box set, bonus features are all ported from an older DVD. I’m not inclined to watch or listen to any of them, but contents include a director commentary, promo featurettes, music videos, trailers, and other fluff. Only the commentary appears on both the Ultra HD and Blu-ray in the case, while all the video supplements are exclusive to the Blu-ray disc.
- Batman (1943) movie serial
- Batman: The Movie (1966)
- The Dark Knight Returns (1986) graphic novel
- Batman (1989)
- Batman: The Video Game (1990) for NES
- Batman Returns (1992)
- Batman Returns (1993) for NES
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
- Batman & Robin (1997)
Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from the standard Blu-ray edition of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.
3 thoughts on “A Riddle Wrapped Inside an Enigma – Batman Forever (1995) 4K Ultra HD”
Ha, funny, I really like ‘Batman Forever’. I think it’s waaaaaaay better than ‘& Robin’. Oh well. I am known for my horrible taste in movies (will always defend ‘The Phantom Menace’, ‘The Flintstones’, ‘Blues Brothers 2000’, etc)
Watching Batman Forever and Batman & Robin back to back, I feel they are both pretty similar. It’s weird how much I loved Forever so much back in the day and loathed B & R so much upon its release but now I kind of like both of them about the same. I tend to look for the positives when watching movies so I just sit back and enjoy all the camp with these. I’ve actually always hated Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma until he turned full Riddler. Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face on the other hand, I absolutely love!
This change in perspective about movie franchises has also happened to me when watching them as marathons. Most recently, Scream and Indiana Jones. Scream 3 (which to me has always been the red headed stepchild of the franchise) wasn’t so bad after watching Scream 2. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was just as good as Last Crusade after watching them back to back. I admit I’ve never loved either of them all that much, but for all the hate KOTCS gets, I found it on par with Last Crusade.
Not to derail the subject of the Batman movies, the point I was trying to make was that watching them back to back sort of forces me to take a different perspective on them whether I want to or not.
‘Crystal Skull’ just as good as ‘Last Crusade’? Ha, funny. ‘Last Crusade’ is my favorite Indiana Jones, I consider it a masterpiece on a par with ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. I always liked ‘Crystal Skull’, but it’s definitely my least-favourite Indy.