Tim Burton’s Batman Returns was a box office hit, despite being met with substantial criticism upon its release in the summer of 1992. Parents and a particular Happy Meal company expressed anger over the film’s darker and more sexualized tones. The resulting backlash and diminishing profits meant a change was needed for the franchise to continue. That change meant “so long” to The Dark Knight and “hello” to The Caped Crusader.
Faced with a change in direction, Tim Burton decided to step away from his directing duties on the third Batman film, assuming a producer role instead. This vacancy opened the door for director Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys) to step in. Schumacher had recently helmed two well-received hits for the studio with 1993’s Falling Down and 1994’s The Client. Based on the gritty realism of those films, he appeared to be a great fit for the grim Gotham City. But…looks can be deceiving.
With Burton gone and the script focusing on a lighter tone, Michael Keaton also declined to return to the role, allowing Val Kilmer the chance to fill the vacant cowl. Kilmer makes a good Batman. He’s playing things straight even when everything around him is batsh*t crazy. The other roles after several interesting cast rumors eventually went to Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell (playing a much older than expected Robin), Michael Gough, and Pat Hingle.
For those unfamiliar (or those who deleted it from their mind), Batman Forever finds Batman on the trail of Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), when a dangerous new Bruce Wayne obsessed villain begins brainwashing the citizens of Gotham with technology previously shunned by Wayne. In the meantime, Bruce Wayne has now taken in the recently orphaned Dick Grayson after his parents were murdered by Two-Face. Oh, and Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) has been called to Gotham as a consultant on the Two-Face case, eventually getting involved in a love triangle with Batman and Bruce Wayne (yes, it’s as dumb as it sounds).
Despite its problems, Batman Forever does not deserve its irredeemable reputation. And, much to my surprise, I even found myself enjoying a lot about the movie upon my viewing for this article; with several of the film’s action sequences standing out as some of the best in the series. The opening bank robbery is exciting, and serves as a good introduction to Two-Face and Kilmer’s Batman. The Nygmatech party fight, with Batman crashing through a skylight, might rank as one the best Batman scenes in any film. I also enjoyed the Halloween raid on Wayne Manor. It made me wish that more of the film had taken advantage of the Halloween setting. Lastly, the “God” Riddler is an effective villain, and I liked seeing Batman outwit the God of Knowledge instead of punching his way to a victory.
Apparently, even with the intentions of making a lighter film, Batman Forever still turned out a little too dark for Warner Brothers and their merchandising partner’s liking. This lead to extensive recuts of the film that rearranged and removed several key plot points. Some of these scenes can be seen in the trailer and the music video for Seal’s Kiss from a Rose. Knowing this before my 25th Anniversary viewing, it becomes pretty clear that the film has been tampered with. While I don’t know if that version would have produced a better product, I would be willing to give it a chance. Dare I say #ReleaseTheSchumacherCut?
The lighter friendlier Batman Forever proved to be a major success for Warner Brothers with the film breaking the opening weekend box office record held by Jurassic Park, and eventually becoming the highest grossing film of 1995. Once again Batman was flying high, leading Warner Brothers to quickly greenlight a sequel, with Schumacher returning. Sadly, that sequel would drive the franchise into full campy mode, dooming the characters’ big screen adventures for eight years.