Did Schumacher bring about bat-doom at the big screen in part because he thought George Clooney pulling a credit card out of his utility belt would look great in “Batman & Robin”? Yes. Was he the main reason Michael Keaton said no thanks to appearing as Batman for a third time? Absolutely. Keaton has said as much.
But don’t forget, there would be no “Batman & Robin” if “Batman Forever” didn’t somehow manage to not destroy the comic-book movie space-time continuum. And while no one is asking for the Schumacher cut of either of his bat-movies, 1995′s “Forever” was good enough for Warner Bros. to give him one more trip to Gotham City. “Forever,” which turns 25 this week and streams on HBO Max through July 1, wasn’t the end of that first run of Batman flicks. It was the beginning of the end.
And there is still light at the dawn of the bat-pocalypse that is Batman movie numero tres. I know this because despite spending most of my life worshiping at the altar of Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” film, I can sit through a viewing of “Batman Forever,” which moves far from what Burton achieved, and still manage to smile just as many times as I did when I saw it as a teen.
There are countless reasons not to like this movie. A blond Dark Knight (Val Kilmer)? Blasphemy. The geek radar goes off almost immediately. Kilmer’s Batman was fine, his Bruce Wayne better, but unless it’s Jean-Paul Valley under the cowl, Batman shouldn’t be blond. You’d have to really be into the Batman comics of the ’90s to even know who that is.
There’s hardly a single line of dialogue that can be taken seriously (“It’s the car, right? Chicks love the car,” “The bat-signal is not a beeper”) and the absence of not only Burton but also the symphonic genius of Danny Elfman’s original “Batman” score are major losses.
But it’s the little things that bring you back to “Forever.”
Like the bat-boat. Blown to smithereens before the paint got scratched. Gone too soon.
A Batman movie that feels like the Adam West version with a performance enhancer? “Forever” is that movie. Elliot Goldenthal’s jazzy score seemed to channel that classic ’60s television show at times. And before you say big deal, remember that the same vibe was tried with “Batman & Robin,” and it didn’t work. “Forever” is like super-soldier serum. The formula only worked once.
Every time you see Nicole Kidman, you’ll blush because Aquaman’s mom is making out with Batman.
The awkward elephant in the room is “Forever” taking place in a remixed Burton/Batman universe. There’s the late Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon) and the late Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth) reprising their roles from Burton’s first two Batman movies. Kidman’s Chase Meridian even mentions “skintight vinyl and a whip” in reference to Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, who appeared in “Batman Returns.” But Burton, while serving as a producer on “Forever,” is not behind the camera this time around, because that’s what WB wanted: more fun, less darkness.
Not everyone carried over from the Burton-verse, however. Billy Dee Williams was replaced as Harvey Dent by another triple-namer, Tommy Lee Jones. And then there’s Jim Carrey doing, well, the over-the-top villain act that he’s still paid to do in 2020. (He was the bad guy in the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie, remember?) Considering Carrey has gone on record stating that Jones couldn’t stand him, it’s a treat watching the two try to outdo each other in their many scenes together.
If you blink, you’ll miss a 20-something Jon Favreau — now the directorial godfather of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and person most responsible for Star Wars being cool again in live-action — playing an assistant to Bruce Wayne.
A hint of the DC Extended Universe? It happened in “Batman Forever” when Kilmer’s Wayne tells a newly orphaned Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) that the circus he grew up in must be halfway to Metropolis. Superman’s Metropolis? In a Batman movie? One could only dream back then. Although that connecting DC superhero movie thing is still very much a work in progress.
The soundtrack? A lot of those songs, from U2, Seal, Method Man and The Flaming Lips, are still bangers.
Then there’s the sidekick.
Only “Forever” has given us a definitive performance from the Dynamic Duo. We’ve established here that “Batman & Robin” doesn’t count, and neither does that Robin tease Nolan gave us in “The Dark Knight Rises.” “Forever” shined a light on Robin the Boy Wonder in a way no movie ever had before and hasn’t done since. O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson was treated to a proper circus origin story. He had growing pains, a never-to-be-duplicated ninja way of doing laundry and, most importantly, a superhero suit that still holds up. (He traded in his Burt Ward-ish circus outfit for the Tim Drake/Robin suit from the ’90s comics.)
And that ending? Batman diving to the rescue, saving Meridian and Robin? The caped crusaders’ silhouettes running toward the audience in slow motion with the bat-signal in the background? Other than the Gary Oldman-narrated Batpod ending of “The Dark Knight,” no superhero movie has ever ended better.
It’s a fitting fade to black, the likes of which we’ll never see again. Which is probably for the best.