For Batman Forever, the third instalment of the Batman franchise, studio executives felt that a more mainstream approach could garner a much bigger box office. As a result they moved Tim Burton from director to producer and hired Joel Schumacher to take his place. After seeing the new direction the series was taking, Michael Keaton refused to take the role of Batman again and he was replaced with Val Kilmer. Batman Forever would also mark the first appearance of Batman’s ward Robin in the series. After a lengthy casting process and reported interest in Marlon Wayans and Leonardo DiCaprio the part eventually went to Chris O’Donnell.
Former District Attourney-turned criminal Harvey ˜Two-Face’ Dent (Tommy Lee Jones), who blames Batman (Kilmer) for his scars, goes on a crime spree in Gotham City looking for revenge. When Bruce Wayne takes psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) to the circus, Two-Face brings in a bomb to force Batman to reveal himself. Circus trapeze artist Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) saves the day, but not before his family are killed.
Unable to force Batman to reveal his true identity, he turns to maverick inventor Edward ˜The Riddler’ Nygma (Jim Carrey) for help using a new device that connects the population to the television and steals their brainwaves. Having adopted Grayson, Bruce Wayne’s secret identity is revealed, causing the young man to adopt the guise of Robin and the two set out to stop Two-Face and The Riddler before they can comatose the whole city.
Schumacher, obviously hoping to create his own vision of the Batman story struggles to escape the shadow of Tim Burton. Batman Forever’s environments have Burton influences, but are injected with an unnatural amount of colour, creating a bizarre mismatch that is as offensive to the eyes as it is sickening to the stomach. With much more comedy than previous instalments, Batman Forever trades in the creepy gothic nature of Burton for a more kid-friendly version of the caped crusader. Instead of being a legitimately tortured soul, Batman cracks wise It’s the car right? Chicks dig the car instead of brooding and the depth of the character is almost entirely removed.
Batman Forever‘s latest villains from Batman’s rogues gallery tread closely to Jack Nicholson’s iconic Joker, but with Tommy Lee Jones somehow keeping up with Carrey’s constant gurning and dancing the two become parodies of really interesting characters. This is not to say that they are bad, because their chemistry is actually the highlight of the film, but would be better suited to a full-blown comedy than Batman Forever.
Batman Forever is guilty of excess. Excess of characters with limited development. Excess of comedy in place of strong narrative. And above all else excess of colour that blinds and disorientates. Schumacher tries to move the franchise into the mainstream, and in many ways he succeeds, unfortunately the result is that Batman Forever further diminishes the quality from Burton’s original Batman.