Batman Forever
Forget Batman Forever, we'll take Kidman Forever, thank you very much.

Forget Batman Forever, we'll take Kidman Forever, thank you very much.

In 1995 I saw Batman Forever in the the theater. I recall enjoying it, if also being slightly perplexed by the sharp left turn it took from the previous Gothic-influenced Bat-films of Tim Burton. After a recent re-watch, I still enjoyed it - in parts. It's not really a good movie by any stretch, but it's eminently watchable in the way that many cult classics can be. This was a big-budget smash-hit film, so chances are no one considers it a cult classic. However, I think enough years have passed that the movie now falls into the "so bad it's good" category often reserved for cult classics.

Batman Forever has its moments. It's not the abject failure so many fans seem to want it to be. It's basically one big day-glow set piece after another, strung haphazardly together, and so overstuffed with wildly hammy performances and ridiculously dated '90s neon set designs that it will leave you worn out by the end.

Director Joel Schumacher is often derided for his take on Batman over the course of two films and I'd argue that criticism is only particularly relevant to his follow-up film, the objectively terrible Batman and Robin. By comparison, Batman Forever looks like Citizen Kane. That's how bad Batman and Robin is. Batman Forever is similarly dialed up to eleven at all times, but it's filled with enough goofy and strange performances that you can't help be at least slightly entertained by it all.

Batman meets neon: it must be the 1990s.

Batman meets neon: it must be the 1990s.

Val Kilmer as Batman/Bruce Wayne is oddly entrancing. Kilmer is a highly idiosyncratic performer, meaning he's rarely dull. No one seems to talk about his Bruce or Batman these days, but it's worth remembering that his performance is unique in the cannon. It's certainly not the quintessential Batman on film, but it's quite possibly the strangest. His performance seems to land somewhere between the camp of Adam West and the weirdness of Michael Keaton. Kilmer takes the quirkiness established by Keaton in the previous films and underplays things enough that it borders on bizarre. He's the straight man here, but the eccentric straight man. He makes you believe he'd think it was a good idea to put on a bat suit every night to fight crime.

In 1995 Nicole Kidman was pure sex on fire, years before Kings of Leon were old enough to have any idea what that meant. See also: To Die For. Her not-so-subtly named psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian lusts after Batman with the single-minded intensity of a dog ripping open a bag of Milk-Bones with her teeth. Kidman's flirting is so outrageously aggressive that you can't help but giggle. She breathlessly utters lines that must make Batman blush under that cowl, including gems like "You like strong women. I've done my homework. Or do I need skin-tight vinyl and a whip?" Did I mention this is Nicole Kidman in 1995, with all that entails? She's incandescent here, utterly committed to the silliness, and impossible to ignore whenever the sultry Dr. Meridian slinks her way on screen.

Kidman brings the heat as Dr. Chase Meridian, the most unprofessionally lusty psychologist you'll ever meet.

Kidman brings the heat as Dr. Chase Meridian, the most unprofessionally lusty psychologist you'll ever meet.

Tommy Lee Jones was reportedly not a big fan of Jim Carrey during the filming of Batman Forever. Those reports are fairly well corroborated by watching them together in this film, frankly. Jones acts like he'd rather be anywhere else besides hamming it up with Carrey, except when he acts like a stark-raving lunatic. He and Carrey play Two-Face and the Riddler, respectively, as if Frank Gorshin is not only possessing them but has also just ingested a mountain of cocaine. Their performances are far from great, but their combined lunacy at least makes them memorable.

These guys give the phrase "over the top" new meaning.

These guys give the phrase "over the top" new meaning.

There's an inherit silliness in the concept of Batman or similarly costumed adventurers. While realism is often the goal with superhero films, this doesn't invalidate lighter-hearted interpretations. Is it really necessary to normalize the sort of irrational behavior inherit in superhero films and comics? There is room for another interpretation, one that simply presents it, warts and all, like Schumacher does in his two Bat-films. After all, there's precedent for this, dating all the way back to the wacky 1950s Batman comics and the Adam West - Burt Ward "Pow! Bif! Bam!" 1960s TV series.

When you view Batman Forever in that context, as camp, it's actually wildly entertaining. Don't go into it looking for Nolan-esque meditations on grieving and obsession. Instead, just let the '90s neon rave aesthetic suck you right in to the fray. Don't fight it. Instead, laugh a little and try to love it.

Episode 212 - Willie Dynamite

Episode 212 - Willie Dynamite

Countess Dracula

Countess Dracula