Unlike a certain other Joel Schumacher directed Batman film that shall go unnamed, this one almost works. It is certainly a flawed film, but thanks to some strong performance and a brisk pace, it never really overstays its welcome and up until the ending (which we’ll get to later), it succeeds in being a loud, bright big budget action film.
Schumacher wastes no time making the franchise his own – injecting bright colors and whimsical music into what Tim Burton had designed as a Gothic-inspired, moody franchise. Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) is decked out in neons, with his scarred face a bright pink. The Riddler (Jim Carrey) wears a variety of bright green outfits. There is an entire gang sporting black light reactive neon face paint. Robin (Chris O’Donnell), the antithesis of Batman’s brooding, dark persona, is introduced. And so are those infamous nipples on the Batsuit.
The film centers around The Riddler’s plan to take over the minds of all Gothamites. As a lowly inventor for Wayne Enterprises, Edward Nigma creates a device that can beam TV signals into your head. The unintended consequence of this is that it also allows Nigma to read people’s thoughts and to grow smarter by stealing their brainwaves. When Bruce Wayne shuts down his project because of the ethical questions it raises (without even knowing about the whole mind control bit), he devotes himself to a life of crime as The Riddler. Two-Face, a sociopath running around robbing banks with no real endgame, decides to team up with him.
In addition to Dick Grayson/Robin coming into his life, Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) is also introduced to Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), a criminal psychologist who has a crush on Batman. The film has a bizarre love triangle in that Chase is in love with Batman and initially not interested in Bruce Wayne, who would like to date her as himself and not his cape and cowled alterego.
Val Kilmer is underrated as Batman. He adds a lot of nuance to the character of Bruce Wayne and his sincerity in the role helps to sell some of the cornier bits of dialogue, like all of the arm chair psychological discussions he has with Chase. The scene where he convinces Dick Grayson to stick around the mansion simply by offering to let him gas up his motorcycle on the way out, thus getting him into the garage full of vintage cars and motorcycles in need of a spunky young kid to work on them, is acted beautifully by Kilmer. And he is able to give Batman a gravely voice that is different from his real voice without being over the top or distracting. While Michael Keaton was also a great Batman, Kilmer has an advantage over him in that physically he is much more suited for the role.
Nicole Kidman is great as Chase – she’s gorgeous and has the clout of pull of the role. And Chris O’Donnell is serviceable as Robin. Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are both completely over the top, which may or may not work for you. Carrey is essentially playing himself during the Ace Ventura era and Jones is a full-on raving cartoon character.
The film has enough moxie and enough enjoyable moments to carry it through to the end. However, once it reaches the last third, the whole thing completely falls apart from a logic standpoint. And, since I’m writing this review 17 years after the film was released, I’m going to do something I wouldn’t normally get to do – discuss that ending in-depth.
Bruce Wayne decides he wants to be with Chase and arbitrarily decides that he must quit being Batman to do this. The decision comes out of nowhere and makes zero sense based on everything we know about Bruce Wayne up to this point. Dick Grayson finds out he is quitting and storms out in a huff. Then, just as Bruce is about to have a heart to heart with Chase about their future, The Riddler and Two-Face break into Wayne Manor, incapacitating him and kidnapping her.
Up until this point, Dick has been Robin exactly one time, dressing up in his Flying Grayson outfit to rescue Batman from being buried alive in sand. He didn’t even have a name at that point – he wasn’t officially Robin yet. And no one saw him rescue Batman because Two-Face pulled the classic rookie villain mistake, assuming his trapped worked instead of waiting around to make sure the hero was actually dead.
So until the climax of the movie, there is no Robin. Villains, and the public at large, don’t know that he exists. And yet, The Riddler’s entire plan revolves around him not only existing, but showing up with Batman and getting conveniently kidnapped before Batman reaches the top of Riddler’s lair. Riddler and Two-Face have no way of knowing that Robin will reach the island first and will be able to get to the top before the whole thing starts rising in the air, causing Batman to have to take a longer path to the top. That all just conveniently happens.
And yet, when Batman does reach the top, Riddler has two clear cells set up – one with Chase inside and one with Robin. His plan is to drop them both onto the rocks below, forcing Batman to choose which one of them he’ll save. What was the plan if Robin didn’t show up? What would he have done if Batman reached the top before Robin or if they reached it together? Why did he have the extra cell if he didn’t know Robin existed. The ending makes no sense from a logical standpoint. There is no way he could have planned for things to happen the way they did.
Still, even with a completely nonsensical ending, it’s still an entertaining movie. It may be flawed, but it’s definitely not the worst Batman film ever made. Schumacher waited until his second go-round to make that one.
- Retro Review – Batman and Robin (1997)
- Retro Review – Batman: The Movie (1966)
- Retro Review – Batman (1989)
- Retro Review – Batman Begins (2005)
- Retro Review – Batman Returns (1992)