December 13, 2012 by NowhereButPop
Out of all the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies, Batman Forever is easily the best. But to be fair though, the only bad one was Batman and Robin (the one with Arnold Schwarzenegger). Batman Forever is the best for three reasons: it actually features Bruce Wayne as a fleshed out character, has fully formed themes, and also because it had the most potential to actually be a good movie before the studio took certain liberties during post production. I offer two actual reasons, and one hypothetical, but if you’ve seen the movie and know what to look for, I know you’ll agree with me.
If you look back at the first two movies in the series it’s pretty easy to notice that Bruce Wayne isn’t really given much development; the only think we really know about him is that he doesn’t like cold soup. Tim Burton doesn’t do any sort of job in trying to characterize the man behind the cowl, or delve into the psychology of why he does what he does-Namely dress up as a bat and beat the shit out of psychopaths and homeless people. In Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne is reintroduced as a tortured soul, someone who carries this burden of being a dark knight. He feels compelled to take in Dick Grayson because he empathizes with what the boy had just gone through, seeing his parents killed by a maniac. Wayne even feels personally responsible for Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face, and multiple times during the movie tries to get him help. He does this out of concern, which is something he never did in any of the prior movies. We’re even given hints that he doesn’t want this life for himself any more after meeting the stunning and scintillating Dr. Chase Meridian. The difference between the first two movies and Forever is that the first two show Batman’s effect on the life of Bruce Wayne, while Forever shows Bruce Wayne’s effect on Batman, the caped crusader.
Even the love interest, Chase Meridian, reinforces the point that Batman Forever is a movie about Bruce Wayne more so than it is about Batman. She is someone who chooses Bruce Wayne over Batman, she loves Bruce Wayne for Bruce Wayne, and not because he’s Batman. They have a rapport that exists on an intellectual basis that he didn’t have with Vicki Vale or Catwoman. Chase wants to help Bruce Wayne get past his repressed trauma and essentially save him from his own tortured soul, which happens to be characterized by Batman. Contrast this to Vicki Vale, the reported who falls for the mysterious Batman, and Catwoman the deranged dominatrix, and you see that Dr. Chase Meridian has the most substance out of the three of them to reflect the fact that Bruce Wayne has been explored with much more depth in Batman Forever.
Beneath all the stiff acting and the overt homoeroticism, Batman Forever does actually adhere to and display two strong themes that really underscore the fact that it is the best movie of the Burton/Schumacher era. It’s the only movie of the four that has themes or some sort of meaning. The themes of duality and obsession are highlighted specifically through the villains of Two-Face and the Riddler, respectively. And anyone familiar with the Batman mythos knows that these are central themes to the nature of the comic books. The Riddler is borne out of Edward Nigma’s obsession with Bruce Wayne, so much so that he tries to dress like him, do his hair the same way, and put moles on his face to better look like Bruce Wayne. Everything he does in the film comes from his desire to best Bruce Wayne/Batman. Initially, Chase Meridian is obsessed with Batman, Bruce Wayne too is obsessed with his masochistic need to continue being Batman, along with his obsession over his parent’s death. Robin is obsessed with vengeance, and Two-Face is obsessed with both duality and killing the Bat. It’s not crazy to think that Batman Forever deals with the dangerous side of obsessions and how it can twist and contort people.
Along with obsessions, duality is another theme of the movie, which was actually toned down from Schumacher’s original cut. The central focus of this theme is through Two-Face, but it also applies to Batman himself, and to a lesser degree Chase Meridian. Obviously, any movie with Two-Face in it is going to have duality as a central theme. What makes Two-Face so grueling for Batman to go up against is the fact that he’s still Harvey Dent underneath it all. There’s always the hope that Dent will triumph over his psychotic alter-ego. On the one hand you have the homicidal maniac Two-Face, but on the other, you have the upstanding and morally resolute Harvey Dent, a one time ally to Batman. Every time Batman goes up against Two-Face he has to balance the dual nature of Dent to try and both help and defeat him at the same time.
Two-Face juxtaposes Batman’s own dualistic nature, as well as the hero/villain dynamic. Like Two-Face, Batman lives in two distinct worlds, one as a billionaire playboy, and the other as the caped crusader. Throughout the entire movie, Bruce Wayne is weighing out the cost that being Batman as wrought on his life, and really questions his own role as Batman. It’s supposed to come off as two alter-egos inhabiting the same body. Batman Forever is the first movie that the audience really sees a clear distinction between Bruce Wayne and Batman. Wayne questions whether being Batman is worth it, and Batman has to come to terms with the fact that he might be holding Bruce Wayne back. In Forever, we now understand how both lifestyles intersect and impede upon each other. In the beginning of the film, Wayne loves Chase Meridian, who in turns loves Batman, not Bruce Wayne. The point is to show that they are not the same person; Meridian falling for Batman and not Bruce Wayne is meant to enhance this feature of the dual nature of the dark knight.
Batman’s inner duality is the focal point of the movie. In the climax, the Riddler forces him to choose who he will save, Chase Meridian, “the love of Bruce’s life” or Robin, “the Dark Knight’s junior partner”, with both captives representing Bruce Wayne or Batman. Whomever he elects to save will be indicative of the dominate ego; if Robin is saved then it means that Batman is the dominant persona; if Chase Meridian is saved then it means Wayne is in charge. That’s why Batman had to save both, as he said to the Riddler “I had to save them both, you see I’m Bruce Wayne and Batman. Not because I have to be, no, but now because I choose to be”. The monologue he gives to the Riddler is indicative of him rectifying both personalities into one being; that is what allowed him to triumph against Two-Face and the Riddler. Because Two-Face was unable to do the same, he wasn’t able to make a decision without his coin, which led to his death. The ending implies that Wayne will continue to live as Batman, but now because he understands that it is his choice, and he will no longer do it alone. He will be Batman forever.
Now, I love Batman Forever for what it is, but I love it even more for what it could have been. About 45 minutes of footage was cut out by the studio, and most of those scenes are pretty tangent to the overall motif and atmosphere of the movie. The movie was supposed to be much darker, in the same vain as the first two movies, but Warner Bros. demanded that the film be more kid friendly than its predecessors. Two-Face’s violent break out of the insane asylum was supposed to be the first scene of the movie, but was deemed too gruesome to show to children…..but nipples on the batsuit are A-OK. There was also to be a recurring theme of whether or not Gotham City needs Batman, and contemplation on whether or not Batman is more harm than help. This would nicely compliment Bruce Wayne’s own dilemma of whether or not he needs Batman any longer. In having these ideas play off each other, it would make for a much deeper and more thoughtful interpretation of Batman that had never been done before.
Quite possibly the most important cut content from the movie, was an exchange between Batman and Two-Face which would have taken place during their first altercation, on the helicopter. Although greatly reduced in the final version of the film, the original scene had Two-Face essentially tell Batman that they weren’t all that different after all, that they were merely flip sides of the same coin. There was also a line that explains Dent’s vendetta against Batman; he hates the Bat for failing to save him, and holds him personally responsible for his transformation into Two-Face. This would have ramifications later on, with the whole identity crisis subplot that was greatly reduced in the final version. The point being, if Batman is responsible for making good men go insane, then the world would be better off without Batman, especially if he can’t save those that really matter: i.e. Harvey Dent. This entire confrontation would mess with Batman’s head for the rest of the movie and add an additional layer of emotion and thematic insight to the movie. As it is, we only see this in its barest form.
Next time you sit down to watch Batman Forever, keep in mind everything I’ve said, so you know what to look for. I promise you, if you watch it with a keen eye you’ll get something new from it. Is it a masterpiece? By all means, no. But until Christopher Nolan rebooted the franchise in 2005, it was the best we had, and it could have been so much more. All things considered, it tried to tell a Batman story that hadn’t really been done before; and to be honest, it worked. It’s just a shame that the first shot of the movie was a close up on Batman’s ass.