With Ben Affleck's grizzled, weary Batman set to grace our screens in March 2016, it's always fun to scoff and look back on the history of the Caped Crusader and see how far he's come.
We've seen every iteration of Batman. The angry, near-psychopathic Christian Bale in Christoper Nolan's grounded, real-world version. Michael Keaton's sexually-charged, monosyllabic performance in Tim Burton's gothic surrounds and, further back, Adam West and Burt Ward's psychedelic, cartoon-inspired Batman of the '60s. People glance over George Clooney's flat, uninterested Batman in Batman & Robin, but we all remember Val Kilmer's iteration more fondly. It must be something to do with the nipples on the suit.
Production began on Batman Forever in 1993 when Joel Schumacher signed on to direct. Up until this point, Schumacher was known for making well-crafted, slick films that grossed well. Falling Down, with Michael Douglas, was a dark comedy that exposed America's grim underbelly. The Client, with castmember Tommy Lee Jones, was a gripping adaptation of John Grisham's bestseller. Flatliners was a high-concept sci-fi thriller with Brat Pack stars Kiefer Sutherland, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt that echoed Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. In short, Schumacher was a man in demand.
Tim Burton was done with Batman and felt creatively spent with the property. His gnarled, gothic, near-erotic take on the series was fascinating - but it was beginning to alienate younger audiences. So much so, in fact, that Batman Returns' tie-in with McDonald's Happy Meals had to be withdrawn over parental backlash. Simply put, the world wasn't yet ready for a Batman that was wounded, a creature that had fully realised desires and could be an object of desire. It was too full-on for people to take. That said, it's still considered a modern classic and rates favourably with fans of the series.
Schumacher's thesis was simple - take Batman back to basis. Make it more fun, make it more splashy, make it more appealing to everyone than those that wanted a psychologically-damaged Batman. Casting began almost as soon as Schumacher signed on, with Tommy Lee Jones signing up after a short conversation with Schumacher and the producers. Keep in mind, Tommy Lee Jones was coming off the back of an Academy Award win for The Fugitive and had worked previously with Schumacher on The Client. Next was The Riddler. Robin Williams was considered at first, however as screenwriter Lee Batchler puts it, they simply didn't make the deal and that was it. When Williams fell through, Jim Carrey stepped into the fold. As Schumacher described it, Carrey was "The Riddler on steroids."
The bug-bear was Michael Keaton. When Burton left Batman behind, so too did Keaton - despite being offered $15,000,000 to reprise his role. Keaton later said that he hated the film and was glad he didn't do it. Val Kilmer was hired based on the strength of his performance in the Western romp Tombstone, playing the infamous Doc Holliday. The on-set disputes between Kilmer and Schumacher are well-documented. Kilmer was forced to endure four to five hours, daily, of makeup which drove him slightly mad. "He was rude and inappropriate. He was childish and impossible. I was forced to tell him that this would not be tolerated for one more second. Then we had two weeks where he did not speak to me but it was bliss!"
The supporting cast of Chris O'Donnell as Robin and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, who served as the love interest for Batman. Kidman, however, has been cool about her reaction to the film. In a recent interview, Kidman stated that she remembers "going, ‘I wish had more of a role, though.’ It’s great being the girl in the Batman movie. But I’m an actor and you go, ‘Gosh I want more to do.’ So I would still love to do some sort of superhero movie where I get to do the cool stuff." Chris O'Donnell, meanwhile, was more positive. "I remember sitting in the back of a limousine being driven somewhere and my agent asking, 'Are you going to do this or not?' I remember thinking, 'My god, it seemed like a no-brainer. I grew up watching Batman and how could you not? But at the same time, I knew what a huge thing it was. Do I want to be a part of this? Do I want to be known as Robin?' I remember sitting in the car and going, “What am I going to do?" And I was like, 'I'm in. I’m going to do it!' "
With cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt and production designer Barbara Ling, Batman Forever was crafted as a sprawling, neon-infused rock opera with art deco influences. NygmaTech's opening party was like something from a Prince video. The opening bank robbery sequence was lit and shot like a music video. Indeed, the film's aesthetics and use of editing and music made it feel closer to an MTV video with comic-book influences. The lighting design was done by a rock concert lighting expert, complete with a panel to shift colour and intensity easily.
The soundtrack, especially, reflected these jarring influences. U2's Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me, Kill Me became a radio hit along with Seal's Kiss From A Rose. The demented genius of putting the world's biggest band next to a UK soul singer was inspired. The Offspring covered The Damned's Smash It Up whilst Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey, The Flaming Lips and The Devlins contributed various B-Sides to the album. Like the film itself, the soundtrack was a hodge-podge of fantastical elements that, although jarring, truly worked as a whole. Elliot Goldenthal's score pulled sharply away from Danny Elfman's morose, hymnal score in favour of a circus-like atmosphere with raging drums and sultry, noir horns.
What makes Batman Forever so intriguing is that it was utterly of its time. The '90s was a garish, loud, colourful period and the film reflected this back. The type of introspective, grounded Batman of today simply couldn't have worked in that time period. Look at Timothy Dalton and Licence To Kill in the '80s. Miles ahead of its time, but instead it's overlooked as a serious entry. What Batman Forever did was put itself firmly in the zeitgest amd shape Batman to fit it. After all, the Dark Knight is truly a malleable entity. The '60s saw a Batman that danced. The '90s saw a Batman that had rooftop kisses with supermodels whilst power-ballads played over it. The '10s saw a Batman that battled terrorists on home ground. It was of its time and should be viewed as such.
Moreover, Batman is, by definition, a serious character. He isthe product of a violent childhood, orphaned at a young age. Does that darkness need to pervade every aspect of a film? Of course not. When we look at Batman or Batman Returns, it chokes the fun out of it entirely. There needs to be something to offset it, lest it become something akin to a psychological examining of the character. Batman Forever was not that. Batman Forever was a glorious, unashamed romp. The film is unfairly compared to Nolan's work and Burton's blackened, goth-like qualities. Instead, it should stand alone as the oddity it is. Would you compare the likes of, say, From Russia With Love or The Spy Who Loved Me to Casino Royale or Skyfall? Of course you wouldn't. But not for a single second can you say that Skyfall or Casino Royale is better than From Russia With Love or The Spy Who Loved Me. They're enjoyed in the context of their era.
And so should Batman Forever - a glittering, splashy adventure with no semblance of seriousness or rigidity.