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Batman Forever Is A Puzzling, But Perfect, Superhero Film

DC fans have been awaited Joel Schumacher’s fabled director’s cut for decades. But would a more serious version of Batman Forever actually be better?

Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman Forever
Warner Bros. Pictures
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For as long as Batman Forever has existed, there have been rumors of a director’s cut floating somewhere in the aether. The 1995 film, directed by the late Joel Schumacher, has been the subject of divisive debate for nearly 30 years. It has its defenders today, but there are those who’d like to see it get a genuine reappraisal within the superhero industrial complex, and Akiva Goldsman — writer, director, and former protege of Schumacher — thinks its original vision holds the key to unlocking that.

It was Goldsman who stirred earnest anticipation for Batman Forever’s “Schumacher Cut” in 2021. Having worked on the film alongside the director, Goldsman got to see the original cut (formally named “Preview Cut One”) with his own eyes. During a Q&A at the 2021 Austin Film Festival, he revealed that he’d recently seen it again, and hoped that its release would contribute to a “renaissance” for Schumacher and his Batman films.

Per Goldsman, the original cut was “really dark,” a “pretty psychological exploration of guilt and shame.” His update echoed comments from writer-producer Marc Bernardin and DC insider Kevin Smith, who have each, at turns, spread word of a “more serious” extended cut of Batman Forever. The original version of the film reportedly pulls back on the cartoonish humor that’s become indicative of Schumacher’s Batman films, focusing instead on the fractured psyche of its eponymous vigilante. That would have aligned nicely with the Batman films that preceded it, those directed by Tim Burton — but do we really need to see a more serious version of this film in order to appreciate it outright?

However common the practice has become in the DC Universe, holding out for an older version of Batman Forever seems counterintuitive. The film we got might not boast Schumacher’s full, untampered vision, but it’s still one of the most unique superhero films we’ve ever gotten. It’s defined by its comedy and a heady dose of high camp, thanks in no small part to sky-high performances from Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones. Even Batsy’s love interest, Nicole Kidman’s Chase Meridian, is appropriately unhinged — and with Val Kilmer’s Dark Knight caught in the middle of it all, you’re forced to ask whether he wants to beat these criminals to a pulp or join them.

Batman Forever takes one of Burton’s best ideas and stretches it in a funhouse mirror. Gotham is a city of weirdos, no matter what side of the law you’re on. Here, it’s all the product of a psychological imbalance: trauma, psychosis, or something much more difficult to define. Schumacher’s superhero story addresses deep-seated distress and guilty fetishes with equal measure. It’s a live-action cartoon that draws on some very-adult themes; it’s not always perfect, but at least it tackles the Batman mythos from a different perspective.

If nothing else, Batman Forever is at least immaculately cast. That sentiment extends to everyone, from Carrey and Jones to Kilmer’s own take on Bruce Wayne. Sure, he’s a bit subdued compared to Michael Keaton’s cool-headed maniac, but Kilmer brings a buttoned-up charm to the role — and its the grounding force that this spectacle desperately needs.

At times, Batman Forever feels like a live-action cartoon — but in the age of self-serious superhero films, that could easily be a virtue.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Tommy Lee Jones has always been a scene-stealer, and that doesn’t stand to change with his incarnation of Two-Face. He’s clearly having fun in the role... unfortunately for him, no one is having more fun than Jim Carrey’s Riddler. He is the de facto face of Batman Forever, paving the way for more iconic villains — like Poison Ivy and Bane — to chew the neon-drenched scenery in future installments.

Kidman’s criminal psychologist, meanwhile, is torn between the two halves of Bruce Wayne’s psyche. She’s publicly dating Bruce while not-so-secretly pining for Batman, and that only complicates things for the inwardly torn-up Bruce. It’s quietly hilarious, if unabashedly horny... but we’ll save that critique for Batman & Robin.

Batman Forever might not have lived up to the reputation of Burton’s Batman duology, but it’s not for a lack of trying. In hindsight, it was a perfect bridge between that dark dystopia and the go-for-broke stylings of Schumacher’s second superhero film, the one with the anatomically-correct Batsuit. Yes, Batman Forever’s story is often silly — but boring it is not. It shouldn’t take much convincing to enjoy the film on its own merits: the Schumacher Cut may never see the light of day, but that shouldn’t distract us from the version of the film that so many already love.

Batman Forever is now streaming on Prime Video.

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