Last summer, two events converged to unearth a weird piece of Batman news: “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin” director Joel Schumacher died of cancer on June 22, and director Zach Snyder was greenlit to produce and release his original vision for 2017’s “Justice League,” commonly known in nerdom as The Snyder Cut.
In the wake of Schumacher’s death and Hollywood’s reaction to the success of the solely fan-driven campaign to reinstall Snyder, news trickled out that somewhere in the Warner Brothers vault lurks a whopping 170-minute cut of “Forever” considered to be “darker” and “more serious” than the wackier, shorter theatrical cut that WB bent towards Jim Carrey, then the world’s biggest box office draw, and his exceedingly Jim Carrey interpretation of The Riddler.
Variety described this secret Schumacher Cut as such:
“The bulk of this version’s runtime focuses on the emotional and psychological issues that led Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) to decide to become Batman, including a sequence of Wayne facing down a giant, human-sized bat.”
Just so you’re aware of how low my bar is for mopey comic book shit: I am a person willing to arrange vacation time around the release of the Snyder Cut and I think this sounds absolutely terrible. And yet, I have to see this movie. Because I’ll love it. Because all Batman movies are great.
The “Batman Forever” we know is little more than a neon green time capsule of mid-90s nonsense. I love it dearly. The idea of a MORE SERIOUS or DARKER AND MORE PSYCHOLOGICAL “Forever” is absolutely ludicrous. For one, “Forever” isn’t even a film to begin with. It’s a checklist of corporate assets. It exists not as a work of art, or as pop art, or even as the tactless camp that came two years later in “Batman and Robin,” another film I love dearly.
You can love or hate or fear the Burton films, and no one lacks an extreme opinion on “B&R” (not even its Batman). No one has a major opinion about “Batman Forever” because it has the tonal resonance of a car commercial. The fucking U2 music video is cooler than the movie.
(Just a quick aside: “Batman Forever,” certifiably Not A Great Movie, has three screenwriter credits and two story by credits. “Batman And Robin,” a certified Camp Disaster, has only one screenwriter credit — Akiva Goldsman. Only four years after “B&R” was panned, Goldsman won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “A Beautiful Mind.” You can do anything in America, kids.)
“Forever” is a corporation’s rebuke to everything former “Batman” director Tim Burton did and refused to do in 1992’s “Batman Returns. It exists to sell the commemorative McDonald’s glasses and pop music soundtracks and kids pajamas Burton not only refused to consider, but actively sabotaged.
The plot is basically a sleepy Val Kilmer Batman stopping Carrey’s Riddler, a disgruntled Wayne employee, from selling cable television boxes that suck out your brain capacity using a 3D projection. Also Tommy Lee Jones is uncomfortable and hollering the entire time as Two-Face, a role he loathed opposite an actor he felt the same about. It truly is the Marshawn Lynch “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” of modern cinema.
If this brain-drain arc had even a shred more thought or detail than the exact clunk I just described, you could maybe, maybe stretch and claim it was a prescient cautionary tale for the coming Internet age.
But that’s such a painful reach to even consider when I, the adult, know so much better than the 14-year-old who lapped up the soundtrack CD and tie-in comics and a ferociously shitty Super Nintendo game. Loving this film is like loving a marketing campaign. Me calling it a time capsule is a reach, because that implies foresight. It’s a shoebox of junk you had when you were 14, which you rediscover decades later with a deep fondness that does nothing to change the fact it’s still junk.
Yet I love “Batman Forever,” just like I love “Returns.” I have the same affection for “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Batman films are my bad-pizza-is-still-pizza reasoning. Is this the same as sports fandom? I’m not sure, but the fact I enjoy Serious Batman, Awful Batman, and Batman content where the idea of Batman is ceaselessly mocked and deconstructed (try “Harley Quinn” on HBOMax, or just read anyone else at Banner Society), leads me to believe this affection is something different than dry heaving with anger after the Super Bowl.
Loving this stuff is not something that deserves any embarrassment or shame. But taking it serious most certainly is. I’ve seen the trailer for the next ultra-dark, ultra-dour, even-more-realistic-than-the-last-realistic “Batman” film probably 20 times (it has Nirvana in it! It was practically MADE FOR A 39-YEAR-OLD DAD WHO CARES TOO MUCH).
The tone and branding of that film is being constructed with painstaking detail and billions of dollars on the line. And guess what happened this week? The full image of Paul Dano’s Riddler got leaked to the public via a FUCKING MOUNTAIN DEW BOTTLE. I can both eagerly anticipate what I hope to be a great movie based on material I enjoy and laugh my ass off at that.
We can’t get too serious about our Batman anything. Just put Batman in it. I’ll watch it. The portrayal of the character as earnest or ludicrous or a detective or Aggro Elon Musk or dangerous to society or even a man trying to kill God are all FINE with me. In this regard, wanting to watch Batman things is much better than fandom, because you never lose. I only lose if WB and/or HBOMax doesn’t let me see what is surely a TERRIBLE, almost three hour film where Val Kilmer fights his own brain and talks about Carl Jung so he can save Robin from a death island.