When it comes to live-action adaptations of comic book characters, there are few characters more popular than Batman. The iconic DC Comics character has been given the live-action treatment many times over the years and indeed a new film telling the Dark Knight's story is coming up -- once film production is able to resume. Matt Reeves' The Batman will see Robert Pattinson take his turn suiting up in 2021, five years after Ben Affleck suited up as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and 16 years after Christian Bale transformed into the vigilante hero in Batman Begins, with both actors offering darker, grittier takes. Yet, despite the success more grounded takes on the Caped Crusader, Batman Forever remains an unsung hero for the franchise.
25 years ago, Val Kilmer graced the screen as Bruce Wayne/Batman, offering fans a take on the iconic hero unlike anything they'd seen before -- and have yet to see since -- in a film that itself is unlike anything else in the "Batverse". On June 16, 1995, Batman Forever opened in theaters. Directed by Joel Schumacher, the film was a sequel to 1992's Batman Returns and served as the third installment in Warner Bros.' first Batman film series. The film saw Kilmer take on the Bruce Wayne/Batman role from Michael Keaton, in addition to featuring a truly star-studded cast for its time: Tommy Lee Jones played Harvey Dent/Two-Face while Jim Carrey played Edward Nygma/The Riddler, giving the film two iconic villains, Nicole Kidman starred as Dr. Chase Meridian, an original-to-the-film love interest for Bruce, and Chris O'Donnell gave Batman a sidekick as Dick Grayson/Robin.
In addition to the glittering cast, Batman Forever was a major departure from anything fans of the previous two films had seen and, in a sense, what most fans expected. Batman Forever had a strikingly different tone. Where Batman Returns was dark, grim, and, at times, extremely bleak, Batman Forever was more family-friendly. Visually, while the film was still "dark" in the sense that Batman's adventures generally take place at night, the film was significantly more colorful, looking much more like a comic book come to life than your standard live-action adaptation.
That colorful tone extended beyond the costuming and visuals, too, with each of the characters proving to be a bit campy. Carrey's The Riddler was over-the-top and exactly what one might expect given, that the actor was best known for his roles in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber at the time. Jones' Two-Face was equal parts cartoonish and devilish, in a sense making the character both utterly ridiculous and more terrifying than Aaron Eckhart's more realistic Harvey Dent in 2008's The Dark Knight. Even Kidman's Chase Meridian offered something fresh with a character who definitely had caricature-like elements, but was an intelligent, competent badass in her own right. The real standout, however, was Kilmer's performance. His take on the hero is one that leaned into Bruce's trauma and offered a character who was very multi-faceted in a way we don't often see with Batman. Kilmer's hero was sensitive and thoughtful just as much as he is determined to protect Gotham as its Caped Crusader, and it's an approach that one can't help but compare to Batman Begins, which also sees Bruce's childhood trauma play more of a role than perhaps other incarnations of the character in live-action.
This approach didn't exactly win over critics, but certainly won over audiences. Batman Forever earned an A- CinemaScore and performed well at the box office, with what was at the time the highest opening weekend gross with $52.8 million (a number that would stand for two years until The Lost World: Jurassic Park). The film's total box office rang in at $336.53 million, making it the sixth highest-grossing film of 1995 -- and the second-highest-grossing film in that Batman series.
Since its release, Batman Forever has also become almost legendary for its behind-the-scenes stories as well. There were a number of casting shuffles before the film made it to production. Rene Russo had originally been cast as Chase Meridian but was dropped from the role when Kilmer was cast as Batman. Robin Williams turned down the role of The Riddler and while Schumacher has claimed that Michael Jackson was interested in the role, it ultimately went to Carrey. Leonardo DiCaprio even met with Schumacher about the role of Robin, though DiCaprio explained in a 2015 interview that he never even screen-tested for the part.
And then there's the drama. Schumacher revealed in a 2019 interview that Jones and Carrey did not get along at all during the filming of Batman Forever, confirming that Jones was outright mean to Carrey at times.
"No, he wasn't kind to Jim," Schumacher said when asked if Lee tried to steal scenes from Carrey in the film. "He did not act towards Jim the way an Oscar winner with a star on Hollywood Boulevard, being the oldest member of the cast, and having such a distinguished career and the accolades to go with it, should have acted towards Jim. But what happens on the set stays on the set."
"The maître said, 'Oh, I hear you're working with Tommy Lee Jones. He's over in the corner having dinner.' I went over and I said, 'Hey Tommy, how are you doing?' and the blood just drained from his face," Carrey recalled. "And he got up shaking — he must have been in mid-"kill me" fantasy or something like that. And he went to hug me, and he said, 'I hate you. I really don't like you.' And I said, 'What's the problem?' and pulled up a chair, which probably wasn't smart. And he said, 'I cannot sanction your buffoonery.'"
But for all the interesting stories about the making of the film, the wildly divergent tone, and the disappointment that was Batman & Robin which followed in 1997, Batman Forever remains an enjoyable, relevant entry into the overall Batman live-action canon. The film's certainly aged a bit -- 25 years is a long time, after all -- and some of the approaches to Batman's story may not hit audiences today the way it did in 1995, but it remains a fascinating chapter in the overall Batman story and a pivotal moment in Batman's live-action life cycle. In an entertainment landscape that demands more grounded, gritty, "realistic" versions of some of comics' most iconic heroes, Batman Forever stands as a reminder that these characters and stories are multi-dimensional and that even Batman can be a little light in the dark.