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Chris O’Donnell as Robin

Chris O’Donnell as Robin in “Batman Forever”

Batman Forever [1995]

The Batman cartoons were sometimes surprisingly serious, but at the same time the Batman feature films were becoming increasingly cartoonish.

Joel Schumacher, the director of the third film in the series, said he wanted to create “a living comic book, and I think the word comic is important.”

A key factor in determining the tone of Batman Forever (1995) was the choice of the hot young comedian Jim Carrey to portray the Riddler. Ignoring the comparatively sneaky comic book villain, Carrey clearly based his performance on the hyperactive version of the Riddler created by Frank Gorshin for the TV series, but Carrey’s interpretation was hyperactivity cubed. “His physical capabilities seem to come from another universe,” observed Schumacher, and there is little doubt that Carrey’s charisma was a key factor in the big box office returns for Batman Forever.

In what was becoming a tradition, there were two villains, but not even Tommy Lee Jones could make too much of Two-Face, who, in the script by Lee Batchler,Janet Scott Batchler, and Akiva Goldsman, lacked most of the qualities that make him potentially the most tragic and terrifying of Batman’s foes.

Batman Forever also introduced Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell, to the series. As in the early comics he was Dick Grayson, a circus acrobat, but the film piled on the punishment by having his brother as well as his parents murdered on the job (Two-Face got the blame). The scenes under the big top were spectacular and suspenseful, although Schumacher threw caution to the winds by showing Bruce Wayne fighting like Batman without bothering to put on the suit.

Nicole Kidman was on hand as the token love interest for the hero, who as usual lasted for only one film. Such details went largely unnoticed, however, in aloud, fast, flashy film full of stunts and special effects, which tended to overshadow actor Val Kilmer in his only outing as Batman.

The script blames Two-Face for killing the family of a young circus acrobat named Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell). This motivation for the origin of Robin echoes the original 1989 Batman feature, in which another major bad guy, the Joker, takes on the blame for turning a kid named Bruce Wayne into a crime-fighter.

The introduction of Robin is also a significant factor in softening the harder edges of the film series, with the young partner functioning much the way he did in the comics more than half a century ago.


Chris O’Donnell as Robin in “Batman & Robin”


Batman & Robin [1997]

By the time Schumacher’s Batman & Robin appeared in 1997, critics had become increasingly skeptical about the series; in fact even the title was a misnomer that should have appeared on the previous entry, since Batman & Robin was notable as the feature that introduced Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone).

As usual, Batgirl’s appearance suggested a degree of desperation. “Alicia’s very popular, especially with the young audience,” said Schumacher, “and I thought it would be nice to give them a young heroine who was as intelligent and as strong-willed and dedicated to justice as the men.”

Three good guys seemed to mean three bad guys, including Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), and, virtually unpublicized, Bane (Jeep Swenson), once Batman’s most merciless menace but here merely muscle for Ivy.

Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay seemed somewhat arbitrary in bringing all these characters together, but the visual razzle-dazzle was even more sensational than before. Television star George Clooney was this outing’s Batman, bringing along a modicum of his charm but little commitment. Schwarzenegger, a bona fide action star, got top billing on the basis of his track record, but explained “you can only move so much with this heavy armor I have.”

[information from Batman: The Complete History by Les Daniels, 1999]


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