Holy Cast Comparison Batman! – Val Kilmer
Part Three: Val “Iceman” Kilmer
Val Kilmer was the third man to take up the Bat-cape, starring as the titular Batman in 1995’s Batman Forever. Kilmer had previously shot to fame in the ’80s (Top Secret!, Top Gun, Willow) but really came alive in the ’90s with acclaimed roles in Tombstone, The Doors (playing Jim Morrison), and True Romance (as Elvis!). His leading man status had been cemented by then and he was a natural successor for the role of Batman after Michael Keaton backed out of the proposed third film.
Kilmer’s Batman definitely looked the part, he was taller and more athletic than Keaton after all, although both were Bruce Wayne-handsome in their own right. Kilmer’s Batman was obviously not as dark and twisted as Keaton’s, but more heroic and much more balanced (fitting nicely into a more family-friendly picture). Children were reportedly led out of theatres crying during Keaton’s Batman Returns and so Kilmer’s Batman had the simple job of repairing relationships with the studio’s audience and becoming more likeable as a hero. He also put in a lot more time as Bruce Wayne, upping the playboy ante and debuting his Wayne as more of a media-friendly socialite than the reclusive and brooding Wayne from Keaton’s days.
Overall, Kilmer was very competent as Batman, but unfortunately he was stuck playing second (or third, or fourth) fiddle to the rest of the bloated cast; for not only was the great Tommy Lee Jones playing Two-Face, but Jim Carrey was channeling his chaotic Mask as The Riddler. Two great actors playing two great villains while competing for screen time gets a little busy (I call it the Spiderman 3 complex). Add to that the addition of Robin (Chris O’Donnell), who had been cut out of the previous films on purpose, as well as the sultry Nicole Kidman as a love interest, and Kilmer’s Batman isn’t left with much time to express himself, resulting in what some have called a “wooden performance,” but what I would call an unfortunate side effect of the bloated story. Indeed, Kilmer would leave the franchise after Batman Forever for that simple reason — his Batman was being overlooked in favour of a growing cast of scenery-chewing villains and therefore his performance suffered.
Previously, Keaton and Burton left the franchise in a dark and scary place, leading to the studio’s wanting a more marketable (read: merchandisable) movie. Therefore, Kilmer was put in a situation where the creatives tried to veer Batman away from the brooding “Dark Knight” persona. Unfortunately, in doing so they ended up on a colourful road leading right back to the ridiculous camp of Batman’s earlier days and the playfulness of Adam West.
The director, Joel Schumacher, would later apologize to fans of Batman for his films (moreso his second, Batman & Robin), taking full responsibility for them. While it may not have been his entire fault in the end, Schumacher was still the man who let them put nipples on the Batsuit…
Regardless, Kilmer’s Batman was simply another evolution of the character and you have to take the good with the bad sometimes. Even Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, has said at times that Kilmer’s was his favourite portrayal. Batman Forever is a fun film for what it is, but as is always the case, it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye (I see you Batman & Robin). Thankfully Val Kilmer got out while he did, leaving his legacy fairly intact, and standing somewhere in the middle of the scale of “great Batmans of history.”