Batman & Robin (1997)

Batman & Robin (1997) – Sigh… so in the past couple years I have revisited a couple movies that I remember hating and finding out they weren’t quite as awful as they were in my memory (The Phantom Menace was by far the most surprising of these). So I have to admit I went into this one with a certain degree of curiosity to see this is a film that has been somewhat redeemed by the passage of time… Nope. Still sucks. If you watch the DVD retrospective featurette, it comes off like a 25-minute apology from the cast and crew. Everyone agrees that they rushed into the movie too quickly after the outstanding box office success of Batman Forever. Joel Schumacher describes being confronted with the demand the movie be more “toyetic,” so characters and props and whatnot had to be designed with their action figures in mind. Even at its best, Batman Forever has quite a bit of the camp factor but Batman & Robin cranks that shit up to 11. It makes the Adam West series look dignified by comparison. Hell, I’m still surprised that Bruce Wayne doesn’t spend twenty minutes doing the Bat-tusi. So… time to revisit the clusterfuck that broke the Bat worse than Bane ever could…

A new supervillain is on the loose! The ice-themed Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is stealing diamonds to fuel his freeze gun (I guess freeze guns that run on Faberge eggs were deemed impractical) and it’s up to Batman (George Clooney now) and Robin (still Chris O’Donnell unfortunately) to stop him! Of course this all is happening around the same time unethical mad scientist Dr. Jason Woodrue (John Glover) is performing unethical experiments using the formulas developed by benevolent botanist Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley (Uma Thurman) to transform a puny criminal named Antonio Diego (Michael Reid McKay) into an inarticulate hulk named Bane (Robert “Jeep” Swenson). Woodrue attempts to murder Isley, but by pushing her into a puddle of miscellaneous chemicals he transforms her into the seductive and sinister Poison Ivy! With Bane as her thug, she heads to Gotham City where she uses a pheromone compound to ensnare the affections of both the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder! But wait! There’s more! Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough) is dying! Of the same disease that afflicts Freeze’s cryogenically frozen wife! And his never-before-mentioned niece Barbara (Alicia Silverstone) is visiting! And despite supposedly being English speaks with a Southern California accent! Also Bruce Wayne is having trouble committing to his relationship with socialite Julie Madison (Elle Macpherson)! Holy excess of subplots, Batman!

Sigh… where to begin? Okay someone tell me how you take George Clooney, perhaps the most charismatic movie star on the planet, and get him to turn in a performance this wooden? The script by Akiva Goldsman (who has since gone on to win an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind) is a big part of it. When not using a 2nd grade joke book to come up with as many ice puns as humanly possible he didn’t exactly spend much time on characterization. All the inner turmoil that pretty much defines Batman is thrown out in favor of him being the dad of this rubber-clad makeshift family. Chris O’Donnell still sucks as Robin (though it’s interesting to note that his costume is basically Nightwing, except red instead of blue). Julie Madison (one of Batman’s earliest romantic interests from the comics) seems inserted into the film as an afterthought, though Macpherson’s never been the strongest actress so perhaps minimizing her screentime wasn’t the worst idea. Because Pat Hingle, the actor who plays Commissioner Gordon, was deemed too old to have a teenage daughter the Batgirl of the comics (Barbara Gordon) was re-imaged as Alfred’s niece. While Alicia Silverstone does have a general likability to her, she comes off as needlessly bratty in this film until all of a sudden she’s Batgirl. Like I said, characterization was not a priority for the film-makers…

Now I need to say that I am generally a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger (as a movie star, not so much as a politician). I enjoy his movies and think he has a certain charisma that has buoyed his career. The movie goes for some degree of pathos by giving Mr. Freeze the then-recently revealed origin story from Batman: The Animated Series (Freeze’s wife Nora [Vendela K. Thommessen] is terminally ill so Dr. Victor Fries freezes her but then suffers an accident that renders him unable to survive in anything but sub-zero temperatures). So he should be a tragic villain, right? Instead he shouts out more lame puns than George Saunders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach (the three actors who played Freeze on the 60s TV show) ever did. Uma Thurman also seems to be going for a 60s-TV-Batman vibe as Poison Ivy, but at least she looks good doing it. As cheesy as Schwarzenegger is in this movie (and even I, a fan of his, won’t defend it), the MOST bastardized character is Bane. No offense to the late Mr. Swenson. He was told to grunt monosyllabic sentences and grunt he did. No the blame goes to the writing. Bane was created in 1993 and was still a pretty popular character as the only man who could “break” Batman. This was accomplished through, in addition to his chemical-enhanced strength, great strategy and cunning. Bane in the comics is highly intelligent, so the grunting monstrosity of this movie is just bullshit. Fifteen years later, Bane is finally getting some cinematic redemption.

This movie is loud and obnoxious and bright. There is a street gang whose faces are covered in neon paint (the gang’s leader is played by Doug Hutchison, who I like to re-imagine as Batman nemesis the Cradle-Robber!) which happened in Batman Forever as well but was far less annoying. Violating the canon of the comics (as in the earlier cases of Batgirl and Bane) is acceptable is it’s done in service of A GOOD MOVIE! (Burton’s and Nolan’s films prove that.) Here nothing is done in service of anything except marketing tie-ins and pandering to some lowest common denominator. Joel Schumacher had made good films before (The Lost Boys) and has made decent films since (The Phantom of the Opera) but this is the movie that has him forever marked as a hack (not quite deservedly… one film does not a hack make). I enjoyed Batman Forever, feeling he struck a decent balance of serious storyline and over-the-top camp with a sort Dick Sprang-but-covered-in-neon version of Gotham. I can’t tell you why it worked but it did. Apparently Schumacher and the executives at Warner Brothers couldn’t tell you either because they emphasized all the wrong things for Batman & Robin. It’s everything that was wrong with Batman Forever and none of what was right. Oh, who could possibly resurrect this once-beloved franchise?

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