& ROBIN (1997)
Director: Joel Schumacher
Eastern philosophy teaches of the yin/yang principle. We can have no good without bad, and vice versa. That goes for just about everything, even the motion picture industry. We need a few turkeys every so often so we'll know a good movie when we see it. For every Casablanca, there's a Plan 9 From Outer Space. For every Gone With The Wind, there's a Manos: The Hands of Fate. And for every Superman II, there's a Batman & Robin. We've all heard the complaints about it, ranging from "too painful to watch" to "the world's longest gay joke." And folks, if we really need bad to go along with our good, I don't know if this yin/yang thing is all that stellar of an idea, because Batman & Robin is absolutely horrible on almost every level. It's a stain on the series that begin with Tim Burton's awesome Batman, and it even makes the old '60s television show look like Shakespeare. But I'll save the complaining for later, because I guess I'd better get the plot out of the way.
We jump right into the action, with Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) heading to a museum robbery orchestrated by Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a new villain in Gotham City that uses ice to his advantage. The dynamic duo have never heard of Mr. Freeze before, but they somehow have ice skates conveniently integrated into their boots, allowing them to play an impromptu game of hockey with Mr. Freeze's goons with an expensive diamond as the puck. Mr. Freeze ends up getting away with the diamond, and we soon learn the deal with his whole ice thing.
Y'see, two years earlier, Mr. Freeze was Victor Fries, a scientist working to cure his cryogenically frozen wife of a fatal disease called MacGregor's Syndrome. His body temperature dropped to subzero levels following a lab accident, and Fries needs diamonds to not only power the suit that keeps him alive in room-temperature environments, but to keep his wife's stasis tube fully operational. And if you're gonna be a villain with a subzero body temperature, why not use ice as a weapon and spout off corny ice-related one-liners?
Meanwhile, in some random South American jungle, we meet botanist Pamela Isely (Uma Thurman), who likes plants a little too much. I don't know if there's a term for people sexually attracted to plants, but it would probably fit her. Dr. Isley is busy developing "Venom," a chemical designed to help plant life. You'd figure that a chemical designed to play nice would have a happier name, but I'm just picking nits. But while Dr. Isley designs Venom for the benefit of nature, colleague Dr. Jason Woodrue (John Glover) would rather use this scientific breakthrough for more nefarious means. With a little dash of steroids and various other performance enhancing products, Dr. Woodrue has developed Venom into a super-soldier serum that he plans to sell to the highest bidder. He demonstrates on a scrawny career criminal, pumping said criminal full of Venom and mutating him into a 400-pound masked monster named Bane (Jeep Swenson).
Dr. Isley discovers Dr. Woodrue's transgressions, so instead of sitting down and having a friendly discussion, he knocks her out and dumps as many chemicals as he can onto her in an attempt to silence her. Things don't go to well for poor Dr. Woodrue, since this doesn't kill her as much as it transforms her. She reawakens as Poison Ivy, the human representation of Mother Nature with raging PMS. Upon noticing that her destroyed lab is funded by Wayne Enterprises, Poison Ivy and her new sidekick Bane head to Gotham City and presents Bruce Wayne with various eco-friendly ideas. He laughs her off, pressing that Wayne Enterprises is already quite supportive of the environment. Unfortunately, Poison Ivy doesn't exactly see things his way, and vows that nature will get its revenge on the uncaring human race. She uses her feminine wiles (and a little pheromone dust for good luck) in an attempt to force a wedge between the dynamic duo, and soon forms a partnership with Mr. Freeze.
While all this is going on, we're introduced to Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone), the niece of Bruce's butler Alfred (Michael Gough). Visiting from an English prep school, she immediately strikes the fancy of young Dick Grayson. But while she seems like a sweet, eager schoolgirl, she soon begins swiping motorcycles from the Wayne Manor garage to participate in underground street races. But when Dick saves Barbara from falling off a bridge after an accident in one of her races, she manages to drop a greta big bombshell: it turns out dear ol' Alfred is dying, suffering from the early stages of a rare disease called MacGregor's Syndrome. Growing sicker as time goes by, Alfred soon entrusts Barbara with the secret of Bruce and Dick's secret identities, and a little more too. Naming herself Batgirl, the dynamic duo becomes a trio as Batman, Robin, and their new teammate set out to stop Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze from starting a new ice age and rebooting nature from square one.
Ugh... where to begin? I just hate, hate, hate Batman & Robin. I'd rather let Gallagher hit me in the groin with the Sledge-O-Matic than watch this worthless waste of film, time, and brain cells. Seriously, when the songs playing over the credits are the best part of the movie, you know you have a problem. From silly fight scenes (featuring out-of-place cartoon sound effects) to the poorly-written dialogue and the generally groan-worthy campiness, the movie is a couple of "KAPOW!" and "WAM!" graphics away from being a modernized version of the old TV show. While the TV show went for campiness on purpose, this particular movie is campy for a simple lack of redeemable quality. I have no problem with camp, because it can be fun, but it is put to disappointing use here. And I don't know if anybody's noticed this, but the movie's title is sort of a misnomer. It's technically "Batman, Robin, & Batgirl," but I guess Warner Brothers assumed one of two things:
They really should have called the movie before this one Batman & Robin and let this one be Batman Forever, but I guess hindsight is 20/20.
Seriously, calling Batman & Robin a disappointment is like saying the invasion of Normandy was a friendly get-together. I don't speak any foreign languages, but I'm certain that somewhere in the world, "Akiva Goldsman" translates to "horrible Batman scripts." This whole thing is just so inane and so ungodly awful, the pages of Goldman's script would make better use as toilet paper. The movie insults your intelligence from the get-go. Take, for example, the scene where Batman and Robin get into a bidding war over Poison Ivy's affection at a charity auction. I normally wouldn't complain about her, but with the ugly hairdo, stupid outfit, and silly leaf things on her eyebrows, any man who would prefer Uma Thurman's company over Elle Macpherson's deserves to be shot. On second thought, maybe that's just the fault of the movie's wardrobe and makeup departments. Perhaps a better example would be the opening scene. Batman and Robin have to escape from an about-to-explode rocket, and they elect to do so by jumping out of the rocket and riding back down to the ground on the rocket's doors as if they were surfboards! Why would anyone want to see Batman and Robin air-surfing? Why not just use their capes as parachutes? The person that thought air-surfing was a good idea needs to fire their crack dealer, because they got hold of a bad batch. I also don't get the reasoning behind turning a villain as awesome as Bane into a monosyllabic sidekick. This guy nearly killed Batman in an issue of the comics and is generally one of the cooler members of Batman's rogues gallery, and then he's just some guy here. But really, you could lock a group of chimpanzees in a room with a word processor for a week, and by the time you let them out, they'll have written the script for Batman & Robin. You know, now that I think about it, that's probably what the studio did. I know I made a joke about it earlier, but if it turns out that "Akiva Goldsman" is really Hollywood slang for "room full o' monkeys," you heard it here first.
I absolutely hate the look of the movie, too. Joel Schumacher may have directed three very good movies in The Lost Boys, Falling Down, and Phone Booth, but Batman & Robin will always come back to bite him. The movie is just ugly to look at. I swear on everything that's holy, if any more Batman movies have those weird flourescent neon effects, I'm gonna go to the Warner Brothers headquarters and kick the everloving crap out of everyone involved. I complained about it in Batman Forever, but it bears repeating: Do we really need the unsettling closeups of the Dynamic Duo's posteriors and codpieces while they put on their suits? I'm not waxing homophobic or anything, but it's just creepy. It isn't stylish, it isn't exciting, it's just what it is. Moving on, Elliot Goldenthal's score is okay, but it just seems so recycled. I doubt Goldenthal did much new music for the movie, because most of the score sounds like leftovers from Batman Forever.
On the acting side, the cast is just kinda bleh. Nobody really stands out except for Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose one-liners are just so silly, the movie is almost worth watching just to hear them. His over-the-top performance is reminicent of something out of the Adam West series, and the only enjoyment I got out of the movie is watching Arnold. If you don't laugh your head off during the scene where he serves as conductor for his singing henchmen, you don't have a soul. But you know what? When Arnold Schwarzenegger is the best actor in the movie, you have a problem. I like Arnold and all, but I doubt he'll ever have to contemplate offers from Shakespearian acting troupes. George Clooney appears as the third Dark Knight in the four Burton/Schumacher movies, and he doesn't seem to have the same kind of weight as Michael Keaton or Val Kilmer. I can understand why he was cast, though, because ER was the biggest show on television at the time and Clooney was quickly becoming a huge superstar. On the bright side, he got to be play one of the most recognizable superheroes ever. On the bad side, he got to add one more movie to his already stellar résumé, which at the time included legendary Oscar-winning classics like Return of the Killer Tomatoes and Return to Horror High. At least he started making better movies after this one. And one could go as far as to argue that the movie's failure killed the careers of Alicia Silverstone and Chris O'Donnell. Silverstone had made a name for herself via Clueless and three very popular Aerosmith music videos, and outside of the extremely shortlived NBC sitcom Miss Match and a role in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, she hasn't really done anything of note since Batman & Robin. And O'Donnell is seemingly a non-factor in Hollywood now. I do think O'Donnell made a good Robin, however. In all honesty, a little part of me inside wishes that Warner Brothers hadn't wiped the franchise's slate clean, because had the series kept going, they could have easily done a spinoff featuring Nightwing. If Catwoman and Steel could get their own movies, so could Dick Grayson.
Batman & Robin provides a blueprint on what a Batman movie shouldn't be. And after this flaming bag of dog doo, I don't blame Warner Brothers for starting all over and making Batman Begins. There wasn't anywhere to go but a complete restart, because the stink of Batman & Robin would have been all over any other future movies in the Burton/Schumacher era. I want to curse the name of Joel Schumacher, but I think I should thank him. If it weren't for Batman & Robin's horrible failure, the Batman movies would just be more of the same. But Batman Begins or not, I can't justify giving Batman & Robin any rating higher than one star. The movie is just so bad, and the only thing that makes it worth watching is so one will see what not to do when making a superhero movie.
Final Rating: *