Batman & Robin (1997) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and innuendo
Running Time: 125 min.
Cast: George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Chris O'Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Vendella K. Thommessen, Jeep Swenson, Jesse Ventura (cameo), Coolio (cameo), Nicky Katt (cameo)
Director: Joel Schumacher
Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman
"Batman smells -- Robin laid an egg."
I couldn't get these words to the famous "Jingle Bells" parody out of my head while watching what might be the worst mega-budget fiasco of the decade. By this point in the Batman franchise, it appears that director Schumacher (D.C. Cab, 8MM) and the folks at Warner Bros. thought that the appeal to the Batman movies were the costumes, sets, and color schemes. In fact, they didn't even bother going for any other game plan other than to try to overwhelm us with eye-candy CGI and gargantuan set design, leaving little things like a script and a tangible plot as just a means to string together the highly conceptualized sights and sounds. What they didn't plan on is that the public would soundly reject this and any chance at a future entry, as Schumacher commits the most egregious sin imaginable for any Batman endeavor -- he makes Batman "un-cool", as Mr. Freeze might say.
In this chapter, Arnold Schwarzenegger (True Lies, Total Recall) is hired on to play Mr. Freeze, a doctor that for some-such reason has to wear protective armor that keeps his body temperature cold. In fact, Mr. Freeze is obsessed with all things icy, and needing mass sums of money to figure out a cure for his cryogenically slumbering wife's disease, he plans on putting the entirety of Gotham City on ice for a monumental ransom. Meanwhile, another villain enters the arena in the form of Poison Ivy (Thurman, A Month by the Lake), seeking revenge on Bruce Wayne (Clooney, Out of Sight) for what she perceives are his anti-environmental exploits. Strength in numbers causes these unlikely partners to hook up, and Batman and Robin (O'Donnell, The Chamber) have more than their hands full trying to take them down.
With so little here to recommend, it is going to be an arduous task having to pinpoint just where it all went wrong. I suppose the easiest place to start will be in the casting. It's the fourth Batman movie and already we have our third Bruce Wayne, and in George Clooney, we have the least effective of all. Not that Clooney is a bad actor, but his take on the millionaire playboy is to always be charismatic and understanding. He's a warm teddy bear of a Batman, fatherly to Robin, consoling to Alfred, and a superb PR guy for his company to the public. Basically, he's very different from the Bruce we know from the previous three movies, more like the smirking-machine he has played for years on "ER". He smirks when telling Robin that Alfred is dying, he smirks when Alfred is ailing, and he smirks when the city is about to be put on ice. At least someone looks like he's having a good time, because it's certain that no one in the audience is.
The dialogue by Akiva Goldsman (Lost in Space, Practical Magic) is absolutely the most atrocious I've heard in any movie -- ever! Can you imagine that he actually is an Academy Award winning screenwriter? Nearly every line of dialogue is a quip or a one-liner, never really allowing a full conversation between any two characters except to evoke laughter, pity, or juvenile conflicts. Faring worst of all is Schwarzenegger's character, Mr. Freeze, who appears to be nothing but a walking compendium of puns about about cold weather. "Chill!', "Cool party!", "Ice to see you!", and the list goes on, ad nauseum. Particularly annoying is having to hear Freeze constantly refer to Batman and Robin as the "bat and bird" -- after the third instance, I would have paid top dollar to grab him by the collar and slap him around for a few.
Uma Thurman does a better job with Poison Ivy, although her motivations throughout the film defy any logical explanation. Thurman decides that the only way to play such a one-note villainess is to go completely over-the-top, and as alluring as she may be, she deserves a better, more well-rounded character to portray. As thin as her character is, at least it's not wholly superfluous as Batgirl, played here (barely) by Alicia Silverstone (The Babysitter, Clueless). Schumacher and Goldsman must have complete contempt for their audience, as they think they can wing a conversion from Barbara Wilson to Batgirl by just giving her a rubber suit -- literally! Once the suit is donned, she is every bit as dangerous as Batman, despite no training -- it's downright insulting!
Batman & Robin proved to be the final nail in a once lucrative franchise's coffin, digging such a monumental hole for itself, both commercially and critically, there was seemingly no way out again. Overlong, overrun with needless subplots, and overcooked in the action department; it's not only bad, it's cover-your-face-in-your-hands embarrassing. My face may be permanently creased from cringing. The series rightfully deserved a quick, merciful death after this one.
-- Follows Batman, Batman Returns, and Batman Forever.
-- The Batman series would be resurrected with a complete reboot in 2005 in Batman Begins.
©2005 Vince Leo