Batman & Robin (1997)

Look at this mess. Do you really have any desire to sit through this?

Zero stars out of 4. A complete trashy waste of everyone’s time. Infuriatingly bad on every level.

“Rubber lips are immune to your charms.”

You think to yourself: “Oh, it’s not really that bad. It’s merely an overdone update of the 60’s TV series.” But you would be agonizingly wrong. Despite years of derision, the 1966 TV series has a sense of dignity that makes it Shakespearean tragedy when compared to this garbage.

And garbage is exactly what this is. There is no single redeeming feature to the madness. Pushed to create a sequel immediately after Forever’s unexpected success, Joel Schumacher & Co. really got in over their heads with the imposed marketing and time constraints. This easily becomes apparent when looking at the production. The first meeting about the film was held with the toy company who demanded all story and plot elements to be handed in then so that their products would be ready in time for the launch.

This enormous pressure seems to have put everyone in the mindset of “Who cares what it is! Let’s just get the thing done and it doesn’t matter how weird or campy it gets!” What this notion did however is take a bad film with no point and bury it under multiple layers of camp compost.

This becomes almost unbearable to slog through and I remember just how many walkouts occurred in 1997. In the opening week. On the second day of release. Nothing has changed, except the damn thing has become even worse over time and looks terrible on video. This goes without mentioning the fact that nearly everything is ripped off or based on the exact same elements from Forever.

Guess we have to get on with the story…do we really have to? Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) are called into stop Mr. Freeze (AHNULD) from stealing diamonds from a museum. Terrible fight choreography, bad lighting, repeated music cues, bad line delivery, and atrocious dialogue ensues. By the by, none of these ever let up for the entire film. They have a fight with Freeze’s hockey playing goons and of course, the Dynamic Duo magically sprout ice skates form their boots. Freeze uses a rocket seemingly to escape, but freeze and kill Batman, and then plummet back to Earth killing more people. Of course the Dynamic Duo escapes by surfing down from the atmosphere on the rocket’s doors!

Freeze escapes again by freezing Robin and forcing Batman to stop and free his partner. Then we are treated to the 2nd villain’s creation because we are following in the same formula as the previous films in the franchise. Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Therman) is a botanist in some remote South American laboratory working under another scientist who lost his Waynetech funding. He has been diverting all the money and plant research into creating a super-soldier and performs this mad experiment in front of a whole spattering of various world leaders who begin to bid on the weakling turned stupid hulking brute. His name is Bane of course. Isley witnesses this and is discovered by the mad doctor who, in one of the only slightly interesting bits in the film proclaims: “I’m afraid you’ll have to die!”, (but even this is just lifted from Batman Returns) kills her by throwing her into her plants and chemicals. Like that would work…oh but it did!

In the Batcave we are treated to Freeze’s backstory, appropriately ripped off badly from Batman: The Animated Series. This Freeze was a bit clumsy and fell into the freezing solution he had made to preserve his dying wife. Ooooo how sad…in TAS, the laughable villain form the comics was made over into a tragic figure with a definite reason for hating all humanity. Instead he’s now a cartoon.  So now can we move on? Oh yes, let’s get back to the Bruce/Dick Grayson dynamic that has grown from their distrust in Forever into a growing partnership between two friends…and that’s another movie of course, because Batman & Robin simply repeats the exact same thematic issue between the characters that was resolved at the climax of the last movie!!! And this time Robin is constantly whining about his sad situation and complaining to no one in particular that Bruce will never trust him. Bruce himself says the same lines about recklessness etc. for some reason. Maybe it was just to give the two characters some kind of interaction. It sure as hell doesn’t work.

The dead Isley then rises from the ground as Poison Ivy, supposedly Mother Nature’s one-woman machine for natural causes. She quickly kills everyone and recruits the hulking idiot to be her compatriot. If only Bane had just killed her then and there. Oh wait, he would have done that if he was in any way shape or form like his comic book counterpart, the brilliant inmate who brought Batman to a weakened state before deducing his secret identity and breaking his back. But no, he just says his name in agreement and follows Ivy to Gotham City where she has set her sights on the man behind the funding of the laboratory, Bruce Wayne. Now that’s convenient isn’t it! Now the villain’s scripts are all tied into the main story nicely!

Freeze hides out in an abandoned ice cream factory (not at all obvious) and spends his time attempting to lead his hockey Eskimo minions in song. In this awful setting he explains both his plans to extort and freeze Gotham, and visits his frozen wife. All while smoking a cigar. (Which for a character who cannot stand any source of heat is absolutely unbelievably STUPID!)

Meanwhile back at Wayne Manor, a strange girl arrives and is revealed to Barbara, Alfred’s niece. She has come all the way from England (with the worst non-attempt at an accent possible) to visit and spend time with her favorite uncle. Don’t you just love these characters who get invented by screenwriters just to fill a story need or pad time, who were never referenced in any way before that point? She is truly stunned to see that a butler serves people.

Barbara later sneaks out and steals a motorcycle. Gasp! Could all not be what it seems? the next day, like Edward Nygma before her, Ivy appeals to Bruce in her civilian guise to back her plans to save the rainforest at the cost of human suffering. Bruce of course refuses, and we quickly drop the whole eco-warrior bit. Batman & Robin setup a trap for Freeze by holding a charity ball featuring diamonds on display. We go through an agonizing scene where rich old farts bid on “nights” with young women for “charity” then Poison Ivy appears in a bear suit (Just what was it with these? Therman appears in The Avengers in one too!), strips and blows pheromone dust to enrapture all men’s minds to do her bidding. This causes a bidding war for her company, with Batman and Robin getting into a putrid shouting match about who is worthier, culminating in Batman pulling a credit card with the expiration date “forever”. Thank god at that time Arnold breaks into steal the diamonds.

Ivy is fascinated with him, especially because her charms do not work on the cold heart of Freeze. Batman & Robin leap into pursuit, with Batman capturing Freeze and sending him to Arkham Asylum.We now switch back to plot no. 12, with Dick catching Barbara sneaking out to go and participate in an underground motorcycle race populated by all sorts of nice folks. (right down to a gang dressed as Alex DeLarge & friends. Yes, I am not making this up. What exactly is kiddie about this?) They race and people try to kill them…oooh…wow, no one cares.  Dick saves Barbara from a fall towards a terrible blue screen matte and they wind up back at home where Barbara reveals how she’s been doing this to deal with the pain from her parent’s death. She wants to use her winnings to take Alfred away from his servitude. How nice…if we cared at all.

We’re now at the halfway mark…let the BS continue.

All are shocked to find that Alfred is sick. This is a fact that both Bruce and the audience have been aware of the entire film so far, as at nearly every opportunity Alfred has been shown to be in a weakened state in all possible stereotypical ways. He is dying of a rare disease, only to provide a reason to care about anything in this damn movie. Yes, this plotline about Alfred is the only damn thing you will pay any attention to in this glitzy shambles. It also gives Clooney a moment or two to act and even he cannot bring himself to care.

Freeze is in Arkham for all of a few minutes before Ivy and Bane appear to break him out. She proposes a partnership and of course Freeze accepts. They attempt to retrieve both diamonds and Freeze’s wife but run into both the police and the Dynamic Duo. A fight ensues with no result and the evildoers escape after wasting more screentime. Ivy departs, pulling the plug on the frozen bride as she exits to have Freeze all to herself.

He learns of her death, quickly attributed to Batman, and vows vengeance on “Gotham and then the world!”. He plans to freeze the city with an ice ray and the two begin setting up this nefarious plot. Dick and Bruce have continued fighting over Ivy, and Bane is dispatched to replace the Batsignal with a Robin one. Barbara discovers the Batcave where Alfred has made her a Batsuit…wait, what? That’s caring for your nieces according to this script.

Robin is lured to Ivy’s lair where she finally plants that kiss on him. He then imparts the wonderful line I began with, and the Dynamic Duo’s trap is sprung. By trap I mean they both immediately get captured by plants like idiots, leaving the new girl to save the day. Batgirl of course crashes through a skylight, and she and Ivy fight whilst exchanging terrible one-liners. Ivy is incapacitated and Batman quickly disregards the fact that this idiot is now running around with them.

Freeze has taken control of the observatory for his ice ray and begins to freeze the city. This means that we are treated to “hilarious” moments of everyday life being frozen in ice! Not so. The Dynamic trio (?) speed towards Freeze in three ridiculous winterized ice vehicles and an abrupt costume change to stupid looking silver lined outfits.

They begin an overlong battle atop the icy tower culminating in the defeat of Freeze and the unfreezing of the city via government satellites reflecting the sun’s rays. Oh joy, they won, what a big surprise. They then convince Freeze to show them the means to cure the early stages of his wife’s disease, because wouldn’t you know it-that what Alfred is dying of. Freeze is put in Arkham to cure his wife and torture Ivy, Alfred is restored and we’re left wondering just who would be doing the expansion work on the Batcave.

To say this film is uninspired is an understatement. The sets, costumes, cinematography, score, lighting, design, pacing, editing, performances and writing are all uninspired. This is what lies under all those coats of unnecessary glitter, a terribly weak and uninteresting film. When taken in all at once your senses are so quickly overloaded that the scenes become at first ridiculous, then tedious, tiresome and finally a chore to sit through.  If you really pay attention it also becomes readily apparent just how much of the film is simply lifted or copied directly from Forever. Bits of the plotting, themes, design, Batman’s end costume cowl and music score cues. In fact, this is so blatant that there are numerous moments in the film where they literally re-use the exact same music cue from the previous film in a scene that is totally unrelated!

The performances are as wooden as the dialogue, most notably that of Clooney, who gives us a Bruce/Batman so bland that he in fact becomes a non-entity in his own film. The attempts at Batman doing humor are so terribly bad that you end up wanting to punch Clooney in the face after a certain amount of time. (And I really like his performances. There’s a reason why he always apologizes for this.) Therman so grossly overplays Poison Ivy that you have no desire to even think of the character again, and wish for someone to shut her up much earlier. Then to add to those, three characters in the Batman universe are ruined: Mr. Freeze, Batgirl and Bane. They bear little to no resemblance to their original counterparts and should be quickly disregarded.  One of the bigger criticisms of the film has always been that Robin does nothing but whine and complain about Bruce’s lack of trust and is annoying because of this. To be perfectly frank, in a film so overloaded and badly written as this, Robin almost becomes a welcome distraction from the others in that he has an actual defined problem that we know of and is still somewhat grounded in reality.

For a Mr. Freeze story, look at the TAS episode which relaunched him as a Batman villain, “Heart of Ice”. In 23 minutes, the Animated Series sets up and executes a perfect story arc with defined tragedy that gives us everything we need and want from a Batman story, which is something that none of the films are really ever able to do fully. Batman & Robin fails on every level at this for 101 more minutes.

We’ve all blamed Joel Schumacher and the film’s production team for years because of this movie. It took eight long years of many development hells and scripts before another Batman appeared onscreen. (Including Schumacher’s attempts to do a true Batman film with a hard rating or his pet project of Batman: Year One) But I’m not so sure anymore. I think it was a rushed film, designed by the studio to capitalize on Forever’s unexpected success in every way possible. This forced production was then implemented on a very rushed schedule that further restricted everyone so that seemingly anything went before camera. Simply listen to the first 20 minutes of Schumacher’s commentary on the DVD and he gets into this in detail. He really was a director-for-hire here.

Batman & Robin never knows just what it is and never has a clear goal in mind. It falls apart for 124 minutes, all the while showing its many seams and attempting a knowing wink at the audience. Many have decried it as a big screen adaptation of the 60’s TV series, but the issue in that idea is that while campy the TV series played most of everything straight-faced. In fact, it wasn’t a comedy so much as it was a satire of Batman and comic books in general. It operates on far more levels than people give it credit for, and something which this film can never hope to achieve.

The final film in the first Batman franchise comes across as an over-budgeted, overstuffed, overinflated, mindless, marketing ruled mess of bats***. Which is something I have worked with and is quite unpleasant in any form.

EDITIONS: Same video history as the other three: VHS and LD, 1998 DVD, 2005 Special Edition, Blu-ray from the same master. The Special Edition looks fine on the surface, but like the other three films the HD master for the SE DVD and Blu-ray leaves much to be desired. Detail is lacking, giving an inherent softness which makes the film all the more unbearable. Colors seem a bit desaturated as well. The film has also been cropped form 1.85:1 to 1.78:1.

Audio is clear enough on the SE DVD’s Dolby and DTS 5.1 mixes with the DTS as always being the clear winner. (When has there ever been a DVD with a better Dolby track?) The Blu-ray’s Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is exactly the same just at a higher bitrate.

Do what I did, only get the film in the Batman boxset when it goes on sale, to save on the others and not be seen buying a copy of the travesty.

NOTE: At least there is one positive: The last great Smashing Pumpkins song came out of this movie. The alternate version was used in the trailer for Watchmen, a film that learned so much from this movie so that it could simply make the exact same mistakes in the opposite way.

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Filed under Batman, Film Review, Zero stars

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